Buyer's Guide for Cooling Systems: Temperatures are Rising...

Temps are rising... is your ride prepared?

What's up all? I thought with the cooler temperatures leaving us for the season we would talk a bit about the important role engine cooling systems play. Your ride's power plant is basically an internal combustion engine that continuously produces thousands of small but intense explosions. Every time a spark plug fires, the explosion that follows generates heat in excess of 1300 degrees! If left unchecked, the extreme heat (thermal energy) generated by all this harnessed chaos would turn a perfectly good engine into a hunk of junk in no time. Let that soak in for a bit and you'll quickly develop a new found respect for your engine's cooling system! There's a lot more going on in the background than what that little needle on the dash shows, my friends. How much more, you say? Funny you should ask!

Keeping your engine's temperature under control and in its optimal operating range is a cooperative effort among the several components of your vehicles cooling system. They each have specific tasks they need to perform to keep everything functioning properly, and at the right temps. Unfortunately, there is no fall back plan if a component is to fail. Keeping tabs on the players on the team is even more important knowing that one weak link can bring things to a dead stop. With spring upon us and summer just around the corner, now is the time to take a good look at your cooling system and be confident your ride is ready for the heat!

Let's take a look at a typical cooling system and recognize the members of the team. For the most part, all liquid cooling systems consist of seven components: Radiator, Radiator Fan, Radiator Cap, Overflow tank, Radiator Hoses, Thermostat, and Water Pump. A 50/50 mixture of distilled water and ethylene glycol antifreeze fills the system. Distilled water is best used because it's free of solids like minerals and salt that form harmful deposits. Antifreeze lowers the freezing point of the coolant mixture, raises its boiling point, and helps protect against corrosion. The engine block and head are laced with several coolant passages around the cylinders that allow coolant to flow around these high-temperature areas. The coolant mixture absorbs the heat generated by your engine and carries it away, allowing it to be cooled to an acceptable temperature.

To better understand how the coolant mixture moves through your engine's cooling system, let's divide the coolant into two areas: inside the engine, and in the radiator. In between and sealing off the two areas (like a door) is the thermostat. Now, let's take a quick cruise through the system from the inside starting at the water pump. Attached to the engine block, it creates the current that keeps the coolant flowing through the plumbing. At low temperatures, the thermostat is closed, forcing the coolant inside the engine to circulate in a constant loop through the passages in the block and head. As the engine runs, the engine coolant temperature steadily rises. When it reaches a certain temperature, the thermostat opens and the radiator fan kicks on. This process allows the hot coolant inside the engine to be exchanged with the lower-temperature coolant in the radiator, thus lowering the overall temp of the coolant in the engine. When the engine coolant temperature is reduced enough, the thermostat closes, again sealing off the two areas. The hot coolant from the engine is now in the radiator where it is then cooled down, while the engine heats up coolant just exchanged from the radiator. When the engine coolant temp climbs and the thermostat opens again, the process is repeated. This happens over, and over, and over. as long as your engine is running.

So now that you understand the process, what's the best way to keep your ride's cooling system operating at maximum efficiency? I know I've preached this one before, but the most important thing to keep up on is good old regular maintenance. Visually inspect the radiator for leaks or cracks, and take a close look at the radiator hoses for softening or bulges. The coolant overflow reservoir is a good way to gauge the level of coolant in the system. They're typically marked on the side with 2 levels, full hot and full cold. When the engine is cold, the level of fluid in the overflow should sit around the full cold mark (the lower level on the reservoir). As the coolant mix is heated it expands. As the pressure builds, the radiator cap vent opens, and excess coolant flows into the overflow tank. When the engine reaches normal operating temperature, the level of coolant in the overflow tank should reach the full hot mark. If it looks low, pour full strength antifreeze into the overflow reservoir to bring it up to par. This will keep the system full at all times. Flushing out and replacing the coolant mix at regular intervals (check your owner's manual) is vital to proper operation. Over time, coolant breaks down and loses its thermal and anti-corrosion properties. The radiator cap should also always be replaced when the coolant is flushed. Another simple item to keep on top of is the thermostat. This is one of the most common parts to fail. Typically old worn-out thermostats get stuck in the closed position. This prevents the hot engine coolant from being swapped out when the temperature rises, so it heats up continuously. This can result in serious damage like a blown head gasket or possibly a seized engine! Thermostats typically cost less than a tank of gas, my friends. Also, don't forget about the all-important water pump. The water pump is the least frequently replaced component. It will last a long time, but not forever. I can't say it enough! Keep up on your regular maintenance and you'll save some big potential headaches in the future!

All right, you've kept up on your ride's maintenance requirements, and now you're looking for some improved performance from your system. The OEM radiator and fan are a good place to start. The coolant in the radiator is there for one reason: to vent built-up heat! Radiators are typically fabricated with plastic or steel end tanks at the inlet and outlet areas, and an aluminum radiator "core" consisting of thin aluminum fins braised to flattened aluminum tubes. Coolant flows from the inlet to the outlet through a row of tubes mounted in a parallel arrangement. The fins conduct heat from the tubes and transfer it to the air passing through the radiator. Air gets forced through the radiator by the radiator fan or by the vehicles movement. Most stock radiator cores consist of one or two (at the most) rows of coolant tubes depending on the size of the engine. High performance radiators are constructed from 100% aluminum, and incorporate a 3-row radiator core. This construction makes the system much more efficient than stock. It adds to the total volume of coolant held by the system, and vastly speeds up the heat dissipation time. All-aluminum radiators vent heat from everywhere, not just from the core! This is especially effective when you're sitting in traffic during a hot summer day, or racing around your local drag strip or autocross track. Plus their show quality looks will score points as soon as you pop the hood.

The radiator fan is the primary way that air is moved through the radiator. Front wheel drive cars use electric radiator fans because the engine is mounted transversely (crosswise). Rear wheel drive cars use an engine-driven radiator fan because the engine is mounted longitudinally (parallel). Both designs are temperature controlled to kick on and off when the coolant in the radiator reaches pre-set temperatures. High performanceelectric radiator fans move a much higher volume of air through the radiator core than the OEM fan(s). More air moving through the core means quicker and more efficient heat dissipation. In addition to more efficient heat dissipation, rear wheel drive cars will gain some decent power by replacing the engine driven fan with an electric fan that reduces engine drag. Less drag on the engine equals more power to the ground. Performance radiator fans can be purchased in different sizes and colors to suit most applications and styles.

In addition to an upgraded radiator and fan, there are a few more performance and style upgrades available. Radiator hose kits like the GReddy Sport Radiator Hoses are stainless steel braided to not only add some bling under the hood, but also keep the hoses from swelling under pressure. This prolongs the life of the hoses and keeps the pressure in the system consistent. GReddy also manufacturers high- pressure radiator caps that are a direct replacement for OEM radiator caps. The increased coolant pressure transfers heat more efficiently. It's one of the simplest ways to increase the performance of your cooling system. While you've got the radiator cap off and the system empty, it's a perfect time to pour in a cooling system additive like Cool Horsepower or Redline Water Wetter. They are unique wetting agents that reduce coolant temperatures, optimize the transfer of heat from your engine to the coolant, and protect the cooling system components from corrosion while lubricating moving parts and rubber gaskets! Redline Water Wetter provides a decent amount of protection for the cash, but if you're looking for complete system protection and top performance especially during the hot summer months), Cool Horsepower is the best choice bar none (hence the price). Tests have shown a dramatic 70 degree drop in cylinder head temperatures just by pouring it in! When you compare what it will cost to repair a blown head gasket, there's no comparison. BE PROACTIVE!

** Please keep in mind that when your engine is hot, the cooling system is not only pressurized, but coolant temperatures can reach temperatures over 250 degrees Fahrenheit. You should NEVER open the system when the engine is hot. You will be one unhappy camper if you get hosed with hot coolant! I've done it, I'll admit it, and it hurt like a mother.

Your rides cooling system is the safeguard that keeps your engine from destroying itself! Keeping it consistently maintained is your best defense against potentially big problems. Improving your cooling system's overall performance will help keep your engine purring for years to come. It's a novel concept, isn't it? Take care of your ride and it will take care of you! Feel free to CONTACT US, hook up with a LIVE CHAT