Looking at extended life coolant?

Here are some factors to consider

By Marcia Gruver

Extended life coolants offer significant advantages – including reduced downtime and lower overall maintenance costs. Some contractors, though, can’t get beyond the initial cost, which can be up to 50 percent more than a conventional coolant. If you take the time to review ELCs, however, you may discover a product that can become an essential part of your fleet maintenance. Consider these points:

Maintaining ELC is much easier than maintaining conventional coolant. Compared to conventional coolants, maintaining an ELC is relatively simple. Always top off with the same product; check the freeze point and color whenever the machine is serviced; do a visual to check for floating solids and add an extender when needed, usually at the 6,000-hour point. In contrast, conventional coolants have to be flushed from the system and new coolant added every 3,000 to 5,000 hours. Their inhibitors deplete rapidly so they require the addition of supplemental coolant additives at regular intervals. Some coolant suppliers estimate over a machine’s life, using a conventional coolant can cost you 70 to 80 percent more than an ELC.

Be as picky about your coolant brand and type as you are with the oil you use. If you’re working a great distance from your shop, either stock up or make sure the local dealer has what you use. If you use a lot of different ELC vendors, it will be difficult to figure out which product may be at fault if problems surface. And a vendor you use on a consistent basis will want to work with you if things go wrong.

The 600,000-mile/12,000-hour promise of ELCs may be only the start. It’s up to you – supported by regular testing – to find out whether your ELC has more life left. And remember, on many products these numbers can only be initially achieved when an extender is added at the half-way point. Some ELCs claim 15,000 hours without adding an extender.

“ELC makers wonder out loud why the initially higher cost seems to keep many contractors away from using ELCs. Do the math, they say.”

Recognize extended life coolants may be factory fill, depending upon the make of a particular machine. Keep track of which machines already come to you with ELC, since there are significantly different maintenance procedures with ELCs versus conventional coolants.

Make sure the ELC you use is recommended by your equipment manufacturer. ELCs formulations are not standardized – including the color. Although the prevalent color for ELC is red, red doesn’t mean automatically the product is an ELC.

There are two general types of ELCs primarily sold in the United States – those with nitrite and those without – with fierce defenders in each camp. OEMs who require nitrites in ELC say they are needed to provide additional cavitation corrosion protection of engine liners beyond what organic additives provide. Those with a nitrite-free product argue it protects better against aluminum corrosion. Again, check your machine manufacturer specs, and use the type of product they recommend.

Know what’s in an ELC – and what isn’t. ELCs use a different inhibitor than conventional coolants, which can use a combination of several elements, including silicate, borate and nitrate, all of which deplete rapidly, leading to deposits and scale. Plus conventional coolants require the addition of supplemental coolant additives at every oil change.

Watch your dilution levels. ELCs can only be diluted by 25 percent with either water or a conventional coolant – more than that and you have to treat them as a conventional coolant. ELCs are much more resistant than conventional coolants to poor quality water.

ELCs offer much more than extended life. ELC makers wonder out loud why the initially higher cost seems to keep many contractors away from using ELCs. Do the math, they say. (See chart on page 36.) In addition to the labor and downtime savings over the life of ELC, it offers better heat transfer efficiency, allowing the engine to run cooler. Compared to conventional coolants, ELCs contain fewer dissolved solids, which can eat at water pump seals. They also offer superior protection in high temperature conditions, which will be a factor in the newer EGR engines. And in these green-conscious times, ELCs significantly reduce your coolant disposal volume.

You have a choice: convert your coolant to an ELC or drain, flush and refill. Although coolant suppliers would prefer customers drain, flush and refill, they realize uptime requirements don’t always make this possible. Most major suppliers now offer conversion kits that convert a machine’s coolant to an ELC, using a 12-fold inhibitor concentrate that offers 1 gallon of concentrate for every 12 gallons of cooling system volume. In the conversion process, the conventional coolant’s inhibitors gradually deplete and the ELC’s organic additives take over.

But don’t expect the conversion to fix a conventional coolant that’s already gone bad. Run freeze point and pH tests before the conversion – if there’s too much water in the system, or if the pH is off, it’s best to drain, flush and refill. And test the coolant after the conversion to see if procedures were correctly followed.

If you can’t control your top-off procedures, use a conventional coolant. Topping off an ELC with a conventional coolant will eventually create a conventional coolant, and all the extra money you just spent on ELC just went down the drain. And you’ll probably want to stick with a conventional if you have a severe leaking problem on a machine. But if you have your maintenance under control, ELCs will save you money in the long run. EW

ELC myths

“You can top it off with anything.” Most coolant suppliers recommend you top off with the same ELC brand and type.

“Any ELC will work.” Not so with automotive ELCs – they’re not designed to be heavy-duty coolants.

“You still need to add supplemental coolant additives to ELC.” Not having to add SCAs is one of ELC’s major selling points – and if you add them, you’ve messed with the ELC chemistry and decreased its effectiveness.

“You can’t test it.” Wrong. Since it’s essential you keep track of your pH and inhibitor levels, coolant suppliers have test kits specifically designed for ELCs.

“If you add ELC to a conventional coolant, you’ll get leaks in your cooling system.” Leaks are rare in a properly maintained cooling system.