Performing essential car maintenance plays a huge role in whether or not you experience a sudden breakdown on the road—especially now with winter quickly approaching.
Although some might argue winterizing your car is most important, smaller tasks like checking your coolant plays a key role in keeping your engine healthy as temperatures drop. It’s a good idea to do extra checks on your coolant in cold weather, but our experts suggest checking year-round.
To help you feel empowered this season, our experts broke down the importance of checking your coolant before winter with our easy-to-follow guide.
The Importance of Checking Your Coolant Before Winter
Your owner’s manual contains your maintenance schedule on how often you should change your coolant—typically recommended every two years or 30,000 miles.
Coolant is a mixture of antifreeze and distilled water. The antifreeze reduces the freezing temperature and raises the boiling temperature of the liquid that circulates around the engine. Antifreeze also works on lubricating the engine’s internal components when combined with water.
Not checking your coolant levels according to your owner’s manual can result in your engine getting damaged—an auto repair that typically requires thousands to fix. Below you can find out how your car’s cooling system works, how to check your coolant, and how to change it yourself.
Does My Car Need Antifreeze in the Winter?
You may think antifreeze and coolant are the same things, but that is not true—antifreeze is an ethylene glycol-based liquid that does not freeze or boil easily, while engine coolant is a mixture of antifreeze and distilled water. When added to water, the ethylene glycol in antifreeze lowers the freezing temperature and raises the boiling point, allowing the liquid to circulate through the engine bay regardless of the season.
Engine coolant is typically a 50/50 split of antifreeze and distilled water, but there are also some options made of 70/30 split of antifreeze and water. To find out which one your car needs, check your owner’s manual or ask for assistance at your local retailer.
Can I Change My Coolant?
Yes, but first, you need to know how to check the coolant and amount of antifreeze in it. Make sure the engine is completely cool and put on protective eyewear and gloves. Identify the coolant reservoir and remove the cap to inspect the car coolant. If it doesn’t look clean, it’s best to take the car to a trusted mechanic. If it’s clear and there’s no rusty residue, you can change the coolant yourself fairly easily using the steps below. While you’re doing this, check if the coolant mix is ready for winter temperatures with an antifreeze tester.
To change the coolant, you’ll need to start by draining the old coolant with protective eyewear and gloves on. The antifreeze in coolant is toxic and should never be poured down the drain. Check your local regulations and facilities for disposing of hazardous waste responsibly.
How to Check Your Coolant
- Raise the car using a jack and stands and place a container to catch the drained coolant underneath the radiator.
- Remove or open the radiator drain plug or bolt (depending on the type) and wait for all the coolant to drain. Replace the plug or bolt. Safely dispose of the toxic drained coolant to a suitable container.
- Flush out the cooling system by pouring rinsing fluid into the reservoir before topping it up with water. Drain the system again in the same way you did with the coolant, reserving the toxic drained fluid in a sealed container to dispose of responsibly.
- Fill the coolant reservoir with your new coolant, ensuring you have enough antifreeze in the mix to get you through winter’s colder temperatures. Sometimes you get bubbles of air in the cooling system so it’s advisable to bleed it, which you can do by running the engine for a few minutes with the coolant reservoir cap off. It’s important to stay clear of the engine and allow it to completely cool down before replacing the coolant reservoir cap while wearing protective gloves.
- Take care to clean up any spilled coolant, wash your gloves and hands thoroughly, and dispose of the toxic coolant following local instructions.
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