Lab Sampling Key for Coolant Maintenance
It’s easy to forget that coolant is perishable under working conditions. And that even the best-maintained cooling system can leak just a little. Failure to follow a coolant maintenance regimen can lead to poor equipment performance and, ultimately, costly component or engine breakdown.
On the other hand, regular maintenance can alert you to problems that can be corrected before they take machines out of commission and escalate into expensive disasters.
Despite its name, antifreeze both cools and heats – in effect working to help maintain optimal internal operating temperature by ensuring the fluid flowing through won’t freeze or boil. The coolant system is critical, because the engine cannot dissipate enough heat on its own to avoid build-up.
Keeping your cool
As with all types of preventive maintenance, doing the right thing by your coolant is mostly a matter of routine. Having a set of steps of follow, and adhering to them, does not have to be difficult.
1. Don’t guess
Read your equipment manufacturer’s operating manual to learn which type of antifreeze to use and their recommended maintenance intervals and procedures. For example, some OEMs spec nitrite-free coolant.
2. Check twice
Never perform any coolant maintenance procedure until you are certain you’re using the proper fluid. Antifreeze mixtures differ, and combining them can cause contamination that leads to damage. Likewise, when you need to top off the level, be sure you’re not only using the proper fluid but mixing it 50-50 with deionized or distilled water. Again, the wrong percentage can cause problems, since it will affect the freezing point.
Coolant level is crucial. If it is as “little” as 10% low, that can cause engine damage by allowing air into the system. So regardless of other preventive maintenance intervals, operators should check coolant level as part of their daily pre-flight checks.
If someone does make a mistake here, contact your antifreeze supplier for help. In some cases they may be able to provide a special fluid that will restore the coolant to its proper concentration. However, you may have to drain the system and start over fresh. That’s a hassle, but it’s a lot more time- and cost-effective than replacing your engine.
3. Know what to look for
At each preventive maintenance interval, do a visual check of the coolant, then use a test strip to check pH and freezing point. Check the inhibitor level, too, if you can.
Ironically, coolant systems can cause their own problems, since combining glycol and water produces a corrosive compound that can wear away at the system’s metal components. Using the wrong fluid, or the wrong percentage, can cause hoses to crack or break and leak. Since the coolant system operates under pressure, a failure can be instantaneous and catastrophic.
These days, most OEMs start machines off with ELC (extended-life coolant), which not only lasts longer but protects better against corrosion.
4. Get help from a professional
It’s also a good idea to have a qualified laboratory test a sample of your coolant on a regular basis. Most experts recommend testing quarterly for construction and other heavy-duty equipment, or every six months for long-haul trucks. Things can go wrong with your antifreeze that you can’t see or otherwise detect on your own, at least until it’s too late. Regular testing will show if there are any contaminants in the fluid such as fuel or oil, which could indicate there is a leak in the oil cooler or fuel-injection system.
Coolant maintenance is simple, as long as you stay on top of it. It’s a matter of ensuring your system contains the right fluid and the right amount of fluid, and that it’s clean and still functioning within spec’d parameters. A regular regimen will keep your engine keep its cool.