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Cooling System – Common Problems Associated with Poor Cooling System Upkeep

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By: Mark Herbert, Master ASE, L1 Factory Trained Technician of European Auto Tech

Coolant expansion tank crackThe cooling system is a critical part of the engine but is mostly over looked for servicing until a component breaks or leaves you stranded.

Antifreeze/coolant breaks down over time and needs to be replaced. The results of not servicing the system can be disastrous, especially here in the desert.

The antifreeze/coolant must handle temperatures around 250 degrees without boiling (water boils at 212 degrees) and protect from freezing to below 50 degrees. A lot is expected from this liquid.

Antifreeze/coolant is made up of basically ethylene glycol and water. Which last a long time. BUT it is the additives in the antifreeze/coolant that break down and is the reason for servicing the system on a regular basis. The additive package is a mixture of corrosion inhibitors and extenders. When the additive packages break down, that’s when trouble starts.

Pipe melted by overheated engineThere are many more components in the cooling system that need to be inspected also. Hose, fan, radiator, cap just to name a few. Any one that if they fail can cause you to have a bad day.

The cooling system should be serviced according to the manufactures time lines, and it’s components inspected at every service.

The following is a case in which a customer’s car cooling fan failed, on a hot day and the person thought they could make it home.

In picture 1 you see the coolant expansion tank with a large crack; this is from the cooling system getting very hot and the pressures increasing to the point of causing this crack and all the coolant escaping from the system. Without the coolant in the engine, it started to overheat extremely fast.

In picture 2 you see a plastic pipe running alongside the engine block, the block got so hot that it started to melt the plastic pieces connected to it.

This engine was destroyed, it could have been saved if the car was shut off at the first sign of trouble, but all this damaged happened in 5 minutes. So much for thinking it could make it home.

Silicate dropout from overused engine coolantBut if you look at picture 3, this car had another problem going on. That white goo is the silicate in the coolant. That is called silicate dropout, it happens when the antifreeze/coolant has been used beyond it life expectancy and the additives break down. This goo would have ended up plugging the system, plus the silicate is part of the corrosion inhibitor package. If the fan didn’t fail on this car, the lack of maintenance on the cooling system was going to cause a major problem in the near future.

Needless to say this car got and engine and ALL the cooling system components, metal rubber and plastic.

Bottom line: maintaining the cooling system is a lot cheaper in the long run than it is replacing engines.

Mark Herbert
Master ASE, L1 Certified
Factory Trained Technician
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