Over the past decade or so, advancement in technology has given automakers the knowledge to produce better and more reliable vehicles with each new iteration. Today’s cars, the ones you buy off the showroom floor, other than the regular service procedures, require little to no maintenance on the drivers part. As most cars these days come with 3 to 5 year warranty programmes, whereby engine and gearbox repair costs are borne by automakers, we owners take basic vehicle maintenance lightly, always expecting the automakers to clean up our mess.
But, what if the service centres don’t do a thorough job when inspecting each vehicle during the scheduled servicing? Though many like to believe that the guys servicing our cars take pride in doing so, more often then not, just like the rest of us, it’s just a job to them, one that helps them pay the bills. As such, there will be times when technicians don’t bother to clean the air filter, check the condition of brake pads or even make sure that the water and coolant has been topped up to the recommended level.
That is why having basic vehicle maintenance knowledge is very important especially when it comes to avoiding costly repair bills. Besides checking tyre pressure and the level of power steering fluid, one more aspect you need to know thoroughly is engine cooling. The internal combustion engine runs at very high temperatures. The cooling system regulates the temperature by pumping water and coolant throughout the engine to absorb the heat dissipated during combustion. Many believe that as long as there is water in the radiator, the engine should be fine. That is wrong.
Though water plays a vital part when it comes to cooling, a coolant’s role should not be taken for granted. Coolant is a heat transfer fluid that has been developed to remove excess heat from the engine. Unlike water, coolant contains vital chemicals as well as rust and corrosion inhibitors that protect the radiator and cooling system from premature failure.
A common mistake most drivers make is assuming all coolants are the same and that they are all of a generic colour and composition. This is untrue. Coolant comes in many different colours which include yellow, red, green, orange and blue. Orange type coolants for example contain organic acid, a requirement for cooling systems with an aluminium radiator but not those made out of copper and brass.
Different automakers use different kinds of coolants because their cooling systems, pipping and material usage vary significantly. Assuming a coolant of a certain colour is of low quality is also a poor assumption. That said, using the wrong coolant for your vehicle can result in blockages in the piping causing the engine to overheat as well as corrosion and erosion of the water pump, radiator and even parts of the engine.
If you are unsure of what coolant your car requires, contact your service centre and they should be able to tell you. The best way to check that your car has sufficient coolant is to check the Min and Max levels of the reservoir that’s usually located on the left side of the engine bay. It is usually marked with the words coolant to prevent you from mistaking the power steering fluid reservoir for that of the coolant. When in doubt, check the vehicle instruction manual, it will tell you exactly where the reservoir is located. Or just Yahoo it.
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How much coolant you pour into it depends on the composition of that particular product. Some coolants require a 50/50 blend with water before being poured in while others, those that are premixed, require you to pour its contents directly into the reservoir.
As always consult your trusted mechanic or service centre before conducting work on your vehicle to know if you are using the right products in the right way. Also, always allow some time for the engine to cool down before attempting to check water and coolant levels or topping them up, unless you want your face or arms scalded.
If you are uncomfortable with manual labour, insist that your mechanic or service centre looks into this matter and make sure that your request is recorded on the technician’s “to-do” list.