What happens if your vehicle runs out of gas? It comes to a stop.
What happens if your car runs out of motor oil? It comes to a stop.
What happens if it runs out of coolant?
Not quite sure?
Coolant is an important fluid to help your car run efficiently. But is it as important as gas or motor oil? Do you need it in the same way as other fluids? Can you keep driving with low coolant?
What is coolant?
Coolant is also known as antifreeze. It’s made from a heat-absorbing ethylene glycol or propylene glycol to help collect heat from the engine components. It’s designed to expand as it increases in temperature, and helps protect the engine from wear and tear.
Because of this expansion, coolant is placed into your vehicle using a 50/50 ratio with distilled water. It should be installed following manufacturers’ guidelines, and flushed on a recommended basis to ensure it’s working as designed.
How coolant works in an engine
Without an engine, your car wouldn’t go. A combustion engine works by burning fuel and oxygen at temperatures well over 200 degrees. The metal shell contains pistons that move up and down containing thousands of tiny explosions every minute. This is what creates the heat necessary to keep your car operating.
While the exhaust system is designed to expel hot gases from the engine after they burn, metal still absorbs some heat throughout the process. Coolant helps keep these parts cool, especially as it continues to build underneath the hood.
Enter your vehicle’s cooling system. It is designed to dispel heat no matter what the temperature is like outside. Winter or summer, cold or hot, engines can overheat if they aren’t running properly. It’s as important to ensure proper coolant levels in the winter months as it is in the summer.
During extreme cold spells, for example, your cooling system has to work even harder. Combustion engines produce two things: heat and friction. Friction forms when internal components of the engine move very quickly against each other. In cold weather, the thermostat or a coolant leak can block a portion of the system, limiting the friction necessary for normal operation. This allows the entire system to overheat.
What happens if your car runs out of coolant?
Coolant circulates through the entire engine as it’s operating to prevent it from overheating. This isn’t an all-or-nothing system. It begins to damage the engine the lower it gets.
When your car notices a problem, it alerts you to the danger by signaling through a dashboard warning light. It might be a temperature gauge warning your vehicle is running hot. Temperatures are rising, and there’s a reason.
Some cars today are built with an automatic engine cut-off. This is an automatic way of preventing further damage to your vehicle. When the system detects low coolant and a potentially hazardous situation for your car, it cuts the engine and won’t start until it’s corrected.
But before this is done, it can start damaging auto parts. Depending on your vehicle, if it doesn’t have the automatic kill feature, damage begins the lower the coolant becomes. While there are many parts that can be impacted, they include:
- Water pump
- Head gasket
- Cylinder head
- Connector rods
The longer you drive, the more damage is done. The more money you’ll spend on the repair bill getting it fixed. Not only will you need extensive repair work, if the damage is too comprehensive, you may need a new engine altogether.
That makes your coolant a pretty important fluid inside your vehicle!
What are the warning signs of low coolant?
Luckily, your car is programmed to give you warning signs before real damage is done. Don’t ignore these warning signs. The faster you act, the more you can prevent dangerous and expensive repair problems.
A rising temperature gauge
Every dashboard has a temperature gauge to tell you how hot your engine is running. Become familiar with the settings and keep an eye on it from time to time. If it moves, signaling your car is hotter than average, pay attention to it. If it moves towards red, this is one of the key indicators there is something wrong with your cooling system. If you notice it changing as you’re driving, pull over and turn off the engine. You can open the hood to help it cool. Then as soon as you can, schedule a maintenance appointment to fix the problem before it can escalate.
Heater not working or a hot air supply
A car’s heater utilizes the hot air formed by your engine to help warm the passenger compartment. If it malfunctions, you may have problems keeping your interior cabin the temperature you prefer. If you notice a constant supply of hot air, or a complete lack of heat, it’s telling you there is a problem with your cooling system.
Poor fuel economy
Here’s another reason to keep an eye on your gas mileage each fill up. If there isn’t another reason for decreasing gas mileage, it might have something to do with the way your engine is operating. If it’s running at optimal performance, fuel will burn effectively, and your fuel economy will be maximized. As temperatures increase, it takes more power to complete the same results, which may materialize as fuel inefficiency. This also produces more emissions.
A sweet smell
Coolant is designed to have a distinct sweet smell. It can attract both kids and animals, which is why you should always keep it out of reach, as well as clean up any leaks or spills immediately. Coolant can leak at high temperatures, which can often be found by following your nose. This can help you pinpoint where leaks or damage has occurred.
Do you have a coolant leak? Should you keep driving with low coolant? Not if you want to prevent repair work down the road.
The moment you detect a problem with the way your vehicle operates, schedule a maintenance visit as soon as possible. It can be the difference between a minor repair with an equally low cost, or one that escalates and turns into a full-blown problem.