As the mercury rises, your car’s cooling system must work overtime to keep operating temperatures in check ensuring you’re not stranded on the side of the road. Fortunately, cars today have incredibly robust components that are more than capable of guaranteeing proper operating temperatures. But as with anything mechanical, failure is always a possibility no matter how well built it may be. Having at least a passing understanding of how your car’s cooling system works will help prepare you should you see your temps inching towards the red.
Understanding Your Car’s Cooling System in Downriver Michigan
Nearly every car on the road today uses liquid coolant (typically antifreeze) to absorb heat and exchange it with cooler air on the outside of the vehicle. Throughout your engine is an intricate network of channels and passageways through which coolant flows, wicking away heat as it travels towards the radiator. The radiator sits at the front of the vehicle and can usually be seen peeking through the front grille. Hot coolant flows through the radiator, which reduces its temperature by allowing it to shed built-up heat as it passes through the radiator’s large surface area. Because the radiator is generally situated behind the front bumper, cool air can pass through it and aid in lowering the temperatures of the coolant before the vehicle’s water pump returns it to the engine and the process repeats.
What could possibly go wrong?
Cooling systems consist primarily of the radiator, water pump, hoses, and coolant. Because they are conceptually straightforward, it may seem that there are few opportunities for disaster to strike. Truth is, the cooling system is generally maintenance-free. But that doesn’t mean parts can’t fail and cause overheating.
Let’s take a look at a few common causes:
- Radiator Fan – The radiator fan is affixed to the front of the radiator and is intended to keep air passing over it when the car is at a standstill. You’ve probably heard it turn on and off periodically as you sit idle or inch through traffic. It’s not uncommon for road debris to become entangled in the fan, or for the fan to fail outright. Should the fan fail, the engine temperature will increase steadily before ultimately reaching dangerous levels. If possible, begin traveling at a normal speed to generate airflow over the radiator which should reduce temperatures, and get to a service station as soon as you can. If this is not possible, pull to the side of the road and call for assistance before risking catastrophic damage to the engine.
- Hoses – If you’ve ever looked under the hood of your car, you’ve probably seen a network of hoses undulating throughout the engine bay. Many of these are responsible for carrying coolant to vital engine components. Over time, they may crack and leak as they age. Unsurprisingly, this reduces the effectiveness of the cooling system and can lead to temperature spikes. Fortunately, replacing a hose isn’t terribly expensive.
- Turn up the heat – Counterintuitive as it may seem, turning up the heat inside the car can reduce engine temperatures should they start to creep too high. The heat blown into the cabin to keep you warm on a chilly day is simply a surplus of engine heat. When you turn on the heat, some of the car’s hot coolant is routed through the heater core (it looks like a mini radiator) causing it to heat up, and a fan then blows the hot air from the heater core into the cabin. While this keeps you warm, it also helps the car’s cooling system by providing it with another avenue to shed heat. Therefore, turning on the heat if you see temperatures getting too high will help the cooling system and can often have a significant effect on keeping temps in the safe zone. Obviously, this can be uncomfortable on a hot day but may be the difference between calling roadside assistance and arriving safely at your destination.
- Coolant Levels – Low coolant levels can cause an increase in engine temperature. Checking and adding coolant isn’t terribly difficult, although the risk of burning yourself is substantial if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing; it’s best to call for assistance if you’ve any doubt. That said, if you want to check your coolant, first allow the car to cool for about 20 minutes. Place a towel or rag over the radiator cap and turn slowly while pressing down. Coolant should be at the top of the radiator near the opening. If not, add more coolant until at the proper level. While you’re under the hood, check the white coolant overflow box and add some coolant if the levels are below the line. Most vehicles use a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze, but in a pinch, you can just add room-temperature water. While adding coolant may lower the temperatures, it’s best to bring your car to a qualified mechanic to ensure there aren’t any additional underlying problems.
The Importance of Routine Maintenance
Sometimes a faulty cooling system may be a symptom of a more complex problem. A crack in the engine block or a worn or blown gasket can allow coolant to escape and drastically effect engine temperatures. Correcting these issues requires a substantial mechanical skill. Furthermore, the water pump – responsible for keeping coolant flowing – is often powered by a car’s timing belt, or sometimes the serpentine belt. Both belts are critical to the function of the car, and what may appear as a cooling system issue may, in fact, underscore a significant problem brewing below the hood.
Keeping up with routine maintenance in accordance with your car’s scheduled intervals will drastically reduce if not outright eliminate the possibility of vital system failure. If your car is overheating, the ASE certified technicians at Good Care Auto specialize in helping your car keep its cool. Using the latest equipment and clean, modern service bays we can keep costs down and you on the road. Call Good Care Auto today at (734) 285-1188 and let us help your car stay cool this summer!