Cooling, coolants and radiator caps

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Summer is definitely in full swing… The heat can definitely be felt and traffic in the metro isn’t getting any better. Getting stuck in traffic and the summer heat isn’t a good combination for our beloved automobiles. The fact that your car stays idle, surrounded by other cars, limits much needed cool air to cool the radiator and the air-conditioning condenser. Yes, you could add more cooling fans but if your source of air is also limited, cooling efficiency declines. Add to that the fact the sun is starting cook the surface of your car, and your cooling system is really working overtime. Another concern is if your car has an automatic transmission – the fluid in your transmission will also be affected.

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I have seen cars less than five years old parked on the side of the road or at the gas station with their hoods up. You could see the owner or the station attendant pouring water into the radiator trying to cool things down.

To avoid such things from happening, here are a few simple tips to remember: First and foremost, learn how to look under the hood of your car. Just because you have a brand new car does not mean you don’t have to bother checking under the hood. If you read your owner’s manual, which I’m sure a lot don’t even bother to read, it shows you some things to look after. Don’t put your faith blindly on the words of the service dealer. Yes, you bring your car in for servicing and it leaves with a guarantee that what the dealer did was needed to be done – but the dealer has no idea what happens to the car the minute you turn it at the corner. A dealer can only do so much…

A simple thing you can do to help prevent cooling problems from happening is to change your radiator cap. I may sound like a broken record but this little part is most often overlooked. I have done a couple of cars with overheating problems and a good number of the overheating was just caused by a defective radiator cap. A sign of a radiator cap going bad is if the engine has cooled down and the reserve tank (expansion tank, overflow catch tank) is always empty. That may be a sign that the coolant from the radiator is not returning. As the coolant removes heat from the engine, it also expands. As the coolant expands at some point, the volume of coolant inside the cooling system increases. The hot coolant has nowhere to go. This will generate enough pressure to rupture hoses or the radiator itself. So the radiator cap allows the hot, expanded coolant to leave the radiator and let it flow into the reservoir tank. As the coolant cools, its volume decreases. When this happens, there is less coolant in the system and a vacuum is created because of this. The presence of a vacuum can cause the structure of the radiator to implode. To prevent this, the radiator cap will allow the coolant to return to the cooling system to prevent a vacuum from forming. It also allows the proper amount of coolant to flow into the system. So if your radiator cap is faulty, it won’t allow the coolant to return. Limited coolant equals insufficient capacity to remove heat from the engine.

Ever experienced overheating problems but you can’t find any leaks? Try changing the radiator cap. Only use “original” parts. The replacement parts do not work properly. If you can change the radiator cap often, so much the better. I change mine, at the most, every two years. If you can change the coolant along with it, so much the better. Coolants also have a service life. As it gets used, it looses some of its ability to remove heat from the engine. Using just water is fine. But even if you use distilled water, it still has a tendency to develop corrosion in the cooling system. Cycle it long enough will cause the remaining minerals suspended in the water to separate, causing sediments to form in the cooling system. Ever wonder why whenever you check the water passage ways of a used engine, there is sediment build up making the hole diameter smaller? Coolant also lubricates the water pump and it flows through the system better than just plain water. Remember, running water can also create friction. Water is still made up of particles that are not as compact as a solid object or as dispersed as a gas. These particles hit the surfaces of the cooling system at fast rate because the water pump is circulating the coolant around the system. At some point, the surface being in contact with will wear down. The properties of the coolant prevents this from happening.

Now a question that many have been asking… when should one change a radiator? We will get to that next time.

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