Car Coolant Health and Care

Seeing a cloud of steam from your engine compartment, a temperature gauge suddenly reading higher than normal or a puddle of coolant under your car is a sure sign that you’ve neglected your vehicle’s coolant system. Don’t let it happen! A quick visit to your local service center or tire store will help ensure your coolant system is healthy and working properly, and also help you avoid expensive repair bills down the road.

The Heart of Your Vehicle

Think of your coolant system as the heart of your vehicle. It pumps vital fluid through your radiator, cooling system and engine block to prevent it from freezing in severe winter weather or overheating at high operating temperatures. Whether you call it coolant or antifreeze, the fluid is usually a half-and-half mixture of water and glycol ethylene or propylene. Properly mixed and maintained, it can provide freeze protection down to minus 34 degrees and boil-over protection up to plus 265 degrees. Chemical inhibitors also help protect the cast iron, steel, aluminum, copper, brass and other metals in the coolant system and engine block from rust and corrosion. Additional additives help lubricate seals and water pumps. Depending on the brand, your fluid might be orange, green or red. Always use the type recommended in your owner’s manual because the vehicle’s coolant system was designed and tested using that type of coolant.

Check Fluid Often

Checking your fluid level only takes a few moments, so do it regularly. The radiator reverse tank is the place to look. If the radiator cap is properly sealed, hot fluid expands into the tank when the engine is hot. It’s then vacuumed back into the radiator when the engine is cold. Two level indicators or decals usually appear on the side of the tank. Look at either the hot or cold level indicator or decal depending on the temperature of your engine. If the level is slightly low, it’s usually safe to add a few ounces of plain water to bring the fluid level back up to the appropriate mark.

If less than one quart of fluid is needed, carefully inspect the system for leaking hoses or radiator leaks. Then add a half-and-half mixture of water and the type of antifreeze recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Also check the color and condition of the fluid. It should appear clear and have the consistency of lemonade or orangeade. If it looks brownish, dirty or has flecks of rust floating in it, it might be time to have the system flushed and filled.

Flush and Fill

Check your owner manual for the recommended coolant system service interval. To help avoid corrosion, clogs or worse, most recommend having the coolant flushed and changed every 40,000 – 50,000 miles. Visit a reputable service center or tire store to have it done. Most engine coolants are toxic and also pick up heavy-metal contamination during use. A reputable service center or tire discount store knows how to dispose of it safely. Many also have ASE Certified Technicians who will complete a professional coolant system maintenance check that includes inspecting all hoses, belts, the radiator, radiator cap and water pump to ensure the overall health of you coolant system.

No one wants their engine to overheat, see a puddle of coolant under their car or discover an ocean of antifreeze washing over the passenger compartment floor. And nothing can ruin a family outing more quickly than an unexpected warning light or temperature gauge suddenly reading higher than normal.

So, check your fluid level and condition regularly. Have your coolant system inspected, flushed and filled based on the recommendation in your vehicle’s owner manual. If you spot any warning signs that things aren’t right, have an ASE Certified Technician conduct a professional coolant system maintenance check. It’s the easiest and simplest way to avoid expensive repair bills down the road.