The true value behind your coolant leak repair costs (UK)

The coolant mix in your car’s engine system plays a vital part in keeping your car running and you on the road. But what happens to your engine when it runs without the required amount of coolant or the right antifreeze mix?

Operating at the correct engine temperature is imperative for healthy vehicle operation. Knowing how to top up engine coolant, when to make a coolant change and how to find your coolant expansion tank are simple operations every motorist should know.

We’ll be answering the questions: ‘What is engine coolant?’ ‘What coolant do I need?’ and ‘What happens to an engine running without coolant?’

What is coolant?

The coolant in your engine is a mixture of water and antifreeze. It works by circulating the engine and through the radiator to help maintain your optimum engine temperature, to prevent overheating.

The coolant operates at higher temperatures and pressures because it has a higher boiling point than water. It removes the excess heat from your engine and dissipates back into the atmosphere it via your radiator.

Another handy function of your coolant is that it also prevents the water in your cooling system from freezing during winter. It keeps things cool when it’s too hot and hot enough when it’s too cold. Pretty clever, huh?

Don’t wait until it’s too late to ask, ‘Which coolant is right for my car’; find out and make sure you have some at hand for top-ups and flushes.

What happens to an engine running without coolant?

It leads to seriously expensive engine damage

Many modern cars now include a cut-off feature. This handy detection facility monitored and performed by your car’s ECU (Engine Control Unit), will turn your car off to prevent any serious damage from occurring.

For older cars though, you need to know the signs that disaster is looming if you’re going to prevent your engine overheating, seizing or blowing a gasket.

The typical components to suffer the most damage when your engine is running at the wrong temperature, or that can affect your engine’s health when operating incorrectly, are:

  • Water pumps
  • Head gaskets
  • Engine cylinder and piston timings
  • Cylinder head
  • Warped or bent connector rods
  • Crank failure

You’ll be right if you’re thinking they all sound pretty expensive to put right. They are.

Replacing your engine is possibly the most expensive fault a car can suffer

If your engine blows, repair costs can run into the thousands. If you drive an older model vehicle, it’s often more than the car is worth. Having to scrap a car just because you didn’t take the correct care of managing the different operational fluids will leave you kicking yourself—and with your heaviest boots.

Topping up engine coolant or flushing your system when it needs it could save you from expensive and easily avoided costs. Likewise, by spotting any leaks or breaks in the system, a simple coolant leak repair cost could save you the cost of replacing your car.

Choosing the correct coolant for your vehicle

There are 4 main types of antifreeze, so you need to know which is the best option for your engine. Consulting your operation manual or the product information at your motor retail outlet should help you answer ‘What coolant do I need for my car’ as well as its correct mix and usage.

Detecting a lack of coolant in older vehicles

There are plenty of signals and warnings that your coolant is low, missing, or that there’s a blockage or failure in the system somewhere.

Dashboard warning lights

The first, and most obvious, will be your dashboard light indicating that your engine is overheating.

Whenever you see any light on your dash, you should find out what’s amiss straight away—especially if it’s red.

The temperature gauge is running higher than normal

If you notice your temperature gauge running higher than usual, even before a warning light illuminates, you need to investigate straight away.

A broken water pump, leaking or perished pipes, or a cracked or leaky reservoir or expansion tank could permanently damage your engine—so, be vigilant at any first sign. If you’re not sure why the temperature is high, consult a mechanic immediately.

Steam from under your bonnet

Whenever your engine is overheating, the excessive heat produced will cause your bonnet to become incredibly hot. If it’s raining, the water hitting the bonnet will evaporate almost immediately and appear as steam rising.

If your heating system has blown or any part of it cracked, that will also be releasing the hot water from your system. This too will manifest as steam rising from under the bonnet.

Either way, they’re tell-tale signs that something’s wrong and needs your immediate attention.

How to prevent that expensive engine damage?

Pull over straight away. Allow the engine to cool down to an acceptable temperature and if you can, limp to a garage or back home. If you can’t do either of these, and it’s a good idea not to take the risk, have your car recovered, as any further operation could be the straw that breaks the camels back.

Lack of coolant in modern cars

The beauty of the modern car is that it’s designed to protect itself with the many fault detection and engine protection functions often fitted as standard.

Automatic engine cut off

An automatic cut-off uses your engine thermostat to detect unsafe operating temperatures and kill the power to your engine.

Your car won’t restart until the engine is back to a sensible operating temperature. This might be just enough to get your car to safety in small limps and staggers. If not, it’s time to use your recovery service to get you and your car back home or to a suitable repair garage.

Limp mode

Many new vehicles have a ‘safe’ or ‘limp-home’ mode. Your limp mode will reduce operation and risk by firing your engine cylinders in a different sequence. It will allow cool air to feed into one bank at a time, applying some form of cooling between firing; hopefully, just enough to get you home without causing severe damage.

Don’t take the risk

Checking your coolant levels and mix strength should be part of your yearly service, and keeping your eye on it between check-ups is simple. When you consider the high costs of replacing your engine, it pays to stay vigilant as part of your good driver processes.

About Fixter

Fixter is revolutionising the car maintenance industry, one repair at a time. Fixter was founded to make car maintenance as easy as booking a taxi. Digital, transparent and stress-free, with world-class customer service. Since launching in Manchester in 2017, Fixter has expanded to more than 100 cities across the UK and provided thousands of car owners with honest, convenient and affordable car repair services.