Basic Car Maintenance Tips: Antifreeze and Coolant
Keeping the cooling system in your car properly filled with an antifreeze coolant formula is critical to maintaining a well running engine.
Purpose of Coolant/Antifreeze
The purpose of antifreeze/coolant is two fold just as the name of the product implies. It both keeps the water in your car from freezing in cold weather and keeps it from boiling and overheating in hot weather. Either of these conditions can cause a breakdown and serious injury to your engine.
Pre-mixed - Unmixed - Rust Inhibitor Formulas
Antifreeze comes in pre-mixed and unmixed formulas. Antifreeze also comes in formulas with additives to inhibit rust. You never want to put unmixed antifreeze directly into your system. It must be mixed with water. A 50/50 mixture is typical but there are exceptions and it is always a good idea to read the label on the product as well as your vehicle owner's manual.
Filling the Radiator
Make sure your engine is turned off and your car has cooled down. Find the antifreeze reservoir tank. This is generally a white slightly opaque plastic tank near the side under the hood. There should be a fill line on the side of the tank and you can simply pour the antifreeze mixture into the tank. It is that simple. If you don’t have one then you will have to add the fluid directly into the radiator. Never remove the radiator cap while your engine is hot. You can be seriously injured by steam and hot fluid. Use a thick rag over the radiator cap and push down and turn to release the cap. There will be a spring that makes the cap pop up and then you may have to give it a couple more turns to remove it. Pour the mixture directly into the radiator looking down into the tank to monitor how full it is.
It is recommended that you have your cooling system flushed and refilled about every five years. It is better in my opinion to have this done at a garage rather than doing it yourself. It is messy and the fluid is very toxic and has to be captured carefully, labeled and taken to a hazardous waste facility. Any additional water that you use to flush the system also has to be captured. The mechanics have the system and procedure to do this.
You will notice that there is a hose coming in and a hose coming out of the radiator which have clamps and fittings. Check the hoses and clamps for cracks, holes, tears and rust. Check the reservoir tank for damage. Also check the cap on the radiator and if the spring has lost its tension or the seal is questionable you will have to replace it. Do not replace the hoses yourself if you are not intending to drain and capture the fluids as stated above. Take your car in and let the mechanic do it.
If the radiator is dirty you can hose it down from the outside but just don’t put your hose on full blast with high pressure. Just enough pressure to rinse any debris or leaves.
ANTIFREEZE IS TOXIC
Let me say this again, ANTIFREEZE IS VERY TOXIC. Never drain antifreeze on to the ground or allow it to run into the driveway or street. It is sweet and pets and animals are attracted to it and will drink it and die. Children may be attracted to it as well. It is dangerous and must be disposed of at a hazardous waste facility. Clearly label all containers having antifreeze and seal them and take them to the proper disposal facility near you. You can always call a garage or mechanic to get this information.
For more basic car maintenance tips see Basic Car Maintenance Tips: Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) and Basic Car Maintenance Tips: Motor Oil
And as always, be cautious and never lean over a running engine with dangling ties, jewelry or hair.
Taking a road trip? See my article on Travel Nova Scotia Digby Neck to Brier Island .