Electrolysis 101

Welcome to Vehicle Enhancement Labs information page that will describe what electrolysis is and why it is such a problem in the automotive cooling system and how important preventive maintenance is for your vehicle.  This will help you understand electrolysis and its affects to automobiles.  Electrolysis is a destructive force that packs enormous potential to damage not just cooling system components but to any other aluminum engine parts that has contact with the coolant.

The main reason for today’s vehicles having so many cooling system failures is that the engine and cooling system are made up of dissimilar metals like iron, steel, aluminum, copper, brass and even plastic. The aluminum is the softer metal and most cooling system components are manufactured from it. Because it is the softest (and extremely conductive) metal in the system it is the most vulnerable and prone to failure due to electrolysis, erosion and corrosion.

The three major reasons for cooling systems failure

I. Chemical electrolysis:

This is what happens in a cooling system when a chemical imbalance occurs and it becomes acidic. Because of all the dissimilar metals found in a typical cooling system it can actually create its own electrical energy within the cooling system and acts just like a car’s battery.

Shows a cooling system holding a charge of 0.40v

Caused by several things:
  • Lack of maintenance from not changing the antifreeze on a regular basis
  • Chemical imbalance is caused by:
    1. Not using distilled water.
    2. Not having at lease a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water (pre-mixed is best).
    3. Recycled antifreeze that has not been brought back to OEM standards.
    4. A coolant flush machine that rarely does a proper job of flushing all of the old coolant out or just filters the existing coolant and adds an additive package to it.  There’s no telling what you’ll end up with as most coolant flush machines do an inferior job. Using inexpensive antifreeze that is not a name brand or that does not meet OEM specifications.
    5. Using coolant flush chemicals that are acid based.

To test for Chemical electrolysis please see: “How to test a cooling system for chemical electrolysis” for further explanation and videos in this website for proper testing procedures.

To solve this chemical electrolysis problem:

The cooling system must be thoroughly flushed using Interject Coolant Flusher, which is not acid based, to clean and neutralize the system. It should then be refilled with a 50/50 mixture of new antifreeze and distilled water. Then add the cooling system additive Interject Electrolysis Arrester to neutralize and protect the coolant from chemical electrolysis in the future. Another benefit is it cleans the cooling system and removes and redirects contaminants into the coolant bottle. We import this product from Australia and it is the best and most effective on the market.

To reverse flush a cooling system please see:

“How to properly reverse flush a cooling system”

for further explanation and videos in this website for proper procedures.

II. Stray voltage electrolysis:

Today’s vehicles have more electrical components/systems and computers, which causes higher demands on the electrical charging system and higher amperage output from the alternator.  Cooling systems are more susceptible to electrolysis problems than ever before. Since the coolant conducts electricity the stray voltage will travel through the coolant to find a ground. Again, because aluminum is the softest metal in the system it is the most vulnerable and is most prone to failure.

Is caused by several things:
  • Bad grounds (loose, corroded, broken wire)
  • Alternator over charging
  • Static electric energy looking for a ground
  • Accessories not installed properly (stereo, power amps, horn, lights, air bags, gauges, DVD player, two-way radio, back-up alarm, etc.)
  • Electrical fields

To test for stray voltage electrolysis please see: “How to test a cooling system for stray voltage electrolysis” for further explanation and videos in this website for proper testing procedures.

To solve this stray voltage problem:

You must determine if your cooling system is suffering from stray electrolysis, static electrolysis or overcharging. You can check it by using a digital volt meter. If stray or static voltage is found it must be corrected and Ve-Labs has several products that will eliminate this.

Rad Cap is a patented, scientifically tested radiator cap with a magnesium sacrificial anode attached to the bottom of the radiator cap that hangs down into the coolant. The anode is designed to attract and absorb the electrical energy that causes electrolysis and the magnesium is consumed instead of the aluminum components in the cooling system, thereby reducing repair and maintenance costs.

Voltage Sponge is an electronic method of intelligently absorbing and removing the electrical energy and works similar to the anode used on the Rad Cap.  Voltage Sponge is a simple 2 wire installation that targets the component needing protection, such as attaching to the radiator or heater core without grounding.  This continuously works even when the engine is not running and requires no maintenance.  Added benefits include eliminating static shock and static electric energy which can cause drivability problems associated with voltage signals sent from sensors to computers.

Smart Ground Wire only allows voltage producing electrolysis to flow in one direction, out of the cooling system to a ground. Improper grounding of cooling system components provides a pathway for returning or stray voltage to enter back into your cooling system and possibly making your electrolysis problems even worse.

Both the Voltage Sponge and Smart Ground Wire work best with the Rad Cap.

III. Erosion corrosion:

Is caused by:

When the antifreeze turns bad or electrolysis occurs it leeches off very small particles of metals, rust and aluminum oxide into the coolant.  Tests show these particles are like having liquid sandpaper flowing through your cooling system which in turn erodes the aluminum components even more.

To solve this erosion corrosion problem:

How we get rid of this is the same flushing procedures we talked about earlier, however these particles can be so microscopic they can be very hard to flush out.

To reverse flush a cooling system please see: “How to properly reverse flush a cooling system” for further explanation and videos in this website for proper procedures.

Coolant Filter and Inspection System installs easily into your heater core inlet hose.  As the coolant flows through this filter it removes the microscopic metal particles and it also has a magnet incorporated into it to help attract these particles.  The filter also helps in reducing cooling system surge (surge and normal flow pressure can range from 10 to 50 lbs).  The most vulnerable to surge pressure and contamination are aluminum constructed components such as water pumps, heater cores and radiators which typically fail prematurely due to contamination issues. Clear glass filter housing construction provides viewing of the filter, magnet and coolant condition. This filter is easily cleaned by reverse flushing.

It is very important to follow every one of the steps above and not overlook any one of them.  If you miss one step you still can have the same problems.  In the long run these steps can save you thousands of dollars and prevent you from breaking down on the road.  Also, keep in mind these products are very important for preventive maintenance before you actually have a problem.

Thank you for visiting our lab.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions or problems you have.