Coolants

The internal combustion engine builds up heat as it runs. The small explosions that take place inside the cylinders as well as the friction creates this heat. Engine oil, helps avoid some heat generated by the engine friction, along with some reduction due to air flowing over and around the engine. However, this is not enough to keep the engine from overheating and creating damage to its parts. There have been some successful air-cooled motors such as those in motor bikes and of course the Volkswagens such as the beetle and combo. But removing excess engine heat from the traditional four stroke internal engine requires ‘water cooling’ jacket around the cylinders. Or more precisely a water / coolant mix. When the car is running it is the job of the circulating coolant to dispense with this excess heat as it passes through the radiator. The radiator of course also has a fan that will run to keep the air flow over the radiator especially during times where the car is not moving or moving too slowly to create its own airflow.

How long would an engine run without coolant? Not very long in most cases. Perhaps minutes. The heat generated is quite incredible. If the motor is run for long without coolant it is generally severely damaged even if it does not completely heat seize. From my observations damage to most motors requiring the motor to be rebuilt or replaced is caused by either faulty poorly maintained cooling systems or a lack of coolant or both at some point.

Why Do I Need Coolant…? Why Not Just Use Water?

Well water alone could work, but a few of extra things that coolant does are as follows:

  1. Provides resistance to corrosion in the engine cooling systems by avoiding things like electrolysis
  2. Dissipate more heat than water alone can and avoids the system boiling at higher temperatures
  3. Stops freezing of the coolant in extremely low temperatures

These are two pretty important factors to consider when you choose a coolant for your vehicle.  Normal or even distilled water will allow metallic parts and even rubber or even synthetic parts to perish and corrode more quickly.  A quality coolant is critical in avoiding these reaction.  The reactions are magnified at higher temperatures and under pressure.  The ratio of coolant to water you use and the coolant quality will make sure that the life of the cooling components will be at their maximum.  It will also make sure that under load your engine has the best possible chance of transferring all that heat to the air.  So let’s say you develop a cooling system leak and you are topping up with water regularly.  You need to remember that you will be diluting the effectiveness of the coolant.  This can have catastrophic affects.  The moral of this story is get the leaks fixed immediately, flush, clean and replace the coolant as quickly as possible!

Composition and Importance

Coolants are usually a mix of water and various chemicals. One of the often used chemicals is propylene glycol.  It is a chemical additive that lowers the freezing point of the coolant. It can often be referred to as antifreeze.  Although there may be other additives in the coolant such as glycerol that helps enhance this affect.   Glycol also helps in raising the boiling point of water thus making the engine temperature stable in very hot climate or if the engine is subjected to extreme conditions. A good ratio is to mix water and antifreeze 50/50. This is sufficient enough for the kinds of conditions the engine is subjected to. However, it is also good to note to check the specified ratio by the car manufacturer in the car’s user’s manual.   If you are in an cold climate or at that part of the year where freezing of coolant could be an issue.  You must make sure that you are using a good antifreeze rated coolant and it is at the right ratio.  Otherwise your motor can be severely damaged.  It is possible for the freezing coolant to crack the block of your engine!  So keep the ratios right for your area.

Without the coolant, the engine can overheat leading to mechanical failure and a costly repair/replacement of the engine. Water, although a very good coolant by itself, is not enough to provide sufficient cooling for the engine. The reason being is that water has a low boiling point. Adding glycol can raise the boiling point of the coolant and can help the engine operate efficiently at high temperatures.

It is vital to check the coolant level often to prevent possible overheating or hot spots in the engine. Although the main component does not break down, some of the inhibitors present that prevents corrosion eventually do.  Once the the inhibitors are used up, corrosion starts to eat away at the metal inside the engine and radiator. The images below show corrosion due to the coolant-inhibitors being used up.

Corrosion Due to Coolant-Inhibitors being used up

How To Change Your Vehicle’s Coolant

Given the importance of the cooling system in the optimum performance of your vehicle, it is critical to check it often and change when necessary. Also take note of the car’s users manual specification on when to change the coolant. There can be reasons and benefits to change the coolant sooner than specified by the car manufacturer. Personally I check the cooling system as often as I can for signs of corrosion and proper level etc. This is one maintenance habit that practice to help me get me more miles out of my engine.

Note* Follow your car’s users manual instructions for draining the spent coolant from the cooling system. The steps below are some of the things I usually do when changing the coolant in my car. The steps listed here may or may not apply to your vehicle and should be performed with utmost care if ever you decide to follow the steps shown here.

  1. Park the vehicle in a safe place, away from children and animals. Waste coolant is dangerous to animals or children and can be fatal to them when ingested.
  2. Make sure the engine has cooled down and ignition turned off before changing the coolant. This is to prevent harm to you. Also be aware that the system is under pressure.  So use a rag and release the pressure in the system gradually and carefully.
  3. Gather all the necessary tools, like screwdrivers, draining pans, needed before starting on the coolant change. This will save you time and make the change faster. Also make sure to use the coolant/antifreeze specified on your car’s users manual to prevent unwanted damage due to using of unspecified coolant. Do not compromise on low quality or low ratios of the coolant.  It can be a costly mistake if you end up with corrosion or over-heating.
  4. Using the owner’s manual, check and locate the radiator drain plug.  Place the drain pan or receptacle below the drain plug, hose or tap. Loosen the screw plug, bolt plug or in many cases there is a simple drain plug (petcock). Avoid spilling the drained coolant onto the ground or into storm drains or sewers to avoid pollution of the environment.
  5. Once the liquid has completely drained, close the valve and pour the used coolant into containers with tight-fitting lids. I make sure to label these containers and store them away in a safe place like a cabinet with a lock in place. This will ensure the safety of our pets and our children who are not aware of the dangers of being exposed to such items. When disposing of the coolant make sure it goes into a the right drums at your local municipal tip.  There are usually drums available for these sort of wastes if you ask the attendant.
  6. The next step would be to flush the radiator using water and a radiator flush solution. Close the valve, open the radiator cap and pour the radiator flush solution. After that, you should run the engine with the heater control on High for about 10 minutes.  This ensures the flush compound will circulate into the heater core. Make sure to watch the temperature gauge or warning light to avoid overheating the engine. Allow the engine to cool off before attempting to drain the water or flush solution to prevent burns or injury to yourself. Once the radiator is cool enough to touch, drain the flush solution and transfer the drained liquid to tight-lid containers and make sure to label the containers properly to avoid accidents.
  7. After all the liquid has drained, close the drain plug and begin adding the new coolant mixture. However, before adding the new coolant, make sure that the one you are using is specified by the car manufacturer. Also take note on how much coolant your cooling system can hold. These are pretty simple steps that are often missed or taken for granted, but the result can be very expensive. Make sure that the liquid reaches the proper level on the coolant reservoir and continue adding if it doesn’t.
  8. Replace the pressure cap and run the engine with the heater on High until the temperature meter reads in the normal range. Double check the levels and finalise the top-up.  This is an important step as there are often a few air locks that only come out once the engine is run up to temperature and the thermostat opens.  Do not miss this step!
  9. Clean up. Make sure to put contaminated rags in sealable plastic bags and put them into garbage. And again, make sure to place unused coolants away from your kids or pets by storing them in a place where the coolants could not be easily reached.
  10. Also I make sure to check the liquid level after a few days of driving the car. This is to make sure that the cooling system has enough liquid to cool the engine when the car is running. If it is low, then just add until it is on the right level.
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Car Battery Tips

The battery is an important component of a vehicle. It is the part that supplies the power to the starter motor, the lights and the ignition system of the vehicle’s engine mainly when the engine is not running. Once the engine is running most of the power is supplied by the generator, or in modern vehicles the alternator.  The automotive battery is usually known as an SLI battery(starting, lighting, ignition). Usually, Automotive batteries are lead acid-type, and are made up of galvanic cells in series to provide a 12-volt system. each of these cells provide 2.1 volts for a total of 12.6 volts at full charge.

Composition of the Battery

The automotive battery is made up of plates of lead and separate plates of lead dioxide that are submerged into an electrolyte solution composed of around 38% sulfuric acid and 62% water. At start-up, the electrolyte solution causes a chemical reaction that creates the electricity needed by the other parts of the car or vehicle.

Importance of Battery Maintenance

Battery maintenance is critical to the normal operation of the vehicle. The battery is the component that stores power making sure it is ready for starting up the next time you need it.  Or running hazard lights and headlamps in an emergency.  Neglecting the battery in your maintenance practice only invites trouble. Car problems related to the battery can and will happen at the most inconvenient time. Just imagine you are travelling a country road, with very little traffic; you pull over for a look at the view and the car won’t start. You investigate why and find out there’s a lot of corrosion on the battery terminals. As a result, you would waste time waiting for another vehicle to pass by and ask the driver if you could hitch ride or worse you have to walk for hours to find the nearest gas station
or auto-shop to get a replacement battery.  I must say that I have had these problems many, many times.  I have ended up with my hands dirty to meetings, having to madly run to the bathroom to scrub my hands clean.  Sitting on the side of the road after bashing terminals to try to get a better connection.  I am now a convert to checking and maintaining a good battery along with its connections.  Interestingly a failing battery seems to create corrosion.  It is something to do with old terminals and low power in the battery, which seems to accentuate the problem. Checking corrosion on battery terminals, ensuring proper charging of the battery and knowing the signs of a failing battery are some of the steps that can help in preventing car problems due to a failing battery.  If the battery is beginning to fail or lets you down; my tip is get rid of it and get a new one.  Don’t try to nurse it.  Make sure that when you are looking at the new battery the technician does a check on your alternator to see that it is providing the right power for charging.  If its not the whole exercise will cost you money and you will be back tomorrow for an alternator.

Indications of A Failing Battery

What are the indications of a failing car battery? By becoming familiar with the symptoms, you can plan ahead on what to do and prevent a car-related problem, due to the battery, from happening on a time you least expected.

  1. The battery ammeter on the instrument panel lights up.
  2. Starting Problems. Cars with failing batteries usually have  difficulty starting. This is due to the battery not having enough power to turn all the components in the engine.  Loss or dimming of internal and external lights, slower cranking are also indicators of a failing battery.
  3. Bench testing. If you take your car to an auto-shop to have an oil change or tyres checked, you might as well have the battery checked there. The people at the auto-shop have the means of determining how much life your car battery has.
  4. Check also for signs of bulging or deformity on the battery casing as this is an indication that the battery was exposed to high temperatures.
  5. Bad smell coming from the car, like rotten eggs, after turning the engine off is also an indication that the battery is not good. This is due to one or two of the battery cells getting damaged.
  6. Any leakage is a sign of death.  The added problem is that it will destroy your paint and corrode the metal of your engine bay.  So any signs of leakage are bad.

Types of Car Battery Problems

  1. Connection Issues – this refers to the faulty connection between the cables that run from the battery posts to the starter. Sometimes the screws or the bolts that connects the cables and the starter get loose. When these happens, the car will not start at all as there is no power going from the battery to the starter. When the car won’t start, the first best thing to is to check for loose connections between the battery posts and the starter.
    Loose Battery Connection
    Loose wire on the battery terminal
  2. Corrosion – Corrosion on the battery terminals or posts can also cause connection issues between the battery terminals and the starter. The corrosion weakens the contact between metal to metal making it harder to for the battery to provide electricity and power the car. Checking and cleaning the battery regularly of corrosion build- up are good car maintenance practice that can help in preventing car-battery related down-times.
    Corrosion on the Car Battery
    Battery Corrosion
  3. Charging/Discharging Problems – this can be brought about by dis-use of the vehicle. This usually happens when the car is made idle for quite a while, maybe around 2 weeks, the battery might not have enough power to start the engine. Doing short drives can also create problems with the battery. When the car is already running, the alternator is recharging the battery, drives for only a few minutes may not be enough to fully charge the battery. Not running the car often can slowly drain the battery over time and shorten its life expectancy.
  4. Bad Alternator – the alternator is the part that supplies power to the car when it is already running. It is also responsible for charging the battery. If the alternator is having issues, the battery will most likely not be fully charged but there is also a good chance that the car will die down while the car is running.

Tips That Can Help In Making Car Battery Lasts Longer

  1. Make it a habit to check the battery as part of your car maintenance check up.
  2. Make sure that the electrolyte is at the correct level.  Top up with distilled water if needed to exactly the right levels.  If your battery is not a fully sealed no maintenance type and levels are low, it is best to get a replacement.
  3. Check and make sure the battery terminals are clean and free of corrosion. If there is, buy and use a terminal brush to remove corrosion on the battery terminals. Sometimes a dead battery is caused by having
    corrosion on its terminals, once cleaned, it may work again.
  4. check and make sure the alternator is not charging too high or too low. Charging the alternator too high or too low can make the battery not correctly charged and deteriorate faster.
  5. Avoid exposing the battery to extreme heat whenever possible. This can damage the positive plates and grids that can reduce the conductivity of the electrolytes.
  6. Turn off other electrical accessories,like car stereos, as soon as they are no longer required to save electrical energy.

If and when the battery needs to be replaced, here are some useful tips on how to choose the battery.

  1. Size – This refers to the dimensions of the battery; height, width and length. Always check your car’s users manual for the size of the battery to avoid wasting money and time.
  2. Battery Brand – You may choose to buy the exact same brand as what was in your car when it was manufactured if it has given good service.  Choosing a well known brand can be a good policy.  Doing research about the battery brand you are switching to is also a good thing to do. Researching will give you an idea on the reliability of the brand.
  3. Reserve Capacity – This refers to the standing power. This is the number of minutes the battery can continuously supply power to run the vehicle in case the alternator or fan belt fail. The higher the Reserve Capacity rating of the battery, the better for you and your car because this is the one quality that can keep you from being stranded. There is a catch however, you just cannot select the battery with the highest Reserve Capacity rating, you should
    always check the car’s manual to determine the exact reserve capacity rating that the car can handle.
  4. Age of the Replacement Battery – The age of the battery will give you an idea on how long will it be able to perform. Typically batteries only lasts from 2-3 years. Check the manufacturing date.  Usually the date codes are stamped on the label and are represented by 2 characters: Letter indicates the month and the digit which shows the year it was manufactured.
  5. Cold-Cranking Amps – This refers to the amount of current a battery can provide at 0 °F (−18 °C).

 

 

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