Road Survival Kit: How to Prevent Cooling System Problems

Published on

January 5, 2021

Checking your engine coolant level in the overflow tank regularly can help avoid disasters. If you have to keep topping off the coolant, that’s an indication that your cooling system is leaking.  Taking care of it now before it becomes a major issue can save you a lot of money. Having your coolant tested and the entire system inspected by a technician every couple of years is an even better way to prevent cooling system problems.

Any indication of engine overheating is a serious problem, so the best course of action is to shut down the engine to avoid further damage to it. Driving a car with an overheated engine can warp cylinder heads and damage the radiator or internal engine parts such as valves, camshafts, and pistons.

Even letting the engine cool for an hour and topping off the radiator with a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water may not fix the problem. Here are some reasons an engine will overheat for your troubleshooting needs:

  • The coolant level could be extremely low because of long-term neglect or a coolant leak developed in the radiator or radiator hoses. Coolant circulates inside the engine block to cool it, and the leak might be in the block or from the water pump or heater hoses. Old coolant loses its corrosion-inhibiting properties allowing rust to form and ultimately causing damage.
  • The thermostat that allows coolant to circulate may be stuck in the closed position, or a clog can develop from debris in the cooling system.
  • The engine cooling fan has stopped working, or the radiator’s cooling fins are clogged with debris so that the airflow that reduces the coolant temperature is restricted.
  • The radiator cap has gone bad and no longer maintains enough pressure in the cooling system, allowing coolant to boil over (engines typically operate at about 210 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • The head gasket that seals the gap between the cylinder head and engine block may have failed, allowing coolant to leak inside the combustion chambers. The steam should be visible coming out of the exhaust system.
  • The water pump has stopped working, or the belt that drives it broke or is slipping and not pumping enough coolant.
  • You’ve been towing a 5,000-pound trailer with a vehicle equipped to tow only 2,000 pounds, exceeding the vehicle’s cooling capacity

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