The ideal temperature for your engine to run efficiently is right around 200 degrees, but temperatures inside of your engine where the fuel is ignited can exceed 2000 degrees. That’s why your cooling system and your coolant need to be working just right to protect you from overheating.
Here’s how the system basically works. The coolant flows through small passages inside of the engine block and absorb a lot of the heat being generated by the engine. Once the coolant absorbs the heat, it’s sent out to the radiator to cool back down as it flows through the radiator and return to the engine to start the whole process over again.
Here are some of the main parts of the cooling system and how they might contribute to an overheating problem on your vehicle. Coolant is the lifeblood of the system. If you’re low on coolant the engine can overheat very quickly. Additives in the coolant also prevent corrosion and protect parts inside the system.
If the coolant is the lifeblood of the system, then the water pump is the heart. It moves the coolant throughout the system and the engine will quickly overheat if it fails. Most times, water pumps will last at least 60,000 miles.
Rubber hoses circulate the antifreeze between the engine and the radiator and also to the heater core in the dash. Having a hose fail on the road will leave you stranded, so have them inspected at least once a year.
A thermostat is in between the engine and the radiator and it regulates how much coolant flows out to the radiator, depending on the temperature of the engine. If it is stuck closed, coolant will not be able to travel to the radiator and the vehicle will eventually overheat.
As mentioned earlier, the radiator is where the antifreeze releases some of its heat out to the outside air. Radiators can develop leaks or can become blocked internally so the antifreeze doesn't flow through properly. In those cases the radiator needs to be replaced.
The radiator cap is designed to keep the system under pressure. If it is leaking or not holding pressure, you are going to have an overheating problem sooner that you might think. Have it checked, but never remove it when the engine is hot!
When you are driving down the interstate there is a lot of air going through your radiator, but when you are in stop and go traffic, the electric cooling fans on the inside of the radiator are moving the air through the radiator to cool it down. If they are not coming on after your engine is warmed up, you are probably going to have an overheating problem very soon.
Also, the area in front of the radiator can become blocked with bugs and dirt and that will stop air from flowing through the fins in the radiator, causing overheating. Many times you can clean this area with a garden hose and solve your vehicle's overheating problem on your own.