Myths About Engine Coolant and When to Replace It

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There are many myths surrounding engine coolant that is commonly mistaken as true. We will debunk some of the well-known myths about coolant in this article today.

But first, we have to understand what coolant is and how it works to keep our engines at a healthy temperature. Engines produce a lot of energy by burning fuel.

About one-third of this energy is spent moving the vehicle forward, the other two-thirds is converted into heat. Some part of this heat goes out of the exhaust while some heat remains inside the engine block.

engine coolant
Image Source: schwartz.mark via flickr

The engines need a way to cool down and dissipate the heat. Otherwise, the accumulated heat over time starts to melt the working components together and seizing the engine in the process.

Coolant is a water-based liquid, that is designed to absorb the heat from the engine. The hot coolant is then sent to a radiator located at the front of the vehicle and is air-cooled as the vehicle moves forward.

Now that we have understood what coolant is, lets us move forward to the common myths surrounding it.

Myth #1: I never need to replace my Coolant.

Did you know that up to 40% of all engine failures can be attributed to coolant system problems?

It’s important to test your coolant to see if the inhibitors, pH, %Antifreeze and Freeze point are at the correct levels for proper protection of the cooling system.

If the coolant is left unchecked for long, it starts to break down and develops rust. This can cause corrosion in the cooling system and lead to engine issues.

It is recommended that under heavy usage, the engine coolant to be tested at least twice a year: once before winter sets in and again right before summer.

Another misconception surrounding this subject is that you never need to flush out coolant and it only needs to be topped off.

Just like we flush out the engine oil during a routine service, the coolant also needs to be flushed out and replaced.

Myth #2: Coolant color doesn’t make any difference.

Today, there seems to be coolant for every color in the rainbow. It’s important to understand the multitude of variations in the different coolant formulations.

There are conventional coolants that may have the same color as an organic acid formulation. But the color does not indicate the type of inhibitors present in the fluid. It’s important to choose the right quality coolant that meets your OEM specifications.

It is important that you do not mix coolants with different colors and different formulation of inhibitors. This can cause dilution of the inhibitors and lead to corrosion.

Likewise, just because coolant is the same color does not mean it has the same formulation of inhibitors. The best practice is to not mix coolant formulations.

If you have a new vehicle, make sure you know what coolant formulation is already in the tank. As a rule of thumb, always use OEM recommended coolant for your vehicle.

Myth #3: I can just use plain water instead of Coolant.

This is the worst of all coolant myths, and it can ruin your engine. Water causes corrosion, rust and can eventually cause engine failure. Water has a lower boiling point, which can result in your engine overheating in a warm climate.

During winters the water in the coolant reservoir may freeze, causing blockages in the radiator veins and thus affecting the cooling system. Using straight water is a big no-no under any circumstance.

However, it is okay to add water to your coolant. But it is important to know how much to add, to know the proper glycol concentration levels.

Most coolant manufacturers recommend using a 50/50 mix of water and ethylene glycol. This will protect your cooling system all the way down to freezing temperatures.

Myth #4: A small coolant leak is OK.

A leak in the coolant reservoir or the radiator should not be overlooked. If the radiator has a leak, it will eventually crack open and possibly cause any permanent damage.

If there is a leaky hose, it will blow out someday or will eventually dump out all the coolant. In short, all kinds of misfortune can happen that may end up costing you a lot of money if a coolant leak, no matter how small, is neglected.

It is also against law to dump coolant into surface waters. Coolants have poisonous content and have the potential to contaminate any water bodies nearby.

Thus in addition to costing you money and time, leaking coolant is also an environmental risk.

Myth #5: Keeping the coolant full will do the job.

Many believe that the coolant level is the only important factor. Wrong! The quality of the coolant is just as important.

Like previously mentioned, the coolant will deteriorate just like the engine oil. Thus it is essential to perform regular coolant flushes.

Simply draining out old coolant and refilling the reservoir isn’t enough. During a flush, the contaminants accumulated in the system over-time are also removed.

Keeping your cooling system well-maintained and full of high-quality coolant will protect your vehicle against corrosion and future damage.

Myth #6: Coolant hoses don’t need replacements.

The cooling system’s hoses are made of firm but flexible rubber and they do lose their flexibility with continuous use. Since these hoses are always close to the engine, they are designed to absorb the vibrations.

They make look good on the outside but the inner walls harden and it negatively affects their ability to absorb vibrations from the engine.

If left unchecked, they may leak, develop cracks at the connection ports of the engine and eventually lead to costly repairs.

Always make sure you get the coolant hoses checked during regular services and replace any faulty ones with quality parts.

When to replace your engine coolant?

Most Manufacturers will recommend you to change your coolant every two to three years. But the answer to this question depends on where you ride and how much riding you do. Those living in areas with extreme temperature ranges may need to change their coolant twice a year.

If you have a new vehicle, sticking to the manufacturer’s schedule will be the best practice. In the case of a relatively older vehicle, one should always get the coolant levels and the cooling system checked with every regular service.