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Antifreeze Vs. Coolant: What Is the Big Difference?

Antifreeze Vs. Coolant: What Is the Big Difference?

Antifreeze vs. coolant is one of the most important pieces of information you need to familiarize yourself with as a driver. Although antifreeze and coolant terms might be used interchangeably, they don't mean the same thing. Coolant consists of an equal mixture of anti-freeze and water. 

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You might come across anti-freeze and coolant multiple times throughout the life of your vehicle. While these terms are used interchangeably, they refer to two different things.

It is important to understand the main difference between antifreeze and coolant because it plays a major role, especially if you're living in colder environments. In addition, both terms are relevant to the performance of your vehicle's radiator, which is extremely critical to prevent engine seizing.

This article walks you through the main differences between anti-freeze and coolant. It also highlights some important facts about both the anti-freeze and coolant to help maintain your vehicle and prevent getting yourself into safety issues.

Anti-freeze vs. coolant

When you hear the term anti-freeze and coolant, they refer to a fluid within your vehicle's cooling system. This fluid is responsible for reducing the engine temperature as it exceeds the maximum threshold to maintain the engine and prevent engine overheating that could damage it's completely.

Let's take a closer look at anti-freeze vs. coolant:

1.    What is the coolant?

The term cool refers to the fluid that runs within your vehicle's cooling system. It is the same fluid that your cooling system pumps around the engine when the engine temperature is very high.

The first idea of coolant was to use only water that helps drop the engine temperature down. However, as people used their vehicles in colder environments, there was a big concern about water freezing in the coolant lines. That's when they introduced the idea of antifreeze.

2.    What is the anti-freeze?

As we already clarified, the anti-freezes a part of the coolant that prevents water from freezing quickly. In other words, anti-freeze helps water drop its freezing point below the specific numbers, so coolant helps serve your vehicle in very cold environments.

Thus, when coolant consists of a mixture of water antifreeze, it achieves new characteristics. These characteristics include operating up to 200 degrees without issues with evaporating and operating at minimum temperatures up to 30 degrees below zero without any issues with coolant freezing.

Anti-freeze consists of many interacting chemicals. The most important one is ethylene glycol, which is responsible for reducing the freezing point for water when the temperature gets extremely low. Furthermore, it helps lubricate the internal engine components to keep them working properly.

Anti-freeze comes in two common colors, orange, and green. While people think that these colors don't mean anything, the orange color indicates that this entire freeze lasts much longer than the green one. It also has certain additives to help prevent corrosion.

With that, if you're still wondering and looking for “antifreeze vs. coolant,” you should immediately know that anti-freeze is not coolant and cool. Instead, it needs both a mixture of water and antifreeze and extra additives to help add certain characteristics to the coolant. These characteristics help prevent freezing and enhance the vehicle's engine's performance.

How much coolant does my car need when empty?

Your vehicle is expected to hold up to five liters of coolant. You can purchase the coolant in one to 20 liters, and there's a lot of flexibility in terms of how you've purchased it. However, automotive experts recommend that you purchase only whatever you need and not more. Other experts recommend having extra coolant stored in your vehicle in case of emergencies and when you get into a situation where the coolant level drops below the minimum point, and there is no help nearby.

The extra coolant comes very handily when you drive your car and notice symptoms of engine overheating. Experts recommend that you immediately stop the car and allow the engine to cool down for 15 minutes before topping off the coolant. Imagine if you don't have coolant stored in your car? You'll have to wait for any roadside assistance service to come and help you; otherwise, your engine might fail. Roadside assistance is not very cheap, and it's much cheaper for you to store extra coolant in your vehicle rather than waiting for roadside assistance to come.

How do you know if your car needs antifreeze?

When you hear this question, you should immediately realize that your vehicle needs coolant, a mixture of water and antifreeze, which is why it was important to differentiate between antifreeze vs. coolant. Therefore, whenever you notice any symptoms indicating that your vehicle is low at cooling system fluid, it indicates that it is low at both anti-freeze and water.

Some of the common symptoms indicating Patrick cart needs antifreeze or coolant mixture are:

1.    High-temperature gauge reading

The temperature gauge is located on your vehicle's dashboard and is responsible for communicating with you about the current engine temperature. This gauge should always maintain a specific range, and when the reading exceeds a certain maximum threshold, it indicates that your engine started overheating, which is critical.

Keep in mind that the temperature gauge might read very high if there is an internal problem in the cooling system. Therefore, you can't immediately say that it's local and think it's a good hint. Therefore, once you notice the high-temperature gauge reading, you must pull over and turn off the vehicle immediately.

You mustn't check the antifreeze and coolant level until the engine is cooled down for at least 15 minutes. This is because the coolant will be extremely hot, and there is a very high chance that you might burn yourself as you open the hood or try to check the coolant level.

After checking the coolant level, you might want to top it off until you reach at least the minimum point. Sometimes, an internal or external coolant leak might be causing the issue, so you need to monitor the level to figure out the problem.

2.    Anti-freeze leaks

Another important symptom indicating that your vehicle is low at coolant is noticing some antifreeze and water mixture underneath the vehicle. Therefore, if you notice an orange or green puddle under your car, it is a clear indication that the coolant is leaking, which is critical.

Thus, do not start the car; look at the coolant level, and top it off if needed. In some scenarios, you might want to reach your mechanic because once the coolant gets to a point where the leak is dropping on the floor, it might be in a very critical situation, meaning that you can't wait on it to drive the car. Thus, you might end up needing to tow your car to the nearest repair shop rather than driving it.

3.    Rust on the coolant

In some scenarios, when your car runs low at the coolant, you might notice some flicks of rust in the vehicle’s coolant itself. That indicates that the coolant is very low, and it picked up contaminants and debris from the coolant pathways. In that scenario, you might not only be lowered coolant, but also, you might need to flush the radiator.

4.    Maple syrup smell coming from the engine

Finally, if you notice a weird smell like Maple syrup coming from the engine, it might indicate an internal coolant leak, which means you need to top it off immediately. Of course, whether the leak is minor or major, you must take care of it immediately to prevent other complications that can cost you thousands of dollars down the road.

As a rule of thumb, whatever smell is coming from the vehicle should be taken seriously. Whether the smell is good or bad, it indicates an internal issue.

How often do I need to change the coolant?

In general, you will coolant needs to be flushed once every 100,000 miles. However, if you're driving an older car, you might want to flush it out more frequently. The best recommendation is to check with your vehicle owner’s manual and know how often to change your vehicle's coolant.

In some scenarios and depending on your driving style, your vehicle, the type of coolant, the environment, you might need to change the coolant more often. Since the coolant is a critical fluid in your car, it is important that you keep an eye for any symptoms indicating that your vehicle is due for a coolant change. The good news is that your car is smart enough to grab your attention by showing you some specific symptoms indicating that you need to change your coolant soon.

Let's take a closer look at some of the common symptoms that your vehicle needs a coolant flush:

1.    Engine overheating

Even if you top off the engine coolant at some point in time, you might get to a point where the coolant is very dirty and can't do its job. That's when you must perform what's known as the radiator flush.

During the radiator flush, your mechanic takes out the old coolant and replaces it with a fresh one with all the characteristics needed to drop your engine separator to the right point and lubricate the internal components.

2.    Weird grinding noises

Another important symptom that you need to keep an eye four is weird grinding and knocking noises coming from your engine. According to automotive experts, most of the engine locking comes from the coolant going back to the heater, which means that your car is due for a coolant flush.

Keep in mind that the grinding and locking noise might be related to another internal problem. Therefore, your mechanic must perform a thorough inspection to determine the real culprit and perform the right action.

3.    Strange smell from the hood

When the coolant is frequently leaking, it might be dirty because some contaminants and debris might increase the coolant pressure and result in cracks around the coolant pathways. With that happens, coolant can leak inside the car and outside the vehicle.

Coolant is known for its sweet smell, and whenever you notice this smell, you must consult your mechanic and check whether you need a coolant flush soon or not. Your mechanic can decide whether the crack can be fixed without needing to flush the coolant, but you will most likely have to flush the radiator.

4.    Low coolant level

As we indicated earlier, when the coolant is dirty and causes cracks around the coolant pathways, it allows coolant to see through the vehicle’s internal components and probably outside the car. Therefore, you will immediately notice that the coolant level is below the minimum point.

Then, you should look at the coolant and see what is causing the drop in coolant. Once you confirm the culprits, you might end up flushing the radiator as a solution.

Antifreeze vs. coolant: final thoughts

Understanding the biggest difference between antifreeze and coolant is essential information for any driver. Both terms refer to the fluid used in the cooling system, but they don't mean the same thing.

Therefore, if you are still confused about antifreeze vs. coolant, coolant is a mixture of both antifreeze and water, and would newer mechanics refer to the coolant as anti-freeze? Again, you shouldn't get confused because it is not the same thing.

Your vehicle must have a specific amount of coolant to prevent engine overheating and provides lubrication. If your vehicle got into a situation where engine overheating led to significant engine damages, it might not be worth investing your money in getting this vehicle to work because repair costs will be extremely high. Therefore, you are advised to sell your car and use the money towards a better vehicle that doesn't have any problem.

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