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Winter is well and truly here, the mercury has dipped below zero and that means car engines take longer to warm up and can be damaged if parts become frozen overnight.
While using anti-freeze might be the solution, Les Mc Master from the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA) warns people not to be fooled by ‘just any’ anti-freeze products on the market.
“There is quite a lot of confusion around the use of anti-freeze in the cooling systems of vehicles," he warns.
"Doing so incorrectly - or diluting the anti-freeze too much - can result in serious corrosive damage to various parts of the engine including the water pump, radiator and even the engine-cylinder head."
The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has two standards for anti-freeze.
The first standard is SANS/SABS 1251, where a product must be diluted with clean water in one of two different ratios – 50/50 (1:1) or 33.3/67.7 (1:2) - according to instructions.
With the second, SANS/SABS 1839, a coolant is already diluted with water in a 40/60 ratio and is ready to use.
It should not be diluted any further. “If, for example, a coolant product carrying the SABS 1839 mark is diluted, it becomes inefficient and potentially damaging to engine components.
It’s therefore important to understand what you are putting into your engine before doing so,” says Mc Master.
“Unfortunately looking for the SABS/SANS compliance mark is no guarantee of the quality of the product.”
So what should you be using?
Here are the MIWA's top tips when looking for and using an effective anti-freeze product:
• Buy branded coolant products from reliable and reputable outlets.
• The price of the product is a good indication of quality. Cheaper varieties are likely to have already been diluted.
• Ask that your mechanic uses a hydrometer to check the coolant in your vehicle’s cooling system. The mechanic should also check for solids (rust particles) floating in the coolant and look out for indications of electrolysis (white surface spots) especially in aluminium radiators.
• In a good coolant, the content of the vital chemical – mono-ethylene glycol – must not be lower than 30% or higher than 50%. The glycol content can also be measured using a hydrometer.
• It is a best to drain the cooling system of a vehicle once a year, pour in the correct quantity of undiluted cooling protector and only then fill the system with clean water.
• Coolants of various colours are available on the market - some have fluorescence added to make leak detection easier. Colours are no indication of the type of chemicals used in the mixture.
“Most anti-freeze products are really cooling system protectors, they don't necessarily protect only against freezing. A good quality coolant will also prevent boiling and these anti-boil properties are more important in most parts of South Africa than the anti-freeze characteristics,” advises Mc Master.
He adds that it’s also worthwhile turning on your car and letting it to run for a few minutes before driving off in the morning.
“Warming an engine up before driving will ensure the longevity of the parts in the engine. Speak to your local workshop owner for more advice on anti-freeze and looking after your car during the winter months.”