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The Color Of Antifreeze

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On: Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 2:38PM | By: Peter C Sessler

The Color Of Antifreeze

It really used to be much simpler than it is now. When you needed some antifreeze, you just went to the parts store and got some. All cars used the same old green or yellow/gold stuff. Today, it’s not that simple any more. There's now red, orange, green, yellow, and blue to choose from and they're not all compatible with each other. Still, the majority of the cars on the road use the good old green or yellow/gold antifreeze.

To find out for sure which one your car has, look in the owner's manual or, better yet, open the radiator cap and see what you've got. Before we look at the various types of antifreezes, let's take a look at why your car's engine needs antifreeze at all.

Actually, if you just added some anti-corrosion additives to water, you'd have all an engine requires. Unfortunately, this combination has limitations, namely, that it'll freeze in winter and it can boil over in the summer. By adding some ethylene glycol, a type of alcohol, to the water/anticorrosion additive mixture, the freezing point of the mixture is lowered and the boiling point is raised. What's wrong with just using pure ethylene glycol? It won’t work as well as it does when it is mixed with water in around 50-60% concentration.

The interesting thing about pure ethylene glycol (we'll just call it antifreeze from here on) is that it'll freeze at about the same temperature as water. When combined with water at greater concentrations than the normal 50-60%, it won't carry the same amount of heat from the engine to the radiator as pure water. So the thing to do is to just stay with the accepted 50-60% ratio of antifreeze to water.

Another interesting thing about antifreeze is that it never gets used up. Then why do we need to change it every few years? The antifreeze that we get at the store is more than just glycol. It also contains rust and corrosion inhibitors and it’s those that wear out. Without these inhibitors, your engine’s water pump, radiator, and other internal components will quickly corrode and rust. The most common rust and corrosion inhibitors are called silicates and they are used to protect the aluminum and other parts of the engine's cooling system.

Within the past few years, new types of corrosion inhibitors have been developed and they are called organic acids. Cars made by General Motors, some Ford vehicles, and VW/Audi cars use antifreeze that contains organic acids. To differentiate it from the traditional antifreeze, it is colored either red or orange, and it is supposed to last 150,000 miles or five years (by the way, it's pink in Audis). That is longer than the traditional antifreeze. Havoline Dex-Cool and Prestone Extended Life are two brands that contain the new organic acids, but you can also get store-brands in the big department stores, such as Wal-Mart. Keep in mind that you're not supposed to mix the new red/orange antifreeze with the old green, yellow/gold type.

Just to confuse things a bit more, Chrysler cars use a different type of orange antifreeze, which is a mixture of silicates and organic acids. It isn't compatible with the other red or orange antifreezes and you can get more of it only from your friendly Chrysler/Dodge dealer.

There's more. The green antifreeze used in most Japanese cars does not contain silicates and it's not the same as the old style green, yellow/gold antifreeze. The yellow that is used in some European cars is different from our yellow, even though it contains silicates. And let's not forget the red used in Toyota cars and the blue that is used on some European and Korean cars.

The question that most people would probably ask is, "What do I do in an emergency"? If all you’ve got available is the older green, yellow/gold antifreeze, use it, because it's better than overheating or freezing. However, it's best to use whatever antifreeze your car came with originally.

Can you use the newer red/orange antifreeze (the one GM cars come with) on other cars? You're not supposed to because the red/orange antifreeze is specifically designed to be used on cars that have aluminum radiators, instead of radiators made from copper and brass. The red/orange antifreeze will not provide the protection needed for the lead solder used in copper and brass radiators. So what it comes down to is, if your car has an aluminum radiator, stick with the red or orange antifreeze.

As for all the other colors (except the special Chrysler orange), you can use the traditional green, yellow/gold antifreeze in your car. With the antifreezes that have silicates, the Japanese green, the Toyota red, and the European yellow and blues you can use the traditional green, yellow/gold. You may be compromising the longevity of some of the original equipment antifreeze though. As for the Japanese red or green that doesn’t have silicates, you can use the common green, yellow/gold antifreeze, but it's best to do so after the system has been flushed out and thoroughly rinsed.

Got that?


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