The Cooling Fan

Like the thermostat, the cooling fan has to be controlled so that it allows the engine to maintain a constant temperature.

Front-wheel drive cars have electric fans because the engine is usually mounted transversely, meaning the output of the engine points toward the side of the car. The fans are controlled either with a thermostatic switch or by the engine computer, and they turn on when the temperature of the coolant goes above a set point. They turn back off when the temperature drops below that point.


Rear-wheel drive cars with longitudinal engines can have engine-driven cooling fans and possibly electric fans as well. These fans have a thermostatically controlled viscous clutch. This clutch is positioned at the hub of the fan, in the airflow coming through the radiator. This special viscous clutch is much like the viscous coupling sometimes found in all-wheel drive cars.

Heating System

You may have heard the advice that if you car is overheating, open all the windows and run the heater with the fan going at full blast. This is because the heating system is actually a secondary cooling system that mirrors the main cooling system on your car.


The heater core, which is located in the dashboard of your car, is really a small radiator. The heater fan blows air through the heater core and into the passenger compartment of your car.

The heater core draws its hot coolant from the cylinder head and returns it to the pump — so the heater works regardless of whether the thermostat is open or closed. When the fluid in the cooling system heats up, it expands, causing the pressure to build up. The cap is the only place where this pressure can escape, so the setting of the spring on the cap determines the maximum pressure in the cooling system. 

When the pressure reaches 15 psi, the pressure pushes the valve open, allowing coolant to escape from the cooling system. This coolant flows through the overflow tube into the bottom of the overflow tank. This arrangement keeps air out of the system. When the radiator cools back down, a vacuum is created in the cooling system that pulls open another spring loaded valve, sucking water back in from the bottom of the overflow tank to replace the water that was expelled