When is the right time to change your engine coolant? For some vehicles, you’re advised to change the coolant every 30,000 miles. For others, changing it isn’t even on the maintenance schedule.
For example, Hyundai says the coolant in the engine (what many refer to as “antifreeze”) in most of its models should be replaced after the first 60,000 miles, then every 30,000 miles after that. The interval is every 30,000 miles on some Mercedes-Benz models with some engines, but on others it’s 120,000 miles or 12 years. On still other Mercedes, it’s 150,000 miles or 15 years.
Some manufacturers recommend you drain and flush the engine’s cooling system and change the coolant more often on vehicles subjected to “severe service,” such as frequent towing, which can generate more heat. The schedule for many Chevrolets, though, is a change at 150,000 miles regardless of how the vehicle is driven.
Many service shops, though — including some at dealerships that sell cars with “lifetime” coolant — say you should do a coolant change more often than the maintenance schedule recommends, such as every 30,000 or 50,000 miles.
Here’s why: Most vehicles use long-life engine coolant (usually a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water) in the radiator that for several years will provide protection against boiling in hot weather and freezing in cold temperatures, with little or no maintenance. Modern vehicles also have longer intervals between fluid changes of all types partly because environmental regulators have pressured automakers to reduce the amount of old coolant, as well as other waste fluids, that must be disposed of or recycled.
Coolant can deteriorate over time and should be tested to see if it’s still good, as it can be hard to tell just by appearances. Even if the coolant reservoir shows sufficient coolant level and testing shows the cooling and antifreeze protection are still adequate, a coolant drain and antifreeze flush may be needed.
The coolant can become more acidic over time and lose its rust-inhibiting properties, causing corrosion. Corrosion can damage the radiator, water pump, thermostat, radiator cap, hoses and other parts of the cooling system, as well as to the vehicle heater system. And that can cause a car engine to overheat.
Thus, the coolant in any vehicle with more than about 50,000 miles should be tested periodically. That’s to look for signs of rust, leaks and to make sure it has sufficient cooling and overheating protection, even if the cooling system seems to be working properly and the reservoir is full. The cooling system can be checked with test strips that measure acidity, and with a hydrometer that measures freezing and boiling protection.
If the corrosion inhibitors have deteriorated, the antifreeze coolant should be changed. The cooling system might also need flushing to remove contaminants no matter what the maintenance schedule calls for or how many miles are on the odometer. On the other hand, if testing shows the coolant is still doing its job protecting from overheating and not allowing corrosion, changing it more often than what the manufacturer recommends could be a waste of money.