Kate on Cars July 2012
Keep your engine Cool and Happy this summer
In my last article, we discussed air-conditioning – which keeps you cool. This month, we'll talk about your vehicle's cooling system – which keeps your engine cool.
In the heat of summer, it's ever more crucial to make sure your vehicle's cooling system is in tip-top shape. The cooling system's primary function is to keep the engine at the best temperature for operating well, which results in lowered fuel consumption and reduced emissions. A simple coolant leak can potentially lead to an expensive engine repair.
Coolant is the lifeblood of the system. Using the correct coolant is crucial to cooling system and engine health. Topping off with water can cause over-diluted coolant, so don't do this unless you are stranded in the desert miles from the nearest phone and have no other choice. Use only the coolant your engine is designed to operate with and don't mix coolants. The green stuff doesn't work in all engines anymore. Coolant comes in many types and colors depending on the year, make and model of your car, including green, orange, red, pink, purple, and blue.
The water pump is usually driven by a belt, and pushes coolant through the engine, through the open thermostat and to the radiator. Then the cycle repeats again. Some symptoms of a faulty water pump are a squeaking or chirping noise with the engine running, and/or coolant leaking from the engine. A faulty water pump can cause engine overheating.
The thermostat controls coolant flow. When the engine is cold, the thermostat should be closed to help the engine heat up. When the engine heats up, the thermostat opens to let coolant flow to the radiator. A faulty thermostat can cause engine overheating.
Coolant generally flows from the thermostat area to the radiator. The radiator has many little metal fins that stick out of it and help dissipate heat. It is mounted at the front of the vehicle, since this is the coolest place and has a good natural flow of air when the vehicle is moving. Radiators fail by getting plugged or by leaking, and by just getting aged or rusty. A faulty radiator can cause engine overheating. Are you noticing a trend?
When the engine gets too hot for the radiator alone to handle, the cooling fans come one. Switches and a module (computer) tell the fans when to come on. The fans help push air through the radiator to cool the engine off. Listen for the fans when idling on hot days, and when you turn the a/c on – you'll be able to hear them. A fault in the fan system can cause – you guessed it – engine overheating.
It's important to check the coolant level in your car regularly. A sweet smell when your engine is warm is one indicator of a coolant leak. If the coolant gets low, there's a leak somewhere that needs to be fixed. Just topping it off and ignoring this fact can lead to expensive problems. It can also cause pollution by leaking into our sewer system and then the Laguna. If your coolant level is low, schedule an appointment with your repair shop. The technician can perform a cooling system pressure test to help locate the source of the leak.
How do you know if your engine is overheating? Monitor your car's temperature gauge in the dash. Most engines will reach operating temperature within 10 minutes of starting, at which point the gauge will usually read about half way up. If the gauge reads higher than that, it could indicate a problem.
Whatever happens, try to not let the temperature gauge needle go into the red or else engine damage will likely occur. Turn your heater on full blast to remove as much heat as possible from the engine, pull over, and turn the engine off as needed. Don't keep driving an overheating engine, or the result will be expensive. Call a tow-truck, and get a tow to your repair shop.
An ounce of preventative maintenance can save tons of money and aggravation. Have your cooling system checked regularly. If you notice any of the above symptoms, have it checked out immediately by a reputable repair shop.