Unless you drive an old German air-cooled car (Porsche or VW), chances are you’ll have to tend to the cooling system of your vehicle someday. Here’s a How To… on maintaining and repairing your car’s cooling system.

Before we get into the why’s and wherefore’s of maintaining your vehicle’s cooling system, let’s spend some time reviewing what the system does and how it’s designed. Then we can explore ways to care for and maintain it.

The basic components of your car’s cooling system include a radiator, fan, water pump, thermostat, a sensor or two, an overflow tank, water, coolant, and a series of belts, clamps and hoses to connect it all together and make it run. The system works by directing fluid past the hottest parts of your engine (the cylinder heads and valves), then redirecting that fluid out to the radiator, where the heat collected from the cylinder heads gets dissipated into the cooler atmosphere. Then the whole process begins again.

(An important note of caution here: NEVER open your cooling system to add fluid when the system is still warm. Best to let it cool overnight. Not only are the contents scalding hot, they’re also under incredible pressure.)

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