Tech Corner Tips: Storing and Disposing Car Fluids

There’s the hard way and then there’s the easy way. How many times have you tried to save time by cutting a few corners—only to have to go back and clean up a mess or restart a job? We’re all guilty of phoning it in once in a while. But when we give in to our impatience or jump into a project without planning, it almost always comes back to bite us on the rear end. Think of this segment as a simple brainstorming session, where we’ll talk about small things that make a big difference. You know, the things that keep you from flinging wrenches and screaming profanities that will have the neighbors un-inviting you from the community BBQs. Today’s topic? The proper storage and disposal of the unpleasant car fluids spewing out of your prized ride.

Winter will be here before you know it; and you know what that means, right? Yep, freezing temperatures. That water you have as coolant needs to be ditched before it blows those freeze plugs right out. And while you’re at it, you should consider updating that oil and tranny fluid too. And have you replaced your windshield fluid yet? Changing out car fluids is an important maintenance task for winter prepping. But how do you dispose of all that toxic stuff once you’re finished? And where do you store what’s left over? As the title implies, there’s an easy way and a hard way.

Drip Drain Pans and Containers

Drip pans are the first step to the proper storage and disposal of unpleasant car fluids. They come in all shapes and sizes and can be had on the cheap at any auto supply shop. It’s important to make sure you select the one that is appropriate for the job you’re tackling, though. Have you ever tried to drain oil or coolant that spews or spreads because a bracket or cross-member is in the way? Suddenly you’re dealing with a stream that might be a lot wider than the opening of the pan you’re using, leaving you with a massive mess.

Do you know what a pain it is cleaning up oil spills in the garage? With a little forethought though, you can avoid this hassle by simply using a wider pan and a sealed container. Similarly, if you’re draining coolant, don’t yank off the hose from the bottom of the radiator. Take a moment to look for the drain valve and set up the correct drain pan. Despite the name “coolant,” there’s nothing cool about it being all over your back or on the shop floor. (Take my word on this…)

Maybe you already practice safe collection of car fluids and you have a variety of pans and containers on hand. Awesome, how are you storing those babies? Are they lying around the garage or haphazardly tossed in a pile? We know, we know, you said you’d get to them later. Then the fateful day comes when your foot winds up in just the right spot to flip over the pan. Or that gentle nudging with the side of your boot sees a few ounces covering cubic feet. Keep that garage organized and avoid the self-sabotage.


So, you swapped out all your car fluids in anticipation of Old Man Winter’s arrival. And you managed to do this without spilling on yourself or the floor. Excellent, next step is storing those chemicals. “As a general rule, store opened containers of fluids in their original packaging and lock them up out of reach of kids or pets,” says Advance Auto Parts. If you’re using a different container (like a plastic milk jug) be sure to clearly label what’s inside. Additionally, all containers should be marked with the date you opened them, to ensure maximum effectiveness the next time you need to pull it off the shelf.

It’s important to remember that not just the car fluids need to be stored properly—so do the mess rags you use. Tossing all those old rags into the corner of the garage is a recipe for disaster. Just ask the National Fire Prevention Association. According to the NFPA, an average of 800 house fires are caused every year by oily rags catching fire or spontaneously combusting. Avoid disaster by laying out rags to dry in a well-ventilated area away from nosy kids or animals. Once dry, you can seal them in a fire-resistant bucket filled halfway with water and laundry soap until you can dispose of them at your nearest household hazardous waste facility.


Your options for fluid and rag disposal will vary depending on your county or township. Luckily, many gas stations and parts stores will take “modest quantities of used oil from consumers,” says Popular Mechanics. “The used oil is either recycled back into other petroleum products or burned in special furnaces for heat.”

You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to care about how your old car fluids will affect the environment. Oil may come out of the ground, but it was drawn from way below the surface. It has no place running down the driveway or seeping through the gravel in your lot. One measly gallon of tossed oil can contaminate millions of gallons of groundwater. (Talk about small things making a big impact…) Additionally, coolants are highly toxic to animals and can easily kill grass and plants. So, do Mother Nature a solid and pick up some cheap storage and disposal containers at the local parts store before you start. And take two minutes online to learn where you can safely toss the stuff when you’re done. See? We said there was an easy way.

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