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Automotive antifreeze/coolant is made of ethylene glycol, water, and a chemical additive package. For many years, there was only one type of antifreeze on the market, conventional green. Antifreeze technology has become significantly more complex in the last several years with the introduction of Dexcool and other extended life antifreeze formulas. Currently, there are three main types of antifreeze on the market. They all contain an ethylene glycol base, water, dye and an additive package. What makes them different is the additive package.
Conventional green antifreeze formulations usually contain a number of inorganic corrosion inhibitors that provide immediate corrosion protection because they maintain the pH of the solution (buffer it), but are consumed or transformed chemically as they perform their functions. As the coolant is heated and cooled, and exposed to air, the components of the conventional antifreeze additive package are depleted over time. This causes the pH to drop, and is why the coolant should be changed out every two years or 24,000 miles.
Dexcool-type extended life coolants use organic acid technology to inhibit corrosion, and are referred to as OAT based coolants. OAT antifreezes are touted as having longer potential service life than conventional antifreezes because of the fact that the components in the additive package are not chemically consumed as they perform their function of inhibiting corrosion. The chemicals used in the OAT type formulas protect metals from corrosion by forming a thin, molecular coating on them, and because of this, are not as fast acting as conventional inorganic formulas. However, as long as the cooling system is kept sufficiently full and coolant is not lost due to leakage nor diluted by top-off with water or conventional antifreeze, it will continue to function properly. Unfortunately, if the cooling system is not properly maintained, a “red muck” is likely to form and could cause serious cooling system problems..
Unfortunately, many in the automotive industry consider all extended life antifreeze to be “Dexcool” and associate all the problems related to “Dexcool” with both OAT and HOAT formulas. The result of this misconception is often replacing the extended life coolant with conventional green. Industry experts say that this can be done safely if all of the green antifreeze is removed from the system. However, auto manufacturers recommend specific formulations and replacing the factory fill coolant with a different type that doesn’t meet the manufacturer’s specifications could cause liability issues down the road. A much safer solution is to replace OAT systems with HOAT coolant which meets OAT specifications.