Simple Maintenance Prevents Winter Cooling System Woes

Checking on your antifreeze level is only half the story - check its effectiveness, too.

(NUI) - Ignorance sometimes is bliss, but not with the onset of winter and an automobile unprepared for the cold.

Antifreeze, that hidden liquid flowing throughout the engine of every automobile, prevents both freezing and boiling in engines.

Automotive experts say checking antifreeze is one of the easiest ways drivers can prevent engine trouble. Some antifreeze manufacturers even offer advanced blends for extreme temperatures to meet the needs of certain drivers.

Yet those same experts say many people don't even know where to look for the cooling system when venturing under the hood.

Eighty-seven percent of motorists who responded to a recent national survey for Zerex antifreeze/coolant said they think the antifreeze in their vehicle is providing excellent or good protection. And most people - 77 percent - said they check the fluid level at least every six months. However, only 52 percent said they check the effectiveness of their antifreeze just as often.

"Checking the fluid level only tells half the story," said Dave Turcotte, manager of care products, technology & product development at Valvoline. "To make sure they receive the highest level of protection, vehicle owners should check the fluid level and the effectiveness of the antifreeze."

Your vehicle's antifreeze still may have a good color, but the additives in the coolant may be worn out. When that happens, the interior of the cooling system can begin to rust and the mixture loses its ability to withstand freezing temperatures.

Auto parts stores sell simple antifreeze testers for a few dollars. To test your antifreeze, fill the tester with fluid from the radiator or overflow reservoir. (Never open a hot radiator; the antifreeze is under pressure and may be scalding hot.) The device instantly indicates the freeze and boil levels for the fluid protecting your car. You also can have the fluid checked at most automotive shops.

To prepare for the coldest weather, auto experts say motorists should check radiators and hoses for cracks and leaks, make sure water pumps and thermostats work properly, and test heaters and defrosters before they are needed.

Valvoline's Turcotte advises motorists to change their antifreeze at least once every two years. "Cars will never be perfect, but engine freeze-up and boil-over is something no driver should have to worry about," he said.

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