What Is Antifreeze and Why Do I Need It for My Car?

A mechanic pouring antifreeze into a vehicle's engine.

With the holiday season right around the corner, many across the country are getting ready for their favorite wintertime activities. There is plenty for everyone to do this time of year, from planning ski trips, visiting family, holiday shopping, or any other winter favorites. However, while winter is the perfect time for all of these activities and then some, it’s also a great chance to stay up-to-date on your car, truck, or SUV’s essential maintenance needs.

One essential task is checking your vehicle’s antifreeze, which can help you ensure your vehicle performs properly and safely in the frigid months to come. Before you get into your vehicle and head out on your wintertime adventures, it’s vital first to understand what exactly antifreeze is and why it’s needed in your car.

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What is Antifreeze?

While antifreeze does help keep your car’s engine from ‘freezing’ during the colder winter months, it actually plays a much more vital role in protecting your vehicle. Simply put, antifreeze is an ethylene glycol-based solution used to help regulate the temperature of your car’s engine. This means that while antifreeze does help keep your engine from freezing during the frigid winter weather, it is also vital in helping to prevent overheating. Due to these essential functions, many drivers will often use the terms coolant and antifreeze interchangeably. However, there is a distinct difference between them.

While capable of regulating your engine’s temperatures on its own, antifreeze is one of 2 base ingredients used to create engine coolants. By combining antifreeze with water (often in a 50/50 mix, but can go as high as a 70/30 mix of antifreeze to water), the resulting combination provides your vehicle with more temperature regulation than just using antifreeze on its own. Specifically, this mixture of fluids works to stop both overheating by helping to raise the boiling point within your engine block, as well as lowering the freezing point.

How Does Antifreeze Work in My Vehicle?

Antifreeze is used as part of a more extensive cooling system within your vehicle, helping to keep your engine’s temperature regulated. But how does this work, and why is it needed? Well, when you first start your vehicle, thousands of tiny controlled explosions begin to take place within your engine. These explosions are what helps to provide the power needed to move your car forward or backward. However, because of these explosions, your engine’s temperature will increase significantly. Without keeping the temperature of these explosions under control, you could risk severe damage to your vehicle.

To avoid this, a thermometer inside the engine constantly measures the temperature inside the engine block. When the internal temperature begins to get higher than usual, your vehicle’s internal cooling system is triggered. This results in your engine opening a gasket that allows the coolant (a mixture of antifreeze and water) to enter the engine and absorb the heat.

As this occurs, the newly heated liquid is then transferred to your vehicle’s radiator, where air taken from outside the vehicle cools the coolant. When the engine reaches its specific temperature threshold, the process repeats itself, which is especially vital for those driving in warmer climates. In the winter, the antifreeze inside the overall coolant mixture stops the water under the hood from freezing when the internal combustions are no longer taking place. This is especially important when your vehicle is parked outside or stored for a prolonged period of time during the fall and winter months.

Keeping both your antifreeze and coolant levels at your automotive manufacturer’s recommended level is crucial. Failing to do so or using the incorrect types of essential fluids in your vehicle can potentially lead to unexpected breakdowns or other serious issues. If you are unsure how much antifreeze or engine coolant to use or the correct types needed for your vehicle, refer to your owner’s manual for more help.

What Problems Come from a Lack of Antifreeze?

Often, the most common sign of a lack of antifreeze is your engine freezing and being unable to start in the winter, or your engine overheating and beginning to steam when running. The most common cause of these types of issues is having a leak somewhere within your coolant system, such as a faulty gasket or hose.

Additionally, apart from helping to regulate your engine’s temperature, another benefit of antifreeze and coolant is in the various additives within them. These can help to provide an array of benefits to your vehicle, such as protecting against rust and corrosion. These types of additives are especially important, as damage to your engine could cost thousands of dollars in repair bills, as components such as the water pump, head gasket, cylinder head, and more can all fail due to excessive rust or corrosion. However, by following your vehicle’s recommended preventative maintenance schedule, you can help ensure your vehicle wears properly while avoiding any potential issues to your vehicle’s engine or other vital components.

How Endurance Can Help Keep You Protected

Staying up-to-date on your vehicle’s essential maintenance is important, no matter the time of the year. With an EnduranceAdvantage™ vehicle service contract, you can protect yourself against unexpected breakdowns and costly repair bills when it comes to your vehicle’s most vital components. Additionally, each EnduranceAdvantage package comes with up to $3,500 in regular maintenance benefits, which means you can rest easy knowing essential services such as up to 3 oil and filter changes, tire rotations, PSI checks, and more are all included — at no additional cost to you. You can even receive several special, one-time services such as a brake pad/shoe replacement, a battery replacement, or cooling system maintenance for even more coverage and savings. Each new Endurance customer will also automatically be eligible for 1 year of Elite Benefits with the purchase of any Endurance breakdown protection plan for a small $20 activation fee.

To learn more about EnduranceAdvantage or any other Endurance plan, you can request a free online quote or give us a call at 866.918.1438 to speak directly with one of our customer service representatives. You can also find other answers to FAQs, DIY maintenance tips, expert automotive advice, and more by visiting our Learning Center.

A Vehicle Service Contract (VSC) is often referred to as an “auto warranty” or an “extended car warranty,” but it is not a warranty. A VSC does, however, provide repair coverage for your vehicle after the manufacturer’s car warranty expires. A VSC is a contract between you and a VSC provider or administrator that states what is a covered repair and what is not. Not all vehicles qualify for coverage; Endurance does not offer VSCs in California.