Most people assume that using pure distilled water in their radiator when their car is overheating will solve the problem. With the cost of fuel and the escalating costs of living, the radiator coolant price can just add to all your other car expenses. It’s easy to look for cheaper solutions and naturally water can become a far more attractive solution. Don’t take the easy route, car radiator coolant is essential and this is why.

The difference between using radiator coolant vs water in your radiator

Using water to top up your radiator fluid is a common misconception that occurs because many do not understand the way a radiator functions in an engine and the reason that coolant and antifreeze is required. Coolant is a chemical fluid that is required for your car’s cooling system or radiator to work. The cooling system in your car consists of the radiator, which usually has a pressurised cap (do not open this when the radiator or engine is hot under any circumstance!), an overflow bottle, a thermostat and a cooling fan. The purpose of a cooling system in your car is to circulate coolant through the engine which cools the engine and surrounding parts. Coolant is a chemically manufactured product that is premixed with water. Antifreeze is also added to this to stop freezing in cold weather (usually water is also mixed with antifreeze 50/50). Here is a basic antifreeze definition:  Antifreeze for car radiators is a chemical product that is added to coolant to stop your cars radiator fluid from freezing up in icy weather. There are different antifreeze types so check your local mechanic for the correct type for your car as well as antifreeze coolant prices. People are always asking what the difference is between radiator fluid vs coolant as well. It is essentially the same thing, the term coolant and radiator fluid is interchangeable while antifreeze is a different fluid that is added to the coolant mixture. Your radiator fluid or coolant can be with antifreeze or without.

When coolant and antifreeze is mixed with the water it changes the temperature at which the water will freeze or boil. This is essential in a car engine as the purpose of the radiator is to regulate the temperature of the engine as it works. This mixture does not freeze or boil in a hurry and remains in liquid form. So when the car is being used at top speed or for long periods it will serve to cool your engine down without reaching boiling point and when outside temperatures are freezing it will remain liquid and continue to regulate the temperature of your engine by circulating through.

If you use only tap water inside the radiator, your engine and radiator can start building up deposits of minerals from the water that can damage it. Distilled water is safer but it can also rust and corrode from the water, mineral or tap. This will eventually lead to serious engine and radiator damage. One of the main ingredients in antifreeze is ethylene glycol which does not corrode metals and actually provides a kind of protective coating to the metal parts of the engine and radiator, extending the life cycle. There are also additives in coolants and antifreeze that are meant to reduce corrosion. This is why specific vehicles require specific coolants and antifreeze. In addition to this, it also prevents rust which water encourages. It is essential to have the correct ratio for the mixture of water and coolant as this also affects the performance of the coolant and the engine. Too little water will mean the coolant is too thick to circulate efficiently and too much water will mean the coolant solution will not work properly. Quite often, engine damage occurs due to neglect of the cooling system and using only water instead of a coolant. Over long periods of time this can cause engine failure. Taking care of your radiator and your cooling system in your car is essential especially in hot climates like South Africa. By regularly checking for leaks and ensuring you flush your coolant and use clean antifreeze coolant regularly you can protect your car from unnecessary costly damage. Check that your coolant is in order by looking into the overflow bottle regularly. If it looks low wait till your engine is cool and remove the radiator filler cap to check further. If you need a coolant change (if the coolant is looking thick and sludgy or discoloured for instance) or you need to top up contact your local car service centre for assistance. Do not pour any coolant into radiator or reservoir before checking with a professional first. While, it is possible to do a coolant top up yourself you need to make sure you have the correct knowledge to do this and the right product for your specific model of car first. There are lots of radiator coolant types so consult your car manufacturer and mechanic and once you have the correct product, you can top up your radiator coolant. It is important to note here that coolant is poisonous and toxic so you will need to store it somewhere where children and pets cannot access it. This is because the radiator coolant and antifreeze color is bright and the taste is a bit sweet. It can easily be eaten by pets or children when left unattended in an easily accessible location. Due to antifreeze ingredients being so toxic coolant and antifreeze poisoning can be fatal.

If you find that you are constantly topping up coolant then it is possible you have a radiator coolant leak. Check for puddles of brightly coloured coolant under your car. If you do have a leak you may need to send your radiator in for repairs. It is possible for you not to see any coolant leaking out because the leak is inside the engine, which is more serious, so make sure you check everything thoroughly if your coolant is mysteriously disappearing. Consult a mechanic as well to prevent unnecessary and costly damage to your car and engine. They will usually be able to tell you if it is necessary to bring your car in. The most obvious sign of an issue with your cooling system is a overheating car, in this case as mentioned above do not stop your car and fill with pure distilled water. This leads to more damage, rather call for roadside assistance and have your car checked out.

This post was brought to you by the radiator experts in Durban, Silverton Radiators Pinetown. We hope that knowing the difference between using water in your car versus coolant will save our readers unnecessary engine damage in the future! Avoid lasting damage to your car and consult us if you have any further concerns. Our expert team has years of experience and we are always happy to advise you. Our company is dedicated to ensuring we give our customers the most efficient service and we will only advise you to change or repair a vehicle part when it is necessary and could cause expensive damage to your car. 

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