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Coolant Knowledge Critical for Your Engine

By on November 1, 2018

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Cooling system maintenance continues to be an industry challenge. As engine manufacturers search for improved fuel efficiency, lighter-weight metals are at or near the top of their priority lists. The approach to cooling these newer engines has and will continue to evolve. The antifreeze you used in your former truck may not be appropriate for your new truck. Don’t let old habits die hard. Become knowledgeable and proactive about the antifreeze that you should specify.

Nitrates or Organic Acids

Some engines have moved from nitrate-based coolants to organic-acid solutions that contain no nitrates, and more changes are on the horizon. Engine manufacturers are using more aluminum to help reduce weight. Nitrates react with the flux used to weld aluminum, thus raising the acidic levels in the cooling system, which eats away at metals. These metal particles then circulate throughout the cooling system, damaging seals, plugging filters and coating the inside of heat exchangers. This in turn reduces the heat-transfer capabilities of radiators.

In some cases, these undissolved solids can accumulate on the inside of the engine, causing hot spots, which can destroy it. In fact, the coolant filters on some Detroit engines have been removed due to excessive plugging. We’re seeing an increasing number of engines with nitrate-free coolants, which require less maintenance. Not all engines are moving to nitrate-free solutions, however. Some engines are cooled by more robust heat exchangers and heavier metals. Many owners of these trucks have decided to keep the very effective nitrate-based coolants, which help protect these more durable metals.

What’s the Best Solution?

For starters, the best approach is using the manufacturer’s recommended coolant in your engine. Secondly, be certain you’re having your coolant system and coolant inspected during your scheduled preventive maintenance (PM). Technicians are faced with a more difficult task, because the coolant color doesn’t always tell them what antifreeze is in the radiator. We see many trucks coming into our service bays with mixed coolants, which can be a disaster. The best practice is to flush and fill when you’re not certain what type of antifreeze is flowing through your cooling system.

Most trucks utilize silicone hoses. They have proven to be very durable, but they also pose a problem that you should keep a close eye on. They tend to be porous to the point where as much as five gallons of coolant evaporate annually. This loss is evident when technicians check the freeze protection and find it to be out of range. This is why your truck may need to have its antifreeze levels adjusted during your fall PM inspection to maintain the required freeze protection, even when no leak is evident.

Additional Concerns

Approximately 95% of water pump failures are related to coolant maintenance deficiencies. The engine coolant must be capable of keeping solids dissolved, thereby protecting metals and controlling aeration, which can cause cavitation or the eating away of metals in the engine. If solids are circulating in your cooling system, the life of water pump seals will also be drastically reduced. If you experience a leaking water pump, just replacing it will not solve this problem. The cooling system must be properly flushed, then refilled, or premature failure of the replacement pump and/or seals will likely reoccur.

A proper inspection of your coolant should include: a visual inspection, odor test, freeze point, and additive package, if applicable. Technicians visually check for contamination such as oil or diesel fuel, water dilution and debris. They will smell the coolant to detect ammonia, which indicates the presence of diesel exhaust fluid or DEF. Smell tests also help detect flush chemicals, transmission fluids and any burnt odors. Freeze protection will be checked with a refractometer. Some fleets use lab testing for a more comprehensive analysis.

Obviously keeping your truck on the road is critical to maximizing the return on your investment. No so obvious or frequently overlooked is keeping your uptime high by adhering to the prescribed PM schedule. A thorough analysis of your coolant and the cooling system is a key factor on the PM checklist. As part of your winter preparedness, plan a visit with our trained cooling systems specialists in the warmth of a TA Truck Service shop, or keep the 800.824.7467 RoadSquad Connect number handy should you break down on the highway.  

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