How to Maintain a Car Cooling System

Maintaining your vehicle’s cooling system is essential to prolonging the life and efficiency of your engine. As much as 70% of the car’s main source of power, the gas, is converted to heat. It is the task of the cooling system to convert all of this heat to air; much like your circulatory system oxygenates your blood. The components include: the radiator and the proper balance of fluid, the water pump, the thermostat, and the fan. There are several maintenance precautions that every car owner should exercise, as well as a few rules of thumb regarding predicting or diagnosing a dysfunctional component. Consider the following as you research how to maintain a car cooling system.


  1. Consult your vehicle-specific owner’s manual regarding the proper ratio of coolant to water.
    • An improper balance of coolant can cause damage to the water pump.
  2. Wait until the engine is completely cool before proceeding.
  3. Twist off the radiator cap by turning it counterclockwise.
  4. Ensure that the radiator is full according to that model’s specifications.
    • Your owner’s manual will provide information regarding the ideal fluid level in relation to the fill line.
  5. Keep an eye on your vehicle’s temperature gauge.
    • When the vehicle is running beyond optimal temperature (anything into the red portion of the gauge), this is the first sign of trouble.
  6. Assume there is a leak somewhere in the cooling system if you experience an acrid smell when the engine is at ideal temperature.
  7. Pull over, turn the engine off and look at the ground. Move on to the next step if you see any fluid under your car.
  8. Open your hood.
  9. Examine the water pump for any signs of scorching, which would indicate a leak in that component.
  10. Look and listen for any obvious leaks.

    • A leak in the cooling system will either cause the pressurized fluids to spew, or you will hear a hissing sound.
  11. Acquire a rag, if there are no obvious leaks.
  12. Wrap the rag around the cap to the overflow reservoir, and twist it off.
    • If you discover fluid in the reservoir tank, this could indicate a serious problem with your engine.
  13. Investigate further if you discover no leaks and there is no coolant in the overflow compartment.
  14. Park the vehicle and leave it idling.
  15. Watch the gauges.
    • If the temperature gauge goes into the red, and you don’t see the fan on, this would indicate a bad sensor, which would require a simple and inexpensive repair.
  16. Watch the fan. If it comes on, but is ineffectual, proceed with the following steps to check the thermostat.
  17. Allow the engine to cool.
  18. Locate the thermostat. It can be found under the hose that connects the engine to the radiator.
  19. Remove the existing thermostat and purchase a new one.
  20. Reinstall the thermostat.
  21. Repeat the testing procedure with the car idling.
    • If the gauge stays cool, and the fan operates properly, consider the problem solved.
  22. Check the radiator for cold spots after the engine is warm. If you feel cold spots, then you probably have a clog somewhere within the radiator.
  23. Remove and inspect the radiator hoses.
  24. Replace the hoses as needed.
  25. Take the car to a mechanic for a radiator flush and fill if none of the preceding steps solve the problem.
  26. Compose a maintenance schedule which involves flushing the radiator at regulated time intervals.

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