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Learn More About the Parts of Your Engine Cooling System

by Client

Components that help you beat the summer heat

Advancement of technology has touched every system of the automobile, but none as little as the cooling system. While some aspects have evolved, the basic principle behind the engine cooling system remains pretty much the same as it was when it was introduced more than 100 years ago: a heat transfer device comprised of a system of hoses and a radiator to transfer the heat from the engine’s coolant to the air.

For the purposes of this article, Client will be discussing the traditional liquid cooling system found on the overwhelming majority of vehicles on the road. Other cooling systems do exist, however, including the air-cooled system (think of the Volkswagen Beetle of yesteryear) and oil-and-air cooling (think of some older Porsche models).

How Liquid Cooling Systems Work

Before we get into how liquid cooling systems are made and designed, let’s delve a little deeper into the principles under which they work. Essentially, a mixture of coolant and water, known as anti-freeze, circulates in a closed-loop system, bringing heat away from the engine and transferring it into the air and passenger compartment to keep the engine at its optimal temperature (this varies depending on your vehicle, but it usually falls around 200 degrees Fahrenheit).

Parts of the Cooling System

As for the parts, there is a water pump at the front of the car that is driven by the engine to keep the coolant circulating through the radiator, the car, and the heater core, which is a miniature radiator residing inside your dashboard. When you start a cold engine, the thermostat (which regulates how much of the coolant goes to the radiator from the engine) restricts coolant from going to the radiator and sends it instead to the heater core. This is what provides heat to the inside of your car. As your car warms up, hotter coolant goes to the radiator to provide engine cooling.

These components, connected by a series of rubber hoses and tubes, are your cooling system. While cooling systems haven’t changed much in principle, the materials and techniques that have led to their construction have.

Gone are the days of annual coolant changes (in most vehicles) and green or brown sludge in radiators. New coolant technology has given birth to long-life anti-freezes of various colors (red, orange, yellow) that can last several years and over 100,000 miles before requiring replacement. That being said, while these greatly save drivers cost and convenience, cooling systems cannot be simply forgotten altogether.

How To Take Care of Your Cooling System

Many of the chemicals in coolants, such as water-pump lubricants and anticorrosive additives, are self-sacrificial, meaning that they are designed to wear out or deplete over time in order to protect components in the system. Because of this, it is important to stick to the replacement intervals recommended in your owner’s manual, except in situations where oil may have entered the system, such as a head-gasket failure. In this case, your coolant system will need to be flushed and the coolant renewed after the mechanical problem has been rectified. When changing fluids, be sure to use the types suggested in your vehicle manual—this is very important, as not all fluids are compatible with every system.

A preemptive approach to automotive care is usually the most prudent and cost-effective for your coolant system, so be sure to service your car regularly.