Automotive Fluid Awareness


Most of us don't think of our cars as a source of storm water runoff pollution but did you know that one quart of oil can contaminate up to 250,000 gallons of water or that one gallon of gasoline can contaminate approximately 750,000 gallons of water? About 62 % of all oil-related pollution in the U.S. is caused by improper disposal of used motor oil and is the single largest source of oil pollution (over 40%) in our nation's waterways. 10.9 million gallons of petroleum is washed off the land in America and carried into waterways and the sea every 8 months - That's more oil than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Water runoff from streets, parking lots and driveways picks up oil and grease dripped from cars and from spilled fuel. These eventually drain into our streams and rivers untreated. Oil and grease can clog fish gills and block oxygen from entering the water. If oxygen levels in the water become too low, aquatic animals die. Commercial car care businesses and car owners can help to reduce or eliminate storm water runoff pollution caused by automotive fluids by using some of these basic practices.

Basic Practice Guidelines

Cleaning work areas

  1. Don't hose down your shop floor or driveway. Dry sweeping can collect pollutants that can be disposed of in the garbage instead of storm drains.
  2. Use non-toxic cleaning products. Baking soda paste works well on battery heads, cable clamps and chrome. Mix soda with a mild biodegradable dishwashing soap for wheels and tires. For windows, mix white vinegar or lemon juice with water.


Prepare and use easy to find spill containment and cleanup kits. Include safety equipment and cleanup materials appropriate to the type and quantity of materials that could spill.
For small spills, pour kitty litter, sawdust or cornmeal on spills to bind liquids.
Don't overfill your gas tank. Overfilling causes spills and vents gas fumes into the air.


  1. Keep your vehicles regularly maintained. Leaks should be repaired as soon as possible. Use a drip pan when the vehicle is parked until it can be repaired.
  2. Change fluids carefully. Use a funnel when pouring liquids and use a tray or drip pan to catch spills. Clean up spills immediately.
  3. When you're making repairs or performing minor maintenance, make sure you've protected the sidewalk, curb, street, and gutter from automotive fluids before you start working.


  1. Store all chemicals in a safe, dry place with labels intact.
  2. Storage areas should be secure and covered, preventing exposure to rain and unauthorized access. Basic safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, warning signs (e.g., "no smoking"), adequate light and ventilation and spill clean-up materials should be present. Floors and shelves should be non-porous (e.g., metal, concrete) to prevent sorption of chemicals. If possible, temperature control should be provided to avoid excessive heat or cold. Storage areas should be kept clear of combustible material and debris.
  3. Store chemicals in their original containers, tightly closed, with labels intact. Also inspect them regularly for leaks.
  4. Dry chemicals should be stored above liquids and on pallets to ensure that they do not get wet.
  5. Commercial car care businesses should locate storage and maintenance areas, as well as vehicle refueling and maintenance areas, away from wells and surface water bodies, typically at least 50 to 100 feet away.
  6. Prevent fluid leaks from stored vehicles by draining fluids such as unused gas, transmission and hydraulic oil, brake and radiator fluids.
  7. Place drip pans under the spouts of liquid storage containers.


  1. Collect used fluids in sealed containers marked with their contents.
  2. Never mix different fluids in the same container.
  3. Store the containers in a secure location where they can't spill, tip over, or wash off into a storm drain.
  4. Homeowners can take their used fluids to the Memphis and Shelby County Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility or a local parts store that accepts used oil for recycling.
  5. Never dispose of used fluids in storm drains.


You are the key to reducing the amount automotive fluids contribute to storm water runoff pollution. By the proper use, storage and disposal of oil and other automobile-related fluids, you are helping to reduce or eliminate storm water runoff pollution. Help your neighbors do the same by passing on this information.