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AMSOIL TECH BLOG

03/01/2015

Neglecting Coolant System Maintenance Can Result in Serious Damage and Failure in Other Components, Including the Engine

Why is engine coolant so often neglected? We spend a great deal of time checking motor oil level and making sure it is changed at the correct interval, but many of us spend little or no time maintaining our vehicle's cooling system. I am guessing that the main reason is that coolant problems don't create issues with vehicle operation as quickly as motor oil problems do. Those of us not directly involved with the heavy-duty diesel industry may not have ever seen a coolant related failure. Or, we may have blamed a failure on something else, not knowing the cause was coolant related. For example, a piece of equipment that is running abnormally hot may be doing so due to fouling of the coolant system. Scale and deposits in radiators and water pumps are a sign of coolant problems that raise the motor oil temperature and overheat key engine parts. If it continues, this particular issue can lead to overheating and engine failure.

One common question is, "I am using a well-designed, long-life antifreeze, so why do I need to worry about scale, deposits, corrosion and overheating?" This is a good question and is the reason for this month's Tech Talk. So the answer is (drum roll please)...

Vehicles degrade as they age just like we do - they accumulate more contaminants, more hot spots and develop wrinkles! As a vehicle gets older, they are at higher risk for combustion exhaust gas leaking into the coolant system, electrical ground problems causing stray voltage, air contamination, salt contamination and hot spots accumulating due to low coolant flow. All of these issues cause the coolant to degrade much faster than if the vehicle was in sound mechanical condition. Catching the issues and correcting the root cause is critical to maintaining the system and enjoying the benefits of long-life coolants in aging vehicles.

Exhaust gases, which are one of the primary causes of motor oil degradation, are also harmful to coolants. When exhaust gases enter the coolant system they accelerate acid development, which degrades the backbone of the coolant. This leads to corrosive wear and general corrosion, which will eventually cause leaks and damage to the cooling system. Additionally, chemical changes in the antifreeze due to acid formation can cause other issues, including wrinkles in hoses and seals, which leads to leaks and introduces air to the cooling system. Acid development can also cause the additive package to drop out of solution so it can't continue to protect the system from wear and corrosion.

Improperly grounded electrical equipment can destroy cooling systems very quickly. In light-duty vehicles this may show up as a heater core leak; in heavy-duty vehicles it can cause problems anywhere the the coolant is grounding an electrical current improperly. This can show up as a liner pitting, water-pump damage, radiator leaks, oil-cooler leaks or transmission damage. Anytime there is voltage being carried through the cooling system, there is potential for damage.

We don't usually think about air as a source of problems. Air is all around us and we need to continuously breathe it in to survive. Engines need air to burn fuel and generate power, but cooling systems are not designed to be continuously refreshed with air. Leaks causing air to be introduced to the cooling system accelerate acid development, scale and damaging foam. Hoses and seals need to be replaced as they age to ensure that the cooling system is correctly sealed and operating under the pressure it was designed for.

Contamination is another concern for cooling systems. Owners operating vehicles or marine equipment near areas where there is a high salt content in the air need to be particularly watchful for leaks and evidence of salt entering the system. When dissolved, sodium chloride introduces chloride ions to cooling systems. Chloride has been proven to be very corrosive to cooling system components and as a result, the ASTM specification is 40 ppm or below. Above this level, the cooling system is at risk of developing this type of corrosion. If levels are significantly higher and stray voltage is present in the coolant system, damage will occur quickly.

Hot spots develop for a number of different mechanical conditions. If the cooling system has excessive air, scale or is running low, hot spots develop. Whenever you get areas of metal that are much hotter than the surrounding area, there is the potential to damage gaskets and warp metal surfaces, leading to other issues. Over time, this can also create more permanent damage to engine parts.

All of this information on cooling systems may seem a little scary, just like going to the doctor in your 50s! Since we can't do anything about the aging process, we have to do the best we can to prevent issues and perform regular maintenance. The same is true of our aging vehicles. Cooling system damage due to maintenance issues is one of the leading causes of vehicle failures. The good news is that it can be prevented for the most part with inspections, new parts and taking care of the coolant with regular checks. Published, AMSOIL Magazine 03/15.

AMSOIL Antifreeze and Coolant provides superior heat transfer and excellent protection against corrosion, freezing and boilover. It provides maximum protection in extreme temperatures and operating conditions, and provides superior protection for aluminum, steel, cast iron, copper, brass and solder alloys.

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