Marysville Pilchuck High School auto tech instructor Chuck Nichols (left) shows Karie Christensen how to check the fluid levels in her Ford Mustang during a free “Don’t Drip and Drive” auto maintenance class at the school put on by the Washington State Department of Ecology on Sept. 28. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Free workshops help out with oil leaks

MARYSVILLE — Karie Christensen’s car, a 2002 Ford Mustang, had a few problems.

Chuck Nichols, an auto shop teacher at Marysville Pilchuck High School, pointed out the problems he spotted under the hood: The water level was low and the brake fluid was dark and had high water content. It needed changing.

Christensen, an Everett resident, said she’d just had her car into the mechanic two months ago and had the brakes flushed.

“Sad to say some people aren’t that honest,” Nichols said.

“Yeah, but I know him!” Christensen said.

Nichols suspected that even if the brakes were flushed, if the brake fluid reservoir wasn’t cleaned out, that could cause the problems, too.

Nichols, assisted by two of his advanced auto shop students, Josh Nuckols and Nick Lester, was conducting a free seminar and diagnostic at the school’s garage.

It’s part of a program, funded by the state Department of Ecology, to give people free fluid checks.

Those tiny leaks of oil and other fluids are common on many vehicles. And they add up.

There are about 3.1 million vehicles in the Puget Sound region, said Justine Asohmbom, Ecology’s shorelines and stormwater education manager for the region.

Stormwater runoff is the most common pathway for toxins to reach Puget Sound, she said. Motor oil drips and leaks account for two-thirds of all petroleum-related compounds that get into the dSound.

What does that come out to?

“Ecology did a toxics-loading study which shows that in terms of quantifying leaks, 7 million quarts of drips and leaks is washed into the Puget Sound basin” each year, Asohmbom said.

The “Don’t Drip and Drive” program is a couple of years old, but it came to Snohomish County for the first time this year, with free auto leak workshops offered at Marysville Pilchuck, Cascade High School and the Sno-Isle TECH Skills Center.

At the MPHS workshop, half a dozen people watched an instructional video going over the basics of auto maintenance. Then Nichols talked in more depth about the various fluids cars need and what they do, holding up glass jars of motor oil, brake and transmission fluid.

Then it was out into the garage, where the attendees’ cars were brought in. First the hoods were popped, and then the cars were put on the lift so Nichols could inspect the undercarriage and tire tread.

“We take advantage with the cars up in the air to take a look,” Nichols said. “The advice is free.”

When Karie Christensen’s Mustang went up the lift, she said that her regular mechanic had already fixed several oil leaks.

“If you find an oil leak I’m going to be really mad,” she said.

The only problem Nichols detected underneath the car was a minor drip at the oil pan’s drain plug, the most common location for a leak. The amount of leakage wasn’t excessive, but the gasket might need to be replaced the next time she had the car in the shop, he said.

Next up was Robin Thome’s 2006 Lexus ES 330. The Snohomish resident said she also recently took the car in to the dealership for service.

“They told me I had dirty power steering fluid,” Thome said. “My husband usually fixes it.”

Nichols pointed out the brake fluid reservoir. The liquid was a nearly transparent amber in color.

“That’s what clean brake fluid looks like,” he said, to a chorus of wows from the class.

Everything else checked out under the hood, but when the car went up the lift, there was an oil leak.

“Right at the drain plug!” Nichols said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

Free leak workshops

Free auto leak workshops are available at three locations in Snohomish County: Marysville Pilchuck High School (5611 108th St. NE, Marysville), Cascade High School (801 E Casino Road, Everett), and the Sno-Isle TECH Skills Center (9001 Airport Road, Everett). Space is limited, so registration is required. A complete list of times is online at

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