One of the more easily neglected systems in cars is the engine cooling system. More than ever, it is a critical component in today’s highly-stressed and high-efficiency engines. As you may already know, the cooling system’s principal function is to carry away the heat generated by the combustion of fuel from the cylinder head and the engine block. This is why the water, or coolant, inside the radiator has to be circulated. There was a time when all the car owner had to do was to just look for the radiator cap, fill the radiator with water to the brim and off he went. With modern systems being sealed systems, new car owners don’t even have to think about them until a year or two down the road.
There is more than just a radiator, hoses and a cap to a properly functioning radiator system. You also have a thermostat, water pump and coolant temperature sensor plumbed into the system. And a fan. Today’s cars almost always use an electrically-driven fan, but older cars had the fan connected to the water pump drive assembly. Now, while you can drive home with a faulty temperature sensor or a leaky radiator cap, having a blown water pump can destroy your engine in minutes. The same thing can also happen if an electrically-driven cooling fan quits.
It used to be too that all the temperature sensor did was to send an electrical value to a gauge, which you would look at to see if the car was overheating. Now, it is a significant contributor to engine performance, because it helps the ECU choose the proper ignition map for best performance. Even the lowly radiator hose nowadays has to withstand higher temperatures and system pressures, as well as a different coolant formulation. Where copper was the material used to make radiators, together with iron engine blocks, plenty of cars now use aluminum radiators and aluminum blocks and heads. So, the coolant itself has to have different anti-corrosion properties. As we said earlier, new car owners don’t need to worry about these components early in a car’s life. But it’s good to know that any number of things can go wrong in an automotive cooling system. Knowing this, a car owner should follow a manufacturer’s specific maintenance and component replacement schedule, so that you don’t get stranded by the side of the road with a blown hose, leaky fittings or worse, a warped engine.