January 16, 2011

Car Talk

Can malt liquor be used as a coolant in an emergency?

Syndicated columnists

Dear Tom and Ray:

Last summer, I was commuting home from work on the highway, and my 1998 Nissan Maxima started to overheat. The temperature outside was 90+. The engine started heaving, so I had to pull off the interstate and sit for a while, waiting for the engine to cool. Incredibly, right next to where I stopped, I found a 40-ounce bottle of Schlitz Malt Liquor, unopened. My inclination was to pour the beer into the radiator; however, my 19-year-old son advised against it, thinking it might damage the cooling system. Seeking a second opinion, I called my 24-year-old son, who also thought I was crazy. I took their advice and waited for a tow truck, but I think it would have been OK to use. What do you think?
-- Bob

Ray: I think it would have been OK in a dire emergency, Bob. If you had been stuck in Death Valley, with the sun beating down on you and the coyotes circling, sure. Then you pour it in and hope for the best.

Tom: It's mostly water. It's got a little bit of alcohol in it, which used to be used as antifreeze. The carbonation isn't really a problem, because under pressure in the cooling system, that would flatten out. But the hops and barley and molasses and day-old soup, or whatever else they put in there, probably won't do your cooling system any good. And it would have to be drained out once you got back to civilization.

Ray: Plus, when the engine's overheating, you can't even remove the radiator cap until it cools down. In your circumstances, that would have taken at least an hour. The hot coolant is under such high pressure that if you were to remove the cap too soon, it would spray all over the place, scald your face and make you look like my brother.

Tom: And if you're going to have to sit there for an hour anyway, you might as well drink the Schlitz, wait for the tow truck to bring you some real coolant, and save the cost of having to flush out your coolant and replace it the next day.

Ray: And by the way, Bob, I hope you realize how rare it is that "19- and 24-year-old boys," "40-ounce malt liquor" and "wise decision" end up in the same sentence.

(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)

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