How long can you drive a car without coolant?

Coolant is an essential element for the car. Without this liquid, the car would not run for a long time, and the engine would overheat and fail very quickly.

Without coolant, you can drive a relatively short distance until critical engine damage occurs. The distance traveled, or rather, the running time of the engine differs for each individual engine and the conditions under which this motor is forced to run without coolant.

The coolant’s role is to remove excess heat from overheated engine parts, and to maintain the optimal working temperature of the engine, which may vary from about 85°С to 97°С or 185°F to 206°F depending on the car make and model.

What happens if you drive without coolant?

The engine parts that heat up the most are the portion of the cylinder head in the area of ​​the exhaust manifold, the cylinders, and the valves, causing, thus, the engine to warm up unequally.

In those engine parts, the metal comes into contact with the flame from the fuel combustion and gases that form there. While the rest of the motor is warmed up less intensely. Because the coolant is missing, this will cause multiple damages.

As I said above, the coolant’s role is to remove excess heat. Thus with no coolant, the heat will continue to amplify, causing very high temperatures, and, also, the metal parts from the cylinder-piston group and the crank mechanism to exceed the resistance zone, which will lead, inevitably, to bends and mechanical deformations on the engine parts mentioned earlier.

Also, the lack of coolant and excess heat, aside from bends and deformation, can cause cracks to the cylinder head, pistons, valves, etc.

Moreover, the removal and distribution process of heat through the engine will be assigned to the oil being the last remaining liquid in the engine. It is true that engine oil also helps with this operation, but it is nowhere near to the coolant’s possibilities regarding heat, just in a very tiny proportion.

Therefore, if a car does not have coolant will suffer damage, as soon as the engine starts to heat up.

How long can you drive without coolant?

Although I did some research to avoid an ambiguous answer, unfortunately, I arrived exactly at the answer I did not want to give you, respectively, that it depends.

This answer is not, in my opinion, eloquent, but unfortunately, there are many aspects of a car regarding engine running time in the absence of coolant that we should consider in order to give a good answer to this question.

Let’s talk below about the main aspects that we should consider

Engine condition

A newer motor with low mileage can last more since all of its components are in relatively good condition. But, at the same time, thermal expansion of parts is easier for a high mileage engine to tolerate without jamming.

Engine operating mode

At idle or when driving without load, the engine will run longer. Fuel in these driving modes burns less, therefore the heat load will build up slower.

Engine design

The materials from which the engine is made matter, the material of the cylinder head and the cylinder block, the type of power supply and the degree of force. Older engines are made of better materials, with a large mass, thick walls, and a cast iron version of the block and cylinders, that will be more resistant to high temperatures.

Even so, it is hard to believe that these engines will last more than 20 or 30 minutes without coolant.

On the other hand, thin-walled aluminum engines of modern cars will last much less compared to old engines in the absence of coolant without serious consequences.

Ambient temperature

The temperature under which the engine runs also matters when we talk about running an engine without cooling liquid. In winter, when outside temperatures are low, the car will work longer without coolant, since cold air will carry away the heat from the hot engine parts.

It’s hard to say exactly how long you can drive without coolant. As I have said above, there are some aspects to take into account. 

But if you start the engine without coolant in an environment where temperatures are low, then it is guaranteed that it will be able to drive no more than 500-1500 meters without consequences. 

Liquid-cooled motors must not be operated with a faulty cooling system, even in winter. A car with this problem can only drive a minimum distance. It is better to use the services of a tow truck.

Temporary solution

The easiest way to fix the problem if you are in a desperate situation is to add ordinary water into the radiator. Do not be afraid that water will harm the engine. This is possible only with the systematic use of the liquid.

When the leak is too intense, then it is worth plugging the radiator pipes. After that, you will need to turn on the car heater the maximum to eliminate some of the heat and drive no more than 60-90 km/h or 37-55 miles per hour. 

Overheating will be minimal, but it is worth keeping an eye on the temperature sensor. If 110 degrees Celsius or 230°F are exceeded, the car must be stopped.

How long do cars work without oil and coolant? Experiment

In 2020, the gentlemen from carwow conducted an experiment, where they tested a Honda, a Peugeot, and a Ford to see which lasted more having their engines completely liquid-free.

The first car to die was the Ford, whose engine ran without problems for about 14 seconds before it started making extraneous sounds. By the 20th second, the engine died.

The French model ran without oil and coolant for 47 seconds until the engine fail completely.

But most of all, the Honda engine was a surprise It worked for 2 minutes, then stalled, and then started working again, maintaining the speed at 4000 RPM. The engine refused to die.

The testers decided to speed up the load, and one of the guys got behind the wheel. Engine RPM was raised in the red zone. The Honda engine died in 6 minutes and 22 seconds. Al I have to say is: “Great work, Honda team!”

Conclusion

Although the experiment was made without coolant and oil, it did not give a correct answer to our question. Maybe the engine will last more with oil and without coolant.

The best way to know is to make another experiment, but this time with oil inside, and taking into account the aspects I have listed below, engine operation, its design, its condition, and also the ambient temperature for an exact answer.

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