How to Check Your Car’s Coolant Level

Car Trouble - Woman Checking Coolant

Keeping your engine coolant reservoir at manufacturer recommended levels is critical to your car’s operation. Without the right amount of coolant, your engine can overheat, leaving you stranded by the side of the road and stuck with a totally unnecessary towing bill – not to mention, a potentially costly visit to your local auto mechanic to repair the effects of an overheated engine. Follow the five easy steps below to check your car’s coolant level and refill it if necessary. We recommend you check your levels at least twice a year.

1.) Let your car’s engine cool down fully before attempting any of these steps. There are several reasons for this. First, you could get severe burns to your hand by poking around in a hot engine. Second, the air and coolant in your car’s coolant reservoir expand when they heat up, creating a lot of pressure. Taking the cap off before your engine has had a chance to cool down can result in a blast of hot steam and some serious burns from splashing coolant. That’s what we call “a recipe for a really bad day.” Another important thing to bear in mind: Because hot coolant can expand, it may appear that there’s more coolant in your coolant reservoir than there actually is. For this reason, always give your engine time to cool down before moving on to the next step.

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2.) Now that the reservoir and engine have had a chance to cool down, you can open the hood of your car and find the coolant reservoir. Depending on the make and model of your car, it may be either on the far right or far left. You can identify the coolant reservoir by the cap – it should read “Engine Coolant”. Found it? Good. Move on to the next step.

3.) Check the coolant reservoir, you’ll see fluid level indicators. Depending upon the vehicle make, coolant levels can be checked by either looking inside the coolant reservoir (see Step 4) or on the tank’s side (translucent tanks). For vehicle makes with a translucent tank, check for indicator lines – one will say “Hot” and the other will say “Cold” or “Full.” If the level of fluid is below the “Cold” or “Full” line, you can move on to step 4. If your level of coolant is flush with the “Cold” or “Full” line, this means that your coolant level is fine and you don’t need to proceed any further.

4.) Even if your car is fully cooled off, wrap the cap in a thin cloth and then slowly remove the cap. There may still be residual pressure in the system, and regardless of whether it’s hot or cold, you don’t want engine coolant sprayed all over your face. For coolant reservoirs that are not translucent, look inside the tank and check the internal tube level and add coolant accordingly. For translucent tanks, once you have the cap removed, slowly pour replacement coolant into the reservoir until it reaches the “Cold” or “Full” line. If you don’t have a steady hand, try using a funnel. Read your owner’s manual for the type of coolant to use. The aforementioned is important. There are many different types and brands on the market. Replace the cap and tighten it when you’re finished.

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5.) After a few minutes, check your coolant level again. If the coolant is still below the “Cold” or “Full” line, this probably means that you have a leak somewhere in the system and you should get your car to an auto mechanic for further inspection. Otherwise, you’re all done.

As you can see, checking and refilling your car’s coolant level is about as easy as filling your tank with gas. If you want to save a bit of money on auto mechanic costs, check your coolant level routinely and fill your reservoir anytime it’s necessary.

Image credit: Cedric_Ramirez