What Engine Coolant Should I Use – And How to Top it Up

Engine coolant! What’s that? Why do you need it? What type should you get, and how do you top it up?

In this post, we’ll tell you everything you ever wanted to know about engine coolant.

What is Engine Coolant?

In short, it’s a water-based liquid that helps keep your engine cool.

Most cars are powered by burning petrol or diesel. This generates a lot of energy, but only about a third of this energy is used to actually make your car move.

What happens to the rest of the energy? It’s converted into heat. And while half of this heat is dispelled through the exhaust, the other half stays in the engine.

That’s where engine coolant comes in. Essentially, the coolant itself absorbs the heat of the engine, and is then transferred to your car’s radiator. As your car moves, the radiator takes in air to cool the coolant, while a fan stops things from getting too hot when you’re parked or idling.

Which Engine Coolant Should I Use?

Engine coolant is a mixture of water and antifreeze, and antifreeze is a solution of distilled water and alcohol. The liquid might be green, yellow, pink, red or orange. These colours do not necessarily indicate a different use. Find out which engine coolant is right for your car, you need to look to the type of antifreeze used in the mix.

Antifreeze is a vital part of the engine system. As well as stopping your engine from overheating, it stops things from freezing in winter, and also helps to stop corrosion and scale build-up throughout the year.

Different Types of Engine Coolant

There are three main types of engine coolant and antifreeze:

  • Inorganic Additive Technology (IAT) – This is the old-school coolant – the green liquid that most veteran motorists probably think about when they think about engine coolant. It used to be the only type of coolant available, and it’s still the best choice for older cars. It’s designed to be changed around every two years, or 24,000 miles.
  • Organic Acid Technology (OAT)Whereas IAT coolants are designed to last around two years, OAT coolants can last for up to five years.
  • Hybrid Organic Aid Technology (HOAT) – It does essentially the same thing as OAT coolant, but it’s manufactured in a slightly different way. Again, it can last for up to five years – unless it says otherwise on the container.

There are many different types of coolant available. And as many coolants actually describe themselves as “antifreeze”, choosing the right one for your car can be a challenge.

Here’s some tips on how to choose the right engine coolant:

  • Check your owner manual. It will usually specify the sort of antifreeze you need to use, and by extension, the sort of coolant.
  • Talk to your car dealership or visit a dealership that specialises in your model. They’ll likely sell coolants that are specifically designed for your car.
  • Use this tool on the Halfords site to match the coolant to your make and model.

How Often Should I Top Up My Coolant?

You’ll have to change your coolant every few years. As we said above, the type of coolant you use will determine how long you can drive without having to change.

However, most modern cars have a sealed cooling system. You don’t really need to worry about keeping things topped up. Yet you do need to check your system regularly, to ensure you’ve not sprung any leaks.

Get into the habit of checking your coolant once every couple of weeks. You’re looking out for your car’s expansion tank. Your car handbook will tell you where to find this, and where to find the coolant filler cap. It might offer some advice on topping up that’s specific to your car, so follow the instructions to the letter! Otherwise you might end up adding antifreeze to your brake fluid, and you really don’t want to do that…

You need to keep your coolant levels between the min/max, which should be on the side of the expansion tank. And while you’re checking your levels, take a look at any of the hoses attached to your tank. If any of them are wet, or stained white, it might indicate that you’ve sprung a leak. Get this sorted as soon as you can, before your problem has a chance to get truly serious.

How to Top Up Your Coolant

If you find that your coolant could do with a top up, to avoid the risk of scalding, wait until your engine’s cold before you try and remove the filler cap.

Make sure you’re parked on a secure and flat surface and that you’ve followed your manual’s guidance correctly.

It’s not usually a good sign for your coolant levels to drop. So if you find you have to regularly top up your levels, again, it might indicate that something’s gone wrong.

Get yourself to a garage as soon as you can!

Engine coolant failures are a highly common cause of breakdowns. This is why it’s vital that you check your system as often as possible. And for total peace of mine, consider taking out RAC breakdown cover as an optional extra available with your Go Girl car insurance. That way, if you ever do break down, at least you won’t be stranded!


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