Here we talk about the importance of booking a maintenance and service check for your engine with the colder months approaching, and why you shouldn’t ignore your engine’s antifreeze/coolant during the winter.

At CooperÖstlund we have seen the effects of clients not focusing on their engine’s coolant (antifreeze/glycol to water mix). We perform a check on our Operations and Maintenance clients’ coolant on a monthly basis to make sure they have the right amount of coolant year-round to help performance, cooling, corrosion reduction and freezing damage.

We are regularly asked: ‘what is coolant or antifreeze and what’s the difference? Do we have enough antifreeze mix for the winter? What are the right amounts? What type should I use? What do I need to look for?’

Understanding how coolant and antifreeze work 

Let’s start with the difference between coolant and antifreeze mix. Simply put, coolant is the product mix you put inside your engine, while antifreeze is one of the active ingredients of a coolant mixture. Antifreeze is generally made up of Ethylene glycol or Propylene glycol and is the primary ingredient of this product.

In terms of ‘what is the coolant that should be in my gas engine?’, the coolant is usually a mixture of deionised water and more commonly used is glycol-based coolants which consist of either Ethylene glycol or Propylene glycol – both which include key corrosion inhibitors. There are other types of glycol on the market but in gas engines, we commonly use Ethylene glycol.

When looking at the difference between glycols coolants, glycol-based coolants consist of either Ethylene glycol or Propylene glycol mostly. The main advantage of glycol is its anti-freeze properties and inhibitors which prevent internal engine corrosion. The anti-freeze assists where pure water freezes at 0°Cwhile 30% Ethylene glycol/water freezes at 14-17°C (depending on type).

Ethylene glycol (EG) is the main component of most coolants mixes, especially in the automotive industry and in industrial engines. Due to Glycol’s high viscosity, it carries heat 15% less efficiently than water, so its use in undiluted form would lead to overheating of the engine and adverse effects on the engine’s operation. By diluting the Ethylene glycol with 50/50 water (distilled ideally or premixed), the boiling point is 107°C (225°F), with the freezing point -37°C (-34°F). The coolant should not be used in a concentration of less than 33% (by volume) of concentrated antifreeze – lower levels decrease the concentration of antifreeze protection and corrosion inhibitors.

Ethylene glycol is a toxic compound – swallowing it can be fatal. After ingestion, Ethylene glycol is metabolised to oxalic acid, which in turn is toxic (oxalic acid is the toxic component of poisonous fungi). By ingestion, the central nervous system is affected first, then the heart and finally the kidneys. Ingestion of quite small amounts can be fatal if no immediate treatment is given.

Propylene glycol (PG) is the main component increasingly used in antifreeze as it is not toxic. Due to its non-toxic nature, it is also recommended for use in cooling/heating systems in the food industry or in other systems where accidental inhalation or ingestion may occur.

Unlike concentrated Ethylene glycol, propylene glycol can be used in some circumstances in concentrated form for those applications that require protection at higher running temperatures. For these reasons, the Propylene glycol is used in concentrated form as a cooling agent for racing car engines. This ensures better cooling, as there is no water vaporising in the hot area of the cylinders. By diluting the Propylene glycol with 50/50 water, the boiling point is 105°C (221°F), with the freezing point -32.2°C (-26°F). In this case too, the Propylene glycol mix should not be used in a concentrations of less than 33% (by volume) of concentrated antifreeze, as dilutions decrease the concentration of corrosion inhibitors.

Engine coolant plays a big role in how your engine is running and should be monitored on a regular basis. The frequency of checks will depend on the type of running your engine does as well as its overall mechanical condition. Ignoring the condition of your engine’s coolant can result in failure of your engine or its components. Understanding what engine coolant does for your engine’s life, both in the short and long run, is a good starting point.

The glycol/water mix protects your engine and components from corrosion and prevents your engine from freezing in cold weather, conditions where things can go very wrong for an engine. You should consult your engine manufacturer’s manual for the right mix and approved type. Given the varying weather conditions gas engines can be operated under, mixes can be altered to protect the engine against different freezing point limits based on the area’s weather conditions the engine is being operated in.

Keep corrosion at bay

The effects of poor coolant maintenance can be irreversible, even catastrophic. Coolant naturally degrades over time – 2 to 3 years generally – and needs to be replaced periodically, governed by testing or time periods. Two of the main failures from poor coolant management is corrosion or freezing. Corrosion is a process in the cooling system that can quickly get out of control. Some contaminants from corrosion are very difficult to entirely remove even after a comprehensive cooling system flush. The best thing to do is to avoid initiating the process of corrosion in the first place. Freezing can cause external engine components to freeze and crack engine pipes, radiators and damage pumps and sensors, causing tens of thousands of pounds of damage.

We regularly see engines that are topped up with neat water by operators, but this gives NO winter protection and NO corrosion protection. Instead, it causes radiators to split and leak; water pump bearings or seals to leak; engine blocks to erode while they are unprotected;  and blocks to leak, costing tens of thousands of pounds to repair or entire engine blocks or ancillary equipment needing to be replaced.

Expert engineers from CooperÖstlund can visit your site to test your coolant level and condition, and drain, supply and replace your mixture to the correct levels for long term protection. We can examine your engine and advise if you have erosion, corrosion or other damage to your engine and if required, help to repair or replace the damaged components.

Get in touch now to find out more about our maintenance programme or to get your pre-winter check booked in early: 01604 505992