Every time you start your car, several different systems kick into gear. First, the starter motor comes to life. Then the engine turns, and the spark plugs fire. As the engine turns over, the crankshaft moves, and the pistons push the cylinders to life. A combination of air and fuel is drawn into the cylinders, compressing it and using it to fire the spark plugs. This begins the combustion process.
Very quickly, you’ll start to feel heat. It doesn’t matter if you use a gasoline, diesel, or even a hybrid vehicle, they all naturally create heat.
Your car is designed to handle all of this heat. In the winter, if you turn on your heater, it can funnel some of this heat into the interior cabin to help keep you warm. The rest of the heat is handled in a different way.
It’s important to keep all internal parts at the proper temperature to ensure they work. That means keeping them cool enough to operate. To do this, your car relies on an engine coolant, also known as antifreeze. If your car starts to run low on coolant, it can allow your engine to overheat, which can severely damage your engine.
The cooling system includes the radiator, thermostat, coolant, and a variety of hoses that circulate the antifreeze where it’s supposed to go. It absorbs the heat as it operates, carrying heat away from the engine and into the radiator where a fan works to cool it down. The thermostat regulates this process, controlling just how much coolant is needed to flow through the system and keep it working.
What if your car is low on coolant?
One of the reasons regular maintenance is important is to ensure you never drive without major fluids circulating throughout your vehicle. If you’re low on coolant, it can create bubbles in the system. These bubbles can harm various parts, eventually seizing your engine altogether. Let’s start at the beginning.
If your vehicle runs low on coolant, the longer you drive, the greater chance of your engine overheating. There will be a spike on temperature levels throughout the coolant system, creating hot spots that start to damage the system. As these hot spots erupt, they cause damage including leaking. This allows coolant to flow erratically, allowing more coolant then needed into the engine. This builds in the combustion chamber, which in turn reduces the car’s power supply. At best, your car won’t run the way it should, and at worst, it will come to a complete standstill.
There’s a misnomer that engine overheating only occurs in the summertime. That’s not the case. Being lown on coolant in the winter can lead to severe problems with the engine block. Without a proper level of coolant, it can allow water in the system to solidify and become ice. You’ll notice this if you turn on the heating system and all it blows is cool air.
Most of the parts in the engine are made from metal. If the proper levels of coolant aren’t in the system, if the parts aren’t working as they should, it can allow rust to begin to form on various components. Antifreeze often has different additives that help prevent rust from forming. If you haven’t replaced the coolant in a while, or it runs low, the engine compartment isn’t receiving the proper protection against rusting.
Blown head gasket
The head gasket sits between the engine block and the cylinder head. The head gasket keeps the coolant and the motor oil separate as the two fluids travel between the engine block and the cylinder head. Over time, the head gasket can wear down and start to leak. As this happens, coolant levels can start to drop without and visible signs of coolant leakage.
This is why regular maintenance is so important. You can identify a blown head gasket by checking the oil dipstick. If you notice a milky liquid or bubbles sitting on the end of the dipstick, it may be a sign of a problem with the head gasket. And the sooner you fix the problem, the smaller the repair bill.
How do you know if you’re low on coolant?
This is where it benefits you to pay attention to how your car operates on a day to day basis.
Check the coolant reservoir
The easiest way to check your coolant levels is to pop the hood and check the reservoir. You can do this, or pull in to our service station regularly and have us perform a thorough inspection. This is especially important if you’ll be heading out on a road trip in the coming weeks.
Watch the temperature gauge
If your systems are operating correctly, the temperature gauge on your dashboard should sit below the half-way mark. If it begins to rise, it’s signaling you have a problem.
Check for leaks
If you suspect you might have a coolant leak, turn your vehicle off and check underneath the hood. Coolant leaks show up as either green or orange water droplets on the various hoses connecting your cooling system to your engine.
If coolant isn’t flowing properly, it won’t provide heat through your conditioning system inside the interior cabin. If you have the heat on high and it never gets warm, it’s a sign you have a problem with your coolant levels.
Like other fluids in your vehicle, manufacturers give coolant a distinct color and odor to make it easy to detect. Antifreeze has a sweet smell. If you notice that smell at any time you’re around your vehicle, it’s a sign of leaking coolant.
It’s also a good idea to watch your gas mileage as you drive. The cooling system allows your engine to operate properly. But if the proper levels of coolant aren’t supplied, fuel will start to burn faster, reducing the efficiency of your vehicle. You might also have trouble accelerating as the fuel doesn’t vaporize correctly as you drive.
If you suspect your car is low on coolant, a visit with one of our mechanics will help diagnose the problem and provide a comprehensive inspection to ensure all systems are operating efficiently.