Radiator Fluid: What to Use & What to Avoid

January 27, 2012

Radiator fluid is the antifreeze coolant that is used in your radiator to help cool your car engine. Always making sure that your vehicle has adequate amounts of the correct type of radiator fluid will help keep your car engine cooler and allow your car engine to last longer. You should frequently check the levels of coolant in your car's radiator and cooling system and occasionally replace the radiator fluid in your vehicle. So, it is always important to know what type of radiator fluid is best for your vehicle.

Appropriate Type of Radiator Fluid

For most vehicles, a glycol based antifreeze coolant is the best type of coolant to be used in any vehicle radiator. However, using the glycol based antifreeze alone is usually not a good idea. In most cases, you will need to mix the glycol based antifreeze with a certain amount of water.

If you live in more temperate climate areas such as states in the South or Southwest, you should mix a glycol antifreeze coolant with an equal amount of water. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend a 50/50 mix of glycol antifreeze and water when vehicles require adequate cooling but do not need much protection from the cold of a harsh winter. However, a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water will offer adequate winter protection for a vehicle in all but the most extreme winter environments.

If you live in colder regions of the country, you should mix your glycol based antifreeze with water as well. However, you should use 70% glycol antifreeze and 30% water to provide additional weatherization protection for your vehicle. This will help prevent your engine block from freezing up in extremely cold temperatures.

Radiator Fluid - What Not to Use

When a vehicle radiator overheats and overflows, many people simply add water to the radiator and forget it. While adding water is a good temporary stopgap measure, you should always add antifreeze to the radiator or radiator reserve tank as soon as possible. Using water alone will eventually cause your vehicle to overeat again and offers no protection against the car engine block from freezing up in the winter. You should only use water in an emergency, and never in place of a quality antifreeze coolant.

Another fluid that is commonly mistaken for antifreeze and added to the radiator is automatic transmission fluid. Although some types of antifreeze coolant are of a similar red color, antifreeze coolant is much different in composition than automatic transmission fluid.

Automatic transmission fluid is not designed to withstand the high temperatures that are created in your car engine and offers little or no protection at all from overheating. In addition, using automatic transmission fluid in your car radiator may result in damage to the engine block of your vehicle. It may also cause radiator hoses and lines to become clogged as well and may result in having to have hoses and fittings replaced. Automatic transmission fluid is easily differentiated from antifreeze in the fact that antifreeze will always come in a large 1 gallon container whereas automatic transmission fluid usually comes in a small can.

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