Posted under Car Fluids

Coolant — also known as antifreeze or radiator fluid — plays a crucial role in your engine cooling system. It helps keep your engine cool in the summer and warm in the winter, ensuring optimal performance when you’re out on the road. So, when the low coolant light pops up on your dashboard, you definitely shouldn’t ignore it because it can wreak havoc on your engine. So, what should you do? Let’s help answer that question!

Disclaimer: Not all vehicles have a low coolant light. Check with your model’s manufacturer for more information about low coolant levels in your vehicle.   

What Does the Low Coolant Light On Mean?

If there’s low coolant, you just need to add more, right? Well, not exactly. Most modern vehicles utilize a “closed” system, meaning there should be no coolant loss under normal operating conditions. If your coolant level is low, it could indicate that your vehicle is leaking coolant, so topping off your coolant reservoir may only be a short-term remedy. There could be several reasons for this issue, including:

  • Defective hose clamp
  • Blown radiator hose
  • Leaky head gasket
  • A foreign object perforating the radiator core

If you suspect your vehicle is leaking coolant, have your vehicle’s cooling system inspected. 

Can You Drive Without Coolant?

The short answer is yes you can…but not for long. 

To understand why this is the case, it’s important to have basic knowledge of how the engine cooling system works:

  • A water pump circulates coolant through the engine
  • The coolant absorbs heat from the engine to help prevent it from overheating
  • This heated fluid flows through rubber hoses to the radiator, where heat is dissipated
  • The thermostat helps regulate the coolant temperature to keep it consistent for optimal engine performance

So, without coolant, your engine may overheat or seize up, potentially causing extensive engine damage that may burn a big hole in your wallet. 

How Can You Tell If Coolant Is Low?

Preventive maintenance can help you avoid serious engine damage or failure, so keep an eye out for these low coolant symptoms, especially if your vehicle doesn’t have a low coolant light:

  • An odd, sweet scent — Coolant is the only automotive liquid with a sweet smell, so if you get a whiff of this strange aroma, coolant might be leaking from your vehicle.
  • Rising temperature gauge — If you notice your vehicle’s temperature gauge rising toward that “H” indicator (or RED zone), your engine’s temperature might be increasing due to low coolant levels. If the gauge gets into the red zone, pull over to the side of the road in a safe area and have your vehicle towed to an automotive professional. 
  • Repeatedly needing to add fluid — Topping off your coolant reservoir is more of a band-aid than a long-term solution for a coolant leak. So, if you constantly have to pull over and add more coolant to your reservoir, it might be time to have a professional inspect your vehicle.
  • Overheating — Coolant helps pull heat away from the engine. Without sufficient coolant, your engine could overheat. Many modern vehicles have an automatic engine cut-off feature when the engine overheats to help prevent significant damage. If this happens, it’s best to tow your vehicle to your nearest automotive professional for a proper diagnosis.
  • Internal heating system is not functioning properly — Coolant also helps regulate hot air into your vehicle’s cabin to keep you and your passengers comfortable. Low coolant levels could be the culprit if your heater is not working properly.
A Jiffy Lube Technician explaining a coolant service to a customer

Schedule an Appointment for an Inspection at Your Local Jiffy Lube

If your low coolant light illuminates or you suspect your vehicle’s coolant level is low, there might be a leak. Don’t lose your cool! Bring your vehicle to your local Jiffy Lube®. The trained technicians can conduct a thorough visual inspection of the vehicle’s cooling system, check your coolant fluid level and protection level, and perform pressure testing with specialized equipment. If the technicians find that your coolant needs to be replaced, we can perform a radiator coolant fluid exchange to remove the used engine coolant and replace it with coolant that meets or exceeds manufacturer specifications.

NOTE: Not all services are offered at all Jiffy Lube service centers. Please call ahead or check to ensure the service is available at the Jiffy Lube location near you.