Fall is a good time to check your vehicle’s antifreeze levels. Antifreeze, often referred to as coolant, safeguards your engine block from freezing throughout the winter and protects the engine from overheating in the summer. Check the coolant level when the engine is cold and the radiator hoses are cool to the touch. Be sure to test the freezing point of the vehicle’s existing coolant before adding any additional antifreeze.
Step 1: After the vehicle has been sitting idle and the engine is completely cool, use a bulb type hydrometer to test the freezing point of the coolant currently in the automobile’s radiator. Remove the radiator cap by pressing it down and turning it counter clockwise. If you hear pressure being released from the cap, retighten the cap and wait for the engine to cool more.
Step 2: Using the hydrometer suck up a portion of coolant from the radiator. Observe the colored balls floating atop the coolant in the tube. Use the chart located on the hydrometer to determine the freezing point of the coolant.
Step 3: Release the coolant back into the radiator. If the freezing point is above -40 degrees Fahrenheit add an appropriate amount of full strength antifreeze to the radiator. If it is below -40 degrees add a small amount of distilled water to the radiator. Refer to the vehicle owner’s manual before adding any liquid to determine the correct antifreeze and mixture for the vehicle.
Step 4: Use the hydrometer and test the coolant again to assure the freezing point is at or near -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 5: Most vehicles have a translucent plastic coolant reservoir attached to the radiator. Locate this antifreeze overflow tank by following the small hose near the top of the radiator over to the reservoir. The reservoir will be marked with the words “coolant only” and will have graduated markings on the side indicating the proper level of coolant for a warm and cold engine.
Step 6: With a cool engine, if the antifreeze level is below the cold marking on the coolant reservoir or the liquid level in the radiator does not reach the top of the radiator, add a 50/50 mixture of the manufacturer’s suggested antifreeze and distilled water to raise the coolant level to the proper height. Use the hydrometer to test the antifreeze mixture before adding it to the vehicle.
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