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A five-minute coolant check could save you thousands of dollars

As the temperatures start rising here in Phoenix, our service department gets more customer calls for overheating. Engines that could make it while the weather was cool start failing, sometimes with catastrophic results. If you keep driving a car that is overheated engine damage can happen in a matter of minutes, leaving you stranded by the side of the road and looking at $1500-3000 to fix or replace the engine.

Whenever we get a new car into inventory, we do a preliminary check of all the fluids before taking it for a test drive. Here's a 2009 45th Anniversary Ford Mustang we just purchased at wholesale. In this post, I'll walk you through how to check the coolant level in your car before you drive it next time. It takes less than five minutes and can keep you on the road.

2009 Red Ford Mustang

The first thing to do is make sure the car is cold. If it's been running, the coolant in the tank and radiator can expand and spray out. Never open a hot radiator cap.

Pop the hood and find the coolant reservoir bottle. Every car is a little different, but it should have a radiator icon on the cap. Here's what the one on the Mustang looks like:

Now that you've found the reservoir (also known as an overflow bottle), you want to look on the side to see where the coolant level is.

As you can see in this picture, there is a "Cold Fill Range" on the side of the reservoir. When the car has not been running lately, the coolant level should be in between the two lines on the side of the coolant reservoir bottle. On some cars, there will only be one line; for those, the level should be up to the bottom of that line.  This Mustang is a quart or two low on coolant, as you can see from the level of the red liquid which is well below the cold fill range. Before anyone takes this car for a test drive, we need to add coolant.

First we have to check the owner's manual for what kind of coolant the vehicle takes. Some European cars take special coolant, some take universal antifreeze, others use a kind called Dex-Cool. Coolant is sold pre-mixed 50/50 with water, so there's no need to add any water or try to mix it. Open the cap (when the engine is cool) and add coolant to the fill range. Put the cap back on tight and we're good to go.

When you're out driving, pay attention to your temperature gauge.  It should not go past 2/3 and if you see it at or near the red line, pull over to the side of the road immediately and turn your vehicle off to prevent damage.  Here's what the gauge looks like on the Mustang:
Ford Mustang Temp Gauge

As you can see, it's just a little past the "C"; once I get it out on the highway, the needle should get to a little past halfway and stay steady there. If it gets much past 2/3 and keeps moving up toward the "H" and the red line, it's a sign of a cooling system problem and needs to be fixed.

If you're a Consolidated Auto Sales customer in Phoenix and not sure if there's a problem with your cooling system, stop by any time and we can give it a quick check and set up a service appointment if there is a problem.

-Nicholas Sarwark

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