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Hey, you're in the vehicle / car zone--YOUR HANDYMAN ZONE!

Cars / Trucks / Vans Category: Radiator

Maintenance Issues:

How to change the antifreeze / coolant.

Tools / Materials (See Below for Applicability):

  • Appropriate antifreeze / coolant for your vehicle (see section on how to choose the right antifreeze / coolant)

  • Distilled water

  • Appropriate radiator pressure cap replacement

  • Appropriate radiator hose replacements

  • Appropriate radiator hose clamp replacements

  • Screwdriver

  • Garden hose (hooked up to faucet for cold water use)

  • Rags, newspapers or work blanket/tarp (for antifreeze / coolant spill control)

  • A large pan (to capture running/draining antifreeze / coolant)

  • Funnel

  • Vehicle ramp (or jack stands) (in either case, make sure the ramp or jacks is covered with a rubber pad so as to not damage any part of the vehicle off of which the vehicle is lifted from the ground)

  • Wheel chocks

  • Owner's manual


The antifreeze / coolant in your vehicle generally should be changed at least every 30,000 miles / 2 years of regular vehicle use (in any event, be sure to check with your vehicle manufacturer, such as consulting its issued owner's manual, to confirm the antifreeze/coolant-change period to maintain your specific warranty).

Caution: When dealing with anything that may be potentially hot, make sure you take precautions to avoid contact with it.  Additionally, make sure your vehicle is securely supported when working underneath it.  Furthermore, in this case, never leave any exposed antifreeze / coolant unattended as its "sweet" smell can attract animals (such as pet dogs, etc.), which can fatal for them since drinking it usually is fatal; if it is not in the vehicle, it should be handled outside as a poison with great care.

There is basically a two-step process of changing your antifreeze / coolant before adding the replacement antifreeze / coolant:  1) Draining the antifreeze / coolant; and 2) "Reverse flushing" the antifreeze / coolant out of the radiator (draining is the only option for factory-sealed radiators if you are doing this on your own and not in an automotive shop).  Reverse flushing is important to do since it has been noted that merely draining leaves behind a significant amount of the old antifreeze / coolant in the radiator itself, plus the reverse flushing gets rid of unwanted deposits built up in the radiator.

To change the antifreeze / coolant in your vehicle, do the following:

Draining the Antifreeze / Coolant

  1. It is best to change the antifreeze / coolant when the vehicle is not "hot," so be sure the vehicle is "cold" (i.e., having not been used for at least 3 hours)

  2. Drive the vehicle into your work area (be it a garage or what have you), and safely drive over and park on a vehicle ramp so as to provide you with more access underneath the vehicle, particularly where the antifreeze / coolant will be drained, etc.  While the front portion of the vehicle is on the vehicle ramp, be sure to correctly push in a wheel chock behind each rear tire; refer to the instructions of the wheel chock manufacturer as necessary.

  3. If necessary, briefly consult your owner's manual for the location of your coolant-drain plug of your radiator so that you will have a general understanding of where it will be when underneath your vehicle.

  4. As you see fit, place rags/newspapers/a work blanket/tarp underneath the front portion of the vehicle, especially in the area underneath the coolant-drain plug, where work will be performed as a proactive measure to mitigate any antifreeze / coolant spill, and have a large pan (to capture running/draining antifreeze / coolant) ready for use.

  5. Once the vehicle is securely and safely supported by the vehicle ramp and wheel chocks, your rags/newspapers/a work blanket/tarp is in place, and you have allowed the engine to cool for a bit after driving the vehicle onto the vehicle ramp, carefully remove the radiator pressure cap with a rag around it, being careful and taking all precautions necessary since--while the engine is cool--the radiator can still be under pressure.  Once the cap is safely unscrewed off and removed, look at the cap to see if it is suffering from rust or other worn-out conditions; if it is, replace the cap with another radiator pressure cap appropriate for your vehicle (bearing on top of the cap the same written pressure rating as that of the old radiator pressure cap).  Though, if you are going to replace the cap with a new one or will keep the old cap, in either case, do not put the cap back onto the radiator until you are done draining.

  6. Position yourself underneath the vehicle and find the coolant-drain plug underneath the radiator and then, before attempting to loosen it, put your large pan directly underneath it.

  7. With the pan already positioned to collect all the antifreeze / coolant that will be drained from the hole that will be "unplugged," use your hand to actually remove the coolant-drain plug for the antifreeze / coolant (and make sure you hold onto the gasket that is found between the plug and the radiator to which the plug attaches) to begin draining, all the while making sure you are not blocking the drain flow from the radiator drain hole to the pan you previously directly positioned underneath with any part of your body.  As may be necessary, move the pan to ensure that you capture all of the draining antifreeze / coolant as is possible.

  8. Once the draining of the antifreeze / coolant slows to a trickle and finally comes to an end, use a rag to wipe off any old antifreeze / coolant remnants found around the edges of the coolant-drain hole and on the coolant-drain plug itself.

  9. With the gasket in place, put the plug back in the coolant-drain hole, making sure it is securely in place.

Flushing the Antifreeze / Coolant (Not for sealed radiators; see a mechanic)

  1. Now, look to the top of the radiator to find and remove the top cap.

  2. Upon removing the cap, insert a garden hose in the hole of the radiator to fill it with cold water until it overflows out of the radiator and you notice that was is coming out is clean water and nothing else.

  3. Now, put the top cap securely back into place on top of the radiator.

  4. Next, remove the coolant-drain plug from the bottom of the radiator.

  5. Now, perform the "reverse flush" by inserting the garden hose into the drain hole that appears underneath the radiator and then run cold water again now through this drain hole, doing it until you see clean water coming out (creating this "reverse flush" by doing it from the bottom of the radiator).

  6. Use the garden hose to flush out the engine cooling jacket, too, with cold water.

  7. Take a look at the two radiator hoses and their respective hose clamps, making sure that they appear to be in good working order, including that the hoses are not leaking, have no cracks, no rust, and do not otherwise appear worn out or compromised in its structure (flimsy, soft, etc.); if any such defects are present, now is the time to have such hoses, and if need be their clamps, replaced.  (If one hose seems to be bad, go ahead and replace the other since it will most likely fail, too.)  Use a screwdriver to remove these defective hoses and clamps to be replaced.

Adding the Appropriate Antifreeze / Coolant

  1. First, make sure you understand what is the right mixture of antifreeze / coolant and water for your vehicle.  (Please see the section on how to properly mix your antifreeze / coolant.)  Generally, for driving normally in most parts of the country, the solution mix ratio of 50:50 (50 parts ethylene glycol-based antifreeze / coolant to 50 parts distilled water) is appropriate.  Otherwise, for really cold climates, you may opt for a 60:40 mixture (60 parts ethylene glycol-based antifreeze / coolant to 40 parts distilled water).  If need be, check with your owner's manual. 

  2. Once again, look to the top of the radiator to find and remove the top cap.

  3. Upon removing the cap, insert your funnel into the top hole of the radiator that appears, and then pour the appropriate antifreeze / coolant into the radiator through


    this funnel:  For the 50:50 ratio, first pour about 50% distilled water (50% can be ascertained by estimating what is 50% of the inside of the radiator or 50% of the amount of old antifreeze / coolant you previously drained out into a pan).  You should fill the radiator with this appropriate antifreeze / coolant up to its top, just before the hole opening.  Once you do this, re-secure the radiator top cap, and then turn on your vehicle (while still parked on the ramp, of course) for just a bit so that your engine can run for at most 10 minutes; this will heat up the engine and eliminate any air pockets that may give you a false indication that the radiator is filled up to the top with the new antifreeze / coolant you are putting in.  After you do this, wait for at least 20 minutes for your engine to cool off, and then repeat the pouring of the appropriate mixture of antifreeze / coolant and distilled water until the radiator is filled up to its top, just before the hole opening.

  4. Upon filling the radiator to the top with an appropriate mixture of antifreeze / coolant and distilled water, make sure you re-secure the top cap of the radiator for the last time.

  5. Aside from refilling the radiator itself, newer vehicles each come equipped with an antifreeze / coolant tank on the side, which should be refilled as may be necessary to the maximum limit with the same appropriate mixture of antifreeze / coolant and distilled water.

  6. Finally, after ensuring that you have refilled the radiator to the top with the appropriate mixture of antifreeze / coolant (if applicable, filling up the the separate antifreeze / coolant tank on the side with the same), restart your vehicle, allowing your engine to run.  At this time, while your vehicle is running, conduct a final inspection of the vehicle in an effort to identify any antifreeze / coolant leaks.  If you see no leaks, then you are fine for about another 2 years / 30,000 miles.  If you see leaks, you should consider having your radiator replaced.

That's basically the routine of helping to keep your vehicle's radiator in good working order so as to maintain the overall cooling system of the vehicle and keep it running without an overheat breakdown.  Make sure to keep up with this routine in order to keep your vehicle properly maintained.

Ed the Handyman


Your Handyman Zone Team


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