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Low Coolant – What Is The Function, The Causes, And The Low Coolant Light?

Low Coolant

Although you might know that coolant is important to your car, you might not know why, what coolant to use, or what coolant even is. Similar to oil, the coolant serves a basic, but imperative, function within the internal workings of your vehicle. Depending on the type of your car, you might need a coolant with specialized additives, a coolant for specific manufacturers, or coolant designed for cars with high-mileage. Regardless of what type of coolant you use, we will discuss what is coolant, why it is important, and how to fix low coolant.

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What is coolant and what does it do for my engine?


The main function of coolant is to transfer heat and prevent engine damage due to freezing or boiling. Coolant is instrumental in keeping the engine lubricated and the parts working. The only way for heat to be efficiently transferred is with a liquid in the system. This means it is very important to keep your coolant at the right temperature to prevent it from freezing or evaporating in hot temperatures.


Also, if coolant boils, then the vapors formed don’t transfer heat at the optimal level, meaning the engine metal can melt. If the coolant touches certain places in the engine that it isn’t supposed to, then the engine will melt due to the hot coolant. Some more modern cars are made with small engine compartments that don’t have the best airflow, meaning they can overheat within a very short time frame without a proper cooling system.


In addition, coolant provides the purpose of protecting metals and non-metallic elastomers, or special polymers that are elastic, within the engine and cooling circuit. The main function of the coolant preventing the engine from freezing and boiling, and keeping the oil from forming a solid or gas, is crucial to the functioning of your vehicle.


What Can Happen If I Use The Wrong Type Of Coolant?


If you don’t use the correct type of coolant within your system, you can experience corrosion and component damage. This damage can lead to long-term effects that will be serious to the overall lifespan of your vehicle. Sometimes, you might not even notice these effects until a year or so after the damage, causing the problem to get even worse without you noticing.


Oftentimes, this coolant damage is misidentified by the owners as a radiator failure. If the radiator is faulty or corroded, this usually means that a coolant system improperly functioning is the main culprit.


What Is The Low Coolant Light For?


When you start your engine, the low coolant level light should come on for only a second or two and then turn off. If the light doesn’t go off, the coolant level might be too low, or the sensor system is experiencing a problem detecting the correct amount of coolant in the system.


The light displays a symbol of either a thermometer or box, often with uneven lines to indicate a liquid. It may also say “low coolant” depending on the vehicle. If the light comes on, this means that there is a serious issue with your car that you need to get looked at. The consequences of low coolant can seriously hurt your engine and overheat your car.


Why Does The Low Coolant Level Warning Light Come On?


If the coolant light comes on in your vehicle, the safest bet is for you to stop driving. Pull your car over the side of the road and turn off your engine to prevent the coolant from hurting your engine any further or overheating. You need to somehow get your vehicle to the repair shop and your mechanic so they can resolve any issues with your vehicle. There are a few key reasons as to why the low coolant light can appear in your car. 


Your Coolant Level Is Low


If your coolant level in your reservoir is low, you should ask your mechanic to check for a leak. However, if they find this isn’t the case, the solution may be just to add more coolant.


Fix: This is quite an easy solution to this problem. All you have to do is top up your coolant to the “full” level when the engine hasn’t been running, or is cold. Use both antifreeze and water to create a 50-50 mix, and refill the coolant to the necessary level. Be sure to check your coolant level frequently for the next week to ensure that a leak isn’t the real issue with your low coolant level.


Your Coolant Reservoir Is Leaking


If you noticed that your coolant level is low and the topping-up doesn’t fix the issue, then a leak is your main concern. Check the sides and bottom of your reservoir for any holes or damaged parts where the coolant is leaking from.


Fix: A mechanic will have to replace the coolant reservoir. On average, it costs about $130 to replace the coolant reservoir. It is about $80 for labor and $60 for parts, but the price will vary depending on your make and model of car and the mechanic fees.


Your Radiator Cap Is Faulty


The radiator cap is a key part of your coolant system, keeping the liquid inside the system and at the right pressure. A broken or damaged cap can allow coolant to escape, which can trigger the low coolant warning light on your dashboard.


There are key signs that your radiator cap is damaged. The main reason is that your coolant is leaking, as we have discussed. If the cap is stuck, fluid can’t get released. This causes pressure to build inside of the radiator, forcing the hose to break open and leak.


Another sign that your radiator cap is damaged is an overflowing reservoir. The radiator cap is released by the pressure, sending the coolant towards the overflow tank. If the radiator cap is damaged, the coolant will be released too early, and cause the reservoir to overflow. A faulty radiator cap can cause the overflowing reservoir, turning on the low coolant light.


Fix: if you think you can confidently work on your car for repairs, then you can replace the bad cap with a new one. If you’re not too confident, a mechanic will be able to do it. If you do this yourself, make sure the engine is completely cool and get the correct replacement cap. A replacement radiator cap is inexpensive, and usually between $7-$20 depending on the specific type you need.


Your Radiator Hoses Are Damaged Or Won-Out Over Time


The radiator hoses in your vehicle are constantly exposed to hot coolant when your engine is running. These hoses will break-down over time due to the elements they are exposed to. They might even crack or burst, causing coolant to escape and prompt the low coolant level warning light to come on your dashboard. If your radiator hoses are damaged, the low coolant level light in your car will turn on.


Fix: First, you need to park your vehicle over a dry and even surface. Let your car run until it is warm, and then let it sit overnight Check for any coolant leaks in the morning, seeing if there is any liquid or oil on the ground. Feel the sides of your radiator hoses for any damage or leaks. If tightening the shoe clamps solves the problem, then you don’t have to replace any parts.


If tightening the clamps doesn’t fix anything, you need to replace the worn radiator hoses. Replacing a radiator hose is a relatively quick fix that costs just $35-$65 for the entire repair.


You Have A Serious Cooling System Leak


If the radiator cap and the radiator hoses are not damaged, then there might be a faulty radiator, water pump, or thermostat housing. Damage to any of these parts will cause your low coolant light to come on.


The radiator is in charge of passing your coolant through metal fins, wallowing the heat to flow to the air outside of your car, preventing overheating. Without his running properly, your car will overheat and your engine won’t run. Replacing a radiator runs at an average of $292-$1193 for both the parts and labor involved. The average cost of just the radiator replacement will be between $300-$1200. The cost varies depending on the labor involved and the model of your car.


The water pump is a mechanism that ensures the coolant moves through the engine block hoses, and radiator. The pump in charge of the system is working at the correct temperature. An average water pump replacement costs $300- $750, depending on your car’s make, model, and labor costs. The water pump may only be less than $100, but the labor can be quite expensive depending on how hard it is to reach the pump.


Fix: If you suspect that one of these two mechanisms might be the real issue with your car, then you need to get your car to a mechanic as soon as possible. If you don’t feel safe driving, have your car towed to the nearest shop. These repairs typically require the mechanic draining the coolant, and replacing the defective component, being either the water hose or the radiator. The mechanic will then refill the coolant to fix the low coolant level.


You Have A Damaged Head Gasket


Your low coolant level light might come on if your head gasket isn’t working correctly. Your head gasket is in charge of providing a seal between engine block and cylinder. In addition, it lets the flow of both oil and coolant pass smoothly. If the head gasket has failed, it can cause the coolant to be burned in your combustion chambers – this is dangerous, because you might not see any leaks happening.


The burning of the coolant within the combustion chambers can cause the low coolant warning light to come on. This situation can also damage your emission system, since the burnt coolant will hurt the catalytic converter.


Fix: This problem is quite detrimental to older and high-mileage vehicles. This requires an expensive repair. If you don't think that your car is worth this repair, you might consider selling your vehicle, either with or without a functioning engine. An older car with lots of miles might not be worth fixing due to the high repair costs.


You Have A Faulty Intake Manifold Gasket


The intake manifold is on the top or side of the engine providing air and fuel to the cylinders that are burnt to provide power. The intake manifold contains a gasket, where it is joined to the engine. This gasket where the connection is can fail and leak coolant in your car.


Fix: A mechanic can replace the intake manifold gasket, which is a less expensive and common repair compared to a blown head gasket.


You Have A Bad Sensor Or Warning Light


If your coolant level is actually at an appropriate level, but the warning light for low coolant is on, then a bad sensor or warning light could be the culprit. The float may have gotten stuck on the bottom of the reservoir, or the sensor could be clogged.


Fix: A mechanic should check and repair the issue with the warning light system. This usually requires draining some coolant, so you should definitely take your vehicle toa repair shop to have it done properly.


What If My Car’s Repair Is Too Expensive?


If your car has an expensive repair in the near future, you might consider not repairing the cause of the low coolant within your vehicle. If your car is old or has high-mileage on it, then an expensive repair might not be worth it in the long run.


Consider selling your car to a reputable source that can provide a trustworthy and fair quote for your junk car, either with or without the defective part. Bring your vehicle to CashCarsBuyer to enjoy a reliable and trustworthy business that will provide you quick cash for your broken car.


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