The cooling system in a car is essential to its function. Without being able to cool the engine, you cannot drive the car for long without causing damage.
Coolant-related problems can make your car completely useless to you in a matter of a few minutes, so you should know how to diagnose issues with your coolant and the overflow tank as well.
Your coolant reservoir tank should always be at least 30% full. These tanks have a minimum and maximum fill line and you can determine the amount of coolant that is in the tank by looking at these lines and seeing how close your coolant level is to the min or max marking.
The coolant overflow tank is made to hold the coolant in reserve to adjust for engine temperature and altitude variances. You need to have at least 30% of the tank full to safely operate your vehicle, but it can be just as bad to keep the tank too full.
What is Engine Coolant?
The engine coolant in your engine is also known as antifreeze and it is present in the engine to make sure that it runs at a safe temperature. As mentioned before, without coolant, your engine would overheat and seize up.
There are different coolant types, and the specifications for your particular engine will be outlined in your owner’s manual if you are not sure about what they are.
Older cars will have different coolant needs than newer cars and there are different formulas that can be used for different geographic locations as well.
These products are mixed with water and there is a certain amount that is kept in reserve for your car to use when the altitude changes, the temperature changes, or other variables require that there be more or less coolant circulating in your engine at any given time. This is why you have a coolant overflow reservoir in your engine.
How Does a Coolant Reservoir Work in my Engine?
The coolant reservoir is made to hold the excess coolant in reserve in case your engine should need it.
The reservoir tank is made to help with the adjustments that are needed for increased engine heat so that your radiator can send extracted heat out away from the engine. The reservoir is made to catch the expanding coolant that has been heated by the engine as it is running.
Without the coolant reservoir, your engine would be burping out coolant all the time that would make a mess and would also then need to be replaced when the car cooled down. The variables of engine temperature and altitude variances are cushioned by this very essential part of your car’s safe operation.
The coolant reservoir is made of very durable plastic and is usually located near the upper right-hand side of your engine compartment.
This makes it easy to look at and you can use this reservoir as a means to diagnose issues with your car’s engine performance quite readily due to its location.
How do I Know How Much Coolant to Add to my Overflow Tank?
This is one of the places where many car owners make mistakes. They might see that their coolant reservoir is lower than they expected and then add coolant because they think that their car is losing coolant for some reason.
This is not always an accurate means of judging the amount of coolant that you need in your engine, because the volume can change a lot if the car is warm or if it is cold.
You should never fill your overflow tank beyond the 30% mark because you might cause an issue that could lead to you getting a burn from the content of the tank if you open it while the car is running.
The coolant might also burp out and make a mess that makes you think something else is wrong with the vehicle. There needs to be room in your overflow tank to be sure that your engine has the space it needs to heat and cool the coolant as it runs.
The best way to judge the coolant level in your engine and whether or not it needs to be topped up is to look at the coolant reservoir when the engine is cold.
This will tell you how much space is still in the system and give you an accurate read on the level of coolant that is in the engine. It can take up to 2 or 3 hours for the engine to cool off enough to judge this accurately, so do not be in a rush.
Should the Coolant Tank Ever be Empty?
No, your coolant tank should not ever be empty. This is a symptom of a bigger issue that will need to be diagnosed. If you see that your coolant overflow tank is empty, you will need to start looking for coolant leaks elsewhere in the system.
You can check the coolant level in your radiator if you notice that the reservoir is empty. If the radiator is not full to the brim, you should not drive your car any farther than necessary until the right fix has been applied to the problem.
A lack of coolant can be devastating to your engine, and you should not try and drive long distances with your coolant system in this condition.
What Are Common Reasons for Coolant Leaks?
Coolant could be leaking from your system for a variety of reasons. You will probably need the help of a mechanic to diagnose this issue unless you have a lot of mechanical skills. You can look into some of the common reasons for these issues before you take your vehicle to be worked on by an expert.
Bad Radiator Cap
This is a common part that has failed in your system. The radiator cap is made to expand when the engine temperature increases.
This allows coolant to escape into the reservoir tank directly. If the cap is no longer expanding, or it is always expanding, you will have issues with the delivery of your coolant to your engine.
Bad Radiator Fan
The radiator fan takes in air and cools it to help keep the engine at the right temperature to run safely. If your fan has gone bad, you might see that your engine is overheating or you could see that your coolant reservoir seems to be very full as the coolant is trying to absorb excess heat.
Hoses in your engine might get hot during use or maybe something happens that causes them to be torn or punctured.
This can lead to a slow leak situation that is harder to diagnose unless you see fluid running out from under your car or you can pinpoint where the leak is occurring. Leaking hoses are common but can be hard to diagnose.
Make Sure That You Do not Add Coolant to a Hot Engine
The biggest reason that you should not try to add coolant to a hot engine is that there could be pressure in the reservoir that could lead to the coolant being ejected violently out of the reservoir. Coolant burns can be life-threatening, so it is never a good idea to add extra coolant unless you are sure the engine has cooled down.
It can be tempting to think that adding some coolant to your engine will make it possible for you to limp to the next repair station, but you will need to make sure that you wait long enough that it is safe to do so. Always use a rag to open the radiator cap and the reservoir cap so that you do not get a serious burn.
Always remember that a healthy engine should have a full coolant reservoir if it is very hot and has been running for a while. If the engine is hot and the reservoir is not full, you might not be able to add coolant just to drive a little further. This is a sign of a much bigger issue that might not be fixed by this temporary band-aid.
Can I Mix Different Coolant Types?
This is never recommended and you should always use the kind of coolant that your car’s owner’s manual calls for. This is easy to check on even if you do not have the owner’s manual anymore for some reason. You can search for most of the information related to the coolant that your car will need online or you can call a dealership that sells your brand of car and ask them to tell you which coolant type you need for your vehicle.
Always make sure that you check the details of the coolant’s directions before you add it to your car as well. Wear gloves and be sure that you do not spill coolant all over as you add it to your car. As these products are very toxic to animals, you should always clean up any spilled coolant so that your pets or the neighbor’s pets do not ingest it and die.
Due to the toxic nature of coolants, you should never leave them sitting open on a shelf or in your garage. Not only does an open container spell the risk for a messy spill, in this case, but it can also lead to kids and animals being seriously harmed if they are able to get into it with ease.
How Often Should I Check my Coolant Levels?
This can vary depending on your experience with your car. If your car has had issues with a coolant leak in the past, you should probably be checking the coolant levels frequently, particularly if you need to head out of town or drive when it is very hot out.
While a fix might have been applied, sometimes more than one issue can plague your engine related to a coolant delivery issue.
If your car has not had coolant issues before, you can probably just check the coolant levels every once in a while, to make sure that things seem to be fine under the hood. Early warning signs of coolant issues are often made apparent by the engine getting hotter than you think it should or by seeing a leak when you park your car.
This is one of the items that is traditionally checked in annual services or when your oil is changed at a dealership, but you can make sure that you also double-check it once in a while so that you do not get stranded somewhere by a coolant issue.
Any time that you are thinking of taking a road trip or heading out when the weather is really hot, you should check your car’s engine coolant before you head out. Make sure to check it when the car is not very hot due to the risks of burns from your coolant overflowing the overflow reservoir or the radiator.
Your Engine’s Coolant Delivery System is Crucial to its Maintenance
The coolant delivery system in your engine is a major factor in its ability to run properly. You should always be checking on the levels of coolant in your engine just like you check on the level of engine oil.
While you do not have to assume that your engine will have coolant delivery issues, this is an item that can lead to catastrophic damage to your engine.
Being aware of the levels of oil and coolant in your engine is never a bad thing, as a low level of coolant in the reservoir could be an early warning sign of major issues to come.
You will just need to remember to use proper safety protocol when handling the reservoir or the radiator and you need to know what the normal levels of coolant should be when the engine is cool and when it is hot.
It is very easy to check the coolant level in your engine and you can use this simple check to be sure that your engine is in healthy operating condition at all times.
While ensuring your coolant overflow tank is properly maintained, don’t forget to take care of other essential car cleaning tasks, such as eliminating fishy odors, removing urine from car seats, and cleaning those hard-to-reach spots between your car seat and console.