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Driving to the South Coast? Do this one thing first

By Rachel Ziv - 5 December 2016 13

South Coast

It’s an all-too-familiar scene. Hiking it up and down the Clyde on the way to the South Coast and some poor family is stuck in sweltering heat, watching their smoking bonnet or flashing check engine light, waiting for a tow truck to save them.

Holiday ruined. Spending money gone.

Nat McGahey from CWC Auto Services in Ainslie shakes his head, as he thinks about the one simple thing every family should be doing before they leave to ensure they don’t end up like this.

“Cooling systems, cooling systems, cooling systems,” implores Nat. “It’ll cost you less than $100 to bring your car by for a full check of all the cooling systems. Then at least you can have peace of mind.”

Nat reminds Canberrans that even though their car may seem fine driving to and fro around town, that doesn’t do much to test its health and capability. And the weather has been reasonably cold until just the last few weeks.

“As soon as you start expecting it to drive for two hours straight, up and down one of the hilliest stretches of road this side of the state, you’re asking for trouble. Especially if it’s been a while since your last service or you’re trying to tow something!”

And having a new car doesn’t let you off the hook, he says.

“Some of the newer cars don’t even have a temperature gauge on the dash. But they still have a radiator. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a newer car can never overheat.”

Nat knows the Kings Highway and Clyde Mountain stretch of road well, having lived in Canberra all his life. He started CWC Auto Services in 1980 and has had a thriving business with happy customers for decades.

“We take real care of our customer’s cars,” he says. “That’s why we’re still in business after 36 years.”

According to Nat, summer is also the most popular time of year for buying a new car.

“A lot of cars change hands this time of year. If you’re buying a car, the best thing you can do to potentially save thousands of dollars and hours of agony, is to simply get it checked by a mechanic before you buy it.

It’s not an unreasonable request, and unless the owner is trying to hide something they won’t have a problem with it. Borrow the car for half a day or ask them to drop it off. We’ll do a series of investigations and provide a full report. Then you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s worth the money they’re asking for it.”

Nat has been doing buyer’s checks for 30 years and has always considered it an integral part of his business.

“Cars will always change hands and there are many, many lemons out there. Just make sure you don’t end up with one!”

Buyer’s checks take half a day, and CWC Auto Services offers a free courtesy car as standard.

And before you head to the coast?

“Holidays are great fun,” smiles Nat. “Just get your car checked out first so it can all go as planned.”

To organise an affordable cooling systems check or buyer’s check, call CWC Auto Services on 6247 3601 or book online through their website.

This is a sponsored article, though all opinions are the author’s own. For more information on paid content, see our sponsored content policy.

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13 Responses to
Driving to the South Coast? Do this one thing first
1
thatsnotme 12:28 pm
05 Dec 16
#

I’ve been caught by this before, and it was an expensive exercise. Coming back from a camping weekend down the coast, the cooling system gave out on Pooh Bear corner. Tow truck into Braidwood (luckily the NRMA covered that), finding out the radiator was probably stuffed we thought we might be able to limp back home – didn’t even make it to the other end of town before the heat alarm went off again.

It was Sunday afternoon, so with two young children we had to get a motel room, go out for dinner, and get the radiator and thermostat changed on Monday. Several hundred dollars later, we finally got home. Thank god we weren’t contractors, or we would have had to add a day’s missed pay on top of that.

Still, we were probably better off than the BMW that came in on a truck just after us, which probably had a cooked head gasket.

2
nealg 1:50 pm
05 Dec 16
#

I can remember as a boy going down the Clyde Mt when it was dirt and seeing many cars that were coming up the mountain with their bonnets up and radiators boiling. It was a regular thing back in those days.

3
John Moulis 2:33 pm
05 Dec 16
#

I have a 2000 Barina Olympic Edition which I bought second hand in 2011. It ran well, the temp gauge was always at the very bottom and I thought nothing of it. A few years ago I was told that the car needed a major service and the water pump needed to be replaced. As I was driving away from the mechanic’s the needle on the temp gauge rose to 100 – almost at the top.

I took it back and said that the car was overheating, something it had never done. “That’s normal” I was told. “Just close off the air vents and put the air conditioner on high whenever it happens to get the cooling fans to work”.

Every time summer comes I now have to do that constantly. No air conditioning for me, it all goes onto the engine. I would really like to go to the coast in The Makeshift but I’m afraid I’ll get stranded on The Clyde with an overheated car.

What do other Rioters think? Is it normal for the needle on a temp gauge to go up to 100 and necessitate blocking off the air vents and running the air con to cool the car down?

Every time I go to the mechanic asking for something to be done to bring it back to what it was before I got the water pump replaced I am told that there is nothing wrong and this is normal behaviour. It’s not normal when I am one of the only Canberrans who can’t go to the coast in summer.

4
creative_canberran 3:01 pm
05 Dec 16
#

The reason newer cars don’t have temp gauges is because cooling issues are very rare. Engines are more sophisticated, with cooler materials and smarter more extensive cooling systems. If you have your car services at the regular recommended intervals, you’ll be fine. If your someone who only has you car checked when needed, either because of a fault, or your about to go on a trip, that’s when you get issue more often.

Mine has a temp gauge, but if yours doesn’t and you’re concerned about it, invest in an OBD2 dongle. It takes data from the engine computers and feeds it to your smartphone. Records fault codes, keeps historic data, tells you much more than gauges ever could. Some insurers even give you a simple one now to monitor your driving and adjust premiums accordingly.

The lines of water cooled cars on the Kings Hwy topping up radiators are a thing of the past.

The one thing you really need to check before going down the Highway are tyres (wear and pressure). So many duds on the market, so many driving on old warn down tyres. 1.5mm might be the legal limit where the wear indicators show, but know that anything under 3mm will certainly compromise your wet handling somewhat, and the closer you get to 1.5 (including on the edges) the less margin your tyres have.

5
devils_advocate 3:29 pm
05 Dec 16
#

John Moulis said :

What do other Rioters think? Is it normal for the needle on a temp gauge to go up to 100 and necessitate blocking off the air vents and running the air con to cool the car down?
Every time I go to the mechanic asking for something to be done to bring it back to what it was before I got the water pump replaced I am told that there is nothing wrong and this is normal behaviour. It’s not normal when I am one of the only Canberrans who can’t go to the coast in summer.

That’s not how cooling systems work.

Turning on the a/c actually puts additional load on the engine. it will cause the motor to heat up MORE. Especially if the weather is hot and you are driving up a steep hill (e.g. the clyde).

The only way the car’s climate control system can be used to cool the engine is to use the heater. That is because there is a small radiator inside the cabin, hot water passes through it and the blower blows hot air into the cabin. Basically you are supplementing the main radiator in the engine bay with the smaller one in the cabin.

But it shouldn’t come to that. If your car is not leaking coolant, it’s either your water pump or your radiator. Radiators are pretty cheap – at most $200 for a common car model- and it’s not difficult to replace them, even for the novice. Water pump is a bit more of an involved job.

As for the article in general, cooling will probably not be an issue going down the mountain, particularly if you have a manual trans and are gearing through the descent. Far more important to check the quality of the brake fluid. Modern fluids don’t tend to boil, but they do take on water as they get old and you don’t want to be caught out with a soft pedal on the descent.

Finally, I also find it super disconcerting that modern cars don’t have a temp gauge.

6
devils_advocate 3:36 pm
05 Dec 16
#

creative_canberran said :

The reason newer cars don’t have temp gauges is because cooling issues are very rare. Engines are more sophisticated, with cooler materials and smarter more extensive cooling systems. If you have your car services at the regular recommended intervals, you’ll be fine. If your someone who only has you car checked when needed, either because of a fault, or your about to go on a trip, that’s when you get issue more often.

Not so sure about that. The basic technology for most car engines (suck squeeze push blow) hasn’t changed a lot and in some cases has gone backwards. For example big lumps of cast iron served as a really good heat sink, but now in the push to get the engine to come up to temp faster alloy engine blocks are all the rage. Most still run on the old belt-driven water pump with a tube and fin radiator up front, and rubber hoses to distribute it around.

The only reason I can think of as to why temp gauges in cars have been removed altogether (they were always pretty vague indicators) is cost saving. I suppose most radiators and water pumps last around 100,000 ks, and after that the manufacturer couldn’t care less.

7
MERC600 6:22 pm
05 Dec 16
#

devils_advocate said :

John Moulis said :

What do other Rioters think? Is it normal for the needle on a temp gauge to go up to 100 and necessitate blocking off the air vents and running the air con to cool the car down?
Every time I go to the mechanic asking for something to be done to bring it back to what it was before I got the water pump replaced I am told that there is nothing wrong and this is normal behaviour. It’s not normal when I am one of the only Canberrans who can’t go to the coast in summer.

That’s not how cooling systems work.

Turning on the a/c actually puts additional load on the engine. it will cause the motor to heat up MORE. Especially if the weather is hot and you are driving up a steep hill (e.g. the clyde).

The only way the car’s climate control system can be used to cool the engine is to use the heater. That is because there is a small radiator inside the cabin, hot water passes through it and the blower blows hot air into the cabin. Basically you are supplementing the main radiator in the engine bay with the smaller one in the cabin.

But it shouldn’t come to that. If your car is not leaking coolant, it’s either your water pump or your radiator. Radiators are pretty cheap – at most $200 for a common car model- and it’s not difficult to replace them, even for the novice. Water pump is a bit more of an involved job.

As for the article in general, cooling will probably not be an issue going down the mountain, particularly if you have a manual trans and are gearing through the descent. Far more important to check the quality of the brake fluid. Modern fluids don’t tend to boil, but they do take on water as they get old and you don’t want to be caught out with a soft pedal on the descent.

Finally, I also find it super disconcerting that modern cars don’t have a temp gauge.

Devils I had a new radiator installed in my old Ford EL three years ago, and I think it cost me around 450 bucks. But that was fitted.
Have learnt I’m no mechanic ..

8
dungfungus 6:28 pm
05 Dec 16
#

When topping up the coolant reservoir always turn on the car interior heater to full so the coolant fully charges the heat exchanger in the heater.

I once bought a slightly used car that had never left Queensland since it was new so the heater had never been turned on. When I was driving it back to inland NSW I turned the heater on but only got warm lukewarm air and saw the temp gauge go through the roof as the heater had drained most of the coolant out. I was able to limp to a service station and refill the coolant.

9
creative_canberran 9:19 pm
05 Dec 16
#

dungfungus said :

When topping up the coolant reservoir always turn on the car interior heater to full so the coolant fully charges the heat exchanger in the heater.

I once bought a slightly used car that had never left Queensland since it was new so the heater had never been turned on. When I was driving it back to inland NSW I turned the heater on but only got warm lukewarm air and saw the temp gauge go through the roof as the heater had drained most of the coolant out. I was able to limp to a service station and refill the coolant.

It’s called a heater core, and your description doesn’t make much sense as the heater core is part of a cooling circuit and would still have been feeding cooler coolant back into the engine. If the engine is low on coolant, it’s low, that’s the problem, heater or not.

10
JC 11:00 pm
05 Dec 16
#

creative_canberran said :

dungfungus said :

When topping up the coolant reservoir always turn on the car interior heater to full so the coolant fully charges the heat exchanger in the heater.

I once bought a slightly used car that had never left Queensland since it was new so the heater had never been turned on. When I was driving it back to inland NSW I turned the heater on but only got warm lukewarm air and saw the temp gauge go through the roof as the heater had drained most of the coolant out. I was able to limp to a service station and refill the coolant.

It’s called a heater core, and your description doesn’t make much sense as the heater core is part of a cooling circuit and would still have been feeding cooler coolant back into the engine. If the engine is low on coolant, it’s low, that’s the problem, heater or not.

Going to defend Dungers here what he says makes perfect sense. Most cars the hot/cold switch controls a valve that determines how much water is feed from the engine into the coil in the heater.

Want more heat the valve opens more water flows in the air gets hotter. Want less the valve closes and limits the water flow.

In cases where the heater hasn’t been used it can be bone dry so flicking to heat can lead to water being diverted to the heater and less on the main cooling system which can lead to overheating of the car.

11
JC 11:05 pm
05 Dec 16
#

devils_advocate said :

creative_canberran said :

The reason newer cars don’t have temp gauges is because cooling issues are very rare. Engines are more sophisticated, with cooler materials and smarter more extensive cooling systems. If you have your car services at the regular recommended intervals, you’ll be fine. If your someone who only has you car checked when needed, either because of a fault, or your about to go on a trip, that’s when you get issue more often.

Not so sure about that. The basic technology for most car engines (suck squeeze push blow) hasn’t changed a lot and in some cases has gone backwards. For example big lumps of cast iron served as a really good heat sink, but now in the push to get the engine to come up to temp faster alloy engine blocks are all the rage. Most still run on the old belt-driven water pump with a tube and fin radiator up front, and rubber hoses to distribute it around.

The only reason I can think of as to why temp gauges in cars have been removed altogether (they were always pretty vague indicators) is cost saving. I suppose most radiators and water pumps last around 100,000 ks, and after that the manufacturer couldn’t care less.

Yeah basic technology may be the same but now the systems are monitored and controlled by electronics which as the poster said makes modern cars a lot more reliable. At the most basic example are electric fans rather than old belt drive and more advanced things like limp mode etc.

12
devils_advocate 8:49 am
06 Dec 16
#

JC said :

In cases where the heater hasn’t been used it can be bone dry so flicking to heat can lead to water being diverted to the heater and less on the main cooling system which can lead to overheating of the car.

Yep another vote for dungers. It’s called ‘bleeding the coolant system’ and more generally it is important to get air bubbles out of the system so it pressurises properly. Another tip is to run the car with the heater on, the radiator cap off and the front of the car jacked up so the top of the filler is higher than the motor. That way you will make sure its as close as possible to 100% coolant and no air.

#MERC600, yes I was definitely talking about the cost of the core itself, not fitment. But my point was, even though replacing the water pump is a pretty involved job (normally done at timing belt) the radiator is just a few bolts, and potentially some plugs if there are thermo fans attached.

Other common failures for an underperforming radiator include just plain blocked (the little tubes in the radiator – when I was a kid we used to remove the end tanks and get them rodded out, but now rads are so cheap you just drop a new one in); a broken spring on the recovery cap (either on the rad itself or some reservoir – replace the cap); or missing fan shroud or undertray.

In summary, fix the cooling system because it’s way faster (cheaper, if you’re paying someone) to do that than to repair a blown headgasket/cooked cylinder head.

13
dungfungus 10:29 am
07 Dec 16
#

Just a short note on coolant.

It should be handled with care and any spills on the driveway should be washed away immediately.

Pets are attracted to it and if they lick it up a very painful death can result.

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