He's Warming Up 

Rich Taber


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 to tell.

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 look.

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 encorplus@aol.com or write to In Gear, P.O. Box 5912, New Bedford, Mass., 02742


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