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3 Things You Might Not Know About Your Car's Cooling System

A red car
Automobiles contain numerous components - and even entire systems - that most car owners know little about. Other parts are easier to understand. For instance, most people understand the basic goal of their cooling system: to keep engine temperatures within safe limits.

Yet the inner workings of a cooling system actually have a much more complex nature. The more you know about how a cooling system works, the more readily you can recognize common problems. If you want to boost your automotive knowledge, keep reading. This article outlines three lesser-known facts regarding your car's cooling system.

1. The Cooling System Also Helps to Heat Your Car

A cooling system regulates engine temperatures by using coolant to absorb excess heat. This coolant then flows out of your engine to the radiator, whose series of metal fins pass the heat to the air. Once your car has come up to temperature, it relies heavily on the cooling system to prevent overheating.

Yet if your cooling system circulated coolant at all times, it would prevent your car from warming up to its ideal operating temperature. When starting your car up in the dead of winter, your engine would take far longer to warm up. As a result, your engine would run much rougher and with far less efficiency than normal. 

To prevent this problem, all cooling systems contain a built-in thermometer. This thermometer monitors the temperature of the engine. When the temperature reaches a certain threshold, the thermometer sends a signal to begin circulating coolant to the radiator. Until that point, the coolant will not circulate, thus allowing your engine to warm up as quickly as possible.

If your car struggles to maintain appropriate engine temperatures, you likely have a faulty thermostat. A failed thermostat often becomes stuck in its open position, allowing coolant to circulate regardless of the temperature. As a result, your engine runs at a chronically cool temperature.

2. All Coolants Are Not the Same

Many car owners mistakenly assume that all engine coolants have the same basic composition, differing only in color. Yet in fact, two very different types of coolant exist today. Both types use ethylene glycol as the primary heat-absorbing liquid. Yet the two types contain very different secondary additives used to protect engines against corrosion.

The older variety of coolant, which almost always has a green color, uses inorganic additive technology, or IAT for short. IAT coolants contain phosphates and silicates to protect internal metal against corrosion. The second type of coolant uses organic acid technology, or OAT, which contain different corrosion-inhibiting compounds.

Newer cars frequently require OAT engine coolants. Newer cars contain more nylon and aluminum components, and older coolant types can inadvertently damage - or at least fail to protect - such components. OAT engine coolants do not damage newer materials. Most OAT coolants have an orange color, while older IAT coolants almost always have a green color.

Car owners should never mix different types of coolants. The resulting mixture often into a jelly-like substance that is too thick and viscous to flow through your system. Overheating almost always ensues when two coolant types mix together.

3. Coolant Systems Operate Under High Pressure

A coolant system exists in a high pressure state. This pressure ensures that the coolant remains capable of absorbing heat by raising its boiling point. Otherwise, coolant would soon turn from a liquid into a vapor and lose its ability to soak up additional heat. The radiator cap on your cooling system ensures optimal pressurization, in turn raising the coolant's boiling point by around 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Of course, if the cooling system pressure rose too high, hoses and other components could burst. For this reason, the radiator cap contains a pressure relief valve designed to allow coolant to escape if its pressure exceeds 15 psi. Because of the intense pressure - and heat - of a cooling system, car owners should always leave repairs to professionals.

For more information about how to keep your cooling system running the way it should, please contact our auto experts at Letcher Bros. Auto Repair.

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