Skip the floating balls and check your coolant properly with this handy tool
A refractometer will help you check your coolant like you’re a scientist
The realization you didn’t protect your engine from freezing temps comes with a moment of truth: It could be that the engine froze but the casting plugs did their job, requiring you to simply hammer them back in place, or it could be the engine froze and … it’s trashed. Either way, the time between said realization and finding on which path your fate lies is a long, anxiety-inducing one, for sure.
So consider this a reminder to check your coolant, now, before the frost hangs heavy. To do so in the past, you might have used a hydrometer to measure your coolant’s specific gravity, which generally requires trying to judge where in a tube some tiny colored balls are floating. Instead, you can skip the guesswork and just snag a refractometer.
The range of prices for refractometers is wide, but as with most part-time tools, cheaper is better. This one here is made for Agricultural Solutions and features ATC (automatic temperature compensation), so it can report the same value over a range of temperatures. It also comes with a handful of pipettes for you to
lose responsibly label according to coolant type, to prevent any chance of cross-contamination.
You may need to calibrate the tool on arrival, but that’s as easy as dropping some distilled water on the glass and seeing how far away from 32 degrees the tool is. Mine came out of the hard-plastic case ready to rock and roll and was accurately calibrated.
These refractometers only work with ethylene glycol- and propylene glycol-based coolants, which are still the most common base compounds for automotive coolants. If you’re using a coolant outside of that realm, well, you’re out of luck here.