The engine of a car produces a great deal of heat when you’re driving it. When not left in check, the heat produced can cause the car to overheat and even catch fire at times. Coolant fluid prevents this catastrophe from happening.
However, coolant is used up with time, and a careful driver should always remember to check the coolant level before setting off. The procedure varies between cars which is why we have written this guide on how to check coolant level for different cars.
Read on to learn more.
What Is Coolant Level?
Car coolant is a 50/50 mix of ethylene and water, and it is the primary fluid that circulates throughout the engine to keep it cool. Engines are often tightly designed, and the amount of heat produced cannot be controlled using an air cooling system. So, a coolant fluid system is used to keep the engine cool.
When there is sufficient coolant and the cooling system is working properly, your car engine’s heat will be kept in check, and there is no risk of overheating. The amount of coolant you have in your car is gauged using the coolant level.
Having coolant below the recommended level in your car will cause your car to overheat and have the engine get damaged. Alongside that, you need to make sure the coolant does not get contaminated in any way, nor are there any leaks that can result in loss of coolant or sipping into engine parts.
Checking Coolant Level for Different Cars
As it has been mentioned, taking note of the coolant level and keeping the appropriate amount of fluid is key to ensuring your car remains in good shape during driving.
However, checking the coolant level isn’t always the same for cars. Companies use different cooling systems for their cars, and as a result, the location of the coolant level and the method to access it varies.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most of the brands have their coolant designed to work well with the particular line of cars. For best results, you should use those unless stated otherwise.
While it is impossible to list the ways to check the coolant level for almost every car, we’ve taken a few samples of popular cars and compiled general guidelines on how to do it.
In case you do not find a guide for a particular car brand, or it does not match up to your model, then your best option is to get in contact with the manufacturer or company in question and ask for help in this matter.
How to Check Coolant Level in BMW Cars?
First, let’s start with BMW cars. Alongside manually checking the coolant level, one of the main benefits that BMW cars offer is that they have a built-in coolant alert system. You can also set up iDrive on your phone and be alerted to low coolant levels via phone.
However, to better check the coolant levels and work on adjusting them, you will need to follow some steps. The coolant level can be found in the engine, and the steps are:
Open the Hood
First, in case your car isn’t parked, you will need to properly park it in a safe spot. Next, you will need to let your car cool down. This is important for all cars as checking the coolant level when the car is still hot is very dangerous, and it is easy to get hurt or burned.
Regardless of what company car you’re using, you should always wait until the engine has cooled down and follow the heat meter on your car to see when it is safe to open the hood.
Another reason to let the car cool down before you check the coolant level is that the temperature can affect the cooling level. As a result, you might not get an accurate idea of how much fluid is left in the tank.
Once cooled down, unlock the hood and then open it up. You can find the knob to open the hood under the driver’s seat on most BMW models, while some models don’t use a knob system for the hood. Use the lock to keep it held while you work.
Locate the Expansion Tank
Generally, BMW models have their expansion tanks located on the bottom right side of the hood. You should notice a tank with a valve. Also, you can ask your manufacturer or an expert mechanic to locate the expansion tank in case you are confused.
Remove the Valve
After having located the coolant expansion tank, you can then remove the valve. When opening the valve, first slowly turn it counterclockwise and then stop. You should feel some pressure being relieved. Slowly continue to turn the valve, letting the pressure release in small ounces, or else the valve might be blown off.
Determining the Coolant Level
BMW models use a ball system to gauge the coolant level. Usually, a two-ball system is employed, with one of the balls being used as a reference.
The schematic needed to understand the coolant level is often detailed on the tank itself. Usually, two schematics are detailed, one showing a low coolant level and the other showing a full tank.
If the ball is near the top of the cap, then it indicates that the coolant tank is almost filled and that no coolant refill is needed. However, if that is not the case and the indicator is much lower, you will need to add coolant to the tank.
If you need to add coolant to your BMW car, it is recommended to use OEM BMW coolant. It is specially designed to work with BMW models. When refilling the tank, make sure that no coolant touches any part of your hands as it can be dangerous.
BMW models make use of a pressurized coolant tank. So, make sure you are careful when removing the valve in case the hot pressurized air escapes rapidly. It can cause damage or blow the valve away.
Also, BMW models have a coolant sensor located near the tank that is used to alert you. It is recommended to check from time to time to see if it is properly working or not.
How to Check Coolant Level in a Honda Civic?
Next, we’ll look at how to check the level in a Honda Civic. Unlike the BMW models, most Honda Civic models do not have access to iDrive or a separate app to alert you about low coolant levels. You will usually have to regularly check up on it to ensure that there is enough fluid.
One thing to note about Honda Coolant is that they have a distinct shade of green. This helps to identify leaks so you can quickly be alerted and fix the issue. The general procedure for Honda Civics is similar to the BMW one, but there are a few things you need to take note of.
The first is that the location of the coolant tank is often located near the bottom of the engine. So, you might have a hard time looking for it initially. Remember to always let the engine cool down before you try to locate and open the valve.
Secondly, no ball system is used to indicate the level of coolant. Instead, a marking or reference point is there to show the optimal level of coolant that you should have.
So, you need to locate the marking and then use it as an indicator to check if you have the required amount of antifreeze fluid or not. Due to the location of some of the coolant tanks, checking the level can be a bit difficult in Honda Civics, although newer models tend to have better tank placements.
How to Check Coolant Level in Toyota Cars?
Toyota cars tend to have more variations in how to check coolant levels mainly because their different lines of cars often feature different tank placements. The best way to locate it is to look for the radiator as the reservoir tank holding the coolant is often beside it.
Toyota reservoir tanks often have “overflow reservoir” written on them for easier identification. There are usually lines engraved on it with full, empty, or low written besides those lines, which help to gauge the coolant level.
You can check the level without having to remove the valve, and you should only carefully remove the valve if you need to add coolant.
The coolant employed by Toyota cars has a bright pink hue – making it easy to identify leaks or signs of coolant corrosion. It also makes it easier to gauge the coolant. When adding fluid, it is recommended to use a funnel as the mouth of the reservoirs is quite small, and the risk of spillage is quite common.
How to Check Coolant Level in Range Rovers?
Next, we’ll talk about Range Rovers. Since how big Range Rovers can be, the main difficulty will prove to be finding the reservoir tank in the first place. Due to how different various models can be, it is hard to pinpoint the exact location of the coolant tanks.
Generally, they are placed in any of the four corners and have a thermometer logo on them, so it is best to look for them there.
It is also important to note that the coolant tank in Range Rovers is highly pressurized, so make sure to slowly release the pent-up pressure when opening the valve.
Range Rover usually makes use of a marking system to denote the coolant level. Look to the side of the tank and try to spot markings that read maximum or minimum.
Using the engraved lines, check where the level of your fluid is. Range Rovers use different kinds of coolant fluid, but many of them are mixed with water in a certain ratio (50/50) for the best results.
How to Check Coolant Level in Subaru Cars?
Subaru cars and SUVs generally have the same way to check the coolant level. Both of them have a coolant alert system. A bright light on the dashboard stays on if the fluid is below the minimum level.
The reservoir tanks are located near the front of the engine in most of the models. Subaru cars have a bright yellow cap to denote the tank. These tanks are designed to be very compact, so make sure you have a funnel at hand if you need to fill it up.
Similar to Toyota cars, they make use of a marking system. The markings are given near the bottom in most models and are marked with LOW and FULL. Subaru cars make use of the Subaru Super engine coolant, which is usually green in color and helps you match the levels better.
How to Check Coolant Level in Dodge Ram 1500?
The Dodge Ram series of cars have very easily noticeable coolant tanks. They are usually located at the front part of the engine and have a decently large valve with a WARNING tacked on to it. Some include a high heat warning – reminding you to let the car cool down properly before you attempt to remove the valve.
Dodge Rams make use of a wide dipstick that contains the fluid. This is a long plastic stick with a circular mouth that is attached to the top of the tank and can be removed.
On the body of this plastic sink are multiple indicators that denote the coolant level. After opening the valve, you should see the plastic mouth, and you can take it out and observe the markings on the side.
When taking out the dipstick, make sure to wipe the body with a disposable cloth. Hot coolant from the body can drip down and cause harm, so watch out. Using the indicators, determine how much coolant you need and fill the dipstick up, and then place it back into the tank.
How to Check Coolant Level in Chevy Silverado and Cruze?
Chevy Silverados make use of a bright orange tank that is quite easy to spot when you open the engine. Many of the tanks make use of a black cap with a warning sign on top of them to indicate that it is the cooling reservoir.
The Silverado and Cruze have a hood release system that you need to use to unlock the hood before you can locate the tank. There should be a pipe connected to the orange tank. Before opening them, you should wipe them clean to ensure you don’t come in contact with any coolant.
On their tanks, near the bottom, you should notice fill lines with FULL engraved on the sides. The coolant levels should reach up to here and should not dip below these lines. There are multiple coolant types used by these cars, so you should check the user manual for your particular model.
These are the particular brands of cars we’ve covered. The general process can be summarized in the following steps:
- Park the car and let the car cool down before you attempt to check the level
- Open the hood and then lock it in place
- Locate the coolant reservoir tank
- Use the markings or engravings to correctly identify the coolant level and determine if you need to fill it or not
- Make sure to wipe any stray coolant off, or it can damage or seep into other parts of the engine
What Is a Good Coolant Level?
Generally, whatever the reservoir tank shows as full is a good coolant level. It’s the maximum amount of time you can go by without having to refill the coolant tank again.
However, while it is good to have the coolant at the full indicator, it is not recommended to overfill, and many of the full indicators are below the mouth or brim of the tank.
This is primarily to ensure the excess fluid doesn’t slosh or leak over from the mouth. It can damage the cap and make it hard to remove. Fluid can spill over to other parts of the engine and hinder it. Corrosion can occur near the mouth of the tank and heavily damage the engine, which is why you should never overfill.
On the other hand, you should never let the coolant dip below the LOW indicator on some tanks. This is extremely dangerous as it can’t keep up with the heat from the car’s engine and can easily cause it to overheat.
While a good coolant level is just to have it near the full indicator, in the cases where you can’t, you must ensure that it is not below the low indicator.
What Causes Low Coolant Level?
Generally, your coolant level decreases with time as you drive your car. It is circulated through the engine to keep it cool. This is why you have to schedule times to refill the coolant.
However, aside from coolant being used up with time, there are other causes of low coolant levels. Some of the causes can be very severe and need to be addressed as quickly as you can. These causes include:
Engine leaks are one of the primary and dangerous causes of low coolant levels. If you constantly notice your car alerting you to low coolant levels, it might be because there’s a leak or torn radiator pipe. Look for any coolant that drips out and try to trace it back to the leak.
You should also check to see if the tank containing it has any holes in it or not. Leaking coolant is extremely dangerous and costly, so quickly address this issue. Remember to tightly close the radiator cap or ensure that it is not faulty. Coolant can spill out through that space while driving.
Sometimes, it can be the coolant sensor at fault. Many cars have a built-in low coolant level alert system. They do this by using a sensor that detects when the fluid reaches below a certain level. However, sometimes these sensors might give you a false reading.
This often happens when the sensor hasn’t been calibrated in a while, which leads to incorrect readings. Manually check the coolant levels, and if you see a discrepancy in the readings, then you will need to replace or recalibrate the sensor.
This is a very dangerous issue where damaged gaskets cause the coolant to combust and rapidly decrease. If you notice white smoke coming out from the exhaust pipe or your engine, quickly stop your car and check the gaskets.
Faulty gaskets can also cause coolant to mix with the oil, thus contaminating it. While this issue might not always lead to a low coolant warning, coolant contamination can cause great damage to your engine and requires a thorough clean-up to fix.
Why Should You Check Coolant Level?
Although it may seem like a hassle, constantly monitoring the coolant level is extremely important. As we’ve mentioned before, circulating coolant throughout the engine keeps it cool. When there isn’t enough coolant, your engine will overheat.
An engine overheating more often than not causes irreparable damage to your engine. It is also an extremely dangerous hazard cause the engine can catch fire and combust, ending up badly hurting the people in the car.
As it can be seen, failing to keep the engine cool results in catastrophic damage. Even in the cases where your engine doesn’t overheat, operating it at high temperatures drastically reduces the life expectancy of your engine, alongside creating other problems in the future.
If you want to ensure your car remains in good shape for a long while, as well as avoid the danger of your engine catching fire, you will need to constantly check the coolant level of your car properly.
Never make the measurements when your car is still hot from being used. This leads to incorrect measurements as well the danger of burning your hands or coming into contact with hot coolant.
What Should I Look for When Checking Coolant?
Alongside checking the coolant level itself and making sure the reading is correct, there are a few other things you should keep in mind when checking your reservoir tank. These include:
On the sides of the reservoir tank, you will notice several pipes going out of it. Always check to see if the pipes are properly connected and that they are in good shape. If you notice those pipes are torn or have cuts on them, you will need to replace them.
Damaged pipes interfere with the cooling ability and can also result in your car overheating if not fixed. Be on the lookout for any pipes that need repairing or replacing.
When you’re checking the coolant level, look out for rust in any of the surrounding areas. Rust near the radiator or reservoir is an indicator of coolant corrosion or contamination. This can spread to the surrounding parts of the engine and cause them to clog up and make your car inoperable.
This corrosion also damages many of the engine parts and reduces their life expectancy. Leaving it unchecked can cause it to spread a lot and make removing or cleaning it especially difficult and time-consuming. So, it is important to spot it early and remove the first signs of corrosion.
This also indicates the need for a coolant change. The existing coolant may have been contaminated by the rust and has gone bad. If it has gone bad, the cooling ability will decrease dramatically.
Faulty Gaskets and Caps
Remember to inspect the gaskets. You want to make sure that the oil does not ever come into contact with the coolant and that they remain separated. Inspect the gaskets and caps near the reservoir tank and make sure they are all tightly sealed and that there is no risk of leakage.
While looking at the reservoir tank, keep an eye out for any coolant that might have spilled or leaked into other parts of the engine. Make sure to clean them up before you start the car again.
If you consistently notice spills, there might be leaks in the reservoir tank or pipes. Hot coolant can be very deteriorating and can clog up engine parts, causing your car to become inoperable.
These are the primary things you should always be on the lookout for when you are checking the coolant level. Noticing and taking care of these will result in proper maintenance of your car and keep your cooling system working to the best of its ability.
Do You Check the Coolant Level with Your Car On or Off?
You should always check the coolant level of your car while it is turned off. Never try to check it when the car is on, as the coolant tank will be extremely hot and have high pressure.
Trying to open the valve can cause the pent-up pressure to knock the valve off and even cause some coolant to spill over. The hot coolant is extremely dangerous and can lead to severe burns.
Even when the car is turned off, you should wait for some time before attempting to check the tank. Watch your car’s temperature reading and wait until the needle points to a very low temperature before looking to open the hood. This helps reduce the built-up pressure, but even so, you should slowly open the valve at all times.
What Happens If You Drive with Low Coolant Level?
There are many risks involved with driving with low coolant. Here we will detail some of them, which will help you understand how dangerous it can be to drive without your car providing sufficient cooling.
The main danger of driving with low coolant is that your engine overheats. This is when the temperature of your engine reaches higher than recommended levels.
High heat can cause the metal to melt and interfere with the operation of your engine. Driving in this state leads to severe engine damage and deteriorates many of the engine components.
A pump is used to transfer the coolant. When there is low coolant, often the air is pumped instead. When this air is pumped, it can cause airlocks and drastically reduce the flow of coolant throughout the engine. This can cause rapid overheating or simply have your car stop mid-drive.
Due to being unable to keep the engine cool, the engine sections can catch fire. This problem can be further compounded if there are leaks, which can cause the coolant to mix with the oil and combust.
Some engine sections work at higher temperatures than normal. If these aren’t properly cooled, they become extremely hot and get called hotspots.
Due to the higher temperatures they experience due to lack of cooling fluid, they can cause cracks to appear in the particular block. These cracks make the whole block unusable, and there is no other option other than replacement.
These high temperatures can also cause the metal to rapidly expand and further create more cracks. In this case, you will need to get the engine fully replaced as there is no way to repair this damage.
So, as you can see, much of the damage caused by driving with low coolant is irreparable. Replacements are much more expensive than normal repairs, and thus a small mistake can snowball into huge sums of money that you might need to pay.
Now you have learned how to check coolant level for different cars as well as the various problems you might encounter with low coolant levels. If the particular method does not match up with your model, you can always refer to an instruction manual for your car or contact the manufacturers.
Never drive with low coolant, and always make sure that you never check the coolant level while the car is still on.