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Workshop: Oil VI – Coolants


Words Freddi Stafford

In the past five articles, we have discussed how automotive technology has changed forever. In recent years, the number of different motor oils available to consumers has multiplied exponentially, in order to keep up with the lubrication requirements of all the different vehicle manufacturers.

Oil specifications can also vary; not only from one car manufacturer to another, but also by the year, make, model and engine of the vehicle. And, no matter whether we are referring to engine oils, manual and automatic transmission oils, differential and transfer case lubricants, power steering fluids, coolants or brake fluids, the technology has changed.

Many of these changes will be of little concern to most owners of motor vehicles, who will simply deal with the results of having trusted a private workshop, or the agents, to use the correctly specified choice of fluid for their vehicle. And with this comes the understanding that footing unnecessary maintenance costs – and perhaps even ruining an engine – are all part of the deal. This is even despite the fact that owners are paying an arm and a leg for regular servicing, which they believe is being done properly, using the correctly specified fluids.

Having made this perhaps slightly negative statement, I believe that I should once again note that I have been in the oil industry for 25 years, and that, during this time, I have come across only a handful of workshops whose employees know something about oil − and who use the correctly specified lubricants, along with the correct service intervals, in their customer’s vehicles.

This experience includes many OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) who, like the owners of private workshops, purchase one engine oil to use for servicing everything from a 1.2-litre petrol run-around to the latest direct-injection turbodiesel vehicle with a diesel particulate filter and extended drain interval of 50 000km.(The latter requires a very specific OEM-approved low-SAPS synthetic motor oil).

The brand and product used is determined by a combination of a vast lack of knowledge, a standardisation of product, and purchasing it at the lowest price – as opposed to the need to comply with the OEM specifications and requirements.Unnecessary and expensive maintenance costs will most definitely follow.

Keeping it cool

Which brings us to the subject of this month’s article: antifreeze or coolant – whichever term you prefer.

Let’s begin by confirming that engine coolant is a generic term used to describe fluids that remove heat from an engine.

Antifreeze is a more specific term used to describe products which provide protection against freezing; not all engine coolants need to provide this protection. (Consider engines being used in tropical climates where you will always need an engine coolant but may not need the coolant to have freeze-protection.)

However, so as not to further complicate an already weighty subject, we will use the terms antifreeze and coolant interchangeably.