Keeping your car cool as the temperature rises

Whether spending the summer inching your way through urban traffic jams or on the road for a vacation or weekend getaway, the last thing you need is an overheated engine, a real possibility as temperatures in the South Sound soar into the 90-degree range.

Not only can it ruin your day, it can also be expensive and hazardous.

But according to automotive expert Joel Burrows (who also goes by the moniker “The Car Doctor), vice president of training and research and development at Precision Auto Care, overheating can be avoided if motorists take some simple precautions.

“Even if you’re not mechanically inclined, some basic information will help you check for potential problems that a certified technician can remedy before they become expensive repairs,” Burrows said.

Your car’s cooling system is vital to trouble-free engine performance and proper air conditioning operation, which is why “The Car Doctor” suggests you regularly perform the following inspections:

– Coolant: Check the level on the recovery tank next to the radiator. If needed, top it with a 50/50 solution of antifreeze and water. Make sure you don’t overfill it!

– Hoses: If any are frayed, cracked, mushy or leaking, have them replaced. If accessible, squeeze the hose. If a cracking sound is heard – don’t worry, you didn’t break it – this indicates internal wearing of the hose.

– Radiator: Check it thoroughly for leaks, rust and corrosion.

– Radiator Cap: If the gasket is cracked or decomposed, replace the cap. Have the cap and radiator pressure tested. Use caution, as some caps are difficult to remove. Also, if the recovery tank (which is the “see-through” container that holds the overflow coolant) is above the “max” mark in the morning (when the engine is cold), it’s probably a faulty radiator cap. This condition could cause a boil-over and coolant loss.

– Radiator Debris: If the front of the radiator is blocked by bugs, leaves, etc., hose it down while brushing. Use caution, so as not to damage the cooling fins of the radiator.

– Fan: Have the electric fan or fan clutch checked for proper operation.

– Belts: Loose belts should be tightened. Badly worn belts should be replaced.

– Engine: Periodically clean excess oil and dirt from the engine exterior. Do not, however, use highly pressurized water to spray it clean, as water can enter and damage sensitive electrical connectors. A regular garden hose without a nozzle should be sufficient.

– Heater Hoses: Check for cracks and swelling. Have them replaced if necessary.

– Fluids: Check oil and transmission and brake fluids monthly (twice monthly in summer) and before long trips. If brake fluid is low, do not top off. Instead, have your brakes inspected.

– Thermostat: The upper radiator hose should be cool to touch until the thermostat opens. At that point, a noticeable increase in temperature should be felt. If you do not experience the increase in temperature, the thermostat may need to be replaced. Also, use caution when performing these tests, as faulty hoses could cause scalding.

– Heater Hoses: If they remain cool while the heater is operating, the heater core may be blocked or the vehicle may have a malfunctioning heater control valve. This can sometimes be repaired or cleared by a flushing procedure. Your service facility can advise you on this.

Beyond the above precautions, it’s recommended that motorists have their cooling systems cleaned at intervals specified in owner’s manuals,usually about every 30,000 miles.

“Flush and fill service helps prevent rust and corrosion,” Burrows stressed. “In addition, it balances the PH (acid/base) level to assure long radiator and engine life, as well as proper freeze and boil-over protection.”

Burrows also advises that you have your cooling system pressure-tested “to detect leaks in holes, pin holes in the radiator and problems with seams and connections.”

So remember to keep your car cool this summer and it’ll be cool to you.