By on November 3, 2011

Week 1

First the checklist:

1.    Check coolant for:

a.    contaminants … floaty stuff or sludge. Old cars you may find rust.

b.    ph … use a spa test strip or buy special test strips from your parts house

c.    color…there are 7 different coolants and colors in use today. Which one do you have…check the web or call us.

d.    level …should be right at the radiator cap and at the proper level on the overflow tank as indicated by the line on the side

e.    freeze point…this might be difficult without a hydrometer but it is critical. Your shop should be able to test it for free. If not…call us.

2.    Check tires for:

a.    pressure

b.    tread depth

c.    condition.

3.    Check battery for:

a.    corrosion on the terminals

b.    crud between terminals

c.    loose connections

d.    Frayed or rusty cables

4.    Windshield wiper fluid and wiper condition for:

a.    proper low temperature ice melting fluid

b.    and full

c.    wipers need to be free of rough edges on the rubber part that contacts the glass

d.    and intact. No pieces missing

e.    wipers should also work. Try turning them on and spraying the fluid. Does the glass streak?


Now the “whys”. We will start, this week, with your cooling system.


Coolant is probably one of the most important and overlooked fluids in a car. If there is floaty stuff or sludge the good stuff in the coolant has been consumed. Any rust in the system tells you that your engine is being eaten alive from the inside out. There should be just clean colored liquid in the system. That includes the bottom of the radiator cap. NEVER REMOVE A RADIATOR CAP WHEN THE CAR IS HOT. Always check coolant when the car is bone cold. Hot coolant bubbling up from the radiator could really burn you. Be careful.

PH is important because it is the number one cause of coolant failure. If it is acidic, it will eat every seal, hose, and metal piece in the system. This could cause gasket, water pump, or radiator failure. In my shop I have the big heavy top end of an engine that has 1 inch deep holes eaten into it from lack of coolant system maintenance. BTW…$3500 to repair.

Level is important because the system is designed for a certain amount of fluid. Also, if you are constantly low, you have a leak. Where water can get out, contaminants can get in. Finally, the system is under pressure when hot, if there is a leak; you have the possibility for explosive decompression of the system. Really bad things happen when you suddenly lose all pressure and coolant.

Finally, freeze point. If you do not have the proper coolant at the proper mix your coolant can freeze. Just like your garden hose will split when frozen, your block will pop the freeze plugs when frozen. Usually not terribly expensive when this happens but inconvenient is a mild way of putting it.

Next week we will walk through the rest of the check list.

Scott “Da Bear” Chazdon, Doctor of Automotive Wellness, owns Maintenance & More Automotive Service inAlbuquerque.  If you have a car related question for the Dr. email at, visit online at, call 505-717-2211 if you live on the westside or 505-256-3333 for the eastside location.

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