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The skinny on your vehicle's cooling system

Most automotive manufacturers recommend flushing your cooling system once a year, and this is good advice since your car's cooling system is vital to engine longevity.

A good rule to follow is to have your coolant flushed at the beginning of summer or the beginning of the winter. While most shops charge $80 - $100 for this service, it is important to know that replacing the coolant does not involve merely replacing the antifreeze.

Most radiators installed on the assembly line these days are made of aluminum. The coolant in your car's engine is a 50/50 mix of antifreeze (glycol) and water. Over a period of time, acids form in the coolant, and the mixture becomes more prone to foaming, which prevents the water pump from distributing the fluid when and where necessary.

When having your system checked, make sure your corner mechanic performs these key steps:

• Flushes the engine block and heater core using a flush "Tee" connected to the heater core hoses.

• Cleans out the overflow bottle of any dirt and grime.

• Pressure-tests the radiator cap.

• Fills the cooling system with a 50/50 mixture of water and manufacturer-recommended antifreeze.

• Pressure-tests the system at a few pounds over the normal operating pressure and reports any leaks.

• Removes any debris that has accumulated on the front of the radiator or grill.

Other important components to have checked are the thermostat and accessory drive belt. The thermostat is basically a gate that opens and closes with temperature; open when the coolant gets too hot and close when the coolant is too cold. This constant opening and closing cycle creates a consistent engine running temperature required for peak performance.

The remaining piece to have checked is the accessory drive belt. The tension on the belt should be sufficient to prevent the belt from slipping around the drive pulleys. This belt should be replaced at the required interval or if any signs of deterioration are found.

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