Although it’s the middle of winter right now, summer’s high temperatures are just around the corner. The effects of warm weather on your vehicle shouldn’t be underestimated, and allowing your coolant level to get too low could be disastrous. While most people believe that temperature increases don’t have too much of an effect on their cars, it’s crucial to frequently check the engine’s coolant and add more when necessary. Here, you’ll learn why coolant checks are so important, and you’ll also learn how to check your coolant, drain it, and add more when needed.
Why Is It So Important to Check the Coolant In a Vehicle’s Engine?
Burning diesel fuel or gasoline in an engine releases a tremendous amount of energy, which means that exhaust gases are extremely hot when they leave the engine. These super-heated gases heat metal very quickly, and if the cylinder head and engine block aren’t properly cooled, the engine will overheat and parts will fuse together. That’s why it’s so important to monitor your antifreeze level, especially during the summer when your car is forced to work harder to stay cool.
How to Check Your Engine Coolant Level
Just like checking your oil or brake fluid levels, determining how much antifreeze your cooling system contains is a quick and simple procedure. Here’s how to do it:
- Park the vehicle on level ground. Open the hood, but first, be sure the vehicle isn’t too warm.
- Find the coolant reservoir. On most vehicles, it’s a clear plastic container with a greenish liquid inside. The reservoir’s cap should have a warning about the temperature of the liquid inside.
- On the side of the container, there will be a minimum and a maximum mark, just as you’ll find on your oil dipstick and the brake fluid reservoir.
As long as the coolant level is within those two tolerances, you’re good to go. If it isn’t, you’ll need to add some, which we’ll explain below. However, if you’re not sure how to do it, bring your vehicle in for a fluid top-up and other car maintenance nearby.
Adding Coolant to Your Engine (Topping it Off)
To add coolant to your engine, simply remove the reservoir cap; be careful that the engine isn’t too hot, and always wrap a cloth around the cap before removing it, as there may be some leftover pressure in the cooling system. Once the cap is off, add the fluid. It’s important to use the right coolant for your engine, which can be bought from an auto parts store or obtained from an auto service center.
It’s not recommended to use tap water, as microscopic contaminants may build up inside the engine and cause the coolant pipes to become blocked with time. An alternative to antifreeze is distilled water, which is purified and doesn’t contain harmful contaminants. However, if regular water is all that’s available, it’s better to use that than to allow your coolant level to get too low.
Draining the Engine Coolant Safely
Your engine’s cooling system must be occasionally drained and then refilled; it’s a routine maintenance practice just like checking your oil or changing your tires, and it ensures that the system stays in working order. To do it, follow these steps:
- Find the lowest easily accessible point in the system. In most cases, this is where one of the coolant hoses is connected to the bottom of the vehicle’s radiator. Use a bucket to collect the coolant, as antifreeze is harmful to the ecosystem, even if it’s diluted. Disconnect the hose and allow the liquid to drain into the container before disposing of it in an environmentally friendly way. Many shops offering car maintenance nearby will do this for you.
- Once the system has been purged of coolant, be sure to tightly re-connect the radiator hose. After all, you don’t want that fresh (and expensive) coolant to go right through the system and onto the ground!
While draining the engine coolant is a relatively easy procedure, it’s not for everyone. At Jiffy Lube, we offer quick, easy, and safe coolant flushes, as well as other auto maintenance services. Give us a call or stop in; there’s no appointment necessary!
Refilling the Coolant
Your vehicle’s owner’s manual should offer an idea as to how much antifreeze the system holds, as well as the required coolant concentration. It’s important to use the right antifreeze, as it keeps the coolant from freezing during a cold winter. If you’re only using water inside your engine, it could freeze, expanding and potentially cracking your engine block.
Make a solution of antifreeze and distilled water in the appropriate concentration before pouring it into the coolant reservoir. Once it’s up to the maximum mark, start the vehicle and allow it to run for a while without the reservoir cap; this forces air bubbles to the top and bleeds the system. It’s wise to use the radiator’s bleed screw to force out as much air as possible. While it’s important to do this on a relatively cold engine, you should still take care, as any liquid that drips out could be warm.
Find the screw and loosen it until a stream of water flows out, as this tells you that there’s no air in the system. Once this happens, tighten the screw once more. This may slightly decrease the coolant level in the reservoir, so be sure to top it up before replacing the cap. Now you’re ready to get back on the road!
A Few Final Checks
Before driving your vehicle, be sure that any caps and screws are re-tightened and all connections are dry. If there are any leaks present, you may have to re-test those connections or tighten some bolts. While we know that most of you are confident enough to change your own coolant, we also understand that not everyone is ready to do so. Give us a call or stop by for a coolant flush and other car maintenance nearby.