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How Car Cooling Systems Work

        Auto | Other Systems

The Basics

­I­nside your car's engine, fuel is constantly burning. A lot of the heat from this combustion goes right out the exhaust system, but some of it soaks into the engine, heating it up. The engine runs best when its coolant is about 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius). At this temperature:

  • The combustion chamber is hot enough to completely vaporize the fuel, providing better combustion and reducing emissions.
  • The oil used to lubricate the engine has a lower viscosity (it is thinner), so the engine parts move more freely and the engine wastes less power moving its own components around.
  • Metal parts wear less.

There are two types of cooling systems found on cars: liquid-cooled and air-cooled.

Liquid Cooling

The cooling system on liquid-cooled cars circulates a fluid through pipes and passageways in the engine. As this liquid passes through the hot engine it absorbs heat, cooling the engine. After the fluid leaves the engine, it passes through a heat exchanger, or radiator, which transfers the heat from the fluid to the air blowing through the exchanger.

Air Cooling

Some older cars, and very few modern cars, are air-cooled. Instead of circulating fluid through the engine, the engine block is covered in aluminum fins that conduct the heat away from the cylinder. A powerful fan forces air over these fins, which cools the engine by transferring the heat to the air.

Since most cars are liquid-cooled, we will focus on that system in this article.