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...

"There are stats that say that 40 percent of the time a truck fails, it's due to the cooling system--if you could get rid of that 40 percent, wouldn't you want to do that?" she says. "(Instead) you throw coolant in there and you leave it in there until something breaks. Technicians just haven't made the correlation between the coolant and how important it is to that whole system, because the coolant regulates--to a much greater degree than the oil--the temperature."

During a recent training session, Ulabarro found an example of just how little some fleet professionals know about their coolants.

"I was guaranteed the only coolant in that shop was an extended life coolant, and guess what?" she says. "I found three different coolants. Sometimes headquarters has no idea what's going on at the shop--I had a discussion with the guys, and they get different information coming from different people, and what complicates things are a lot of OEM manufacturers' reps promoting their fluids, (then) there's the people who are more on the fully formulated, conventional products and there are companies that are selling (ELC)."


Properly maintaining coolant systems just takes some common sense and consistency. Ulabarro says there are steps technicians can take to make sure things are running smoothly. To reduce any possible confusion, she suggests displaying written procedures in the shop.

"If people see it and they have it in writing, there's no question or confusion," she says. "Test the freeze point, adjust it if it needs to be adjusted--top off with the extended life coolant that's in there, because there are different formulas for extended life coolants. If the freeze point is fine, you look for clarity in the coolant--make sure there's no oil or floating debris, it's not milky or anything. I usually have them have a bottle of reference coolant--just a clear glass bottle with some fresh coolant in it, and I have them draw a sample and match it up."

Arcy says having the correct type of pre-mixed coolant on hand, in the shop and on the vehicles, can go a long way in preventing problems--use the wrong coolant, and you could be back to square one.

"If you compromise the system by adding too much fully formulated to an extended life system, you'll have to start treating it as a fully formulated system, but there is no problem as long as you don't contaminate it by more than 15 percent," he says. "So in a system that holds 12 gallons, if you accidentally one time put in a gallon, you're still going OK. If you end up (adding) two gallons, you have three choices: You can take and treat this system as a conventional system and add SCAs, you have the ability of draining it, flushing it and filling it up with extended life, or go to a conversion fluid."


Penray's McKenzie says the entire industry has much work yet to do to educate fleet professionals about the importance of cooling systems, because a lack of knowledge can become very costly.

"It boggles my mind that people will spend $120,000 on a really expensive brand-new truck, and they'll know everything about it except what type of coolant is inside," he says. "You want to make sure people know to take care of cooling systems--it's vital--it's not a blow-off thing."

As important as cooling systems are, ultimately you want your technicians to work with your vehicles' coolant systems--not fight them. And if the realities of your shop make using ELCs more trouble then they're worth, cutting your losses and going with conventional coolants might be your best bet.

At the same time, if raising the bar in the shop and ensuring that your technicians take the time to properly maintain these systems is your goal, setting up your fleet to use ELCs can end up saving considerable amounts of time and money in the long run.

Is your fleet ready to take the leap?

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