It’s hot in Death Valley. The average high temperature in July is 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Nearly everyone will agree that the middle of a desert is no place to experience a problem with your car’s cooling system, but neither is a busy downtown intersection. Whether you’re broiling in rush-hour stop-and-go or racking up the interstate highway miles, a cooling system failure will stop you in your tracks, yet most people don’t give any day-to-day thought to the vital components that keep their car’s engine running at the optimal temperature.
Don’t end up stranded on your way to vacation paradise or that important meeting; get your car’s cooling system checked out before you head out. Not only is a failure inconvenient, it could be both dangerous and expensive.
Your car’s engine maintains its operating temperature thanks to a team of components you’ve probably heard of. The radiator, of course, sits at the front of the engine bay and conducts heat from the engine coolant into the air. The water pump is what circulates that coolant through the plumbing, and there are flexible rubber hoses that connect it all up. There are smaller rubber hoses lurking deeper in the engine bay that connect to your car’s heater, as well. To ensure enough airflow through the radiator at low speeds or when stopped, there’s a fan. Fans can be either electric or driven by the engine. Either way, they’re imperative to avoiding boil-overs when you have the air conditioner cranked up and the sun’s beating down.
One of the smallest pieces of the cooling system is one of the most important. It’s called the thermostat, and it is usually located near the engine. The thermostat regulates the flow of coolant throughout the entire system to maintain a consistent operating temperature. It can fail, and when it does, it will no longer provide any control over cooling. While this usually causes weak heater output, it’s not something to postpone fixing until the fall.
Any of these components can spring a leak or wear out from age. Hoses are constantly exposed to the elements and have boiling-hot fluid coursing through them. Amazingly, they last a long time, long enough for most people to forget they’re even there – until they leak or burst. Even a simple blown radiator hose can lead to expensive problems. Overheating your engine can lead to serious, often very costly mechanical problems, and big towing bills, as well.
Coolant fluid has a finite life and should be replaced according to the schedule in your owner’s manual. This ensures the engine has the proper amount of corrosion-prevention additives in its cooling system, which avoids big problems later. Water pumps are usually driven by belts, either the accessory belt or the more critical timing belt. A worn accessory belt is simple to check for; if your water pump is driven by the timing belt, a failure could potentially damage the rest of the engine, so it’s important to have your service professionals help you assess the condition.
The whole cooling system operates under pressure, too. It’s a good idea to make sure the pressure cap can withstand the proper stress. Having your service department pressure-test the cooling system can help find trouble before it gets ugly.
Before you head out on any extended trip, it’s wise to have your car’s cooling system checked. Walking home across town is one thing, but getting stranded in the middle of nowhere at high noon could be much more perilous. Make sure the fans work when they should, the hoses and drive belts are in good shape, and the other components are water-tight. An experienced technician who is familiar with your car will know what to look for.
This article is presented by Perkins Motors in Colorado Springs, Colorado.