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Car Radiator Myth Busters: The Facts About Vehicle Cooling Systems
Ever since car manufacturers started using radiators with plastic tanks, the myth about radiators started to explode. This article dispels some of the popular myths circulating on the internet by providing the facts.
Myth 1: Slow down or slow down your engine when it overheats
This is bad advice. Engine cooling is a combination of coolant flow and air flow over the radiator. Sometimes the best thing you can do is increase vehicle speed or engine speed to provide more coolant flow, more air flow, or both.
I remember a coast-to-coast trip through Arizona in 120+ degree temperatures. My Porsche 944 Turbo was having trouble keeping cool at 65 MPH so I sped up to 80 and it came back to normal operating temperature.
Another trick you can use if your vehicle is overheating is to turn on your heater. This works because the heater is basically a cooling coil that funnels heat from the engine into the cabin of the vehicle. If it’s hot outside, you’ll be uncomfortable, but you’ll save the engine.
Myth 2: Insects will destroy your radiator
Although this is true, the situation must be extreme. We are talking about driving at high speed through a swarm of locusts. Not likely.
Here are the facts. Areas where your car, truck, or SUV radiator will collect insect residue are high in insect populations. The hot cooling coils will quickly dehydrate the remains of the bug until only the wings and exoskeleton remain. A good, stiff stream of water will easily wash away the residue.
As long as you keep the car clean, you have nothing to worry about when bugs come.
Myth 3: A small coolant drip is no big deal
A little glycol on the garage floor might not seem like a big deal, but it is. First of all, dumping glycol and other hazardous substances into surface water is against state and federal laws. That’s what you’re doing when you park your car on the street. Rainwater washes the coolant into storm drains, which then discharge into surface water.
Glycol is very toxic. It has a sweet taste that dogs and children find irresistible. So getting it out of your car — one way or another — is a recipe for disaster.
Along with health and environmental hazards, sooner or later a car radiator leak will cause the cooling system to fail. If the leak is on the radiator itself, it will eventually spit open and spill all the coolant. If it is a hose, the hose will blow and fail. If it seals, you will let air into the system which can prevent the vapor lock from cooling properly. In other words, all sorts of nasty things can happen that cost you a lot more time and money than fixing the problem when it was small.
Myth 4: All anti-freeze products are pretty much the same
I wish this myth were true, but it isn’t. In fact, some car manufacturers, such as Porsche, will void the car’s warranty if you don’t use the specified fluid. Be sure to check your vehicle owner’s manual before you put any old product into the cooling system. Like your oil, this is an important fluid and must be the correct specification.
Myth 5: An all aluminum radiator is best
I think this would be true if you were building a very high performance vehicle or a race car. Aluminum is very light and weight reduction is important when your goal is to go faster. That said, aluminum is not the best heat conductor. Copper, for example, is much better.
The reality is that vehicle manufacturers take many factors into consideration, including weight, size, heat dissipation qualities, cost, and durability. If you are replacing a defective unit your best bet is always original equipment (OE) or OE specification. If you are building a high performance vehicle, custom radiators should be considered.
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