To prolong the life and efficiency of your engine, it is imperative that you maintain your vehicle’s cooling system.
The sole purpose of the cooling system is to remove heat from the engine. It dispels heat from the engine into the air to prevent your car from overheating. As your engine burns gasoline, what isn’t used as mechanical energy to run your car is converted into heat. While some of that heat is released through the tailpipe, much of it stays in the engine. Your engine would be destroyed without a cooling system in place.
The Key Parts of the Cooling System and Their Purpose
- Radiator- As the primary component of your cooling system, the radiator sits behind the front grill of the car. Hot coolant is passed through a series of fins and tubes that help to dispel heat away from the liquid into the air. It then pumps the coolant back into the engine block when it has reached the proper temperature.
- Radiator Cap- The radiator cap maintains the pressure in the cooling system. If the pressure gets to a point that is higher than the set pressure point, a spring-loaded valve will release the extra pressure.
- Thermostat- It is usually found in the top, front part of the engine in a compartment that is also the connection point for the upper radiator hose. The thermostat is a valve that measures and regulates the flow of the coolant into the engine. It makes sure that the coolant is at its optimum temperature before opening up to allow the coolant to flow to the radiator.
- Water Pump- Usually found on the front of the cylinder block, the water pump is a device that keeps the coolant moving as long as the vehicle’s engine is running.
- Fan- You can find one or two radiator fans mounted to the back of the radiator on the side that is closer to the engine. The purpose of the fans is to keep air circulating through the radiator when you are either stopped with the engine running or driving at a slower pace. If the fans were not in place, the temperature of the engine would rise every time you came to a stop.
- Coolant- Coolant is the liquid that courses through your cooling system. Though coolant comes in many formulas and colors, the most common coolant found in vehicles today is a mixture of 50 percent antifreeze and 50 percent water. Check your owner’s manual for the formula that is recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Many coolants contain anti-corrosion and rust additives to help prevent build-up and cooling system failure.
Repair and Maintenance of the Cooling System
According to the National Automotive Radiator Service Association (NARSA), motorists should have a seven-point preventative cooling system maintenance check every two years. These maintenance checks are there to help identify any areas that may need attention. The seven-point check consists of the following:
- Visual Inspection- During the inspection, the mechanic will look closely at the hoses and belts. They will check the hoses for any signs of cracking or splitting. They will also make sure there is no swelling or bulging at the ends of the hose. If anything looks off, the hose will need to be replaced. On newer vehicles the water pump is driven by a timing belt. The timing belt usually has a set life expectancy that it should be replaced at the end of to be sure that it does not end up failing. Checking the owner’s manual and maintaining accurate repair records will help you and your mechanic make sure this is being done when it should. The timing belt is inside the engine and can take a good amount of work to get to. For this reason, the water pump will be replaced with the belt, as most of the work to remove and replace it has already been done.
- Radiator Pressure Cap Test- This test is a fast way to check that the cap is doing its job. A cap that is functioning properly should be able to hold its rated pressure for up to two minutes. If it is time to replace the cap, make sure that it is replaced with one that was made for your specific vehicle.
- Thermostat Check- This check is designed to check for proper opening and closing of the thermostat, making sure that it regulates the flow of the coolant properly.
- Pressure Test- This test is performed to help locate any possible external leaks of the cooling system parts; including the radiator, engine coolant passages, water pump, heater core, and hoses.
- Internal Leak Test- This test is meant to check for gas leakage into the cooling system. If you notice that the vehicle is losing coolant without any signs of a leak it, it is possible that you have a blown head gasket. This is best diagnosed by a combustion leak test on your radiator. This test is done with a block tester, which is a kit that performs a chemical test on the fumes found in your radiator.
- Engine Fan Test- This test will check the fan(s) for proper operation. You will want to have the fan checked if you notice that the engine temperature rises shortly after the vehicle has come to a stop.
- System Power Flush- You can replace old coolant by draining it out and then refilling it with fresh coolant, but it is recommended that you have the system completely flushed at least every two to three year. (Check your owner’s manual for your vehicle’s specific requirements.) Power flushing the system will remove not only the old coolant, but any scale and sediment that there may be along with it. A special machine is required for power flushing, and it can be found at auto repair shops that offer the service.
Maintaining your cooling system is vital to keeping your car in proper working order. Just as we visit a doctor or a dentist regularly for preventative care, we should take our vehicle’s in for a proper cooling system check to avoid the possibilities of further and costly damage. If you are practicing proper coolant system maintenance protocols, you are sure to get the best use out of your cooling system