Type B Electrolysis

Fighting Internal Voltage



Type B Electrolysis

"When the antifreeze/coolant wears out, it acts like the acid in a battery, allowing dissimilar metals to react, and create a voltage."

According to the dictionary, electrolysis is:

    1) Chemical change, especially decomposition, that is produced in an electrolyte by an electric current.1  

    2)  An electrochemical process by which electrical energy is used to promote chemical reactions that occur at electrodes.2

  Type B electrolysis is similar to the dynamic of a battery. The coolant acts like a catalyst and allows and encourages ion movement, just like the electrolyte in a battery. The "electrodes" defined at the top of the page, are the aluminum components in the cooling system (like the lead plates in a battery). The "electrochemical process" mentioned is the aluminum particle (ion) movement, such that leaks (thinning of wall surface) occur. When enough ions have moved, this results in a failure (leak) typically  in the radiator or heater due to the thickness (read thinness) of the tube wall surface. A thicker
surface (like an aluminum casting) is not more resistant to electrolysis, but is not as likely to leak because it is thicker. However these thicker surfaces may leak anyway if the electrolysis occurs at a gasket surface.3 Generally you won't know you have an electrolysis problem unless you have (a series of) unexplained leaks. Electrolysis will manifest itself with unexplained coolant leaks in thin walled aluminum components, typically the heater or radiator, whichever may be more "electrically attractive" to the ion movement.

  When the coolant gets acidic will it act like an electrolyte, and set  the stage is set for electrolysis to occur, and the destruction of thin aluminum components to begin. So how does coolant get acidic? Up until the mid '90's, the recommended service interval for coolant was 24 months. When changed at this interval, the coolant was removed before it was "spent". It still had good color and was still protecting the metals with corrosion inhibitors. When changed, all the old coolant mix was purged, along with any small amounts of acidic build up. As a result, Type B electrolysis in the early 90's was extremely rare. Beginning in 1996, with GM's introduction of Dex-cool, the recommended service interval of coolant grew to 5 years. GM wasn't the only automaker to use longer life coolants.  New developments in coolant chemistry and a changing maintenance strategy has fueled these advances that are tested in laboratory conditions and on vehicle fleets. Unfortunately the successes in the laboratory have not always directly translated to a success in the field. It is not surprising that electrolysis is now a major under hood problem.4 Another factor is the increasingly tighter environmental restrictions on flushing and disposal of automotive flush water.

 How do we get rid of electrolysis? Since Type B  electrolysis is a chemical problem as mentioned above, the answer to ridding ourselves of this problem will be to neutralize the acid. In addition we need to remove the spent antifreeze, remove any metal particles in the deep reaches of the engine block, and "scrub" the internal surfaces of the block. Sound like a flush to me. But not just any flush. We need to REALLY flush this thing out. Flushing options include chemical flush, mechanical flush, or a "freeway flush". Chemical flushing involves adding The Flusher to our vehicle and running the engine for 1-3 hours. Driving at freeway speed is highly recommended. Once we have completed that cycle, draining and refilling with water 2-3 times generally will provide decent results. The next step is to add fresh coolant and The Arrestor. The final addition is to install The Anode to our system. If the cooling system has trouble getting clean, The Coolant Filter can be an important tool to pull out particulates. Mechanical flushing involves a machine that continually circulates a chemical solution through the engine and hoses and heater. We first pull the thermostat out, connect our flush machine5 and let it run. Sometimes we flush for as long as 36 hours. Once the flushing and rinsing is complete, new antifreeze, The Arrestor, and fresh water (50/50 mix) is installed with a new thermostat. Finally The Anode is installed. Generally distilled water is not used, as it tends to be "hungry water" looking for ions, creating more problems that it solves.  For access to these electrolysis products, click here.


Summary: I suggest a three prong approach. 1) Treat the problem in place (The Flush). 2) Distract your adversary (The Anode). 3) Chemically suppress any "bounce back" (The Arrestor). It's as easy as One-Two-Three.


Or, you could just replace the engine for a few thousand dollars.....


For in an in depth article on flushing cooling systems, and in particular electrolysis flushing, click here.

1 The American HeritageĀ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition  3 Remember the Intake Manifolds on late '70's Cad Seville?  4 Speaking for our experience at San Carlos Radiator. 5 Proprietary process.