All internal combustion engines, like the one in your car or truck, have some kind of antifreeze component. Simply put, the antifreeze in your vehicle is a mixture of water and a special blend of chemicals designed to keep your engine within safe temperatures. It is also known as engine coolant in an automotive context. When the engine is running, the antifreeze mixture runs through the radiator, water pump, and many other parts of the engine, absorbing the excess heat generated by the combustion process. The additive is also designed to prevent water from freezing, so when it’s cold outside, your engine won’t be bound up in a block of ice. Coolant mixtures for vehicles also include chemicals designed to prevent metal corrosion and special lubricants to protect the engine.
Like any other component of your vehicle, antifreeze should be regularly checked and maintained to keep the vehicle running at top performance. A well-maintained vehicle runs more smoothly and gets better gas mileage (saving you money!), and by performing regular services, any small problems that develop can be caught before they become big problems.
Many antifreeze mixtures (those containing ethylene glycol) are very poisonous, to humans as well as animals and plants. It must be reg check handled with great care and disposed of in special conditions. It has a sweet taste and a unique appearance, which makes it very attractive to children, and ethylene glycol poisoning is difficult to detect since it can mimic other illnesses. Newer kinds of antifreeze may contain propylene glycol instead, which is not toxic (it is food-safe and is often used in water pipes). Your mechanic will be able to tell you which kind of antifreeze is right for your vehicle.
Antifreeze needs to be checked often to make sure that it is working properly. If there has been a leak or if the engine has overheated, the mixture will need to be tested and possibly replaced. Ethylene glycol mixtures can be tested in a home garage with a mass-marketed hydrometer to check its specific gravity (a chemical property referring to density), but are only effective up to certain temperatures. Propylene glycol mixtures cannot be measured with a hydrometer. Either mixture can be tested with a refract to meter or with special test strips, but these methods are best left to trained professionals.
If your region experiences extreme winter cold or extreme summer heat, you may need to use a different antifreeze mixture for each season to ensure optimal functioning. A standard mixture of engine coolant will be 50 percent water and 50 percent antifreeze. This provides freeze protection down to -34 degrees Fahrenheit (-37 Celsius). In colder areas, a stronger solution of 40% water and 60% antifreeze gives better cold protection while still providing good corrosion protection and heat removal. A 30%/70% mixture can be used in the coldest areas to provide freeze protection all the way down to -84 degrees Fahrenheit (-64 degrees Celsius). Likewise, warmer areas may prefer a mixture of 60% water and 40% antifreeze in the summer – the additional water means that more heat can be absorbed with each cycle through the engine.
Regions with cold winters, such as New England, will do best to change their coolant mixture with the seasons – a cold-weather mixture for winter and a warm-weather mixture for summer – to provide the best protection for their vehicles. Warm regions, like Texas or Florida, won’t need special antifreeze for winter, but should be sure to have their coolant checked at the beginning of summer, to make sure that it’s still effective. It is wise to have it changed at least once a year, no matter where you live, to maintain effectiveness and prevent corrosion and buildup in the engine.
A home mechanic with special tools is capable of checking and changing his or her own antifreeze, but this is a job best left to the professionals. Proper collection and disposal are important, especially when children or pets are present. A professional mechanic can ensure that your engine gets the right mixture in the right ratio, and can perform other maintenance checks, such as on the radiator and water pump, to make sure that the whole system is healthy. Don’t let a simple fluid ruin your summer fun – get your antifreeze checked and changed to ensure that your car is ready to get you where you want to go.