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The Importance of CoolantNotes From the Road

The Importance of Coolant
By Debbie Murphy/

Another Easy Way to Protect your Engine -
Whether you call it engine coolant or antifreeze, the fluid in your radiator multi-tasks, circulating throughout your engine block and keeping the works purring like a kitten.

What is Coolant?
Generally, coolant is a half-and-half mixture of a form of glycol and water. The glycol represents the antifreeze element of the mix, guaranteeing that the fluid doesn't turn into ice under harsh winter conditions. On the other hand, glycol also prevents the coolant from reaching the boiling point in Death Valley heat; it keeps engine temperatures stable under all climate extremes and driving conditions.
Interestingly, pure water actually transfers heat better than coolant (that's why you see straight water used in the radiators of some types of racecars). However, coolant/antifreeze includes additional additives that prevent rust and corrosion in the radiator, engine and the vehicle's heater.
Until recently, the most common glycol in antifreeze was ethylene glycol, a toxic material that can cause birth defects, reproductive damage or even death if ingested, and requires very specific handling. Ethylene glycol has a sweet odor and flavor, which makes it dangerously appealing to animals and/or small children.
An alternative antifreeze base is propylene glycol. There is very little difference in the performance of either substance; the advantage is the toxicity level. Propylene glycol is significantly less toxic than ethylene glycol. This doesn't mean children or pets can ingest it without harm, but, like alcohol, propylene glycol is not toxic at low levels.
Any antifreeze, whether ethylene or propylene glycol based, picks up heavy-metal contamination during use. For this reason, special care must be taken to dispose of used antifreeze. It's safer to have a repair facility flush your cooling system since they are required by law to dispose of the material safely.
Most communities have procedures for disposing of hazardous waste; so, if you do your own repairs and maintenance, take advantage of these procedures. Don't pour coolant down your sink or into storm drains.

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