One of an engine’s biggest threats to its health is excessive heat, which is why vehicles are equipped with advanced engine cooling systems, why drivers need to regularly check and maintain proper coolant levels in their vehicle, and why there’s a temperature gauge in vehicles’ dash clusters. Although most drivers don’t regularly think about their vehicle’s cooling system, it’s important you have a basic understanding of what it does and how to keep it in top-notch shape.
Cooling System Crash Course
Now, time for a real quick and dirty crash course in vehicle cooling systems. Keeping things really simple, vehicle cooling systems rely on pressure and the use of coolant to evenly distribute heat throughout your engine and keep things at an optimal temperature. Although excessive heat can cause severe damage to an engine and its internal parts, operating in too cold of conditions can cause a fairly significant reduction in an engine’s efficiency. Coolant is designed to maintain an optimal temperature for the engine’s performance, and as the engine works and heats up, coolant flows through it in a cycle, absorbing heat from the hottest areas and dissipating it into the cooler areas of the engine. The water pump is what is used to push the coolant through this system and keep everything flowing.
Because the vehicle system is under pressure, it has a higher boiling point than normal, allowing the engine to get hot enough to perform at its best, but not too hot so as to cause damage. The thermostat works based on a pressure system, and as the coolant in the engine heats up and approaches its higher boiling point, pressure builds and the thermostat triggers and opens, allowing for extremely hot coolant to flow through and into the radiator. In the radiator, hot coolant moves up through channels surrounded by pleated airways that cool the coolant back to optimal temperature before it returns to the engine. As this is happening, once the engine has generated enough heat to trip the sensor, the vehicle’s fan will kick on to move ambient air through the engine cavity to further cool the engine block and prevent overheating.
Quick Maintenance Tips
With a basic understanding of how a vehicle’s cooling system works, it’s much easier to properly maintain it and avoid a costly overheated engine. In fact, so long as all the parts are working as designed, maintaining a vehicle’s cooling system is a fairly simple and hands-off process.
First things first, there are some common myths about vehicle cooling systems that should be avoided at all costs, as they can actually harm the cooling system and potentially damage the engine. For example, some people hear that, by removing the thermostat, a car can totally prevent engine overheating. With simple knowledge of how a cooling system works, it’s clear this is untrue, since without a thermostat hot coolant won’t be able to access the radiator to cool down, and the hot coolant will continue to cycle through the engine and heat up more.
Another common myth is that water is better than coolant in terms of temperature regulation. While water may be great in terms of heat conduction, it’s also a major source of internal corrosion in an engine. This is why fluid manufacturers suggest a 50/50 mix of coolant and water; The added water will help with heat conduction, however it won’t corrode the engine too much because of additives in the coolant which protect the engine.
Knowing the myths to avoid in terms of cooling system maintenance is half the battle; Aside from knowing which mistakes to avoid making, much of maintaining a cooling system boils down (pun intended) to simply regularly checking all the parts. As coolant works its way through the engine and does its job, it picks up dirt and other contaminants that find their way into the engine. This lowers the efficiency of the coolant, thus allowing for the engine to potentially fluctuate out of the desired temperature range. To avoid this, simply be sure to check coolant whenever you’re taking care of other routine maintenance items, such as when you get an oil change. If the coolant looks dirty or cloudy, it’s probably time to flush the system and replace it. Make sure if you’re replacing the coolant yourself, you do so when the engine is cold and fill to a bit below your desired fill level; Coolant expands when it heats up, and you don’t want to overfill it.
What if There is an Issue?
If you ever find your car is heating up excessively while driving, it’s best to stop driving immediately before things potentially get worse. If your car is still running, although just a bit hotter than normal, and you can get home, safely do so and put the car in park. Looking under the vehicle and under the hood, check for any coolant leaks or blockages. You’ll be able to see a leak by the presence of neon green fluid, or a blockage by the sound; Since the cooling system is pressurized, a blockage is usually audible and sounds somewhat like a hot tea kettle about to whistle. You may even smell the blockage if it’s somewhere in or around the radiator – the coolant would have a somewhat sulfurous smell.
If a leak or blockage isn’t the culprit, the issue could be a bad fan or sensor. With the vehicle parked and running, if the fan doesn’t kick in and start cooling the engine after it’s heated up around halfway, it may be time to replace the fan sensor. If that doesn’t fix the problem, move on to replacing the thermostat and test the engine again while idling. If a new thermostat and fan/sensor don’t solve the issue, move on to replacing the water pump and/or the radiator. By systematically going through the cooling system, an overheating problem can often be solved with a replacement part usually costing less than $50, while allowing the problem to persist can quickly escalate the problem into a couple hundred or even thousands of dollars to rebuild or replace an engine. Remember to allow the engine to fully cool before trying to remove or replace any of these parts so as to avoid serious burns or injury, and if the problem persists be sure to call a professional mechanic before things get worse.
Overall, although it’s a vital component to a healthy engine, a vehicle cooling system is a somewhat simple system made up of parts that can be easily and affordably maintained and replaced. With a little knowledge of how the cooling system works and regular checkups on it, your cooling system can keep your engine running for years to come and can help prevent costly overheating. If you’re looking to upgrade or fix up your vehicle cooling system, stop by Holbrook Auto Parts for affordable prices on high-quality new thermostats, radiators, coolant, sensors and more!
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