Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls
  1. Home
  2. Articles
  3. What is Engine Coolant or Antifreeze?

What is Engine Coolant or Antifreeze?

A combustion engine works by burning a mixture of fuel and oxygen at temperatures over 200 degrees. Complete this process more than 2,000 times per minute, and you’ll understand how an engine can develop a lot of heat, and fast. While the exhaust system is designed to expel hot gases from the engine after being burned, the metal still absorbs heat and needs to be cooled. This is where engine coolant or antifreeze works in conjunction with the vehicle's cooling system.

Vehicles have an engine coolant system that circulates engine coolant or antifreeze through the motor to keep it running cool and efficient. While the product itself is intended to help remove heat from the car engine, it only works correctly when the entire coolant system is operating at peak efficiency.

Understanding the Basics of Engine Coolant or Antifreeze

Antifreeze or engine coolant is made from the special heat absorbing ingredients ethylene glycol or propylene glycol to help collect heat from the engine components. In its pure form, it is designed to expand as it increases in temperature. Due to this, engine coolant is mixed at a 50/50 ratio with distilled water and should be replaced or flushed as recommended by your vehicle's manufacturer.

The chemicals used in engine coolant also help prevent the liquid in your engine from freezing during cold temperatures. This is where the term “antifreeze” comes from. However, if the mixture of your engine coolant has more water than antifreeze, it will be less effective at reducing the freezing point of a liquid. If the engine coolant freezes inside your motor, it can cause engine components like a head gasket, the cylinder heads, or engine block to crack. If this occurs, catastrophic engine damage can quickly follow.

What about adding 100 percent antifreeze into the engine? It’s often assumed that the more engine coolant inside your motor, the cooler it will run – or the less likely it is to freeze. However, the chemicals in antifreeze are designed to expand as they heat. If this occurs, it can cause the inner coils inside the radiator to break, creating new potential overheating problems. It’s recommended to blend engine coolant with distilled water at a 50/50 ratio.

Does Engine Coolant/Antifreeze Have Any Other Jobs?

Absolutely! Contrary to popular belief, engine coolant or antifreeze does much more than simply keep the engine running cool. Some of the additional benefits of having fresh engine coolant inside your coolant system include:

  • Keeping your engine coolant from freezing during the winter.
  • Preventing engine coolant from boiling during the summer and lowering the liquid boiling point.
  • Reducing the onset of rust and corrosion from metal parts.
  • Keeping rubber and plastic parts from corroding.
  • Helping to reduce electrolysis.

What is Antifreeze Electrolysis?

As water or engine coolant circulates through the coolant tubes, it eventually breaks down and loses some natural acidity. When this happens, the coolant can become electrically charged. This is known as electrolysis. While it’s not a significant amount of power, it can cause internal engine components (especially aluminum) to wear out sooner than they should. To prevent this from happening, engine coolant should be flushed as recommended by your manufacturer.

What’s the Difference Between Engine Coolant and Antifreeze

While it’s assumed they are one and the same, they are technically two different substances. The engine coolant is the liquid that circulates through the engine, into the radiator, and back into the engine. The antifreeze is a chemical compound used in engine coolant to reduce heat and the potential of engine coolant freezing.

There are different types of antifreeze or engine coolant.

  • Inorganic Acid Technology: Commonly known as ‘green or yellow antifreeze,’ IAT is commonly used and mixed with distilled water, and usually only lasts three years or 36,000 miles.
  • Organic Acid Technology: OAT is considered the long-life coolant or ‘orange antifreeze’. While many believe it can last up to 150,000 miles, it should be flushed as often as recommended by your manufacturer.
  • Hybrid Organic Acid Technology: The HOAT is a combination of the two above and typically referred to as ‘global’ due to the specification or certification ratings (which start with the letter “G”).

What Engine Coolant Should You Use?

This is the $3,000 question. The typical head gasket replacement or used engine replacement job will cost you more than $3,000. You can avoid overheating, and likely engine replacement, by using the recommended coolant listed in your vehicle owner’s manual. If you don’t have an owner’s manual, you can contact a professional mechanic and request them to complete a coolant flush. When they set up the appointment, they will review the service manual for your vehicle and bring the recommended antifreeze.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
Icon-warranty_badge-02

Skip the repair shop, our top-rated mechanics come to you.

At your home or office

Choose from 600+ repair, maintenance & diagnostic services. Our top-rated mechanics bring all parts & tools to your location.

Fair & transparent pricing

See labor & parts costs upfront, so you can book with confidence.

12-month, 12,000-mile warranty

Our services are backed by a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty for your peace of mind.

Get A Quote

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

More related articles

How to Get a Louisiana Driver's Permit
s licensing program. The first step in this program is to obtain...
P2159 OBD-II Trouble Code: Vehicle Speed Sensor B Range/Performance
Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC): P2159 P2159 code definition Vehicle Speed Sensor B Range/Performance...
P2422 OBD-II Trouble Code: Evaporative Emissions Control System (EVAP) Vent Valve Stuck Closed
Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC): P2422 P2422 code definition Evaporative Emissions Control System (EVAP)...

Related questions

Q: Hi, how can I check to see if blower motor relay or a fuse My heater won't come on and replace blower 1986 Buick

Hi there, there are actually several additional components to check for blower motor operation. First is fuses - easiest and least expensive to test. There is a blower motor relay, and also one or motor blower motor resistors, and a...

Q: Why is my car blowing hot air and cold air at the same time?

The answer to this depends on whether you have switched on heating, cooling (A/C) or neither. In one scenario, for example, if you have not switched on the A/C system, but the A/C is running as confirmed by a visual...

Q: Burning leaves smell and smoke coming from air vents.

This sounds like you may have got some leaves or debris into the blower motor. You may have to remove the blower motor on right side of dash by glove box to see if motor is full of leaves or...