Extended Life Coolants/Antifreezes

Introduced back in the 1980s to save on maintenance costs and provide better protection than conventional coolants, heavy-duty extended life coolants (ELC) can last between 400,000 and 600,000 miles with the use of a one-time extender. In theory, it...

Sometimes, it's not that a fleet has poor maintenance practices, it's just the nature of their business that lends itself to avoiding ELC, Ulabarro says.

"Fleets (with) leasing operations have a hard time getting their trucks back into their shops on a regular basis; those might be fleets that have to take extra care," she says. "You've got to have the kind of operation where you can control your top-ups, or you see your trucks on a regular basis, and when those trucks do come in you can test that coolant effectively and know whether it's extended life or whether they've added too much of something else and you have to either re-fortify with an extended life package or if you just drain and refill the system."


Chris McKenzie, director of marketing for The Penray Companies, Inc., says fewer people have replaced conventional coolants with ELCs during the past few years, citing a MacKay & Company survey showing that in 2005, 46 percent of replacement coolant was ELC, while in 2006 that number dropped to 36 percent. He says the reason is fleet professionals may be finding out the promise of ELC is more rooted in theory than in practice.

"They'll say it's good for the life of the engine and at the 300,000-mile mark you need to add an extender and there's no other treatment necessary," he says. "That's the attractive part--you never have to touch it and a lot of people feel that the less time a mechanic spends on a vehicle, the less that can go wrong. The problem happens when you start thinking about it in reality. Cooling systems leak--every single one of them--so if anything should go wrong with that system, the odds are pretty good it has something to do with the cooling system.

"And if you change the mixture of the extended life coolant by 10 percent, you've lost your extended-life properties," he says. "Then you either have to drain, flush and refill, or you can kind of start treating it like a conventional coolant. So that's the unattractive portion--you have to actually pay attention to (your cooling system) and work on it. We see it all the time, where people are trying to convert to a conventional system because they don't want to have to drain and flush it out, spend the time and the energy to take the truck off-line and then have to pay for 12 gallons of new coolant and reload the system."

McKenzie says some fleets are hesitating to move to ELC is simply because what they've got already works.

"Conventional formula antifreeze has always worked, still continues to work and is an absolute proven entity in the market," he says. "There is no reason to spend more to get an extended life coolant that's unproven and unforgiving."

Add to that the confusion across the industry about all the varieties and colors of ELCs and McKenzie says sometimes, sticking with a reliable solution like conventional coolant makes sense to fleets.

"When you're working with ethylene glycol and water and a conventional SCA package, you can contaminate the system a little bit more, you can put different brands of things in there; you can top off with the wrong amount of antifreeze and still regain balance if you're paying attention," he says. "Whereas with an extended-life coolant you don't have that flexibility. If you don't treat the system properly--regardless of what's in there--you can have potential disaster."


When cooling systems are not properly maintained, it causes a chain reaction of problems with other systems like water pumps, pressure gauges and gaskets, McKenzie says.

"It's just unbelievable the number of things that go wrong," he says. "Pumps are very susceptible to problems--they always have been and probably always will be. Mechanics hate them; they go through a ton of them, and they should have a longer life cycle than they do, but if you don't pay attention to your cooling system, it's not going to change."

Ulabarro says the "huge" disconnect between proper coolant maintenance theory and actual practice is hard to fathom.

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