Discover Mechanical

How do I check my car’s coolant system?

When it comes to keeping your vehicle running smoothly, engine coolant is vital. You can prevent costly damage by regularly checking your vehicle’s coolant levels.

Coolant prevents the engine from overheating and prevents corrosion damage. It is cooled as it passes through your vehicle’s radiator, before being pumped back around the engine to maintain operating temperatures. Coolant also prevents an engine from freezing in sub-zero temperatures. It’s essential you keep your engine’s coolant properly maintained. 
Engine coolant is generally a mixture of water and a product called antifreeze. Antifreeze is often a mixture of propylene or ethylene glycol, along with a few other chemicals. This mix of antifreeze and water is primarily used to allow heat transfer within the engine, and also works to inhibit rust and corrosion, lubricate seals, and to prevent the liquid from freezing or boiling, as discussed above.
Over time, engine coolant can degrade and it’s performance and ability reduces. Your owner’s manual will have a recommended interval in which to check the coolant level. Generally, it is advisable to have your cooling system serviced every two years or 40,000 kilometers, whichever comes first. Other variables that need to be taken into account include the age of the vehicle, the size and type of engine, local weather, the quality of your existing coolant and the total distance driven. All of these factors will impact on how frequently you will need to replace the coolant in your radiator. 
Whilst there are some simple checks that you can do to monitor your car’s cooling system, it is always advisable to have a qualified professional identify and rectify any cooling system problems that your vehicle may be experiencing. The qualified technicians at your nearest BestDrive can offer you expert advice to assist you in protecting your engine.
You should check your engine coolant twice a year. A good way for remembering when to do this is to do so when daylight savings commences and ends. Please be aware that your car manufacturer may advise otherwise, and your owner’s manual should always be referred and adhered to.

To check your engine coolant level, you will first need to ensure that the engine is cool. You should never remove the radiator cap while the engine is hot as the coolant will be under pressure and can escape, potentially causing burns. If you are unsure as to the location of your radiator cap, you can refer to your owner’s manual or call into your local BestDrive store for assistance.

Your engine coolant levels should always be between the minimum and maximum marks, which are indicated on the side of the coolant reservoir tank (note that most, if not all, modern cars have a separate coolant reservoir tank, or header tank, which is where you check the fluids. Very rarely will you have to check or refill the fluids directly in the radiator itself). Whenever the level drops below these guide marks, it requires topping up. If you find that your coolant level repeatedly falls below these guidelines, one of the following causes may be present:
  • A leak on a hose, clamp or seal (the older the vehicle, the more susceptible these may be)
  • Loose radiator cap, which is allowing coolant to escape
  • A blown head gasket
Apart from checking for visible leaks and puddles, an indicator that there is a problem with your engine coolant will be that the thermometer on your vehicle’s dashboard will display a hotter than normal reading, which means that your engine is overheating. A warning light on your dashboard may also activate.
An overheating engine can suffer significant damage, and could require major repairs. Common issues from overheating can include damage to vital seals and hoses, the radiator and head gasket, distortion of the cylinder head and major harm to internal engine components including pistons and the engine block.
If you find that your coolant level keeps dropping, regardless of whether or not you’re able to identify the source of the issue, it’s important to take your vehicle to be assessed as soon as possible. Your vehicle’s cooling system works hard to prevent your engine from overheating, or freezing up, which is why it is essential that you maintain it correctly. Regular maintenance of the cooling system can prevent larger and more costly issues down the track.
The qualified technicians at your nearest BestDrive can identify and rectify cooling system problems, which will ensure that your vehicle’s cooling system is running effectively, whilst giving you peace of mind.
BestDrive. You drive, we care.

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