Antifreeze / coolant – crucial ingredients for the health of your vehicle’s engine

antifreeze and coolant

Giving your vehicle a regular once-over is always a good idea for maintaining its long-term health.  However, with our busy lives, we often forget to do this properly. And when we do remember we tend to focus on checking things like the tyres, oil, brake fluid and battery.  What often gets overlooked, however, is the radiator fluid in the car’s cooling system.  That’s actually a big mistake because a properly functioning and well-maintained cooling system is crucial for the health of the engine itself.  The coolant/antifreeze in a vehicle’s cooling system helps prevent the engine from overheating, especially in the hotter months. It also prevents the engine from freezing when the temperatures drop below zero during the colder months.

Not checking your vehicle’s radiator fluid regularly or looking after the vehicle’s cooling system could lead to expensive radiator repairs later on.  But what exactly is antifreeze/coolant – is there a difference, and how do they work?  Let’s take a look.

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What is coolant?

Car coolant is the radiator fluid that is pumped through the engine to help keep it within its optimum temperature range.  The coolant is a ready-to-use, pre-mixed fluid comprising the appropriate ratio of antifreeze and water that you pour straight into the vehicle’s radiator or cooling system.

What is antifreeze?

Vehicle radiator antifreeze is a concentrated, glycol-based fluid that needs to be mixed with the correct ratio of water before it can be put into the cooling system.  Most antifreeze products come with a dilution guide on the package to help you get the right ratio of water to antifreeze.

The role of the radiator antifreeze is to prevent the engine’s coolant from freezing in sub-zero temperatures.  The antifreeze also has other benefits, such as preventing corrosion and the build-up of scale in the engine.  It also improves the transfer of heat from the engine to the coolant.

Antifreeze comes in a range of colours too – red antifreeze, blue antifreeze, pink antifreeze, yellow antifreeze – as well as a “universal antifreeze”, so it’s important to check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see what version of antifreeze is recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer.

The glycol, or specifically ethylene glycol, which is the main ingredient in most antifreeze/coolant products, is very poisonous and can even kill you.  So, remember to wear gloves when handling coolant/antifreeze because the ethylene glycol can cause serious damage to internal organs through skin absorption.  Even inhaling the fumes can be dangerous.

Unfortunately, the taste and smell of coolant/antifreeze is attractive to animals (and children), and every year many pets and other animals die excruciating deaths after ingesting coolant/antifreeze.  So it’s important to store antifreeze/coolant safely and to clean up any spills immediately.

How does car coolant actually work?

In a nutshell, a vehicle’s cooling system is a closed system in which car coolant/antifreeze is pumped through numerous small channels in the engine block and cylinder head, to absorb the heat from the metal.  After absorbing the heat, the fluid passes through the vehicle’s radiator where air flowing through the radiator dissipates the heat being carried in the car coolant.  With the radiator fluid sufficiently cooled down, it’s again ready to continue the cycle through the engine and do the job all over again.

The role of the coolant/antifreeze is crucial for the health of the engine, which is why it’s so very important to make sure you stick closely to the coolant/antifreeze concentration specified by your vehicle’s manufacturer.  So, while it’s OK to do the occasional radiator fluid top-up using just water, any larger top-ups must be done using the right mix of coolant and antifreeze.

Should I flush the cooling system regularly?

Over time, sludge will build up in a vehicle’s cooling system which is why vehicle manufacturers recommend doing a coolant flush from time to time to ensure the cooling system keeps working at optimum efficiency.  So, yes, doing a quick, inexpensive car coolant radiator flush every two years or 30,000km (whichever comes first) can keep your vehicle’s cooling system in shape and your vehicle running smoothly.

How do I deal with an overheating engine?

If you notice that your car’s engine is starting to overheat, move the cabin heater to maximum and also turn the fan to maximum. This will help remove heat from the car coolant because the system that heats and cools the vehicle’s cabin shares the same cooling system.  Then head straight to your nearest ADRAD radiator specialist for expert help.  Check out this article for some more practical tips to save your engine when your car is overheating.

Expert help to maintain the health of your vehicle’s cooling system

Keeping a vehicle’s radiator happy and cool involves more than merely topping up the coolant/antifreeze or flushing it from time to time.  While that is good, other aspects of the cooling system also need to be checked regularly.  In addition to doing a machine-powered radiator flush, the nationwide network of ADRAD radiator specialists will inspect your vehicle’s radiator thoroughly and give it a comprehensive service.  So, if it’s time for your vehicle’s routine cooling system check, simply give us a call on 0800 RADIATOR (723 428) and we’ll get it done expertly for you.  Call us today.