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Information Connection: Stay cool in summer driving

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by
Former racecar mechanic

How to prevent summer overheating

When a car overheats, it will almost always do so at the worst possible time. Maybe on the freeway as you head toward an important appointment, or maybe on vacation in a remote place so you are stranded. Here are the things that need your attention, so your automotive experience this summer is cool.

Every three years, do a core pressurization check, do power system flush, and replace your belts and hoses. If you can’t remember when this was last done, have it done (or do it yourself) now. If you’re within the three-year window, inspect your hoses with the engine cool. They should be “pliably firm”—that is, they should not feel “mushy.”

If you’re unsure about how a hose should feel, have a mechanic check these for you. Before seeing the mechanic, stop by an auto parts store, and feel a new hose so you know how yours should feel. If your hoses are softer than this one, appear checked or cracked, or are harder than this one, get new hoses. Replace all hoses at the same time, or don’t bother changing any of them. When you take care of this maintenance, replace the thermostat at the same time.

Check your hose clamps. If you have screw-type clamps, they should not be excessively tight, but you should not be able to tighten them further without turning really hard on the screwdriver. If you’re not sure how tight to make these, see a mechanic.

Check your belts. If they look worn, replace them. Telltale signs include shreds of fabric, crack marks, shiny wear paths on the sides or bottom, and chunks missing. You don’t need to replace all the belts at the same time, but you save on labor if you do.

Look at your water pump. If you see droplets of coolant near the bottom of it, you probably have a failing water pump. Also, if the pump rattles, squeaks, or grinds, you need a new one. If you can’t spot any leaks, make sure to have a mechanic check this a few weeks before you take the car on any kind of long trip. Don’t wait until the day before the trip, as you may not be able to get in for several days.

Take a look at the cooling fan(s). With the engine hot, these should be running—meaning you can’t see the blades whirring around. If they are not running—that is, you can see the blades are stationary, you have a cooling problem. It could be a fuse, if the fan is electric—so check that first. If the fan is belt-driven, you may have a failed fan clutch.

Carry a supply of antifreeze and a separate supply of clean water with you on the road. Check the coolant fluid, with then engine cold, by looking in the radiator before you leave. Make sure the cap is on securely, when you are done checking. Once you are on the road, check the radiator fluid level each morning by looking at the coolant overflow tank. This should not ever be dry. If it is, you are losing coolant.

About 80% of drivers in the USA drive a car with an automatic transmission. Interestingly, 80% of European drivers prefer not to be so wasteful and drive a car with a manual transmission. An automatic transmission has several downsides, one of which is extra heat. To reduce engine heat in hot weather, put the car in neutral when at a traffic light. This allows the engine to run at a slightly higher RPM, which means more cooling and less fuel falling out of suspension to wash down the cylinder walls. Your car doesn't use more fuel in neutral, even though the higher idle speed might make you think so. But it does run cooler and your oil stays cleaner.

 

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