Engine coolant called antifreeze in the winter and coolant in the summer. But when it leaks, you might be tempted to call it something else. Instead of cursing your vehicle, here’s how to recognize, diagnose and handle a coolant leak so you can get back on the road with a healthy car!
Your vehicle’s radiator houses its coolant. Coolant is a mixture of ethylene glycol, additives and water. Since water has a freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit and a boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, plain water won’t help your engine stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Adding ethylene glycol to water lowers the cooling point of your engine so it doesn’t freeze up in the winter and heightens the boiling point so your engine doesn’t overheat in the summer.
Suffice to say, engine coolant is a must to keep your vehicle running smoothly and to avoid costly engine repairs. So when you spot a leak, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
THE TELL-TALE SIGNS OF A LEAK
You are your car’s front-line defense when it comes to coolant leaks. Noticing a green, blue or orange puddle underneath the front of your car is probably the most well-known red flag. The other is hissing and steam streaming from underneath your hood when driving or just parking. Your check engine light might come on or you might smell something hot and sweet when stuck in traffic.
These are all warning signs that you need service. Some fixes are easy do-it-yourself fixes. Others may need diagnostic help from a mechanic. If you spot a coolant leak and feel that the DIY route is best for you, the first step is to find your radiator and add more coolant.
WHERE’S THE RADIATOR?
Your radiator is housed at the front of your vehicle just behind the grille in traditional, non-electric cars. It’s pretty easy to spot, especially on older models. Do not open a hot radiator as you can get burned by both steam and spewing coolant. Let it cool for at least 30 minutes or until completely cool so that you can check the level. While you’re at it, you can check your car’s other vitals.
In the meantime, give your radiator the once-over. Do you see any cracks in the radiator body itself? What about the radiator hose? Is it ajar or has a clamp come undone or is it cracked? Is your radiator cap not on correctly? Remember that your cooling system is a closed system that requires pressure to work. If anything is cracked or ajar, then you lose pressure and that can cause leakage.
HOW TO ADD COOLANT
You might be able to stop the leak yourself if the issue is just adjusting the cap, belt or clamp. If all of those are fine and you’ve checked your coolant level and find it low, simply pour more engine coolant into your radiator by lifting the cap and adding it according to the product’s label and instructions. Do not add past the full line as too much coolant can also cause leaks.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU CAN’T PLUG THE LEAK
Sometimes coolant leaks just aren’t DIY. You may find that adding coolant to your vehicle creates a larger leak or that your coolant hose has so many cracks in it that it makes you apprehensive to drive your car. Often, specific parts of your cooling system may need to be replaced.
You may find that your water pump, head gasket, thermostat or fan needs serviced as worn or cracked parts can also cause coolant leaks.
PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE HELPS
Older vehicles may need a radiator flush every 30,000 to 60,000 miles or every 150,000 miles-plus for newer cars. Make sure to check your owner’s manual for your car’s specific maintenance schedule. Unexplained coolant leaks can be both frustrating and incapacitating when they prevent you from driving your vehicle.Knowing your car’s vitals can help you recognize, diagnose and handle both slow and emergency leaks. Don’t be tempted to ignore them and lose your cool when an unexpected leak throws a wrench in your day. If there’s more to fixing your car’s coolant leak than adding antifreeze, call or make an online appointment with us.