Antifreeze is also known as engine coolant. It’s a colored liquid that is mixed with water and added to your car’s engine to help regulate the temperature under extreme heat. As the temperature outside changes between hot and cold, antifreeze is pumped throughout the engine block to help maintain an even temperature.
Antifreeze does more than regular temperature. It’s also designed to keep the engine block safe and operating well. By maintaining it properly, you’ll prevent corrosion from occurring within the system itself.
Yet don’t be fooled into thinking antifreeze is antifreeze. Pick up a bottle and they all are the same. There are different types of antifreeze, and mixing them could be dangerous for your car.
Have you mixed antifreeze? Now what? There are a few things to know if you’ve grabbed the wrong bottle and filled up the reserve with the wrong substance.
How antifreeze works
Some substances, like motor oil, can be added directly into the reservoir as is. Antifreeze needs to be mixed with water, usually in a 50/50 ratio, before being added to the reservoir inside the engine.
Antifreeze is made up of a base chemical called ethylene glycol. It has a much lower freezing point than water. When the antifreeze mixture is added into the engine block, it is pumped around the engine by the water pump. As it passes through hot components of the engine, it absorbs the heat as the liquid is transferred into the radiator. The temperature of the antifreeze is then cooled by the cold air supply that rushes through the radiator as the car drives along. If it has trouble keeping up, an internal fan turns on to control the air movement. After passing through the radiator, antifreeze moves back into the engine where the process begins once again.
Types of antifreeze
There are two major types of antifreeze. One is a green coolant, the other is an orange color. You can find less common types that may be blue, pink, or gold. To ensure you add what’s best for your car’s engine, ready your owner’s manual and follow manufacturer’s guidelines. The easiest way to identify your car’s antifreeze is by color. Yet checking with specifications ensures you purchase what’s best for your vehicle.
Green antifreeze uses an inorganic additive technology, also known as IAT. Phosphates and silicates are mixed in with the ethylene glycol to help protect the metals that exist within the vehicle’s cooling system from being corroded.
Orange antifreeze uses an organic acid technology, or OAT. They are created for today’s newer models that have more nylon and aluminum parts in them. The organic acids are designed to prevent corrosion. OAT antifreeze promises full cooling coverage up to 150,000 miles or so, but it doesn’t consistently deliver. It’s best to keep an eye on it and have it inspected from time to time to ensure it’s operating well.
While less common, other colors of antifreeze such as blue, pink, or gold exist and deliver cooling qualities to other types of cars and trucks. The difference is in the additives they use within the antifreeze mixture itself.
Antifreeze is antifreeze … Or is it?
If you search online, you’ll find people on both sides of the issue. Some say you can mix antifreeze without an issue. Others tell you it’s a big problem. Which is true?
Mixing antifreeze is a bad idea and can cause serious damage to the engine block. What can happen depends on what types you mix together, as each mixture provides different qualities to your vehicle. If the chemical composition is the same but the brand is different, no harm will come to your vehicle.
The most common mixup is with the green and orange antifreeze. When green and orange mix, they form a thick coagulant that gums up and sticks inside the system. The damage can happen swiftly. It shortens the lifespan of the coolant and starts impacting the engine block almost immediately. If it continues to operate, it risks damaging the entire cooling system. It can cause problems with the radiator, water jackets, heater core, and in severe cases, the head gasket.
How often does a car need new antifreeze?
Antifreeze isn’t a fluid you add and change out frequently, like you do motor oil. It’s a good idea to have antifreeze levels checked periodically. You can do so at the start of summer and winter, when antifreeze will be put under more extreme stress. You can also do so if you’re heading out for a road trip, to ensure everything in your vehicle is working well.
Your car’s owner manual will provide precise information on when and where to have antifreeze levels checked and changed.
It’s usually when you’re on a road trip or outside of your normal routine where you might be tempted to use whatever you can find. If your car is overheating and you’re tempted to add more antifreeze, before risking adding the wrong liquid, you can add distilled water instead. The most common composition of coolant is made from 50 percent antifreeze and 50 percent water. A car will never run with 100 percent antifreeze. Adding water will reduce the freezing point, but it can get you safely to a mechanic where the entire system can be evaluated.
A coolant flush
Coolant flushes are necessary when you start noticing an issue with your vehicle’s function, status, and performance. You may notice you car is in need of a flush if it:
- Overheats – this is a sign of excessive heat in the engine. The engine doesn’t have the proper heat balance that coolant provides.
- Ages – if you’ve been driving for more than five years without an issue, it may be time to check the condition of the coolant and flush it out to remove debris and other contaminants.
- Warning signals – the check engine light is a clear indicator that something is wrong internally.
Mixed antifreeze is a problem
If you’ve accidentally mixed antifreeze types, your best course of action is to bring it in and assess the damage. A coolant flush can remove the current mixture and allow you to start fresh with a clean mixture recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer.
It allows your car to continue operating well.
Have you ever mixed antifreeze before?