You’re driving down the road and suddenly the temperature gauge needle begins edging perilously close to the red zone. Immediately, you pull off the road, turn off the vehicle and lift the hood. Steam is billowing everywhere, but you understand that uncapping the radiator can burn you, so you wait for the vehicle to cool down before deciding what to do next. The majority of summer breakdowns are due to one thing — overheating. You can avoid this problem in the first place by checking off the following cooling system tasks before embarking on your next summer trip.
Keeping It Cool
Comprising many parts, your car’s cooling system includes a radiator, fan, water pump, thermostat, cooling jackets and a heater core. Multiple hoses connect various parts and send coolant through passages in the engine block and head. These hoses also pick up heat and disburse it through the radiator. This circulation process continues as long as the car is running and the cooling system is working.
To keep the system running, you should identify potential problems before they occur by performing these five cooling-system safety checks:
1. Check Coolant Levels
If you don’t have enough coolant, your car is prone to overheating. Always replenish as needed. If your owner’s manual indicates that it’s time to flush the system, then do so. Contaminants like rust or corrosion in the coolant reservoir are strong indicators that a flush is needed at once.
2. Inspect All Hoses
You may have sufficient coolant, but corroded or leaking hoses can lead to a breakdown. Consequently, dry or cracked heater hoses and loose clamps or connections may cause coolant leakage. If you see a bright green puddle or stream underneath your car that is slippery to the touch, then you have a coolant leak. To remedy this, replace hoses and tighten clamps as needed.
3. Examine the Fan
If the vehicle’s air conditioning output seems weak or the temperature gauge never reads cool, then locate the mechanical fan clutch and rotate it by hand while the engine is cold. If the fan spins more than five times, the clutch is bad, according to Popular Mechanics. Other telltale signs of fan clutch damage are silicon fluid leaking from the bearing seal and a broken or weakened thermostatic spring. If any of these problems are present, then replace the fan clutch. Inspect the fan belt, too, and replace it if it’s worn.
4. Check Oil Levels
Motor oil serves as a lubricant by keeping metal surfaces in the engine from grating together and tearing apart. Oil also transfers heat away from the combustion cycle. Though not directly part of the system that cools your vehicle, engine oil is integral to keeping your car running. Top off the oil when it’s low and change it and the oil filter at the interval indicated by the owner’s manual.
5. Consider Potential Contributing Problems
While not usually parts of a cooling check, two components to keep an eye on when problems do occur are the water pump and the thermostat. When not working properly, either part can affect the system and lead to a breakdown.
An overheated car is no small matter. If not addressed properly, overheating can warp the cylinder head, contribute to head gasket failure or seize the engine. In other words, you could be looking at extensive repairs or a complete engine replacement. Play it safe this summer and make sure your cooling system is healthy before you hit the road.
For more information on your car’s cooling system, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.