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Car Care Tips

How to Keep your Car from Overheating when Temperatures Sizzle

Whether spending the summer inching your way through urban traffic jams or on the open road for vacation or weekend getaways, the last thing you need is an overheated engine. Not only can it ruin your day, it also can be expensive and even hazardous.

But according to automotive expert Joel Burrows, a.k.a. "The Car Doctor," Vice President of Training and R&D at Precision Tune Auto Care, overheating can be avoided if motorists take some simple precautions. "Even if you're not mechanically inclined, some basic information will help you check for potential problems that a certified technician can remedy before they become expensive repairs," says Burrows.

Your car's cooling system is vital to trouble-free engine performance and proper air conditioning operation, which is why the car doctor suggests that you regularly perform the following inspections:

With Engine Cool

  • Coolant - Check level on recovery tank next to radiator. If needed, top with 50/50 solution of antifreeze and water. Make sure you do not overfill. Coolant expands when it gets hot and overfilling the recovery tank can cause the coolant to escape from the recovery tank and spill into the engine compartment. This can cause a tremendous amount of steam to form as well as causing the accessory drive belt to slip.
  • Hoses - If any are frayed, cracked, mushy or leaking, have them replaced. If accessible, squeeze the hose. If a cracking sound is heard, this indicates internal wearing of the hose and necessitates replacement.
  • Radiator - Check thoroughly for leaks, rust and corrosion. Visible signs of coolant leaks means that the normally sealed system is allowing coolant to escape which can result in overheating. Rust and corrosion affect how the coolant flows through the system and will cause the vehicle to run hotter than normal, as well as, shorten cooling system component life.
  • Radiator Cap - If gasket is cracked or decomposed, replace the cap. Have cap and radiator pressure tested. Use caution: some caps are difficult to remove. Also, if the recovery tank (which is the "see-through" container that holds the overflow coolant) is above the "max" mark in the morning (when engine is cold), suspect a faulty radiator cap. This condition could cause boil-over and coolant loss.
  • Radiator Debris - If front of radiator is blocked by bugs, leaves, etc., hose it down while brushing with a soft bristle brush. Use caution not to damage the cooling fins of the radiator.
  • Fan - Have electric fan or fan clutch checked for proper operation. The electric fan or fan clutch is located between the engine and the radiator. Use caution as some electric fans may start with the vehicle not running.
  • Belts - Loose belts should be tightened. Badly worn belts should be replaced. Loose or worn belts can slip or in worst cases break. Typically these type belts turn accessories such as waterpumps, A/C compressors, power steering pumps and alternators. All are critical for proper vehicle operation.
  • Engine - Periodically clean excess oil and dirt from engine exterior. Do not, however, spray at extreme pressure as water can enter and damage sensitive electrical connectors. A regular garden hose without a nozzle would be a sufficient cleansing mechanism.
  • Heater Hoses - Check for cracks and swelling. Have them replaced if necessary. Most heater hoses run between the water pump area and near the firewall or back of the engine compartment. These hoses connect with the vehicles heater core.
  • Fluids - Check oil and transmission and brake fluids monthly (twice monthly in summer) and before long trips. If brake fluid is low, do not top off; instead, have your brakes inspected. Proper fluid levels assure that critical vehicle systems will be properly lubricated. Over filling can cause foaming and reduce fluid flow resulting in engine or transmission damage.

With Engine Warm

  • Thermostat - The upper radiator hose should be cool to touch until the thermostat opens. At that point, a noticeable increase in temperature should be felt. If you do not experience the increase in temperature, the thermostat may need replacing. Also, use caution when performing these tests as faulty hoses could cause scalding.
  • Heater Hoses - If they remain cool while heater is operating, the heater core may be blocked or the vehicle may have a malfunctioning heater control valve. This can sometimes be repaired or cleared by a flushing procedure. Your service facility can advise you on this.

Beyond the above precautions, the car doctor reminds motorists to have their cooling systems cleaned at intervals specified in your owner's manual, usually about every 30,000 miles. "Flush and fill service helps prevent rust and corrosion," Burrows stresses. "In addition, it balances the pH (acid/base) level to assure long radiator and engine life as well as proper freeze and boil-over protection."

The Car Doctor also advises that you have your cooling system pressure-tested "to detect leaks in hoses, pinholes in the radiator, and problems with seams and connections."

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