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Do chemical additives help ?

Do chemical additives help ?

Most cooling additive products tout claims of higher boiling point, reduced surface tension or improved lubricity but what does it all mean to you the consumer. We are hearing from our customers that their engine temperatures are reaching 240 degrees, 250 degrees and even 300 degrees and it is “okay” because there is no boil over. This may be a benefit to preventing coolant loss but is it good for your engine and its parts?

To understand why the chemicals are used in the cooling system you need to understand their purpose and claim. Increased boiling point is the most frequent claim. Raising coolant temperature helps prevents boil out and cooling system fluid loss.  Sounds good, but lets understand the terms that get thrown around.

Specific heat is the amount of heat that it takes to raise the temperature of a standard amount of fluid a standard degree of temperature. Different chemicals have different specific heat.  A fluid with a higher specific heat has greater capacity to absorb heat, which is a desirable property for a coolant. The specific heats of ethylene glycol is .57, propylene glycol .59 and water 1.0. Water has a higher tendency to gain heat and lose heat so distilled water is actually  the best of all mediums to dissipate heat.

Latent heat is often confused with specific heat. When coolant is about to boil, energy must be added to change the state from liquid to or gas. This incremental heat is referred to as latent heat. For example a pound of water needs one BTU to get one degree closer to boiling point. But just at the boiling point, you need to add much more heat to push it over the top.

Surface tension and “slipperiness” of surfactant-based coolants is often claimed as a feature and benefit. The elements of water e.g. Hydrogen and Oxygen, carry a positive and negative charge. The polar nature of these charges creates a relatively strong bond between the water molecules. Absent air resistance and gravity, water tends to “clump” and forms a spherical shape. The geometry of a sphere has the smallest surface area per unit volume.

When water hits hotter spots of your engine it quickly heats to the boiling point and a water vapor is formed. Dispersing the vapor formation permits cooler fluid to contact the hot spot. Reducing the surface tension of the fluid permits the vapor to bind together and grow large enough and energetic enough to free itself from the surface.

We are frequently asked our opinion about various coolant additives.  The best answer is found with the manufacturer who made the additive to understand what the chemicals are and what they do. That answer may not suffice anymore because some chemicals are impacting other products.

Pump failure it is often the result of a seal or a bearing failure. Seals exist to  preserve bearings but seals are compromised by high heat, poor lubrication, contamination, corrosion, wear and age. A chemical which purposefully raises engine temperatures may not necessarily helping you shed heat from the engine but instead cause you to retain heat in the coolant.  These chemicals may in fact impact the longevity of other engine parts e.g. a rubber seal or o-rings in your water pump.

FlowKooler cannot warranty pumps showing evidence of seal degradation due to high heat or chemical corrosion.

Comments on this post (4)

  • Jul 07, 2020

    Just ordered a fan shroud and gave the dimensions on the radiator can u let me know what fans to order with that shroud

    — Richard Whotte

  • Jul 07, 2020

    Thank you. That explanation was excellent, based on science and facts not old guys tales.

    P.S. I’m an old guy……

    — Chip Woyner

  • Jul 07, 2020

    I need a pump recommendation. 1985 302 Ford with a passenger side dump and reverse rotation. Will the timing chain cover work? It is from a Fox Body which had the reverse rotation pump but driver side dump.

    — Al Engel

  • Jul 07, 2020

    What about anti-freeze additives? They are absolutely needed here in Norway! Are there some chemical combinations one should avoid? I have both engines with cast-iron head and block with old style brass radiators, and engines with alu head on iron block with aluminum radiator.
    BTW, thank you for a very informative website.
    Yours, Olaf

    — Olaf Larsen

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