- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

You think you are in good shape to make it through the coming season of hot weather. You’ve checked and topped up the cooling system with a mix of antifreeze/coolant and water. You’re positive that all the tires are properly inflated. You know, for sure, that the engine and transmission are full with fresh oil and the engine’s in tiptop tune.
  
  So why are you staring down at a temperature gauge hovering near the overheating mark?
  
  Could be quite a few reasons.
  
   But before you worry about correcting the problems, what can you do to prevent your engine from actually overheating?
  
  First, if you’re not there already, move to the right lane.
  
  Second, shut off the air conditioner and, sorry folks, turn on the heater. Open all the windows and bear the heat. By shutting down the a/c, you reduce the load on the engine and that helps keep the temperatures down.
  
  By opening the heater valve, you’ve increased the size of the engine’s cooling system by adding the antifreeze/coolant that’s in the heater core and connections between it and the engine. You’ve also added an auxiliary radiator by having the hot coolant lose its heat to the car or truck interior, thanks to the blowing heater fan.
  
  If your engine is still losing the battle to the heat, you have no option but to pull safely off the road and let things cool down. Open the hood to increase the airflow around the engine and to help trapped heat escape.
  
   If the engine does manage to not blow its lid, keep going until you can reach a safe haven. Then check things out.
  
  After the engine has cooled to the touch, check the coolant level. If it’s where it’s supposed to be and the engine hasn’t lost any appreciable amount of coolant, there’s no leak and that’s not the cause of trouble. If the level has fallen precipitously from where you topped it up, there is a leak. However, it may not be a liquid leak.
  
  The radiator pressure cap may not be holding the proper amount of pressure and is venting off steam as you drive, allowing the coolant level to literally boil off at a lower temperature than it’s supposed to. Replace the radiator cap with the correct one specified for your vehicle.
  
  Inspect the front of the radiator and the decorative grille in front of it. If bugs, dead leaves and assorted other debris are covering the surfaces, air cannot flow through the radiator, nor cool it and the liquid in it as your drive.
  
   Use a soft bristle brush and water from a garden hose to clear all debris from the radiator, being sure that the fins are clear.
  
  Most modern vehicles use electric cooling fans for the radiator instead of belt-driven ones. Be sure that the fan is working. Be careful because a properly working electric cooling fan can come on even when the engine is switched off to help cool down the radiator. If the fan is not running, it may be defective or its fuse may be blown. Check your owner’s manual for the location and rating of the fuse. If the fuse is blown, replace it. If the fuse is good and the fan does not switch on, it may be defective.
  
  Have a professional check it out. Many vehicles also have a secondary cooling fan designed to come on when the air conditioner is on. If the fan is not running, even with the engine and a/c running, have it checked before trying to continue on.
  
  If your vehicle does use a belt-driven fan, be sure that the belt is properly installed and tensioned. If the fan has a clutch in its hub a large, finned, pancake-sized device between the fan and the engine be sure that the clutch is not worn. With the engine off, try to spin the fan blades. There should be some very solid resistance, especially if the engine is still warm. If not, the clutch may need to be replaced. Check it with a pro.
  
  Finally, if everything is “cool,” the problem may be in how you’ve loaded your vehicle. Are you trying to tow a trailer with a vehicle that doesn’t have a heavy-duty trailer-towing cooling system? Or do you have a roof-rack piled 3 feet higher than the roof, creating more drag than your vehicle was designed to handle?
  
  Try rearranging your load, distributing it lower and flatter to the roof. And as you drive, be sure to keep ample space in front of your vehicle to ensure good airflow through the engine compartment at all speeds.

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