If your car’s coolant temperature warning light goes on, will you know what it is? Or does it even matter if it goes on during winter or months with cooler temperatures? Here’s some information on how your car’s cooling system works.
Engine coolant defined.
To begin, it’s important to understand two terms that are often used interchangeably. They’re antifreeze and engine coolant. When I grew up, my dad called it antifreeze. Today, I hear it referred to as engine coolant. No matter which term you use, your professional mechanic will know what you’re referring to. But there’s a slight difference. Antifreeze is a fluid that’s made up of a 50/50 mix of ethylene or propylene glycol. It turns into engine coolant when it’s mixed with water.
So, here’s where it gets interesting and why engine coolant is important:
- In the winter, it helps keep your radiator and engine from freezing.
- In the summer, it helps keep your radiator and engine from overheating.
- It serves as a lubricant for moving parts.
- Some coolant gets sent to your heater core.
It’s important to be sure your coolant is kept at the recommended level. If it’s low in the winter, it’s likely you’ll be driving around in a cold car. Without the proper level of fluid, your car’s heater core won’t get what it needs to keep you and your family nice and warm.
The result of low coolant.
A low fluid level can also cause your car to overheat. This can leave you stranded on the side of a roadway. This is the last thing you’ll want if you’re taking that summer road trip. If your car does leave you stranded, turn on your hazard lights and wait for help to arrive. With increased highway speeds and road rage, it’s best to stay in your car with your seatbelt on. If you do decide to get out and look, never remove your radiator cap while the engine is hot. Doing so, can send scalding fluid out like a volcano spewing lava.
What coolant looks like.
If you notice a pink, yellow, or green fluid on your driveway, or garage floor, this is a sign you have a coolant leak. While a small leak won’t affect your car immediately, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your local repair shop. Ignoring it can cause your engine to overheat. And once this happens, you can expect a significant repair bill. Preventative maintenance is your best protection.
If you have furry friends, be sure you keep them away from the leaked coolant and wipe it up immediately. Ingested coolant can be deadly. To learn more, click here.
Please refer to your owner’s manual to see when your car will need coolant service. Most new vehicles will require service around 100,000 miles. Please note that old fluid can lose its effectiveness.
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