by Lee Wyatt
(last updated February 21, 2009)
Looking back, when I started learning how to drive I never realized how little I knew about driving or car maintenance. In fact, I remember asking one of my Driver's Education teachers the rather simple-sounding question of why do you need antifreeze? Since I was living in a small ranching and farming town at the time, I was a little embarrassed that I asked the question. After all, everyone in our town needed to be a bit of a backyard mechanic and take care of their own automotive needs.
Anyway, as you may have guessed by now, I was just a tad embarrassed when I found out that basically antifreeze is the same thing as engine coolant. However, just because antifreeze is basically the same thing as engine coolant does not mean that it is exactly the same thing. There is a slight difference between the two, and that difference is what makes it so important as to why you need antifreeze.
Basically, both engine coolant and antifreeze are designed to help your engine operate properly and ensure that the engine does not get damaged. Engine coolant is specifically designed to keep your engine from overheating, while antifreeze is designed to keep your engine from overheating as well as from freezing during the winter—hence the name. However, both need to be mixed with water to work properly or there could be problems.
As your engine reaches a certain temperature the fluid in your radiator begins to boil. When that happens, the evaporated fluid starts to condense into water vapor and that vapor starts to stick to the interior of the engine. Over time, this condensation can cause rust, which can flake off and lead to other problems. These problems can even get worse in the winter time, when the condensation can freeze, expand, and end up creating even more damage and actually causing parts of your engine to break off.
You can reduce the likelihood of this damage by adding the engine coolant or antifreeze to the water in your radiator, in the proper amounts. If you use too much antifreeze, you are going to find that your engine can actually overheat since antifreeze does not boil as easily as water does. If you use too little antifreeze then you are going to find that your coolant system is more likely to freeze.
To achieve the proper mix, all that you need to do is create a mixture of half water and half antifreeze. One word of caution though—some antifreeze comes already premixed, so you are not going to need to mix it. If you do, then you are going to throw the ratio out of balance and possibly end up damaging your engine.
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