Antifreeze vs. Coolant: What’s The Actual Difference? (2023)

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Extreme hot and cold temperatures can significantly affect your car’s engine, highlighting the importance of caring for your vehicle’s cooling system. With extreme temperatures, there’s a good chance that your car’s engine will experience a seizing-up effect, and it may stop running altogether and require expensive repairs.

To ensure a fully functioning engine cooling system, every car owner needs two products: antifreeze and coolant. You may have heard the terms antifreeze and coolant used interchangeably at some point, leading you to think they’re the same thing.

Well, not exactly.

For today’s post, we shed some light on the differences between antifreeze vs coolant. Not confusing one with the other is vital because using the wrong product will have detrimental effects on your engine.

The Main Difference Between Antifreeze Vs Coolant

Antifreeze vs coolant, what’s the core difference between the two?

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Simply put, coolant is the product you put inside your vehicle, while antifreeze is one of the active ingredients of a coolant mixture. Antifreeze is generally made up of ethylene glycol or propylene glycol and is the primary ingredient of this product. Mixing the antifreeze with water creates a cocktail which is what’s referred to as coolant for a vehicle’s cooling system.

Typically, the coolant product comprises a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water. The 50-50 mixture provides enough cooling for engines that run at more than 200 degrees, while the antifreeze properties prevent freezing for cold temperatures below 30 degrees. However, in cases of extremely cold temperatures, the mixture can be as high as 70% antifreeze.

What’s the Purpose of Antifreeze?

During freezing temperatures, the liquid expands and crystallizes when it freezes. Once the liquid inside the system freezes, it’ll expand and may crack the engine blocks and other components. This is where antifreeze comes in handy.

Antifreeze is the substance responsible for lowering the water’s freezing point. As mentioned, the main active ingredient of antifreeze is ethylene glycol or propylene glycol. Antifreeze is a critical component of the coolant cocktail because it prevents liquids from freezing inside your engine’s cooling system.

Antifreeze comes in many different colors like pink, orange, green, etc. It may also come in various chemical formulas used in certain vehicles. The different types of chemically-formulated antifreeze shouldn’t be mixed with each other. Refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual to know which kind of antifreeze to use.


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What’s the Purpose of Coolant?

What we call the coolant is the final product that comes out when mixing water and antifreeze with a 50-50 ratio. The primary purpose of coolant is to transfer heat and prevent engine damage due to freezing or boiling.

The coolant resides in the radiator when the engine is off. Once the engine is started, the coolant gets pumped via the engine’s passageways to distribute heat, and then it goes back into the radiator. In the radiator, the coolant is cooled by fresh air so it can be circulated back to the engine again. When you turn on the car heater, some coolant amounts are brought into the core. The coolant provides heat into the heater core, which blows warm air into the cabin.

Earlier, we’ve discussed what happens when engine fluid freezes, but what happens when the coolant boils? If boiling occurs, the formed vapors can’t transfer heat properly. This may result in the engine metals melting because the coolant isn’t kept in contact with specific areas that must stay cool.

Many modern vehicles have tight engine compartments that don’t have ideal airflow. Thus, the engine would overheat in minutes without a properly working cooling system.

Antifreeze Vs Coolant: Safety Precautions

Using a suitable coolant and antifreeze is a must for maintaining your vehicle’s cooling system. Thus, if you’re looking to top off or replace the coolant on your own, ensure you’re buying the correct brand and blend for your vehicle.

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The best tip in this regard is to read the owner’s manual about the correct coolant type to use and examine the labels closely before buying any product. Most stores have pure antifreeze (unmixed) and premixed ones (usually 50-50 ratio), so it helps to read the labels.

Another safety tip to remember is to avoid mixing coolants of different colors. Antifreeze or coolant comes in different colors like yellow, pink, blue, and green – each color corresponds to a particular formula of the coolant/antifreeze.

One of the biggest mistakes you could make when topping off is to mix two different types or colors of antifreeze. While the concoction won’t necessarily explode, it will form a thick, jelly-like substance that prevents the adequate flow of fluid. This may lead to the engine overheating and other problems that will earn you a hefty bill at the shop.

Antifreeze Vs Coolant: FAQs

How often should I replace my engine coolant?

Most experts and professional mechanics recommend changing your coolant every 30,000 miles. Some manufacturers advise replacing the coolant for the first time at 60,000, then every 30,000 after that. Check your owner’s manual to know your vehicle’s specific requirements.

Can you mix antifreeze?

The only substance you want to mix antifreeze with is water, ideally with a 50-50 ratio. Otherwise, it’s never a good idea to mix different types or colors of antifreeze. Please keep it simple and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.


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What happens when I use the wrong coolant/antifreeze?

Using the wrong coolant or a bad mixture can severely limit the special additives in the fluid, which can lead to radiator corrosion. As a result, it may also damage the other components, including the water pump, radiator, hoses, and cylinder gasket. Worst case scenario, the engine will be damaged, resulting in astronomical repair bills.

How do I know if I need a coolant refill?

One of the classic signs is the higher than average heat produced while the engine is running, so check the temperature gauge readings. Another symptom is when you notice some rusting on the coolant reservoir. In addition, be on the lookout for a distinct “maple syrup” smell coming off your engine.


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What is the difference between antifreeze and coolant? ›

Though coolant and antifreeze are often used interchangeably, they aren't the same. Antifreeze is made of ethylene glycol or propylene glycol and is the basic ingredient, but it has to be mixed with water to create coolant, which is the cocktail you will find in the cooling systems of all “water-cooled” vehicles.

Why do we never use 100% antifreeze in your car? ›

Pure antifreeze lacks sufficient heat capacity to keep the engine cool. In fact, if you put pure antifreeze into the cooling system, the heat-transfer capabilities are lowered by 35%, and it could really damage on the engine, especially in hot weather.

How cold is 50 50 antifreeze good for? ›

A 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water provides protection for temperatures as low as -35 degrees Fahrenheit. However, temperatures can plummet to even lower than that, which means you should up the antifreeze to water ratio to 70-30.

What is better 50 50 or full strength antifreeze? ›

A 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water is the standard recommendation for most applications because it provides the best all-round cooling protection and performance for most applications.

Can I use antifreeze as coolant? ›

Is antifreeze coolant? Although there are two colors of antifreeze, neither type of antifreeze is the same as coolant. Instead, they should both be mixed with water (not with each other) to produce coolant, and never poured into an engine system by themselves.

What happens if you put a little too much antifreeze in your car? ›

Most of the time, excess coolant is expelled from an overflow hose. You'll likely see a puddle of coolant beneath your car if this has happened. In worst case scenarios, overfilling your antifreeze tank can lead to electrical damage if overflow comes into contact with engine wiring.

Does straight water cool better than antifreeze? ›

While water does help to keep your engine cool, it does not work nearly as well as coolant does. First of all, water boils faster and at a lower temperature than coolant. If it is winter, then you risk having your engine block crack if you run your engine with only plain water.

Will straight antifreeze cause overheating? ›

A lack of heat transfer capabilities

Otherwise, your engine could overheat and cause your vehicle to break down. For this reason, you should not run your vehicle on pure antifreeze.

At what temperature does 100% antifreeze freeze? ›

First, despite the name, 100% antifreeze will actually freeze before coolant at temperatures between 0 and -5 degrees Fahrenheit. Coolant with a 50/50 mixture has a freezing point of -35 degrees Fahrenheit. Further, a 70/30 mixture of antifreeze and water drops the freezing point lower to -84 degrees Fahrenheit.

Can I add distilled water to 50/50 antifreeze? ›

While it's ideal to add a 50/50 mix of coolant and water (or a pre-mixed coolant), if you absolutely have to keep driving, you can add water to the radiator to get you to your destination.

Is green or orange antifreeze better? ›

The principal reason for the different anti-freeze colours is that green is commonly used to identify the older type of antifreeze and orange the newer long-life or extended-use antifreeze.

Does it matter what color antifreeze you use? ›

Antifreeze or coolant (the terms are interchangeable) is clear when it is manufactured. Dye is used to color the antifreeze for identification and marketing purposes only. So if you were used to the tried-and-true green coolant and just opened a jug full of orange fluid, don't be alarmed.

Should I use full strength antifreeze? ›

Pure antifreeze-coolant isn't nearly as efficient at getting the heat out of the engine as is antifreeze-coolant and water. Running on pure antifreeze-coolant is pure folly and only will hasten your engine's demise.

What happens if you just use water for coolant? ›

If you were to just use water rather than the coolant mixture, high temperatures inside the motor would easily boil that water and cause it to evaporate, meaning you'd quickly have no coolant at all and the engine would easily overheat.

How do I know if my car needs coolant? ›

The high-temperature gauge is near or in the red.

One tell-tale sign of low coolant is the high-temperature gauge on the dashboard. This gauge is designed to tell you when the engine is getting too hot. Most often, the gauge should stay near the center of the H and C symbols.

What happens if you use the wrong antifreeze? ›

Using the wrong engine coolant can gradually lead to corrosion and damage to the water pump, radiator, radiator hoses and cylinder gasket. This can lead to damage to the engine in the worst case.

How much coolant do I need to fill an empty radiator? ›

An average cooling system in a vehicle will hold 5 liters of engine coolant, which is a mixture of antifreeze and water. You can buy engine coolant in bulk or by the 1 liter however, if you are topping up a reservoir that isn't empty, use the same brand of antifreeze as last time.

Will radiator pull coolant from reservoir? ›

To release pressure, the radiator cap allows some coolant to escape out, stored in the reservoir. This excess coolant stays here until the system cools down enough to create negative pressure and draw the excess coolant from the reservoir back into circulation.

Why is my car going through coolant so fast? ›

Disappearing engine coolant could be the result of a slightly cracked hose, a tiny hole in your radiator, or a water pump issue. It's also possible for a coolant leak to develop inside your vehicle or to simply vaporize into mist via your defroster.

How much is too much antifreeze? ›

Ethylene glycol is a colorless, sweet and low-toxicity fluid, however its metabolites are highly toxic (1,2). The adult lethal dose is 80–100 ml if antifreeze solution is consumed orally.

Can you use distilled water instead of coolant? ›

Many people have “heard” that distilled water is the best water to use in a cooling system. This is wrong! While it is certainly true that distilled water's purity prevents electrolysis and scale/deposit formation, it unfortunately comes with a potentially very damaging side effect.

Can I just add antifreeze to my car? ›

Can I add coolant/antifreeze to a hot car? In instances where an engine has overheated, causing a breakdown, there may be a need to add fresh coolant/antifreeze to the cooling system. However, you should never add coolant/antifreeze when the engine is hot, and instead, wait for it to cool.

At what temperature does a car need antifreeze? ›

In hot weather, antifreeze keeps the water in your engine and radiator from boiling over. It's effective with liquids at temperatures of up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. As temperatures fall, antifreeze prevents this same water from freezing, even in temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero.

Can you mix tap water with antifreeze? ›

The short answer is no; you can't mix tap water with engine coolant. Antifreeze should not be mixed with water replacing your engine coolant. Distilled water can work, but it is not ideal. Soft water is the best solution.

How long will antifreeze last in a car? ›

This deteriorated liquid can trigger severe harm to your engine by failing to control the temperature. Therefore, manufacturers suggest replacing the coolant periodically. It is recommended you change coolant after the first 210,000 km (140,000 miles) or 120 months, then every 30,000 km (20,000 miles) or 24 months.

What stops antifreeze from freezing? ›

Scientists refer to this formation as a crystal lattice. However, when antifreeze is added to water, it prevents the H2O molecules from forming crystal lattices. Therefore, antifreeze stops water from freezing until the temperature drops well below 0°C. Freezing is delayed by the interference between the two liquids.

How do I keep my engine block from freezing? ›

Antifreeze/coolant keeps your engine cool in warm weather and keeps it from freezing up in the winter. A 50-50 mix of full strength coolant and water generally protects to around -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure you check with the supplier or your owner's manual for the correct formulation.

Do you put water in the radiator with the engine on or off? ›

Do not pour cold water into a still-hot radiator — it could cause the engine block to crack due to the sudden change in temperature. If you absolutely have to add water while the engine is still warm, pour slowly while the engine is running in neutral or park.

What is the best water to mix with antifreeze? ›

It's a good idea to keep a spare container around; a clean empty jug can come in handy when trying to mix antifreeze and water. Keep in mind that tap water contains many minerals, such as calcium, which can deposit themselves around your cooling system and cause damage, so using demineralized water is recommended.

Is Vinegar a good antifreeze? ›

To avoid damaging your radiator and potentially your engine, your choice of cleaning product is important. Avoid using vinegar, because the acetic acid makes metal susceptible to rust. Additionally, bleach should never be used, because sodium hypochlorite (bleach) will corrode metals such as steel and aluminum.

Is Prestone antifreeze any good? ›

Yes. Prestone is an OAT coolant/antifreeze but also contains anti-corrosion ingredients to protect your cooling system. It can be used in all cars effectively, offering the same levels of protection, and without any damage. We offer a guarantee that Prestone is suitable for all cars and engine materials.

What coolant lasts the longest? ›

Antifreeze – coolant that has not been mixed with water – tends to last even longer than pre-mixed engine coolant, though both last for years.

Can I switch from orange to green antifreeze? ›

The green and orange coolants do not mix. When mixed together they form a gel-like substance that stops coolant flow, and consequently, the engine overheats.

Does it matter if you mix orange and green antifreeze? ›

Can You Mix Orange and Green Antifreeze? It's never a good idea to mix two different colors or types of antifreeze. Mixing two formulas won't cause any dangerous reactions or explosions, but it could turn your coolant into a sludgy chemical mixture that won't be able to flow properly through your cooling system.

What happens if you put green coolant instead of orange? ›

This is a mistake and can lead to expensive repairs. The two coolants should never be mixed together as they do not react well. When mixed together they can form a thick, jelly-like substance that can completely stop all coolant flow which can lead to overheating.

What happens if you mix 2 different antifreeze? ›

Mixing the wrong types could cause radiator and cooling system damage (which could lead to engine/waterpump damage) and a repair bill that'll make you pass out on the floor.

What color is the universal antifreeze? ›

Traditional North American “green” antifreeze, the original “universal” formula that everybody used until the introduction of today's extended-life coolants.

What brand coolant is green? ›

Zerex Original Green Antifreeze/Coolant contains low silicates and no borates, 2-EHA, amines or nitrites. So whether you're topping off your radiator or doing a complete system flush, trust Zerex Original Green Antifreeze/Coolant.

How do you know if your car needs antifreeze? ›

One tell-tale sign of low coolant is the high-temperature gauge on the dashboard. This gauge is designed to tell you when the engine is getting too hot. Most often, the gauge should stay near the center of the H and C symbols.

Can I use any antifreeze and coolant in my car? ›

There are many different types of antifreeze, so it's crucial to understand that there is no single antifreeze that's suitable for all makes and models. The best thing to do is to always use the antifreeze that's recommended by your car manufacturer.

Will coolant help my AC? ›

Your A/C system uses a type of refrigerant (commonly called Freon) to cool the interior of your vehicle. Having a coolant flush performed will not help your A/C stay cool, or visa versa.

How often do you need to refill antifreeze? ›

You typically need to flush and fill your coolant every two years or 30,000 miles. If you're noticing higher-than-average readings on your vehicle's thermometer, you could be experiencing coolant loss through a leaky gasket or damaged hose. In that case, you should get to a mechanic so they can run diagnostics.

Can I just add coolant to my car? ›

To top up your engine's coolant, you can simply open the reservoir cap (be careful the engine is not too hot and use a cloth wrapped around the cap to open it, as there could be some residual pressure left in the system) and add to the fluid level – what you use to do this is very important though.

Can too much antifreeze hurt your car? ›

Most of the time, excess coolant is expelled from an overflow hose. You'll likely see a puddle of coolant beneath your car if this has happened. In worst case scenarios, overfilling your antifreeze tank can lead to electrical damage if overflow comes into contact with engine wiring.


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