10 Easy Steps to Change Your Own Antifreeze

Why Change Your Own Antifreeze

It will save you money and help you understand proper car care.

First off, cooling system failure is the #1 cause of engine-related breakdowns. While many people check oil levels and brakes on a regular basis, few consistently monitor the cooling system. Did you know that a car's engine produces enough heat to destroy itself?! That's why we recommend checking antifreeze levels as part of your normal maintenance routine.

Flushing the radiator at least every 2 years and topping off with PEAK Antifreeze will ensure that your engine continues to operate within the correct temperature range. PEAK Extended Life antifreeze provides 5 years or 241,000km protection for maximum use.

The Flush & Fill process can be broken down into 10 Easy Steps ...

Step 1: Clean the radiator

Make sure the engine is cool before you start.

Your vehicle's cooling system sucks in air as you drive, which means insects, dirt and leaves can be pulled into the fins of the radiator fan. This condition prevents air from passing easily through the radiator, and can cause your car to overheat.

  • Using a hose with a nozzle, a bucket of soapy water and a soft nylon brush, loosen the insects, leaves and other debris. Gently brush with the direction of the fins of the radiator fan, not against it. These thin metal fins are fragile and can be bent with this action if you're not careful.
  • Follow this gentle cleaning with a gentle stream of water on the front and rear of the radiator. Don't turn up the hose to full pressure — a concentrated blast of water can be actually bend the fins of the radiator.
  • In general, you should clean the radiator fins every 12,000 miles (19,000 km). Don't do it when the engine is hot, cold water can damage a hot engine. Wait until the engine has cooled before you start cleaning.

Step 2: Place a drain pan

Never allow coolant to drain out onto the ground. Its sweet smell attracts animals that will drink it. Don't leave it to drain unattended in a pan for the same reason. Another way to protect wildlife from accidental spills is to use antifreeze that utilizes propylene glycol, instead of ethylene glycol. Antifreeze that is made with propylene glycol, such as SIERRA® Antifreeze is safer for pets and people.

  • The pan should be big enough to hold the coolant, but not so deep that it doesn't lie flat or slide easily under your vehicle. Tipping a pan on its edge (to slip it into position) is a bad idea. It will only lead to spills.

Step 3: Remove the radiator pressure cap

Cover the radiator cap with a rag. You've made sure the engine is cold, but go slowly anyway. Most radiators now have a fill spout that is slanted slightly towards the windshield of the vehicle to avoid mishaps, but caution is never wasted.

  • With the heel of your hand, press down firmly, turn the radiator cap a quarter turn to the left. You'll feel the cap is loose when you move it, but it's still locked on. (This first turn is to release any pressure in the radiator.)
  • Then, pressing down once more, turn the cap another quarter turn to the left and take it off.

Step 4: Inspect the pressure cap & hoses

The radiator cap acts as more than just a lid for your radiator; it keeps your engine cool by sealing and pressurizing the coolant inside. And not all caps are the same--they are made to maintain a variety of pressure, depending on the size and type of engine. How do you know the pressure rating of your cap? It's written on the top of the cap. When you replace it, make sure you get one that has the same rating. When you buy a new one, take the old cap into the store with you if you aren't exactly sure.

You will notice that the cap has three main features. The wider top of the cap, the smaller seat at the bottom (with a rubber seal) and a spring coil in between. This spring is what seals the cap to maintain pressure. If you squeeze the seat and the top together, and it's very easy to compress the spring, then replace the cap. It isn't doing its job. If your cap is rusted or the rubber seal is dried out, it should be replaced.

There are two radiator hoses you'll want to check. The hose at the top of the radiator carries the hot coolant away from the engine, and the hose at the bottom carries the cooled coolant back to the engine. These hoses may be on either side of the radiator, but they're always opposite each other.

Inspect the radiator hoses for leaks, cracks or soft, mushy condition. Look for signs of rust on the clamps that hold the hoses. If you find one bad hose, the other hose will probably go bad in the near future. Because the coolant must be drained to replace the hoses, it makes sense to replace both at the same time. But don't actually replace the hoses until you drain the radiator.

Step 5: Drain the radiator

To drain the radiator, you'll need to locate the radiator's drain valve. You'll find it on the bottom of the radiator. Pay attention to how much drains from radiator. It will indicate much you will need to replace later on.

  • Open the drain valve. As you open this valve, the coolant will start to flow from the radiator into the drain pan you placed below it.
  • Allow enough time for all of the coolant to drain out, and then close the drain valve.
  • Using the funnel, pour the drained coolant into a container that meets the disposal regulations in your area. Set it in a safe place while you continue this project.

Step 6: Rinse the radiator

Oddly enough, the actual rinsing of the radiator is the easiest part of the entire operation. Your garden hose does all of the work--you just pay attention to the color of the rinsing water as it leaves the radiator.

  • Take the garden hose and insert it into the fill spout.
  • With the radiator drain valve closed, fill the radiator until full. Then open the drain valve and drain it once again. Important: collect this first rinse and dispose of it in the same manner as the drained coolant. That is, add it to the disposal containers that you have for Step 5.
  • If the drained water is clear, close the drain valve and move onto Step 7. If it appears rusty, continue filling and draining until the water is clear. After the first flush, it's all right to let the rinse water drain on to the street.
  • Close the drain valve.

Step 7: Add the coolant and water mixture

The optimum coolant combination is a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water. The 50/50 mixture will produce freeze protection down to -34°F (-36°C), and boilover protection up 265°F (129°C). However, in colder climates, where lower temperature freeze protection is needed, a mixture of up to 70% antifreeze can be used.

Although regular water will do, the refilling of the system should be done with distilled water. Distilled water doesn't contain any minerals which can dissolve and cause scale and deposits in your cooling system.

There are three ways (at least) to refill the radiator:

  • Fill the radiator halfway with water. Can't see into the radiator? Estimate the amount of water based on the amount of coolant that you drained out. If you drained out two gallons (8 liters) of coolant, then you need to add one gallon (4 liters) each of water and antifreeze.
  • Using a funnel, fill up the radiator with antifreeze.

A second way:

  • In a separate clean container, mix antifreeze and water in a 50/50 ratio.
  • Add the 50/50 mixture until the radiator is full, and store any extra coolant.

A third way:

  • Pour in a half container of antifreeze. This usually comes in one-gallon (4 liter) containers, so add a half-gallon (2 liters).
  • Add to the radiator an equal amount of a distilled water. Then mix water into the antifreeze container (which still has antifreeze in it). This will create the 50/50 mix, which you can add to the radiator until it's full.

It's good idea to have a little extra coolant after this fill-up, because the coolant level will drop slightly after you do Step 9. The excess from this step can be used to top off the radiator a little later.

Alternate Step 7: Rinse and replace a hose

Have you removed the bottom hose to replace it? Don't put the new one on until you've rinsed out the radiator. In this case, you want to rinse the radiator with the petcock always closed. (If you're replacing a top hose, go ahead and replace the hose and follow the procedure described in Step 6).

  • Hold your gloved hand over the hole on the radiator where the bottom hose attaches.
  • Fill the radiator with the hose.
  • Release your hand quickly. The water will gush out and any rust or mineral deposits will escape through the larger opening of the hose. Repeat this until the water runs clear.
  • Replace hoses and clamps as needed. Fortunately this is a simple matter--just unscrew the old clamps on both ends of each hose, and the hoses come right off. And installling the hoses is the same motions in reverse.

Step 8: Bleed the system

It's likely that pockets of air will be in the cooling system after you've refilled the radiator. The system is self-bleeding when you follow these steps:

  • Start your engine, but leave the radiator cap off so the pressure doesn't build up.
  • Let the engine run until it reaches its operating temperature of about 190F (88C). This'll take about 15 minutes.
  • Turn on your heater and set the temperature control to hot. This will circulate the coolant and any air in the heater lines and core.
  • Check the level of the coolant. You may find that the level has gone down some. How did that happen? The air trapped in the radiator kept the level artificially high; when this air was released, it opened up more space in the radiator, and allowed more antifreeze into the system. Add more water and antifreeze, in the same 50/50 ratio, to fill the space left by the bled-out air.
  • As the air bleeds out, the coolant may bubble and spit from the opening on top of the radiator. Use caution--that coolant is hot.

Allow the engine to cool. Then check the freeze/boil over protection with an antifreeze tester. Add more antifreeze or water to the system as necessary. Don't forget to clean out and refill your coolant reservoir with a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water as well.

Step 9: Replace the pressure cap

Basically, this isn't too tough — you replace the cap in reverse of how you removed it. It's important, however, that you get it on tightly. The cap has two wide tabs, opposite each other on the cap, hanging down slightly. Measured across, each tab is about one quarter of the circumference of the cap. The fill spout, where you poured in the coolant, has two notches or cutouts that match up with the tabs of the cap.

  • Match the tabs with the cutouts on the fill spout. Press down firmly on the cap and turn it to the right a quarter turn. Give it a jiggle to be sure it's in place. Though the cap shouldn't be tight at this point, you shouldn't be able to lift it off, either.
  • Turn the cap another quarter turn to the right, still pressing down, until you feel it lock into place. It should be locked tight now and won't move if you try to wiggle it.

Step 10: Clean up

  • Check for spills of antifreeze, cleaner or coolant mixture. Use the hose to dilute any spills that might have inadvertently occurred.
  • Dispose of old clamps and hoses.
  • All rule and regulations should be observed when disposing of antifreeze/coolant and radiator fluids. Call the EPA or the office of your state or local enviromental agency for details on disposal procedures.Until then, put the containers up out of the reach of children and animals.

Congratulations, you've just protected your engines cooling system for at least the next two years!