What You Need to Know About Automobile Coolant

Updated on January 30, 2019
Daniel Kolbo profile image

Daniel is a researcher and author for Trade School Future, an organization that provides resources for students seeking a career in a trade.

Is Automobile Coolant Universal?

The simple answer is NO.

This is a common mistake that many people make when they see that their coolant is running a little bit low. Our first instinct is to look at the color of the coolant, head to the store, and get the closest one we can find. If you do this, you might get lucky and not have a single problem. However, this is not the best way to refill your coolant in your vehicle.

How to Learn Which Coolant Your Car Takes

The best way to find out which coolant is best for your car is to ask your local mechanic or dealer what they put in your car. This way, if you need to top off your coolant in the future, you know exactly what to get.

Most coolants look similar in color, so do not rely on your color-distinguishing skills to identify what type of coolant your vehicle uses—particularly since the color can change over time! Therefore, if you do not already know what type of coolant is in your vehicle, you need to ask your trusted mechanic. If you just moved to a new area and do not have a trusted mechanic, there are many resources out there to help you find one.

If you are in a pinch and need to top off your coolant for only a short period of time, you can add distilled water until the solution reaches the minimum level. Again, this is not a long-term solution. Once you know what coolant your vehicle takes, it is a good idea to keep a jug of it in your trunk so if you ever need to top off on the go, you have what you need.

Types of Coolant

Coolant Type
Length of Life
Typical Color
Inorganic Acid Technology (IAT)
Phosphates and silicates
2 years or 24,000 miles
Bright Green
Organic Acid Technology (OAT)
Azoles and neutralized organic acids
5 years or 50,000 miles
Red or Orange
Hybrid Organic Acid Technology (HOAT)
Mix of IAT and OAT, silicates not phosphates
5 years or 50,000 miles
Orange or Yellow

Now That You Know Which Coolant Is Right for You...

You know the types of coolant. You know what type of coolant your vehicle takes. Now what do you do with this information? Well, you have a few different options. Number one, if you are new to a mechanic, let them know what coolant your previous mechanic used. Second, if you are a little short on cash and do not feel comfortable doing it yourself, you can find a nearby trade school and they will often help out, free of labor charge! Lastly, you can start to fill your coolant on your own. This is important to know how to do if your engine is in dire need of coolant.

How to Fill Your Coolant

Filling your coolant is not a very technical task, but it can be dangerous. The reservoir that the coolant resides in when cooled is pressurized, so it can be dangerous if you are not following the right safety precautions.

Whenever you are working on an engine, you should wear safety glasses to protect your tender eyes from any chemicals or stray projectiles. Follow these steps to fill your coolant:

  1. Turn off your engine. If you just finished driving your car, you will need to let it cool off for a while as you will get burned working on a hot engine. Once the car is cooled off, ensure that it is in park and pop the hood.
  2. Locate the engine coolant reservoir. This is often a semi-translucent white color and will be located near the radiator with hoses connecting to it. Once located, ensure that the coolant is low. If it is at or above the minimum coolant line then there is no need to add any more.
  3. Loosen the cap. Keep the cap on a little bit as there is often pressure built up within the reservoir that can be dangerous if it is all let out at once. Step back while the pressure releases slowly and once it is done, remove the cap completely.
  4. Add the correct coolant to the reservoir. Do not add coolant to the radiator directly. When adding coolant, use either a diluted coolant on its own or dilute a concentrated coolant by adding distilled water to create a 50/50 solution.
  5. Fill to the cold fill line. It is important that you do not waste coolant and only fill the reservoir until you reach the cold fill line. Once it is filled up, put the cap back on tightly, close the hood, and you are good to go!
  6. Regularly check your fluids. Don't forget to either check your coolant levels yourself or when you get oil changes, have them check for you. This will ensure that you are never left with an overheated engine or frozen fluids. You will be prepared for the hottest of days and the coldest of days with just one magical fluid!

Continue Regular Maintenance

In the end, it is extremely important to continue to maintain your car over time. Create a habit of regularly getting your vehicle checked by a trusted mechanic for leaks or potential hazards in your engine. Build a relationship with your mechanic so that they will be willing to help you more and more over the years. Along with this, ask questions! A good mechanic will be one who is not only able but also willing to teach you. If they say something you do not understand, ask to see what they are talking about. A well-maintained car will run happily and keep you happy while you are on the go!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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