After a two-week holiday hiatus, it feels good to be back in the
driver’s seat here at the In Gear column. With winter full upon us now,
I’ve been mulling over the subject of automobile antifreeze. There’s lot’s
Before getting started though, I should tell you about a little
coincidence regarding the research I was doing on the subject.
The adage that goes something like, “You can’t tell where you’re
going if you don’t know where you’ve been” had been on my mind. Maybe
it’s the New Year-thinking that put it there, but it got me asking about
the origin of antifreeze.
I surmised it had been in use for at least half the last century
but I had no specific information to corroborate my guess. I turned to
the Internet for an answer.
Well after spending half the afternoon chasing bits and pieces all
over the Web, I hit paydirt. My search engine directed me to a site that
gave a complete history of the evolution of antifreeze.
Funny thing was the website was the home of Sam Giammalvo’s Auto
Sales right here in New Bedford.
The experience reminded me of another saying that goes something
like, “Why search the world for what you can find in your backyard?”.
What I learned from Sam is that the real origins of today’s antifreeze
business began with the marketing of Prestone brand ethylene glycol antifreeze
in 1927. It was sold in cans as pure ethylene glycol. Charts showed the
protection afforded by adding specific quantities. Although other products
had been used previously, ethylene glycol proved better because it didn’t
boil away or burn and was comparatively odorless.
It wasn’t until the early 1960s that the three major U.S. car companies
- Ford, General Motors and Chrysler - began installing a 50% water and
50% ethylene glycol antifreeze solution in their new cars. Consequently,
antifreeze/coolant became a year-round functional fluid as important as
engine oil or automatic transmission fluid.
According to Sam’s head technician, Mark Giammalvo, up until about
10 years ago, antifreeze used to get dumped down the drain when it was
flushed from vehicles. The problem with that procedure is that there are
heavy metals from the engine and other contaminants in the fluid. It is
a hazardous waste.
Nowadays, Mark explained, the antifreeze gets recycled in the shop
by passing it through two successive filters that remove particles as
small as 25 microns and 5 microns respectively. The antifreeze is deposited
in a 20 gallon tank where it is mixed with antifreeze collected from other
vehicles. The ph is corrected with an additive if it is low or with water
if it is high. A green dye is used to bring the color back to its familiar
Sam’s service department uses a refractometer to check the freeze
point of the liquid. The device is much more reliable than the typical
floating-ball-type device available to the average consumer. If the freeze
point isn’t down below the industry standard of 32 degrees Fahrenheit,
they add virgin antifreeze to correct it.
Late model GM vehicles use an orange-dyed antifreeze manufactured by Texaco. This type cannot be mixed with propylene glycol.
Rich Taber invites readers to submit anecdotes and questions, although not all inquiries can be answered directly. Address correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to In Gear, P.O. Box 5912, New Bedford, Mass., 02742