Car overheating can come from a variety of sources. With engine combustion temperatures reaching 2000 F and higher, there is a lot of heat to deal with. If your engine is running hotter than normal, either shortly after starting or over time, or if you find coolant (commonly referred to as antifreeze) puddled beneath your car, it’s probably time to stop by for an inspection.
Without a properly functioning cooling system, heat levels produced by your car’s engine are great enough to damage the components of the engine itself. Aluminum heads can warp. Head gaskets can blow. Engines can fail. And those are all big ticket repairs.
Engine cooling & radiators
A properly functioning cooling system, which circulates antifreeze/coolant and dissipates the heat away from the engine, is absolutely necessary to prevent car overheating and destructive engine temperatures.
Your vehicle has five principal components in its cooling system.
- Radiator: an auto radiator has a set of tubes called the core that the coolant flows through. Cooling fins surround the core. As air passes through the fins, the coolant releases its heat to the fins, which dissipate the heat.
- Radiator cap: there has to be a place to pour in coolant and the radiator cap covers that filling hole. The cap is also designed to seal the system to a specific pressure.
- Radiator hoses: the coolant goes from the radiator to the engine through a series of hoses that are sturdy and flexible enough to handle engine vibration and high heat.
- Thermostat: like the device on your home heating/cooling system, the engine thermostat keeps the engine at the proper operating temperature.
- Water pump: this is the heart of the engine cooling system. It pumps coolant through the whole cooling system, and into the engine block.
Radiator & Engine Cooling FAQs
Q: When should I flush my radiator?
A: As with most things, always adhere to the radiator flush intervals listed in your owner’s manual.
Q: The engine-cooling fan comes on a lot. Should I be worried?
A: Nope. Your engine-cooling fan is programmed by your engine’s computer and may always run when the A/C is on.
Q: Which maintenance requirements should I adhere to so my radiator keeps working well?
A: Having your cooling system flushed on or before your manufacturer’s schedule is the best way to protect your radiator.
Q: What does it mean when I smell a sweet maple-syrup-like smell when I am driving?
A: It’s most likely due to steam in your cabin, which most of the time is caused by the heater core. The heater core is a small radiator in the dash that makes the heat you feel inside your car.
Q: Does running my air conditioner in the summer keep my engine from overheating?
A: Nope. In fact, your engine works harder to keep cool when the car’s A/C is on.
Q: How do I know if my coolant needs to be refilled?
A: Your coolant fluid level is under your hood and looks a lot like your washer fluid tank. Look for the ”fill” line, and if your levels are below that line, it’s time for a refill.