How to ...Check Your Coolant Level
What is engine coolant?
Coolant keeps the temperature in your engine at a safe level. As the combustion process takes place, a lot of heat is produced. Coolant carries this heat away to prevent the overheating and causing engine failure.
You can check and top up your coolant levels at home and here's how ...
How to check your engine coolant level
You will need;
- Antifreeze, this can be purchased ready mixed or as a concentrate. If you buy the concentrate you will need a jug and water to mix your coolant.
- Gloves are recommended as antifreeze may cause irritation.
- A rag
- Funnel (optional) to help prevent spillages.
You must wait until the engine is cold before you check your coolant level to prevent scalding.
Step 1: Raise the bonnet and secure in raised position
Step 2: Locate the coolant tank
The cap of the coolant tank will often have a warning on it to not open unless the engine is cold. The coolant system is pressurised, if you remove the cap while the engine is hot, coolant could spurt out as the pressure is released and scald you. If the location of the coolant tank is not clear to you, make sure you refer to your vehicle handbook, where you should find a diagram of its location.
Step 3: Check the level
On the side of the coolant tank, or sometimes on the inside, you will see a minimum and maximum guide. If your coolant level is between these levels, there is nothing you need to do. If your coolant level is close to the minimum or below the minimum level you will need to top up.
Step 4: Top up your coolant
If you need to top up your coolant, make sure your coolant is mixed and ready. You can buy coolant ready mixed, or as a concentrate. If you need to mix your coolant from antifreeze concentrate, then refer to the manufacturers guide printed on the bottle, You can mix your antifreeze with water in a jug ready to pour into the coolant tank. Make sure you dispose of any extra coolant mixed safely.
Step 5: Unscrew the coolant tank cap
Ensure the engine is cool. Put your rag over the cap to unscrew, this will ensure that if any coolant does squirt out of the pressurised system it does not end up on you!
Step 6: Top up coolant
You can then refer to the minimum and maximum guides on the coolant tank and top up as required, use a funnel if you wish to prevent spillages. You can then replace the cap and lower the bonnet. If you have spilt any coolant make sure you rinse it off the body work of the car and wash your hands thoroughly.
What is coolant made of?
Coolant is a mix of water and antifreeze. Water alone is not enough to cool your engine. The coolant is moved around the engine by a water pump. For this movement to happen the coolant needs to be a liquid. When the car is not in motion, the coolant in the tank will be still. This means if pure water is used, and the temperature drops below freezing, the water will freeze and become unmovable. This will leave your engine without a cooling system and it will soon overheat. Antifreeze prevents coolant from freezing. Antifreeze also raises the boiling point of coolant preventing the heat from the engine from boiling off the liquid.
Which coolant should I use?
There are several makes and varieties of coolant available. You should always refer to your vehicle handbook and use the coolant recommended by the manufacturer, as there is no coolant that is suitable for every vehicle. If you need to, you can use an online tool to check which coolant is recommended for you.
Does coolant expire?
The main component of antifreeze is a substance called ethylene glycerol which will not expire. However, most makes of antifreeze also put in additives that are designed to reduce corrosion in the cooling system. These additives do have an expiration date, so it is recommended that the cooling system is drained and filled with fresh coolant every 30,000 miles.
How often should I check and top up my coolant?
The coolant system is closed, so there is nowhere for your coolant to escape to, meaning the level rarely drops, but over time small amounts may be boiled off. It is recommended that you check your coolant level at least twice a year, once before the summer and once before the winter.
If you find your coolant level is regularly dropping and you are needing to frequently top up, then it is most likely that there is a leak somewhere in the system. You will need to seek professional advice to locate the leak and fix the problem.
How should I dispose of any unneeded coolant?
Antifreeze is considered a hazardous substance. If it is ingested it can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, headaches and seizures. In the long-term it can cause kidney failure and possibly brain damage. This is why it is important to keep antifreeze away from children and stored away from any food or drink to prevent contamination. Antifreeze is very attractive to wildlife, who may drink from any spillages left on the road. For animals very small amounts can be fatal.
It is important to rinse any accidental spillages thoroughly and dispose of any unwanted antifreeze responsibly. You should contact your local household waste recycling site, as most of these will accept antifreeze. You could also call your local garage as they may accept the antifreeze to dispose of with their own.
If ingestion of antifreeze has occurred you should seek medical assistance immediately.
If you are not confident, do not attempt to top up your coolant yourself - make sure you contact a trained professional.
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2 May 2018
Written by Natalie Faughy