Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2010   by Auto Service World

Antifreeze/Coolant (September 01, 2010)

Recommending the Right Fill for the Job

While the coolant/antifreeze market seems to have become more complicated than necessary lately, with a variety of formulations and a veritable rainbow of colours, it still makes sense to focus on the basics.

Ethylene glycol (EG)-based coolant/antifreeze still makes up the lion’s share of the market, a market in which demand is declining due to lower-capacity cooling systems and longer drain intervals. But there are some emerging categories even within the EG category itself.

Pushed by initiatives for “lifetime sealed systems” at the car maker level, extended-life products are one notable addition to the EG category. These tend to have a concentrated blend of inhibitors to combat corrosion, which is particularly important in aluminum-block and/or cylinder-head engines, and address the fact that car owners seldom replace their coolant as often as they should.

Heavy-duty formulations, which are fortified versions of standard EG coolants, have special low-silicate formulations for heavy-duty diesel applications that allow for the use of supplemental coolant additives (SCAs), commonly used to give as much as 500,000 km of protection. General Motors’ long life coolant, Dex-Cool, is unique in the market, though only for use in GM vehicles. The formulation uses a patented silicate-free, carboxylate formula, utilizing an organic acid technology (OAT). Since its introduction in 1996, this orange- coloured antifreeze/coolant has emerged as an increasingly popular product within that brand.

However, other vehicle makers have opted for different formulations. One of the most popular for the aftermarket has been the G-05, a hybrid OAT (HOAT) with a traditional ethylene-glycol base, a single OAT inhibitor, and moderate silicate content, an additive not found in standard OAT coolants (hence the term “hybrid”). G-05 proponents believe that the moderate dose of silicates contained in HOAT coolants provides greater aluminum protection, while still being water pump-friendly.

Again, following manufacturer’s recommendations here is a wise decision.

While the popularity of propylene glycol (PG) formulations has waned since their initial introduction as an “environmentally friendly” alternative, consumers concerned about the environment may still ask if they are appropriate.

The answer is that while PG coolants do have a lower toxicity than EG-based coolants initially, any advantage they might have on this front should be weighed against two factors: no matter what kind of coolant/antifreeze you are talking about, they should never be dumped openly into the environment as they are all toxic; after even a few months circulating inside an engine, any coolant will be further contaminated with heavy metals, hydrocarbons, combustion by-products, and other pollutants.

All in all, the rise in the number of coolant options provides jobbers and their customers with a variety of options and a variety of price points to take advantage of.


Consumer Education: Coolant Function and Maintenance

Most consumers have only a passing understanding of the function of antifreeze/coolant, and the issue of coolant maintenance is even less well understood. Here are some tips to pass along.

• The coolant’s job is not just to cool the engine, but to protect it. Coolants can only work for so long: two years for standard coolants, perhaps as long as five or more for special long-life types. Coolant also becomes contaminated by other engine fluids and combustion gases over time, even in the best-maintained engines.

• Additives in coolant help to protect the engine’s metal and rubber components from the erosion that the circulating coolant can cause. Additives keep the coolant at the right pH level, fighting the formation of acids and alkaline compounds that can eat away at components.

• Topping up with undiluted coolant, or water alone, can cause severe problems. Coolant must be kept in a precise proportion of about 50/50 with distilled water. More or less can compromise cooling and antifreeze abilities, as well as the coolant’s ability to protect engine components.

• All vehicles should receive a coolant check regularly to ensure it remains free of contaminants and at the right pH level.

• Low coolant level means that coolant is leaking out, or the system has lost pressure. Either can signify the early signs of a component failure and should be checked out.

• Leaking coolant contaminates the environment with coolant additives as well as metals and other toxic substances it picks up from the engine.

• Low coolant can also cause increased emissions, because vehicle sensors won’t receive the right information.

• Coolant recycling and replacement, where available, is a viable, environmentally responsible option that provides proper vehicle protection while keeping contaminant out of the environment.

• Proper coolant condition helps keep the engine running better and longer.

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