Modern-day vehicles may lack the iconic style and old school craftsmanship that a classic car offers, but new cars do have an advantage: Owners rarely need to worry about summer driving on the hottest of days, even in bumper-to-bumper traffic with the air conditioning on full blast. For those with classic cars, summer driving can occasionally be an exercise in paranoia, especially in the city where a smooth flow in traffic can suddenly shift into a long line of red brake lights.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep your classic cool in the sizzling heat, and best of all, you don’t have to break the bank to perform the first five preventative measures in this list.
Mix it up.
Making sure your engine coolant is mixed correctly and in good condition will help ensure your classic stays cool on those summer drives. You can purchase an Antifreeze tester from Amazon, eBay, or your local auto store. This tool will give you detailed information about the mixture of your coolant and the condition of the fluid. (Safety reminder: remember only to check your coolant when the engine is cold.)
Consider flushing your coolant system and refilling it with new fluid. Always make sure you have an accurate 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water, and always use the factory recommended fluid for your vehicle. While plain distilled water has better heat transfer capabilities than a mixture of antifreeze and water, it has a few factors that make it imperfect as an automotive coolant. For one, it has a relatively high freezing temperature at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but it also has a relatively low boiling point at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Since most engines are operating at a temperature of around 185-205 degrees, that only gives a small amount of wiggle room before boiling would occur. Unlike plain water that causes corrosion and deterioration to metal and rubber components, most antifreeze mixtures contain lubricants for the water pump, as well as corrosion inhibitors designed to cease the buildup of scale in the cooling system, which would clog the system and stop it from cooling entirely if not prevented.
One word: Maintenance.
While checking the condition of your coolant should be a part of your regular maintenance routine, you should inspect the entire coolant system before the driving season starts. Look for leaks, check coolant hoses for dry cracks, wear and rot. Are the hoses soft and spongey to the touch? Chances are you should replace them before you have a blowout. Next, check the tension and condition of your water pump belt. Make sure the air flow path to your radiator is clear of obstructions and debris. Gently clean the graveyard of dead bugs from your radiator with a soft bristle brush. Your car will thank you for it.
Keep it together under pressure.
The cooling system operates under pressure, so if your cap or hoses have a small leak, the system will not build enough pressure to cool the engine effectively. Check your radiator cap and hoses regularly. A high-pressure radiator cap is a good, cheap upgrade.
Let the air flow.
It is crucial to make sure your radiator fan is functioning properly. When the engine is off, check the fan for bent, broken or deformed blades. Many old cars also have a fixed or thermo coupler that attaches the radiator fan to the engine. Upgrading your old fan to a flex fan offers more pitch to the blades, which would increase air flow. Another upgrade to consider is converting to an electric thermo-controlled fan. This would allow more adjustability in controlling the fans on-and-off points for optimum cooling. Electric fans have several advantages, the most important being that it does not require extra engine speed to increase the airflow. It will keep cooling even if you’re stuck in traffic.
Add more cooling power.
Additives such as Water Wetter or Purple Ice improve heat transfer in your coolant system to further drop your water temperature. These products also help prevent corrosion.
Sometimes newer is better.
An aftermarket aluminum radiator may be somewhat of an investment compared to the items mentioned above, but it is worth the extra dollars. A larger radiator will increase the fluid capacity, and the aluminum material dissipates heat more effectively than an old steel radiator. Several manufacturers offer improved tube and fin designs that help improve the radiator’s performance. If you set your car up with one of these aftermarket radiators paired with a good electric fan, your vehicle will be ready to tackle traffic in the hottest of days, even in extreme driving events like the Woodward Dream Cruise and Hot Rod Power Tour.