A Quick DIY Guide To Coolant Changes

Automotive Articles

Changing your own engine coolant can be a time-saving and money-saving step for keeping your vehicle in great shape. However, there are a few things you should know before you get started with your own coolant change. The following offers a few helpful tips for making your DIY vehicle service as smooth and trouble-free as possible.

What You'll Need

In order to properly change your vehicle's engine coolant, you'll need the following tools:

  • Vehicle ramps (to lift the vehicle high enough to reach the drain bolts and screws underneath)
  • A large bucket to contain the coolant
  • 1/4-inch ratchet with the appropriate sockets for your vehicle
  • 2 to 3 feet of flexible hose with a minimum 1.5-inch diameter
  • A funnel

Changing the Coolant

With the vehicle on its ramps, the first thing you want to do is open the hood and remove the coolant reservoir cap. Set aside in a safe location and then locate and open the bleed screw for the coolant reservoir. Skip this step if it's not present on your vehicle.

Next, remove any plastic shielding found underneath. Locate the drain screws for the coolant reservoir and radiator and place your bucket underneath. Open the screws and let the coolant drain completely. If necessary, use the flexible hose to direct the coolant into the bucket without leaving a mess. On some vehicles, you may need to drain the coolant through a designated engine block drain plug also.

Carefully tighten all of the bolts and screws loosened to drain the engine coolant. Next, create a 50/50 mix of your manufacturer's approved engine coolant and distilled water (unless it's already been pre-mixed). Carefully pour the coolant into the coolant reservoir until the coolant pours out of the bleeder screw. Afterwards, tighten the bleeder screw and replace the coolant reservoir cap.

Start your vehicle and make sure the engine temperature is at its normal range. You'll also want to check for leaks. After the engine cools down, double-check the coolant level and add more coolant as needed.

What to Look Out For

As you change your engine coolant, there are plenty of issues you want to be on the lookout for:

  • Check the physical condition of all radiator hoses by look and feel. If the hoses feel exceptionally soft or extremely brittle to the touch or appear frayed, cracked or bulged, have the hoses in question replaced as soon as possible.
  • Check the appearance of the antifreeze as it drains out of the radiator and engine. Rust-colored antifreeze may indicate a deterioration of the radiator or other cooling system components, while a milky appearance indicates oil intermingling with antifreeze.

Special Considerations

Keep in mind that some newer vehicles use electric water pumps to circulate engine coolant throughout the cooling system. Unlike traditional water pumps, electric water pumps are not connected to the serpentine belt system that normally drives this and other vehicle accessories.

Some vehicles may use the electric water pump in order to properly bleed the cooling system. To accomplish this task, you'll want to follow these instructions:

  • After properly filling the radiator and expansion tank with coolant, attach a battery charger to the battery itself or the vehicle's remote jumper cable ports (usually located under the hood).
  • Make sure the ignition is set to the "ON" position. For vehicles equipped with a push-button start system, push the START button without depressing the brake or clutch pedal.
  • Set the vehicle's heater temperature to its highest level and the blower to its lowest speed, then press and hold the accelerator pedal to the floor for approximately 10 seconds.

This will start the electric water pump's self-bleeding procedure, which should last for up to 15 minutes in most cases. During this time, you may hear the water pump cycle on and off as it bleeds the coolant.

How Often Should You Change Your Coolant?

Conventional wisdom held that drivers should change their vehicle's engine coolant every 2 to 3 years, with a few variations depending on personal driving habits. Like any fluid, engine coolant tends to break down with age and use, making it less effective at keeping your engine cool over time.

These days, the vast majority of vehicle manufacturers use an extended-life coolant that's designed to be replaced every 100,000 miles. If you really want to be sure about when to change your vehicle's coolant, then chances are you want to consult with the recommended BMW service intervals listed in your vehicle owner's manual or service manual.


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