What’s the shortest distance between possessing a reliable automobile and a useless heap of steel and rubber? The answer is quite possibly a cooling system failure. Your car or truck’s cooling system is an efficient and effective arrangement of parts and passageways designed to neutralize the inferno created as your vehicle’s internal combustion engine hums away creating the energy that transports you from point A to point B while you move through your day to day routines.
Preventing an “Automotive Emergency” from overheating is pretty simple, and not terribly expensive. A regular inspection of your cooling system will keep you informed of it’s condition and any preventative steps needed to avoid potential disaster. Acting before that hose blows or radiator tank erupts can mean the difference between spending a few hundred dollars, or a couple of thousand dollars to get back on the road.
But first, let me bore you with a few technicalities. Consider the coolant/antifreeze the “star” of the show, and the thermostat, radiator and cap, top and bottom hoses, water pump, and drive belt as supporting actors.
The coolant travels a never ending loop – from the engine block through these supporting players – collecting and transferring heat away from your engine.
There are other cast members – reservoir, cooling fan, heater core, expansion or freeze plugs, sensors, switches, bypasses, and crossovers. A failure at any point along the line allows the pressurized fluid to rush out – stopping the heat transfer and leaving your engine – and YOU – vulnerable to overheating and expensive engine damage.
So what steps can you take to protect yourself and your vehicle?
Regularly inspect the major players:
Coolant level and condition – if it’s low, top it off. Coolant is translucent. These days it comes in an array of colors specific to your make and model of vehicle. If it looks cloudy, or you notice some type of slimy, frothy build up on the cap, or in the reservoir – have it replaced and include a system flush and likely a new thermostat. Coolant doesn’t have much of an odor – unless something’s going wrong. Detecting an acrid, sweet or fishy smell could be an indicator of a steamy leak going unchecked. Never, EVER attempt to remove a radiator cap until the engine has had plenty of time to cool off.
Hoses and Belts They’re making hoses and belts that last much longer than they used to, but they still age and degrade over time. Belts are easier to inspect because you can see both sides, and check for cracks and fraying. Hoses typically look good from the outside, hiding the effects of aging on the inside where all the action happens. At 6 years or 60,000 miles – start making a plan to replace them.
Radiator. This is where the magic of heat transfer actually happens. These days most radiators are made of plastic and aluminum. It’s not uncommon to see them perform without leaking for 10 or more years. In this case, if it ain’t broke – you probably don’t need to fix it. If, however, you’ve got a 100,000 miles on the car and your taking off cross country – it might be smart to err on the side of caution.
Water Pump. The “heart” of the matter gets it’s spin from either an external drive belt or an internal timing belt. Most of the time you’ll replace your water pump because it’s leaking, stopped spinning, or, you’re replacing your timing belt.
Of all the fluid leaks that can occur in our vehicles, cooling system leaks have the greatest potential to escalate from minor to emergency without warning. Simple tasks like checking the coolant (on a COLD engine) and belt condition can be done easily by anyone capable of opening the hood. Other tasks, like pressure testing the systems integrity are better left to professionals. Most importantly anytime – anytime – you find coolant on the ground, even a little, your temperature gauge is moving higher than it typically sits, you smell something weird when you stop, and especially if you see steam coming from under the hood – it’s time for professional help.
Inmon Automotive began as an automotive radiator specialist. If you’re running hot under the hood, or you want to be smart and avoid that experience, we’re here to help.