How to Select the Right Type of Engine Coolant

Written by ehow cars editor
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Using engine coolant is essential to ensure the optimal performance of your engine, maintain engine temperature and prevent overheating. However, not all coolants are made equal. To select the right type of coolant for your car, you'll need to know a thing or two about your car engine's specifications and consider the type of coolant you've already been using.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Car owner's manual
  • Licensed auto mechanic or automotive-service professional (recommended)

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  1. 1

    Learn how coolants work to protect your car. Basically, a coolant forces heat building up in your car's engine to your car's radiator, where your engine's airflow system expels the excess heat. Without coolant, heat gets trapped in your engine, which can lead to serious damage.

  2. 2

    Refer to your owners' manual, and read up on all sections that discuss coolant and the cooling system. Here, you can learn specific information about the coolant inhibitor rating your car needs to function optimally. If not, you should contact an automotive professional or your car's manufacturer to learn what you need to know about your engine specs.

  3. 3

    Learn to distinguish between the various types of coolant available on the market. Standard coolants are comprised of a blend of water and ethylene glycol in a one-to-one ratio. As a general rule, you should stick with name-brand coolants, such as EngineIce, ThermalTake and Prestone, because they provide the essential inhibitors required to protect the various metal elements in your engine from corrosion and rust.

  4. 4

    Differentiate regular coolants from extended-life coolants by understanding that long-life coolant products don't have any added silicates or other chemical fortifiers. Instead, they use what is known as "organic-acid technology" (OAT) to provide protection that can last as long as 5 years or 150,000 miles. However, they are usually much more expensive, and they should not be mixed with regular coolants containing silicates, nitrates, phosphates or borates.

  5. 5

    Consult a mechanic when you take your car in for an oil change or a tune-up if you have specific questions about how to select the right type of coolant for your car. However, a good rule of thumb is to buy the best coolant you can afford, as your car won't suffer if you use a high-performance coolant that your engine doesn't necessarily need to perform well. Expect to pay about $15 to $25 for a high-performance coolant.

  6. 6

    Flush all existing coolant out of your system before you put the new coolant into it. Mixing an inferior coolant with a superior one will not improve the grade of the lesser product.

Tips and warnings

  • The number-one cause of car breakdowns is a compromised engine cooling system. Choosing a quality coolant is preventative maintenance for your car and might help you avoid costly repair bills down the road.
  • Check with your car manufacturer if you're in doubt over which type of coolant you should use. You can find your car manufacturer's website at (see Resources below).
  • It is no longer viable to select the right engine coolant based on color. While it once sufficed to match blue coolant with blue coolant, the complexity of today's coolants make the color of the product virtually meaningless. A coolant's performance is the result of its inhibitor rating, not its color.
  • If you mix a long-life coolant with a regular coolant (which you shouldn't), understand that you'll cancel out the long-life coolant's extended protective properties. You'll have to replace the coolant as you would if you were using regular coolant only.

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