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What is the difference between engine oil and fluid?

Engine oil is the most important fluid in your car, after fuel, perhaps. Sometimes referred to as motor oil, it’s a lubricant needed to let all the components in your engine spin and move at pace smoothly, without causing friction or overheating. Engine oil needs to be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. Over time, it becomes contaminated with dirt which can stop it from working properly.

Engine oil is often confused with transmission fluid. The two perform similar functions, but for different parts of your car. Transmission fluid lubricates your gears and clutches and is part of another system closed off from the engine. Transmission fluid doesn’t see any of the contaminants from fuel burning as engine oil does, so it doesn’t need to be changed as regularly.

Average costs of oil and fluid changes

The cost to change car fluids such as engine oil will vary depending on which fluid needs to be changed, and whether it’s done as part of a larger service such as a full service or vehicle health check. Here are some of the popular services you can choose from, along with typical costs.

  • Car engine oil change

    The average price of an engine oil change on FixMyCar is £104.50.

    Car engine oil is vital for keeping your engine cool and well lubricated. If you're not sure what type of oil your car needs or how to do an oil change, a mechanic can take care of it within about 40 minutes.

    Can include
    • Oil level check
    • Oil top-up
    • Oil change
    • Oil filter change
  • DSG oil change

    The average price of an oil change on FixMyCar is £284.53. DSG stands for direct shift gearbox and is the third type of gear system in addition to a manual or automatic. Cars with a DSG need a specific type of gearbox oil to function effectively.

    Can include
    • DSG oil level check
    • DSG oil top-up
    • DSG oil change
  • Brake fluid change

    The average price of a brake fluid change on FixMYCar is £56.83. Brake fluid must be changed roughly every 2 years or 24,000 miles to keep it clean and working effectively. A professional should change your brake fluid because it's a complex job that involves making sure the oxygen in the air doesn't contaminate the fluid.

    Can include
    • Brake testing
    • Brake fluid change
  • Vehicle health check

    The average price of a vehicle health check on FixMyCar is £39.96. A vehicle health check is a visual check of your car's components in-between the major service intervals. During a vehicle health check, a mechanic will check the different oils and fluids in your car to make sure they’re topped up and doing their job correctly.

    Can include
    • Visual inspection
    • Fluid and oil check
    • Car fluid top-ups
    • Repair recommendation
  • Transmission fluid change

    Transmission fluid helps keep your gear system cool and allows parts to stay lubricated. Transmission fluid can leak or become contaminated and may need to be replaced to make sure it does its job.

    Can include
    • Transmission fluid removal
    • Transmission fluid replacement
  • Power steering fluid change

    The average price of a power steering fluid change booked on FixMyCar is £111.

    A car’s power steering system includes a network of pumps and fluid that make steering almost effortless. Over time, your power steering fluid may need to be changed to keep functioning with full effect.

    Can include
    • Power steering fluid removal
    • Power steering fluid change
  • Air conditioning recharge

    The average price of an air conditioning recharge booked on FixMyCar is £65.50. Refrigerant gas in your aircon allows the system to blow cold air. An air conditioning recharge, also known as an air-con re-gas, involves replacing the refrigerant in the air-conditioning system.

    Can include
    • Refrigerant removal
    • Refrigerant replacement to correct pressure
  • Full service

    The average price of a full service on FixMyCar is £194.92. A full service involves up to 67 different checks of the efficiency and performance of your car and its components, followed by a recommendation of any repairs. It usually takes between 3-5 hours and should be carried out once per year. A full service will include checks and top-ups of the different oils and fluids your car needs including engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, engine coolant, and power steering fluid.

    Can include
    • Vehicle inspection
    • Component and system testing
    • Oil and fluid top-ups
    • Repair recommendations

What are the 5 fluids that your vehicle requires?

There are several different oils, fluids, and lubricants your car needs to function smoothly, so understanding the role of each is a helpful way to keep on top of your car maintenance.

1. Engine oil

Engine oil is the lubricant needed to keep your engine working smoothly. It can be easily located under the bonnet of your car and should be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

2. Transmission fluid 

Transmission fluid is the lubricant that keeps your gear system working smoothly. Unlike engine oil, it only needs to be changed every 30,000 to 60,000 miles.

3. Coolant 

Coolant works alongside engine oil to stop your engine from overheating. It’s sometimes called antifreeze and circulates the system, absorbing the heat from the engine. Your coolant will likely need to be changed every two years.

4. Brake fluid 

Brake fluid is also a lubricant that, unsurprisingly, helps to reduce any friction in your braking system. It will also need to be changed on average every two years. Your annual service is the best opportunity to know if it’s time to change your brake fluid.

5. Power steering fluid

Power steering fluid is what lets you turn your steering wheel with ease. It’s a hydraulic fluid that gets pumped through the system to help transfer power and allow you to steer with minimal effort. Power steering fluid doesn’t need to be changed very often. However, after around 4+ years, a professional might recommend replacing it with new fluid to keep it working optimally.

How do I check fluids and oil in my car?

Checking your engine oil

Checking your engine oil level is relatively straightforward. Wait until the engine is fully cool after driving, then follow these five steps:

  • Open the bonnet. 

  • Locate the dipstick near the engine. 

  • Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean.

  • Push the dipstick back into the tube.

  • Now, remove the dipstick again. The oil streak on the dipstick should sit between the two marks.

If the oil streak sits less than halfway between the two marks, you should top up your engine oil. If the oil feels grainy when you rub it between your fingers, you should book for an oil change.

Checking your transmission fluid

You can check your transmission fluid in a very similar way. You can find the transmission dipstick behind the engine. If the level is low, be sure to get your transmission fluid looked at as soon as possible.

Checking your engine coolant

Checking your engine coolant depends on what type of car you have and is probably better done by a professional at your next service. However, opening your radiator cap to see if the coolant is filled to the top can help.

Checking your brake fluid 

You can find your brake fluid reservoir next to your engine bay. Visually inspecting the level and colour is the best way to know if it needs a change. Your brake fluid should sit between the minimum and maximum markers and be clear in colour with a slight hint of yellow.

Checking your power steering fluid

You can also check your power steering fluid by finding the dipstick under your car bonnet. Have a look at the label on the cap to make sure you’re in the right place. Again, it’s essential to make sure the oil streak sits between the markers when you pull it out of the tube. 

Read more: How to check your car fluids level

Common engine oil problems

Two main problems can occur with your engine oil, and it’s important to be aware of them both to avoid risking any damage to your engine. Luckily, if there’s a problem with your engine oil, a warning light on your dashboard will usually appear to let you know about it.

Low oil level and pressure

Over time, engine oil can fall below a certain level and will need to be topped up. However, low oil levels can also be a sign of a leak. Check your oil level by using the dipstick in your engine bay, and be sure to top it up if it falls below the minimum marker.

Degraded engine oil

Over time, as you drive and burn engine oil, it picks up impurities and darkens in colour. When this happens, it stops lubricating your engine as well. If you notice grittiness in your engine oil when you rub it between your fingers, it’s time to get it changed.

How often should the transmission fluid be changed?

On average, your transmission fluid should be changed every 30,000-60,000 miles. However, some vehicles will only need a change after 100,000 miles. It’s essential to check your manufacturer’s manual to know when to check and change your transmission fluid. 

The most obvious sign that it’s time for a transmission fluid change is if you’re experiencing some trouble changing gears. If you think it’s time, then compare quotes book in for a transmission fluid replacement online.

Average car oil and fluid change costs

There are a number of different oils and fluids your car needs to run, and each will need to be maintained to keep them doing their job properly. From top-ups to changes, find out what the average costs are for each service.

Car repairAverage priceGet quotes
Vehicle health checkfrom £42.05Get quotes
Full servicefrom £175.95Get quotes
Car engine oil changefrom £82.39Get quotes
DSG oil changefrom £185.11Get quotes
Brake fluid changefrom £56.83Get quotes
Air conditioning rechargefrom £65.50Get quotes
Transmission fluid replacementfrom £541.66Get quotes

Frequently asked questions

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