What Is Antifreeze?

Pouring antifreeze. Filling a windshield washer tank with an antifreeze in winter cold weather.

You probably know that antifreeze prevents your car from overheating in the summer, but that’s all. Although all automobiles use it, a lot of people don’t understand the facts about this liquid. As you’ll discover, there’s more to antifreeze than imagined.

A Common Misconception

More than likely, you’ve heard people refer to antifreeze as coolant and vice versa. However, they’re not the same. For instance, the basic ingredient in antifreeze is either ethylene glycol or propylene glycol. Because of that, it’s mixed with water, which then creates a type of coolant.

In comparison, coolant is usually a 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze. However, some products contain up to 70% antifreeze. People use those when driving in extremely cold temperatures. That blend is sufficient to keep engines cool when running over 200 degrees. However, it also prevents it from freezing when it’s 30 degrees or less outside.

Water Versus Antifreeze

Have you ever wondered why you can’t use just water to cool your car’s engine? First, water reaches a boiling point of 212 degrees. In addition, it freezes at 32 degrees. Therefore, it won’t keep an engine cool nor protect it from freezing. Not only that, but water on its own could corrode metal parts and components associated with the engine.

At the same time, you don’t want to use pure antifreeze. After all, antifreeze, like water, offers no protection from freezing. The reason, it has a freezing point of zero degrees. When using a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water, the freezing point drops to minus 35 degrees. On the other hand, the boiling point rises to 223 degrees or greater.

How Does an Engine Process Antifreeze?

Whenever your car’s turned off, coolant sits inside the radiator. As soon as you start it, a pump pushes it through passageways that lead to the engine. Through that process, the engine absorbs heat before the coolant returns to the radiator. There, fresh air cools it before it circulates again.

During the winter, you crank up the heater so that you’re comfortable while driving. In that case, a portion of the coolant diverts to the core of the heater. The coolant then warms the core. So, when you turn up the fan, that warm air then flows into the interior of your car.

Different Types of Antifreeze

Besides pure antifreeze and a 50/50 blend, there are other types. That includes both the color of the liquid as well as the formula. While the color doesn’t matter, the formula does. As an example, not all vehicles use the same type of antifreeze. You might need organic acid technology, inorganic acid technology, or a hybrid, which is a combination of the two.

Another unique aspect of antifreeze is that, unlike coolant, it’s made with corrosion inhibitors. They prevent rust from damaging various parts of the engine. That includes the cooling system, water pump, radiator, and more.

At one time, mechanics added new coolant to automobiles after flushing the radiator. However, that’s not the process followed today. Newer cars, trucks, and SUVS can go 100,000 miles without needing the radiator flushed or the addition of new coolant.

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Safety Risks

The chemicals used to make antifreeze can cause severe illness or worse in both humans and animals. It doesn’t take a large amount to pose a serious risk. It’s better to have a professional fill or replace the antifreeze in your vehicle than to do it yourself. To prevent an accident, take your vehicle to the service center at O’Daniel Honda in Omaha, Nebraska.

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