The Basics of Engine Cooling

Your engine is a metal box with explosions inside it. Thinking about it that way helps illustrate why the things get incredibly hot; were it not for proper cooling, your engine would literally melt together under its own heat and pressure!

Naturally, your car’s engine cooling is one of the most critical parts of its operation. Luckily, it’s typically obvious when something is wrong! Here’s a breakdown of how your car’s cooling system works and how to keep it in shape.

The Basics

So why does an engine generate heat? As stated previously, your car burns gasoline many, many times per second. The heat from that burning is typically absorbed by the engine block, the giant hunk of metal that forms the shell of your engine.

Though many classic cars were air-cooled – including Porsches until 1998 – modern engines require liquid cooling. Lots of tiny channels in your engine block are filled with antifreeze, which is specially engineered to soak up as much heat as possible.

That anti-freeze – driven by your car’s water pump ­– takes a lengthy journey through your engine before winding up in the radiator, typically on the front of your car. The radiator uses the natural airflow of your car’s movement (sometimes with a fan) to cool the liquid, before returning it to the block where the cycle begins anew.

Failure Points

Because liquid cooling systems have many different parts, there are a few frequent and obvious failure points.

  • The Water Pump: because the pump turns on a bearing, eventually that bearing will become worn out and seize up. When that happens, liquid can no longer move! The water pump should be changed out any time you get your timing belt changed to prevent this from happening.
  • The Radiator: because they take quite a beating from the elements, radiators can develop leaks over time. The more leaks there are, the faster you lose coolant, and the more likely you are to overheat.
  • Hoses: the many rubber hoses connected to the cooling system can crack and break, especially in colder temperatures.
  • Fluid: certain types of antifreeze degrade over time. Other types may not mesh well with your particular car, causing a buildup of brown gunk. Make sure you only use the brand of coolant recommended by your manufacturer.


The best way to maintain your cooling system is also the cheapest one: look! Check for puddles of coolant under your car, check hoses for obvious cracks, and open your radiator cap once in a while to monitor rust and gunk.

Need a professional to look at your cooling system? Bring your car in for an oil change at Fast Lube Plus, and while we’re at it we’ll take a look at your cooling system! We serve customers across the Triangle. Come in today, and let’s get you rolling!


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