Automotive Cooling And Emissions

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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Automotive cooling and emissions systems are designed to give cars longer lives by ensuring that engines can dissipate built-up heat and toxins. The process of combustion is an amazing one, but it is not without its hazards. Among these is the threat of overheating, which can literally grind engines to a halt and, as a consequence, destroy them.

Why and how do cars overheat? When temperatures inside the combustion chamber of your car's engine reach more than 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, that heat exerts serious stress on engine parts, much the way that running a marathon builds heat inside an athlete's body. Like the runner, the car may overtax its system and ultimately melt down if it cannot "sweat out" its stored heat.

How Cars Overheat

As the temperature inside a car rises, its engine parts work harder and harder. The thin layer of lubrication between metal parts also gets thinner and thinner as oil starts to vaporize, leading to more friction as a result of direct metal-on-metal contact. Areas such as those surrounding the exhaust valves and inside the cylinder heads are especially vulnerable to extraordinary heat, but the entire engine is really at risk.

As the system's heat steadily rises, parts also begin to expand, exacerbating the problem of direct high-friction contact. This can lead to a "seizing" effect in which pistons physically bind to their surrounding cylinders and halt the process of combustion altogether. When this happens, the car's "central nervous system" (its engine) simply cannot function and must be replaced.

The Role of Automotive Cooling and Emissions Systems

Cooling and emissions systems dissipate heat in a couple of different ways. The primary categories of cooling include "liquid" and "air" mechanisms, though the latter of these is harder and harder to find in modern automobiles. Liquid-based cooling is far more effective in targeting the most overtaxed parts of an engine, as air-based cooling aims merely to channel heat away from the system as a whole.

While air cooling mechanisms use fans and aluminum ducts around the engine to move pent-up heat, fluid systems use sophisticated plumbing to cool the engine's interior reaches. The job of these networks is to help transfer heat from the engine to the coolant, which then passes through the car's radiator. At that point, said heat is converted by a built-in "exchanger" into air and jettisoned from the system.

The Workings of Fluid-Based Cooling Systems

To open up a car engine and observe the cooling process first hand is to witness a true miracle of automotive engineering. Fluid-based systems require each of their dozens of parts to interact seamlessly with one another, from the pump itself to the engine block, the thermostat to the radiator. If one component breaks, the car's entire heating and cooling system can freeze, which is why smart drivers are advised not to ignore the early and obvious warning signs of danger.

Periodically flushing your radiator and replacing worn or broken belts and hoses is just the beginning of good heating and cooling system maintenance. Heater and cooling fans must also be scrupulously maintained, as must transmission coolers and water pumps, among many other parts. By addressing these problems before they arise, car and truck owners can save themselves literally thousands of dollars in repairs.

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