Vodka in the antifreeze reservoir? No problem.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

We are both Canada Customs Inspectors at the Windsor-Detroit border crossing. Recently, we examined a 1988 Cadillac Seville in our secondary inspection area. Under the hood of the car, we discovered an undeclared 40 oz. bottle of vodka wrapped in some rags. As a final attempt to evade being caught, the driver quickly removed the radiator cap and, to our surprise, proceeded to empty the bottle of vodka into the radiator. He claimed it was for his cooling system. Aside from having a good laugh and penalizing him for attempting to evade duties and taxes, we were curious to find out what kind of problems, if any, the driver of the vehicle can expect.
Carlo and Ian

TOM: Actually, guys, his car will be fine. In fact, before modern coolants were developed, people used to use wood alcohol in their cooling systems (vodka is actually a grain alcohol, but it's composition is similar). Mixed with water, alcohol lowered the mixture's freezing temperature, and helped keep the engine from freezing during the winter.

RAY: The problem with it was that in the summer, it boiled away very quickly. So it wasn't very good at preventing overheating. In comparison, today's coolants, when mixed 50/50 with water, do a great job at preventing both freezing AND overheating, and can be left in the engine all year round.

TOM: So the Vodka will probably just boil away and no harm will be done.

RAY: By the way, I think we got a letter from that same guy just last week. He said he lost a 40 oz. bottle of vodka at the Canadian border, but he sneaked in 500 cuban cigars in his spare tire well!

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