Cool Weather Coolant Tips

In many areas of the United States, cooler weather is upon us, which means we've finally escaped one of the hottest summers on record. But just because the weather is turning doesn't mean that you can blithely ignore your cooling system until next summer. Though moderate exterior temperatures don't test a vehicle's cooling system the way extreme heat will, a failure can still leave you stranded. And when the temperature dips to below freezing, your cooling system gets another test. If it flunks, you're stranded again.

Just like people, cars need the right amount of fluids and care to avoid overheating or freezing. One clue to your cooling system's health is right on your dashboard. If your vehicle's temperature gauge rises significantly while you are climbing hills, pulling a trailer, or sitting in traffic, it most likely means that the engine and cooling system are living on the edge. This can result in a sudden breakdown, and perhaps even costly engine damage.

Pep Boys, one of the nation's leading full-service automotive aftermarket retail and service chains, offers this list of preventive maintenance procedures to perform on a vehicle to make certain its cooling system is in tip-top shape:
  1. Carefully check the radiator for leaks and debris. Leaves, plastic bags, and other detritus that collects on the radiator can seriously diminish the effectiveness of the system in dissipating heat.

  2. Carefully check the radiator and heater hoses and replace any that are worn, cracked, brittle, or mushy.

  3. Flush the cooling system every 24,000 miles or according to the vehicle manufacturers' recommendation. Replace the coolant with the proper proportion of water and manufacturer-approved coolant when low.

  4. Check your cooling system for leaks. If you see a puddle under your car or notice a sweet, moist smell, it is most likely a cooling system leak. This type of puddle should not be confused with evaporator drain, which is normal and not a cause for concern. Clear liquid under the middle of the vehicle is normal with air conditioner use, while greenish orange or muddy colored liquid under the engine area is a sign of a cooling system leak.

    If there is an external leak, tighten, repair or replace leaking parts. If there is an internal leak, it may originate from various areas within the engine. This could be a serious mechanical problem. In this case, have it checked by an ASE-certified professional technician. A pressure test can determine if and where there is a leak.

  5. Periodically replace the thermostat, which controls the flow of coolant between the engine block and the radiator. When the engine is cold, the thermostat restricts the flow of coolant to the radiator, permitting the engine to heat up. As the engine warms, the thermostat opens, allowing coolant to flow to the radiator and keep the engine temperature within ideal operating limits. Never remove the thermostat without replacing it, because the engine may not perform properly if it does not warm up to normal operating temperature.
If you follow these tips, you'll find that your cooling system will see you through the fall and winter months without a whimper, and you'll be ready for another cooling system check with the green leaves of spring.

Car enthusiast and writer Luigi Fraschini lives in Cleveland, so he's anticipating the fall and winter months with trepidation... and a window scraper.