Let’s say you are driving down I-440 at about 50 miles per hour on a four-cylinder Honda; at this speed, the engine is firing up thousands of explosions each minute as the spark plugs ignite fuel sprayed by the injectors. If not for the cooling system, your car will reach critical temperatures that could crack the engine block or even obliterate the cylinder head. It would only take less than a mile for the engine to completely stop operating should the cooling system fail.
Assuming that your cooling system is operating optimally, cruising at 50 mph or faster will cause the temperature gauge to register a normal reading with the needle at the halfway point. When you start the engine, it will only take about a minute to reach the aforementioned normal operating temperature; this is why it is recommended that you let it idle before going on the road. Once more fuel ignites, the temperature gauge will settle near the center, and you will not feel the heat because the chassis is insulated.
When the Engine Temperature Rises
There will be times when you notice the temperature gauge going past the center and towards the “H” zone, which is often depicted with an orange or red stripe. Stop-and-go city driving in the middle of hot North Carolina summer will cause engine temperature to rise, and the same can be said about running the air conditioner, towing or transporting heavy loads. Some cars are not equipped with temperature gauges; they may have dashboard lights connected to sensors that will flash blue when the temperature is low or red in case of overheating.
How Cooling Systems Work
The temperatures of modern internal combustion engines are controlled by means of air and coolant. The components of the cooling system include a radiator, electric fans, air intake ports, fluid reservoir tank, pressure cap, water pump, heater system for winter days, belts, thermostat, gaskets, and various lines and hoses to promote circulation. When the engine operates, the mixture of water and antifreeze is pushed into circulation by the water pump; this liquid will eventually heat up, which is why it is routed to the radiator tubes where it will be cooled by the air stream generated by the fans or absorbed from the intake points.
The thermostat and other temperature sensors will control the temperature and pressure of the coolant. As long as all the components are in good condition, circulation will keep the engine at optimal temperatures. If any of these components fail, boiling temperatures may interfere with engine operation.
Known Cooling Systems Issues and Maintenance
Overheating is a problem that drivers must avoid at all costs. Whenever the temperature gauge crosses over to the right, when a warning light comes on, or when steam appears from underneath the hood, the best course of action is to stop driving. Engines will stand one or two overheating situations, but serious damage will occur if the problem continues.
Here are some of the cooling system issues that may result in overheating:
* Low coolant levels caused by neglect, evaporation, or leaks.
* Broken thermostat or fried temperature sensors.
* Fans have stopped working.
* Faulty radiator cap.
* Obstructed water hoses.
* Worn head gasket.
* Broken water pump or faulty belt.
Cooling systems are not monolithic; it is rare to see all components failing at once unless the car has experienced extreme overheating too many times. Repairs may be as simple as replacing the radiator cap, flushing the radiator to clear obstructions, changing the lines and hoses, or replacing the thermostat. Even replacing major components such as the radiator, water pump and fans can be completed in a day and may not cost as much as you expect. If you have questions about your car’s cooling system, be sure get in touch with our technicians.