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How Engine Cooling Systems Work

3 min read
Your car’s engine temperature cooling system has an important role to play. Find out what it is and how to keep it in good condition so that it allows heat to dissipate efficiently, maintaining a healthy running temperature.

Exposure to prolonged hot weather, while exercising or working outdoors, can result in dizziness, throbbing headaches, and dehydration. Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition that can lead to brain damage, organ failure or death, so knowing the signs and symptoms of our body overheating can lead to prevention.

Just as it’s vital to understand our body’s signals for overheating, it is important for us to be cognisant of the signs of vehicular overheating.

First, check the Owner’s Handbook to identify the healthy engine temperature range. When driving, monitor running temperatures to ensure that it does not go above the stipulated range.

The Owner’s Handbook will also include information on coolant fluid type and service intervals, including where to locate and how to check coolant levels. If levels are low, top up the coolant reservoir with the recommended coolant or distilled water. Avoid using tap water as it can increase the chance of build-up and corrosion in the engine due to its naturally high mineral content. At the required service checks, workshops should flush and replace the coolant in accordance with vehicle manufacturer recommended intervals.

City driving is hardest on the engine as there is little consistent airflow, particularly in stop-start traffic, and especially in a very hot and humid climate. Prevention is better than cure, so look out for the following when driving:

    1. The engine temperature is above the high range, in an analogue gauge, but not at the dangerous “red” mark. Turn off the air-conditioning and turn on the heater – the fan will draw heat away from the engine. Unfortunately, it will get very hot in the cabin.
    2. The engine temperature is above the recommended range, and the temperature “red” warning icon comes on. This indicates engine temperatures are at a critical level where internal damage may start to occur. Additionally, you may notice a strange smell and/or see steam and smoke. This is a sign that it may be too late, coolant has evaporated or escaped and the chance of internal engine damage is higher. Look for a safe place to park immediately and turn off the engine. Call for a tow.

In a nutshell, the anatomy of a cooling system consists of a series of hoses that contains the coolant fluid (lower boiling temperatures), to strategic locations in the engine block, keeping the engine cool. The diagram below shows the key components:

The anatomy of a cooling system

Image Credit: DENSO International Asia Pte. Ltd

Should the cooling system fail, it is likely that one of the key components, mentioned above, is faulty. Overheating often leads to the death of an engine: the most common consequence is engine internal components damage. When this occurs, engine top overhaul or engine overhaul is often the only solution, or in the worst-case scenario, a new engine replacement is required.

Commonly, the damages to the engine include:

  • Damage cylinder head
  • Damaged cylinder Head Gaskets
  • Cracked Engine Block
  • Burned Pistons

Knowledge is power, but it is all about applying the knowledge. We stretch to warm our body before a long workout; the same level of preparation is needed for your car’s cooling system. Are you planning a long drive? Does your daily commute include heavy traffic, frequent stops, or challenging drives? Check the health and condition of the cooling system and know the early signs of trouble. This will ensure that your car does not overheat and suffer from heatstroke.

Interested to know more about car care tips and practical knowledge on your vehicle’s technicalities and functions? Sign up for our one-day Car Appreciation Workshop. To find out more, please visit us at www.aas.com.sg or contact us at 6333 8811.