The growing importance of coolant in vehicle maintenance

Cummins technical sales manager for the mining division Gerald Annandale

It is estimated that up to 40 percent of all engine failures, which lead to costly repairs and unnecessary downtime, are related to problems that stem from the cooling system. Coolants have, therefore, become of paramount importance when it comes to effective vehicle maintenance.

Cummins - a global leader in the manufacture, sales and servicing of diesel engines and related technology - distributes a range of Fleetguard coolants which protect engine components from cooling system problems. Cummins technical sales manager for the mining division Gerald Annandale notes that coolant is composed of three components, namely; water content, ethylene glycol and a chemical portion.

“The coolant is an integral part of vehicle engine maintenance. Its water content portion cools down the engine, while the ethylene glycol forms the anti-freeze portion of the mixture. The smallest, but arguably the most important component is the chemical make-up of the coolant which protects the internal surfaces of the engine,” he explains.

The cooling system of a vehicle comprises of a number of different types of metal, which results in sensitivity to corrosion. “Aluminium for example is extremely sensitive to corrosion by chemical attack. In order to protect aluminium components in the engine, a silica compound forms part the coolant formulation to specifically protect the surface of the aluminium. The foundation of the formulation is protection, cooling, anti-boil and anti-freeze,” observes Annandale.

Annandale adds that although the radiator is an important component of the cooling system it is only able to do so much. "With the radiator cap on, the system is pressurised, and the boiling point of the water rises slightly. When a high quality coolant with a sufficient amount of ethylene glycol compound is used, it will only boil at 108 oC, thereby improving the boiling point of the water, as well as lowering the freezing point.”

Water makes up an extremely important part of a vehicle’s cooling system, however, if ordinary tap water is used it could be detrimental to the life of the vehicles cooling system. "Chemicals such as chlorine are commonly added to water to make it safe for human consumption. These chemicals not only disrupt the chemical makeup of the coolant, but also have the propensity to rust the different components of the cooling system. It is for this reason that long-life pre-diluted coolants such as ES Complete were formulated," states Annandale.

Some industrial operations even make use of borehole water, which is often calcium enriched or hard, leading to calcium deposits forming in the engine. "These deposits form an insulation layer which separates the water from the engine component that it should be cooling. A 3 mm build up of calcium creates an equivalent heat barrier to that of 50 mm of extra steel. Therefore, the necessary heat transfer does not take place and results in dangerous levels of rising heat, ” he adds.

ES Compleat Glycerin pre-diluted coolant is a new and innovative heavy duty engine coolant made with Glycerin, a raw material derived from renewable energy sources, such as a by-product of biodiesel manufacturing. Glycerin is used in place of ethylene glycol (EG) or propylene glycol (PG), ensuring environmental responsibility with green products that continue to provide superior engine protection.

According to Annandale, a good vehicle cooling system maintenance programme should include regular testing of the coolant. “It is recommended that a cooling system test is completed every 30 000 km in order to check the quality of the vehicle’s coolant, and to determine any contamination. One of the most neglected parts of an engine system is the cooling system, and the only way to recover from a failure is to overhaul the engine, which is immensely costly.”

Coolants can be tested effortlessly and accurately with either a refractometer or with coolant quality test strips, both of which are supplied by Cummins. The Fleetguard Refractometer is a fast, easy way to determine the freeze point protection of both Ethylene Glycol and Propylene Glycol coolants.

It is more accurate than most test strips and float-type hydrometers, it is also easy to use. A drop of coolant from the cooling system is placed on to the refractometer window and the lid is shut. By simply looking through the eyepiece, one is able to record the freeze point protection of the coolant.

Cummins branded Restore alkaline-based cleaning fluid is designed to clean a vehicle’s engine and cooling system by removing all unwanted deposits and residue from inside the cooling system itself. "In the event that the cooling system has not been regularly maintained, Restore will highlight any leaks or problems detected. If the cooling system has been properly maintained and the correct coolant has been used, Restore will ensure that the cooling system continues to operate in good working condition for a prolonged period.”

Cummins also supplies a wide range of Fleetguard coolant products, which protect engine components against corrosion, liner pitting, cavitation, scale and deposits and acidification. These include; ES Compleat OAT, ES Compleat, Fleetcool EX, Fleetcool and Fleetcool Recycled.

“The Cummins range of Fleetguard coolant products have been formulated for use in heavy duty vehicles. Diesel engines today are highly efficient, but also stressed and need to be looked after. Coolant plays a vital part in this vehicle maintenance, as it is more cost effective to buy a quality coolant, than to replace an engine after a failure due to poor maintenance,” Annandale concludes.