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Welcome to ASE Certification Training Headquarters! We have everything you need to make your life easier as you begin your career as an Automotive Service Excellence Certified Master Mechanic. State specific training requirements, a step-by-step hiring process, potential employers, and interviews to help you get hired are just some of the helpful things you'll find here.

Test Prep Study Guide Tips & Tricks

Introduction

After receiving an overwhelming number of requests for a study guide, ASE Certification Training HQ has decided to put out a new series on ASE test preparation tips and tricks.

Types of Questions on ASE Exam

Here at ASE Certification Training HQ, we believe that preparation is the key to success, and what better way to prepare than to know what types of questions will be asked on the ASE exam.  There are 5 basic types of questions, and we will cover each of them in the following sections.

The types are:

  • Multiple-Choice Questions
  • EXCEPT Questions
  • Technician A, Technician B Questions
  • Most-Likely Questions
  • Least-Likely Questions

Different people tend to find different types of questions easier than others.  We recommend reviewing the types and seeing which questions you feel most comfortable answering.

ASE certification tests are often thought of as being tricky. They may seem to be tricky if you do not completely understand what is being asked. The following examples will help you recognize certain types of ASE questions and avoid common errors. Each test is made up of forty to eighty multiple-choice questions.

Multiple-choice questions are an efficient way to test knowledge. To answer them correctly, you must think about each choice as a possibility, and then choose the one that best answers the question. To do this, read each word of the question carefully. Do not assume you know what the question is about until you have finished reading it.

About 10 percent of the questions on an actual ASE exam will use an illustration. These drawings contain the information needed to correctly answer the question. The illustration must be studied carefully before attempting to answer the question. Often, techs look at the possible answers then try to match up the answers with the drawing. Always do the opposite; match the drawing to the answers.

When the illustration is showing an electrical schematic or another system in detail, look over the system and try to figure out how the system works before you look at the question and the possible answers.

Multiple-Choice Questions

One type of multiple-choice question has three wrong answers and one correct answer. The wrong answers, however, may be almost correct, so be careful not to jump at the first answer that seems to be correct. If all the answers seem to be correct, choose the answer that is the most correct. If you readily know the answer, this kind of question does not present a problem. If you are unsure of the answer, analyze the question and the answers. For example:

A rocker panel is a structural member of which vehicle construction type?
A. Front-wheel drive
B. Pickup truck
C. Unibody
D. Full-frame

Analysis:
This question asks for a specific answer. By carefully reading the question, you will find that it asks for a construction type that uses the rocker panel as a structural part of the vehicle.

Answer A is wrong. Front-wheel drive is not a vehicle construction type.

Answer B is wrong. A pickup truck is not a type of vehicle construction.

Answer C is correct. Unibody design creates structural integrity by welding parts together, such as the rocker panels, but does not require exterior cosmetic panels installed for full strength.

Answer D is wrong. Full-frame describes a body-over-frame construction type that relies on the frame assembly for structural integrity.

Therefore, the correct answer is C. If the question was read quickly and the words “construction type” were passed over, answer A may have been selected.

EXCEPT Questions

Another type of question used on ASE tests has answers that are all correct except one. The correct answer for this type of question is the answer that is wrong. The word “EXCEPT” will always be in capital letters. You must identify which of the choices is the wrong answer. If you read quickly through the question, you may overlook what the question is asking and answer the question with the first correct statement. This will make your answer wrong. An example of this type of question and the analysis is as follows:

All of the following are tools for the analysis of structural damage EXCEPT: A. height gauge. B. tape measure. C. dial indicator. D. tram gauge.

Analysis:
The question really requires you to identify the tool that is not used for analyzing structural damage. All tools given in the choices are used for analyzing structural damage except one. This question presents two basic problems for the test-taker who reads through the question too quickly. It may be possible to read over the word “EXCEPT” in the question or not think about which type of damage analysis would use answer C. In either case, the correct answer may not be selected. To correctly answer this question, you should know what tools are used for the analysis of structural damage. If you cannot immediately recognize the incorrect tool, you should be able to identify it by analyzing the other choices.

Answer A is wrong. A height gauge may be used to analyze structural damage.

Answer B is wrong. A tape measure may be used to analyze structural damage.

Answer C is correct. A dial indicator may he used as a damage analysis tool for moving parts, such as wheels, wheel hubs, and axle shafts, but would not be used to measure structural damage.

Answer D is wrong. A tram gauge is used to measure structural damage.

Technician A, Technician B Questions

The type of question that is most popularly associated with an ASE test is the “Tech­ nician A says… Technician B says… Who is right?” type. In this type of question, you must identify the correct statement or statements. To answer this type of question correctly, you must carefully read each technician’s statement and judge it on its own merit to determine if the statement is true.

Typically, this type of question begins with a statement about some analysis or repair procedure. This is followed by two statements about the cause of the problem, proper inspection, identification, or repair choices. You are asked whether the first statement, the second statement, both statements, or neither statement is correct. Analyzing this type of question is a little easier than the other types hecause there are only two ideas to consider although there are still four choices for an answer.

Technician A, Technician B questions are really double true or false questions. The best way to analyze this kind of question is to consider each technician’s statement sep­ arately. Ask yourself, is A true or false? Is B true or false? Then select your answer from the four choices. An important point to remember is that an ASE Technician A, Techni­ cian B question will never have Technician A and B directly disagreeing with each other. That is why you must evaluate each statement independently. An example of this type of question and the analysis of it follows.

Structural dimensions are being measured. Technician A says comparing measurements from one side to the other is enough to determine the damage. Technician B says a tram gauge can be used when a tape measure cannot measure in a straight line from point to point. Who is right?

A. A only

B. B only

C. Both A and B

D. Neither A nor B

Analysis:
With some vehicles built asymmetrically, side-to-side measurements are not always equal. The manufacturer’s specifications need to be verified with a dimension chart before reaching any conclusions about the structural damage.

Answer A is wrong. Technician A’s statement is wrong. A tram gauge would provide a point-to-point measurement when a part, such as a strut tower or air cleaner, interrupts a direct line between the points.

Answer B is correct. Technician B is correct. A tram gauge can be used when a tape measure cannot be used to measure in a straight line from point to point.

Answer C is wrong. Since Technician A is not correct, C cannot be the correct answer.

Answer D is wrong. Since Technician B is correct, D cannot be the correct answer.

Most-Likely Questions

Most-likely questions are somewhat difficult because only one choice is correct while the other three choices are nearly correct. An example of a most-likely-cause question is as follows:

The most likely cause of reduced turbocharger boost pressure may be a:

A. westgate valve stuck closed.

B. westgate valve stuck open.

C. leaking westgate diaphragm.

D. disconnected westgate linkage.

Analysis:

Answer A is wrong. A westgate valve stuck closed increases turbocharger boost pressure.

Answer B is correct. A westgate valve stuck open decreases turbocharger boost pressure.

Answer C is wrong. A leaking westgate valve diaphragm increases turbocharger boost pressure.

Answer D is wrong. A disconnected westgate valve linkage will increase turbocharger boost pressure.

LEAST-Likely Questions

Notice that in most-likely questions there is no capitalization. This is not so with LEAST-likely type questions. For this type of question, look for the choice that would be the least likely cause of the described situation. Read the entire question carefully before choosing your answer. An example is as follows:

What is the LEAST likely cause of a bent pushrod?

A. Excessive engine speed

B. A sticking valve

C. Excessive valve guide clearance

D. A worn rocker arm stud

Analysis:

Answer A is wrong. Excessive engine speed may cause a bent pushrod.

Answer B is wrong. A sticking valve may cause a bent pushrod.

Answer C is correct. Excessive vaJve clearance will not generally cause a bent pushrod.

Answer D is wrong. A worn rocker arm stud may cause a bent pushrod.

Next Steps towards ASE Certification

Now that you’re familiar with Heater Cores: Problem Diagnosis, Inspection, Pressure, and Dye Testing, try out our free Automotive Service Excellence Tests to see how much you know!

Tech Tip:  Always Replace the Radiator Pressure Cap

Replacing Old Radiator Caps

Replace the old radiator cap with a new cap with the same pressure rating.  The cap can be located on the following:

  1. Radiator
  2. Coolant recovery reservoir
  3. Upper radiator hose

Warning

Never remove a pressure cap from a hot engine. When the pressure is removed from the system, the coolant will immediately boil and will expand upward, throwing scalding coolant in all directions. Hot coolant can cause serious burns.

Cooling System Hoses

All cooling system hoses should be checked for wear or damage.

Disposing of Used Coolant

Used coolant drained from vehicles should be disposed of according to state or local laws. Some communities permit draining into the sewer. Ethylene glycol will easily biodegrade. There could be problems with groundwater contamination, however, if coolant is spilled on open ground. Check with recycling companies authorized by local or state governments for the exact method recommended for disposal in your area.

Cleaning the Radiator Exterior

Overheating can result from exterior and interior radiator plugging. External plugging is caused by dirt and insects. This type of plugging can be seen if you look straight through the radiator while a light is held behind it. It is most likely to occur on off-road vehicles. The plugged exterior of the radiator core can usually be cleaned with water pressure from a hose. The water is aimed at the engine side of the radiator. The water should flow freely through the core at all locations. If this does not clean the core, the radiator should be removed for cleaning at a radiator shop.

Tech Tip:  Always Use Heater Hoses Designed for Coolant

Many heater hoses are sizes that can also be used for other purposes such as oil lines. Always check and use hose that states it is designed for heater or cooling system use.

Heater Hose for Coolant

The top 3/8 in. hose is designed for oil and similar liquids, whereas the 3/8 in. hose below is labeled “heater hose” and is designed for coolant.

Tech Tip:  Quick and Easy Cooling System Problem Diagnosis

  1. If overheating occurs in slow stop-and-go traffic, the usual cause is low airflow through the radiator. Check for airflow blockages or cooling fan malfunction.
  2. If overheating occurs at highway speeds, the cause is usually a radiator or coolant circulation problem. Check for a restricted or clogged radiator.

Next Steps towards ASE Certification

Now that you’re familiar with Heater Cores: Problem Diagnosis, Inspection, Pressure, and Dye Testing, try out our free Automotive Service Excellence Tests to see how much you know!

Cooling System Service

Flushing Coolant

Flushing the cooling system includes the following steps.

  • STEP 1 Drain the system (dispose of the old coolant correctly).
  • STEP 2 Fill the system with clean water and flushing/cleaning chemical.
  • STEP 3 Start the engine until it reaches operating temperature with the heater on.
  • STEP 4 Drain the system and fill with clean water.
  • STEP 5 Repeat until drain water runs clear (any remaining flush agent will upset pH).
  • STEP 6 Fill the system with 50/50 antifreeze/water mix or premixed coolant.
  • STEP 7 Start the engine until it reaches operating temperature with the heater on.
  • STEP 8 Adjust coolant level as needed.

Bleeding the air out of the cooling system is important because air can prevent proper operation of the heater and can cause the engine to overheat. Use a clear hose attached to the bleeder valve and the other end in a “suitable” container. This prevents coolant from getting on the engine and gives the technician a visual clue as to the color of coolant.

Check service information for specific bleeding procedures and location of the air bleeder fittings.

Bleeder Valve Refilling Coolant System

(a) Many vehicle manufacturers recommend that the bleeder valve be opened whenever refilling the coolant system. (b) Chrysler recommends that a clear plastic hose (1/4 in. ID) be attached to the bleeder valve and directed into a suitable container to keep from spilling coolant onto the ground and on the engine and to allow the technician to observe the flow of coolant for any remaining oil bubbles.

Coolant Exchange Machine

Many coolant exchange machines are able to perform one or more of the following operations.

  • Exchange old coolant with new coolant
  • Flush the cooling system
  • Pressure or vacuum check the cooling system for leaks

The use of a coolant exchange machine pulls a vacuum on the cooling system which helps illuminate air pockets from forming during coolant replacement. If an air pocket were to occur, the following symptoms may occur.

  1. Lack of heat from the heater. Air rises and can form in the heater core, which will prevent coolant from flowing.

Overheating. The engine can overheat due to the lack of proper coolant flow through the system. Always follow the operating instructions for the coolant exchange machine being used.

Coolant Exchange Machine

Using a coolant exchange machine helps eliminate the problem of air getting into the system which can cause overheating or lack of heat due to air pockets getting trapped in the system.

Hose Inspection

Coolant system hoses are critical to engine cooling. As the hoses get old, they become either soft or brittle and sometimes swell in diameter. Their condition depends on their material and on the engine service conditions. If a hose breaks while the engine is running, all coolant will be lost. A hose should be replaced any time it appears to be abnormal.

  • HINT: To make hose removal easier and to avoid possible damage to the radiator, use a utility knife and slit the hose lengthwise. Then simply peel the hose off.

The hose and hose clamp should be positioned so that the clamp is close to the bead on the neck. This is especially important on aluminum hose necks to avoid corrosion. When the hoses are in place and the drain petcock is closed, the cooling system can be refilled with the correct coolant mixture.

Next Steps towards ASE Certification

Now that you’re familiar with Heater Cores: Problem Diagnosis, Inspection, Pressure, and Dye Testing, try out our free Automotive Service Excellence Tests to see how much you know!

Coolant Temperature Warning Lights & Coolant System Inspection

Coolant System Warning Light Purpose & Function

Most vehicles are equipped with a heat sensor for the engine operating temperature indicator light. If the warning light comes on during driving (or the temperature gauge goes into the red danger zone), then the coolant temperature is about 250°F to 258°F (120°C to 126°C), which is still below the boiling point of the coolant (assuming a properly operating pressure cap and system).

Overheated Engine Coolant Overflow

When an engine overheats, often the coolant overflow container boils.

Precautions

If the coolant temperature warning light comes on, follow these steps.

  • STEP 1 Shut off the air conditioning and turn on the heater. The heater will help rid the engine of extra heat. Set the blower speed to high.
  • STEP 2 If possible, shut the engine off and let it cool. (This may take over an hour.)
  • STEP 3 Never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot.
  • STEP 4 Do not continue to drive with the hot light on, or serious damage to your engine could result.
  • STEP 5 If the engine does not feel or smell hot, it is possible that the problem is a faulty hot light sensor or gauge. Continue to drive, but to be safe, stop occasionally and check for any evidence of overheating or coolant loss.

Common Causes of Overheating

Overheating can be caused by defects in the cooling system, such as the following:

  1. Low coolant level
  2. Plugged, dirty, or blocked radiator
  3. Defective fan clutch or electric fan
  4. Incorrect ignition timing (if adjustable)
  5. Low engine oil level
  6. Broken fan drive belt
  7. Defective radiator cap
  8. Dragging brakes
  9. Frozen coolant (in freezing weather)
  10. Defective thermostat
  11. Defective water pump (the impeller slipping on the shaft internally)
  12. Blocked cooling passages in the block or cylinder head(s)

Real World Fix:  Highway Overheating

A vehicle owner complained of an overheating vehicle, but the problem occurred only while driving at highway speeds. The vehicle, equipped with a 4-cylinder engine, would run in a perfectly normal manner in city driving situations.

The technician flushed the cooling system and replaced the radiator cap and the water pump, thinking that restricted coolant flow was the cause of the problem. Further testing revealed coolant spray out of one cylinder when the engine was turned over by the starter with the spark plugs removed.

A new head gasket solved the problem. Obviously, the head gasket leak was not great enough to cause any problems until the engine speed and load created enough flow and heat to cause the coolant temperature to soar.

The technician also replaced the oxygen (O2) sensor, because the IAT-type coolant contains phosphates and silicates that often contaminate the sensor. The deteriorated oxygen sensor could have contributed to the problem.

Cooling System Inspection

Coolant Level

The cooling system is one of the most maintenance-free systems in the engine. Normal maintenance involves an occasional check on the coolant level. It should also include a visual inspection for signs of coolant system leaks and for the condition of the coolant hoses and fan drive belts.

  1. CAUTION: The coolant level should only be checked when the engine is cool. Removing the pressure cap from a hot engine will release the cooling system pressure while the coolant temperature is above its atmospheric boiling temperature. When the cap is removed, the pressure will instantly drop to atmospheric pressure level, causing the coolant to boil immediately. Vapors from the boiling liquid will blow coolant from the system. Coolant will be lost, and someone may be injured or burned by the high-temperature coolant that is blown out of the filler opening.

Accessory Drive Belt Tension

Drive belt condition and proper installation are important for the proper operation of the cooling system.

There are four ways vehicle manufacturers specify that the belt tension is within factory specifications.

  1. Belt tension gauge. A belt tension gauge is needed to achieve the specified belt tension. Install the belt and operate the engine with all of the accessories turned on, to run in the belt for at least five minutes. Adjust the tension of the accessory drive belt to factory specifications. The proper tension is based on the size of the belt. Replace any serpentine belt that has more than three cracks in any one rib that appears in a 3 in. span.
  2. Marks on the tensioner. Many tensioners have marks that indicate the normal operating tension range for the accessory drive belt. Check service information for the location of the tensioner mark.
  3. Torque wrench reading. Some vehicle manufacturers specify that a beam-type torque wrench be used to determine the torque needed to rotate the tensioner. If the torque reading is below specifications, the tensioner must be replaced.
  4. Depress the belt between the two pulleys that are the farthest apart and the flex or deflection should be 1/2 in.
Typical Marks on an accessory Drive Belt Tensioner

Typical marks on an accessory drive belt tensioner.

 

Tech Tip:  The Water Spray Trick

Lower-than-normal alternator output could be the result of a loose or slipping drive belt. All belts (V and serpentine multigroove) use an interference angle between the angle of the Vs of the belt and the angle of the Vs on the pulley. A belt wears this interference angle off the edges of the V of the belt. As a result, the belt may start to slip and make a squealing sound even if tensioned properly.

A common trick to determine if the noise is from the belt is to spray water from a squirt bottle at the belt with the engine running. If the noise stops, the belt is the cause of the noise. The water quickly evaporates and therefore, water just finds the problem—it does not provide a short-term fix.

Next Steps towards ASE Certification

Now that you’re familiar with Heater Cores: Problem Diagnosis, Inspection, Pressure, and Dye Testing, try out our free Automotive Service Excellence Tests to see how much you know!

Heater Cores: Problem Diagnosis, Inspection, Pressure, and Dye Testing

Heater Cores Purpose and Function

Most of the heat absorbed from the engine by the cooling system is wasted. Some of this heat, however, is recovered by the vehicle heater. Heated coolant is passed through tubes in the small core of the heater. Air is passed across the heater fins and is then sent to the passenger compartment. In some vehicles, the heater and air conditioning work in series to maintain vehicle compartment temperature.

Heater Problem Diagnosis

When the heater does not produce the desired amount of heat, many owners and technicians replace the thermostat before doing any other troubleshooting. It is true that a defective thermostat is the reason for the engine not to reach normal operating temperature, but there are many other causes besides a defective thermostat that can result in lack of heat from the heater. To determine the exact cause, follow this procedure.

Heater Core Installed in a HVAC Housing Assembly

A typical heater core installed in a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) housing assembly.

STEP 1

After the engine has been operated, feel the upper radiator hose. If the engine is up to proper operating temperature, the upper radiator hose should be too hot to hold. The hose should also be pressurized.

  1. If the hose is not hot enough, replace the thermostat.
  2. If the hose is not pressurized, test or replace the radiator pressure cap if it will not hold the specified pressure.
  3. If okay, see step 2.

STEP 2

With the engine running, feel both heater hoses. (The heater should be set to the maximum heat position.) Both hoses should be too hot to hold. If both hoses are warm (not hot) or cool, check the heater control valve for proper operation (if equipped). If one hose is hot and the other (return) is just warm or cool, remove both hoses from the heater core or engine and flush the heater core with water from a garden hose.

STEP 3

If both heater hoses are hot and there is still a lack of heating concern, then the fault is most likely due to an airflow blend door malfunction. Check service information for the exact procedure to follow.

HINT: Heat from the heater that “comes and goes” is most likely the result of low coolant level. Usually with the engine at idle, there is enough coolant flow through the heater. At higher engine speeds, however, the lack of coolant through the heads and block prevents sufficient flow through the heater.

Cooling System Testing

Visual Inspection

Many cooling system faults can be found by performing a thorough visual inspection. Items that can be

inspected visually include:

  • Water pump drive belt for tension or faults
  • Cooling fan for faults
  • Heater and radiator hoses for condition and leaks
  • Coolant overflow or surge tank coolant level
  • Evidence of coolant loss
  • Radiator condition
Corroded Rusted Radiator from Overheating Vehicle

A heavily corroded radiator from a vehicle that was overheating. A visual inspection discovered that the corrosion had eaten away many of the cooling fins, yet did not leak. This radiator was replaced and it solved the overheating problem.

Pressure Testing

Pressure testing using a hand-operated pressure tester is a quick and easy cooling system test. The radiator cap is removed (engine cold!) and the tester is attached in the place of the radiator cap. By operating the plunger on the pump, the entire cooling system is pressurized.

  • CAUTION: Do not pump up the pressure beyond that specified by the vehicle manufacturer. Most systems should not be pressurized beyond 14 PSI (100 kPa). If a greater pressure is used, it may cause the water pump, radiator, heater core, or hoses to fail.

If the cooling system is free from leaks, the pressure should stay and not drop. If the pressure drops, look for evidence of leaks anywhere in the cooling system, including:

  1. Heater hoses
  2. Radiator hoses
  3. Radiator
  4. Heater core
  5. Cylinder head
  6. Core plugs in the side of the block or cylinder head
Pressure Tester for Cooling System Diagnosis

The pressure cap should be checked for proper operation using a pressure tester as part of the cooling system diagnosis.

Pressure testing should be performed whenever there is a leak or suspected leak. The pressure tester can also be used to test the radiator cap. An adapter is used to connect the pressure tester to the radiator cap. Replace any cap that will not hold pressure.

Pressure Testing of a Car Engine under the Hood

Pressure testing should be performed whenever there is a leak or suspected leak.

Coolant Dye Leak Testing

One of the best methods to check for a coolant leak is to use a fluorescent dye in the coolant, one that is specifically designed for coolant. Operate the vehicle with the dye in the coolant until the engine reaches normal operating temperature. Use a black light to inspect all areas of the cooling system. When there is a leak, it will be easy to spot because the dye in the coolant will be seen as bright green. Pressure testing the cooling system. A typical hand-operated pressure tester applies pressure equal to the radiator cap pressure. The pressure should hold; if it drops, this indicates a leak somewhere in the cooling system. An adapter is used to attach the pump to the cap to determine if the radiator can hold pressure, and release it when pressure rises above its maximum rated pressure setting.

Coolant Leak Checking Dye Black Light

Use dye specifically made for coolant when checking for leaks using a black light.

Next Steps towards ASE Certification

Now that you’re familiar with Heater Cores: Problem Diagnosis, Inspection, Pressure, and Dye Testing, try out our free Automotive Service Excellence Tests to see how much you know!

Coolant Flow in the Engine

Types of Systems

Coolant flows through the engine in one of the following ways.

  • Parallel flow system. In the parallel flow system, coolant flows into the block under pressure and then crosses the head gasket to the head through main coolant passages beside each cylinder.
  • Series flow system. In the series flow system, the coolant flows around all the cylinders on each bank. All the coolant flows to the rear of the block, where large main coolant passages allow the coolant to flow across the head gasket. The coolant then enters the rear of the heads. In the heads, the coolant flows forward to a crossover passage on the intake manifold outlet at the highest point in the engine cooling passage. This is usually located at the front of the engine. The outlet is either on the heads or in the intake manifold.
  • Series-parallel flow system. Some engines use a combination of these two coolant flow systems and call it a seriesparallel flow system. Any steam that develops will go directly to the top of the radiator. In series flow systems, bleed holes or steam slits in the gasket, block, and head perform the function of letting out the steam.
Chevy V8 Block Coolant Holes Head Gasket

A Chevrolet V-8 Block that shows the large coolant holes and the smaller gas vent or bleed holes that must match the head gasket when the engine is assembled.

Coolant Flow and Head Gasket Design

Most V-type engines use cylinder heads that are interchangeable side to side, but not all engines. Therefore, based on the design of the cooling system and flow through the engine, it is very important to double check that the cylinder head is matched to the block and that the head gasket is installed correctly (end for end) so that all of the cooling passages are open to allow the proper flow of coolant through the system.

Cooling Fans

Electronically Controlled Cooling Fan

Two types of electric cooling fans used on many engines include:

  • One two-speed cooling fan
  • Two cooling fans (one for normal cooling and one for high heat conditions)

The PCM commands low-speed fans on under the following conditions.

  • Engine coolant temperature (ECT) exceeds approximately 223°F (106°C).
  • A/C refrigerant pressure exceeds 190 PSI (1,310 kPa).
  • After the vehicle is shut off, the engine coolant temperature at key-off is greater than 284°F (140°C) and system voltage is more than 12 volts. The fan(s) will stay on for approximately three minutes.

The PCM commands the high-speed fan on under the following conditions.

  • Engine coolant temperature (ECT) reaches 230°F (110°C).
  • A/C refrigerant pressure exceeds 240 PSI (1,655 kPa).
  • Certain diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) set.

 

Electric Cooling Fan Assembly Radiator

A typical electric cooling fan assembly showing the radiator and related components.

To prevent a fan from cycling on and off excessively at idle, the fan may not turn off until the ignition switch is moved to the off position or the vehicle speed exceeds approximately 10 mph (16 km/h).

Many rear-wheel-drive vehicles and all transverse engines drive the fan with an electric motor.

  • NOTE: Most electric cooling fans are computer controlled. To save energy, most cooling fans are turned off whenever the vehicle is traveling faster than 35 mph (55 km/h). The ram air caused by the vehicle speed is enough to keep the radiator cool. Of course, if the computer senses that the temperature is still too high, the computer will turn on the cooling fan, to “high,” if possible, in an attempt to cool the engine to avoid severe engine damage.

Warning: Some electric cooling fans can come on after the engine is off without warning. Always keep hands and fingers away from the cooling fan blades unless the electrical connector has been disconnected to prevent the fan from coming on. Always follow all warnings and cautions.

Thermostatic Fins

On some rear-wheel-drive vehicles, a thermostatic cooling fan is driven by a belt from the crankshaft. It turns faster as the engine turns faster. Generally, the engine is required to produce more power at higher speeds. Therefore, the cooling system will also transfer more heat. Increased fan speed aids in the required cooling. Engine heat also becomes critical at low engine speeds in traffic where the vehicle moves slowly. The thermostatic fan is designed so that it uses little power at high engine speeds and minimizes noise. Two types of thermostatic fans include:

  • Silicone coupling. The silicone coupling fan drive is mounted between the drive pulley and the fan. HINT: When diagnosing an overheating problem, look carefully at the cooling fan. If silicone is leaking, then the fan may not be able to function correctly and should be replaced.
  • Thermostatic spring. A second type of thermal fan has a thermostatic spring added to the silicone coupling fan drive. The thermostatic spring operates a valve that allows the fan to freewheel when the radiator is cold. As the radiator warms to about 150°F (65°C), the air hitting the thermostatic spring will cause the spring to change its shape. The new shape of the spring opens a valve that allows the drive to operate like the silicone coupling drive. When the engine is very cold, the fan may operate at high speeds for a short time until the drive fluid warms slightly. The silicone fluid will then flow into a reservoir to let the fan speed drop to idle.
Engine Driven Thermostatic Spring Cooling Fins

A typical engine-driven thermostatic spring cooling fins

The fan is designed to move enough air at the lowest fan speed to cool the engine when it is at its highest coolant temperature. The fan shroud is used to increase the cooling system efficiency.

Tech Tip: Be Sure to Always Use a Fan Shroud

A fan shroud forces the fan to draw air through the radiator. If a fan shroud is not used, then air is drawn from around the fan and will reduce the airflow through the radiator. Many overheating problems are a result of not replacing the factory shroud after engine work or body repair work to the front of the vehicle.

Next Steps towards ASE Certification

Now that you’re familiar with Coolant Flow in the Engine, try out our free Automotive Service Excellence Tests to see how much you know!

Water Pumps in Automotive Engine Coolant Systems

Operation

The water pump (also called a coolant pump) is driven by one of two methods.

  • Crankshaft belt
  • Camshaft

Coolant recirculates from the radiator to the engine and back to the radiator. Low-temperature coolant leaves the radiator by the bottom outlet. It is pumped into the warm engine block, where it picks up some heat. From the block, the warm coolant flows to the hot cylinder head, where it picks up more heat.

  • NOTE: Some engines use reverse cooling. This means that the coolant flows from the radiator to the cylinder head(s) before flowing to the engine block.
Coolant Flow Demonstration Automotive Engine

A demonstration engine running on a stand showing the amount of coolant flow that actually occurs through the cooling system.

Frequently Asked Quesiton: How much Coolant Can a Water Pump Move?

A typical water pump can move a maximum of about 7,500 gallons (28,000 liters) of coolant per hour, or recirculate the coolant in the engine over 20 times per minute. This means that a water pump could be used to empty a typical private swimming pool in an hour! The slower the engine speed, the less power is consumed by the water pump. However, even at 35 mph (56 km/h), the typical water pump still moves about 2,000 gallons (7,500 liters) per hour or 0.5 gallon (2 liters) per second!

 

Water pumps are not positive displacement pumps. The water pump is a centrifugal pump that can move a large volume of coolant without increasing the pressure of the coolant. The pump pulls coolant in at the center of the impeller. Centrifugal force throws the coolant outward so that it is discharged at the impeller tips.

As engine speeds increase, more heat is produced by the engine and more cooling capacity is required. The pump impeller speed increases as the engine speed increases to provide extra coolant flow at the very time it is needed.

Coolant Pump Impeller and Scroll V-Type Engine

Coolant flow through the impeller and scroll of a coolant pump for a V-type engine

Coolant leaving the pump impeller is fed through a scroll. The scroll is a smoothly curved passage that changes the fluid flow direction with minimum loss in velocity. The scroll is connected to the front of the engine so as to direct the coolant into the engine block. On V-type engines, two outlets are often used, one for each cylinder bank. Occasionally, diverters are necessary in the water pump scroll to equalize coolant flow between the cylinder banks of a V-type engine in order to equalize the cooling.

Water Pump Service

A worn impeller on a water pump can reduce the amount of coolant flow through the engine.

If the seal of the water pump fails, coolant will leak out of the weep hole. The hole allows coolant to escape without getting trapped and forced into the water pump bearing assembly.

The hole allows coolant to escape without getting trapped and forced into the water pump bearing assembly.

If the bearing is defective, the pump will usually be noisy and will have to be replaced. Before replacing a water pump that has failed because of a loose or noisy bearing, check all of the following:

  1. Drive belt tension
  2. Bent fan
  3. Fan for balance

If the water pump drive belt is too tight, excessive force may be exerted against the pump bearing. If the cooling fan is bent or out of balance, the resulting vibration can damage the water pump bearing.

Tech Tip: Release the Belt Tension before Checking a Water Pump

The technician should release water pump belt tension before checking for water pump bearing looseness. To test a water pump bearing, it is normal to check the fan for movement; however, if the drive belt is tight, any looseness in the bearing will not be felt.

Next Steps towards ASE Certification

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Coolant Recovery Systems in Automotive Engines

Purpose and Function

Excess pressure usually forces some coolant from the system through an overflow. Most cooling systems connect the overflow to a plastic reservoir to hold excess coolant while the system is hot.

When the system cools, the pressure in the cooling system is reduced and a partial vacuum forms. This vacuum pulls the coolant from the plastic container back into the cooling system, keeping the system full. Because of this action, the system is called a coolant recovery system. A vacuum valve allows coolant to reenter the system as the system cools so that the radiator parts will not collapse under the partial vacuum.

Coolant Recovery System Thermostat Radiator

The level in the coolant recovery system raises and lowers with engine temperature.

Surge Tank

Some vehicles use a surge tank, which is located at the highest level of the cooling system and holds about 1 quart (1 liter) of coolant. A hose attaches to the bottom of the surge tank to the inlet side of the water pump. A smaller bleed hose attaches to the side of the surge tank to the highest point of the radiator. The bleed line allows some coolant circulation through the surge tank, and air in the system will rise below the radiator cap and be forced from the system if the pressure in the system exceeds the rating of the radiator cap.

Surge Tank Cooling System

Some vehicles use a surge tank, which is located at the highest level of the cooling system, with a radiator cap.

Real World Fix: The Collapsed Radiator Hose Story

An automotive student asked the automotive instructor what brand of radiator hose is the best. Not knowing exactly what to say, the instructor asked if there was a problem with the brand hose used. The student had tried three brands and all of them collapsed when the engine cooled. The instructor then explained that the vehicle needed a new pressure cap and not a new upper radiator hose. The student thought that because the lower hose did not collapse that the problem had to be a fault with the hose. The instructor then explained that the lower radiator hose has a spring inside to keep the lower hose from collapsing due to the lower pressure created at the inlet to the water pump. The radiator cap was replaced and the upper radiator hose did not collapse when the engine cooled.

Next Steps towards ASE Certification

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Radiators in Automotive Engines

Types of Radiator Cores

The two types of radiator cores in common use in most vehicles are:

  • Serpentine fin core
  • Plate fin core

In each of these types, the coolant flows through oval-shaped core tubes. Heat is transferred through the tube wall and soldered joint to cooling fins. The fins are exposed to the air that flows through the radiator, which removes heat from the radiator and carries it away.

Engine Radiator Core Fins and Tubes

The tubes and fins of the radiator core.

Since the 1980s, most radiators have been made from aluminum with nylon-reinforced plastic side tanks. These materials are corrosion resistant, have good heat transferability, and are easily formed.

Core tubes are made from 0.0045 to 0.012 in. (0.1 to 0.3 mm) sheet brass or aluminum, using the thinnest possible materials for each application. The metal is rolled into round tubes and the joints are sealed with a locking seam.

The two basic designs of radiators include:

  1. Down-flow radiators. This design was used mostly in older vehicles, where the coolant entered the radiator at the top and flowed downward, exiting the radiator at the bottom.
  2. Cross-flow radiators. Most radiators use a cross-flow design, where the coolant flows from one side of the radiator to the opposite side.
Down-Flow and Cross-Flow Radiators

A radiator may be either a down-flow or a cross-flow type.

How Radiators Work

The main limitation of heat transfer in a cooling system is in the transfer from the radiator to the air. Heat transfers from the water to the fins as much as seven times faster than heat transfers from the fins to the air, assuming equal surface exposure. The radiator must be capable of removing an amount of heat energy approximately equal to the heat energy of the power produced by the engine. Each horsepower is equivalent to 42 BTUs (10,800 calories) per minute. As the engine power is increased, the heat-removing requirement of the cooling system is also increased.

With a given frontal area, radiator capacity may be increased by increasing the core thickness, packing more material into the same volume, or both. The radiator capacity may also be increased by placing a shroud around the fan so that more air will be pulled through the radiator.

  • NOTE: The lower air dam in the front of the vehicle is used to help direct the air through the radiator. If this air dam is broken or missing, the engine may overheat, especially during highway driving due to the reduced airflow through the radiator.

When a transmission oil cooler is used in the radiator, it is placed in the outlet tank, where the coolant has the lowest temperature.

Transmission Fluid Cooler in Radiator Tank

Many vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission use a transmission fluid cooler installed in one of the radiator tanks.

 

Pressure Caps

Operation

On most radiators the filler neck is fitted with a pressure cap. The cap has a spring-loaded valve that closes the cooling system vent. This causes cooling pressure to build up to the pressure setting of the cap. At this point, the valve will release the excess pressure to prevent system damage. Engine cooling systems are pressurized to raise the boiling temperature of the coolant.

  • The boiling temperature will increase by approximately 3°F (1.6°C) for each pound of increase in pressure.
  • At sea level, water will boil at 212°F (100°C). With a 15 PSI (100 kPa) pressure cap, water will boil at 257°F (125°C), which is a maximum operating temperature for an engine.

Functions

The specified coolant system temperature serves two functions.

  1. It allows the engine to run at an efficient temperature, close to 200°F (93°C), with no danger of boiling the coolant.
  2. The higher the coolant temperature, the more heat the cooling system can transfer. The heat transferred by the cooling system is proportional to the temperature difference between the coolant and the outside air. This characteristic has led to the design of small, high-pressure radiators that are capable of handling large quantities of heat. For proper cooling, the system must have the right pressure cap correctly installed.

A vacuum valve is part of the pressure cap and is used to allow coolant to flow back into the radiator when the coolant cools down and contracts.

  • NOTE: The proper operation of the pressure cap is especially important at high altitudes. The boiling point of water is lowered by about 1°F for every 550 ft increase in altitude. Therefore, in Denver, Colorado (altitude 5,280 ft), the boiling point of water is about 202°F, and at the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado (14,110 ft) water boils at 186°F.

Metric Radiator Caps

According to the SAE Handbook, all radiator caps must indicate their nominal (normal) pressure rating. Most original equipment radiator caps are rated at about 14 to 16 PSI (97 to 110 kPa).

Metric Radiator Caps

The pressure valve maintains the system pressure and allows excess pressure to vent. The vacuum valve allows coolant to return to the system from the recovery tank.

However, many vehicles manufactured in Japan or Europe use radiator pressure indicated in a unit called a bar. One bar is the pressure of the atmosphere at sea level, or about 14.7 PSI. The conversions can be used when replacing a radiator cap, to make certain it matches the pressure rating of the original.

  • NOTE: Many radiator repair shops use a 7 PSI (0.5 bar) radiator cap on a repaired radiator. A 7 PSI cap can still provide boil protection of 21°F (3°F x 7 PSI = 21°F) above the boiling point of the coolant. For example, if the boiling point of the antifreeze coolant is 223°F, then 21°F is added for the pressure cap, and boilover will not occur until about 244°F (223°F + 21°F = 244°F). Even though this lower pressure radiator cap provides some protection and will also help protect the radiator repair, the coolant can still boil before the “hot” dash warning light comes on and, therefore, should not be used. In addition, the lower pressure in the cooling system could cause cavitation to occur and damage the water pump. For best results, always follow the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended radiator cap.

Working Better Under Pressure

A problem that sometimes occurs with a high-pressure cooling system involves the water pump. For the pump to function, the inlet side of the pump must have a lower pressure than its outlet side. If inlet pressure is lowered too much, the coolant at the pump inlet can boil, producing vapor. The pump will then spin the coolant vapors and not pump coolant. This condition is called pump cavitation. Therefore, a radiator cap could be the cause of an overheating problem. A pump will not pump enough coolant if not kept under the proper pressure for preventing vaporization of the coolant.

Next Steps towards ASE Certification

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Thermostat Replacement

Two important things about a thermostat include :

  1. An overheating engine may result from a faulty thermostat.
  2. An engine that does not get warm enough always indicates a faulty thermostat.

To replace the thermostat, coolant will have to be drained from the radiator drain petcock to lower the coolant level below the thermostat. It is not necessary to completely drain the system. The hose should be removed from the thermostat housing neck and then the housing removed to expose the thermostat.

Thermostat Replacement Overheating Engine Coolant Level

Failure to set the thermostat into the recessed groove will cause the housing to become tilted when tightened.

The gasket flanges of the engine and thermostat housing should be cleaned, and the gasket surface of the housing must be flat. The thermostat should be placed in the engine with the sensing pellet toward the engine. Make sure that the thermostat position is correct, and install the thermostat housing with a new gasket or O-ring.

CAUTION: Failure to set the thermostat into the recessed groove will cause the housing to become tilted when tightened. If this happens and the housing bolts are tightened, the housing will usually crack, creating a leak.
The upper hose should then be installed and the system refilled. Install the correct size of radiator hose clamp.

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