Caring for your car engine this winter – is anti-freeze the answer?

Caring for your car engine this winter – is anti-freeze the answer?

With the days and nights getting cooler, car engines take longer to warm up and can be damaged if parts become frozen overnight, for example. While using anti-freeze products may be the solution to engine freeze, Vishal Premlall, Director of Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA) warns motorists not to be fooled by ‘just any’ anti-freeze products on the market. “There is quite a lot of confusion surrounding the use of anti-freeze in the cooling systems of vehicles. The incorrect application of anti-freeze, or the dilution thereof, can result in serious corrosive damage to various parts of the engine including water pump, radiator and even the engine-cylinder head,” he warns.

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has two standards for anti-freeze. The first standard is SANS/SABS 1251, where a product must be diluted with clean water in one of two different ratios – 50/50 (1:1) or 33.3/67.7 (1:2) according to instructions, but preferably 1:1. The second, SANS/SABS 1839, is where a coolant is already diluted with water in a 40/60 ratio and is ready to use. It should not be diluted any further. “If, for example, a coolant product carrying the SABS 1839 mark is diluted it becomes inefficient and corrosion will result causing damage to engine components. It’s therefore important to understand what you are putting into your engine before doing so,” says Premlall.

So what should you be using? “Unfortunately looking for the SABS/SANS compliance mark is no guarantee of the quality of the product,” says Premlall.

He offers the following tips when looking for and using an effective anti-freeze product:

  • Buy branded coolant products from reliable and reputable outlets.
  • The price of the product is a good indication of quality. Cheaper varieties are likely to have already been diluted.
  • Ask that your mechanic uses a hydrometer to check the coolant in your vehicle’s cooling system. The mechanic should also check for solids (rust particles) floating in the coolant and look out for indications of electrolysis (white surface spots) especially in aluminium radiators.
  • In a good coolant, the content of the vital chemical – mono-ethylene glycol – must not be lower than 30% or higher than 50%. The glycol content can also be measured using a hydrometer.
  • It is a best to drain the cooling system of a vehicle once a year, pour in the correct quantity of undiluted cooling protector and only then fill the system with clean water.
  • Coolants of various colours are available on the market, some with florescence added to make leak detection easier. Colours are no indication of the type of chemicals used in the mixture.

“Most anti-freeze products are really cooling system protectors – they do not necessarily protect only against freezing. A characteristic of a good quality coolant is that it will prevent boiling – and these anti-boil characteristics are more important in most parts of South Africa than the anti-freeze characteristics,” advises Premlall.

He adds that it’s also worthwhile turning on your car and letting it to run for a few minutes before driving off in the morning. “Warming an engine up before driving will ensure the longevity of the parts in the engine. Speak to your local workshop owner for more advice on anti-freeze and looking after your car during the winter months,” he concludes.