Do You Flush? If Not, You Should: Flushing Your Cooling System

Preventative maintenance can completely eliminate most problems associated with cooling system failures. What kind of maintenance? Your vehicle’s cooling system is made up of many components and parts. The list includes your radiator, water hoses, water pump, thermostat, heater core, and many others. These parts need to be periodically replaced based on their service life and the recommendations of your vehicle service manual. The subject of this article is not a cooling system part per se. What we’re going to discus is the liquid (coolant) that runs throughout the cooling system. This liquid is the agent that is responsible for actually moving heat away from your engine and is commonly called antifreeze.Before we actually discuss flushing the coolant from your engine, let’s talk about the nature of the liquid cooled engine. I think you’re basic understanding of how the system works will greatly contribute to you properly perform a cooling system flush. I will discuss engine cooling in much greater detail in a subsequent article. I’ll just briefly touch on the subject here.During the normal operation of your engine, vast amounts of heat are generated. The heat is literally generated by explosions within the cylinders of your engine. If this heat were left to go unchecked, your engine would overheat and cease to function because your oil and other engine components would fail and that’s just the beginning of your problems. Liquid is very good at dissipating heat, so this liquid is pumped throughout the nooks and crannies of your engine, thus removing the heat and taking it to an area where it can be cooled. This “area” is your radiator and it is located at the front of the vehicle.The radiator has lots of surface area and fins that allow the heat to dissipate quickly. Once cooled, the liquid is then pumped back into the engine where the cycle repeats. This cooling process can actually be performed with plain water, however plain water has two characteristics that aren’t conducive to the practical operation inside an engine. First, water is not good at rust and corrosion prevention. In fact, it actually causes them. Second, water freezes at an unacceptable temperature for normal vehicle operation. Water good, ice bad.So, we add antifreeze to the water to give it the desirable characteristics for operation within an engine. Most antifreeze is made from ethylene glycol and is typically dyed green, yellow, red, orange, pink, or blue. Because of the ethylene glycol, antifreeze prevents corrosion in the cooling system and freezes at a much lower temperature than water, almost making it the perfect substance for cooling an engine. I said “almost” because the problem with antifreeze, like most things, is that it cannot protect forever. Typically, it looses its protective properties after just two years or 30,000 miles. Extended-life antifreeze is available that protects for much longer, but it is the exception, not the rule.Now that you know a little bit more about the nature of your cooling system and antifreeze, that brings us to flushing your cooling system. Let’s do it!The DrainingCaution! Make sure that your engine is cold. If you been driving your vehicle, let it cool for at least an hour before attempting to drain the system. The first thing you need to do is get rid of the old coolant. Remove the radiator cap so that you can let air into the system. You may have to raise the front of the vehicle to get to the bottom of the radiator. Another word of caution. This is a messy job, so make sure you have plenty of rags and paper towels handy. Also, wear goggles or safety glasses to protect your eyes. Coolant burns.Some drain plugs require a special tool to open them. This tool is available at your local auto parts store. Some drain plugs can be opened by hand and others may require the use of pliers.Make sure that you have a drain pan with a large enough capacity to catch all of the coolant. You can find the total engine coolant capacity in your owners or service manual. Move the dashboard ventilation lever to HOT to open the valve to the heater core. Now, open the plug and watch the show. If you don’t have a drain plug, just disconnect the lower radiator hose at the radiator. Removing the coolant from the radiator will evacuate about 45% of the coolant from the system. If your engine has a water drain plug on the engine block, removing it will help clear the antifreeze from the system faster than by just draining the radiator alone.After the first draining, close the bottom of the radiator, fill the system with water, briefly run the engine, drain and repeat. Thus, “flushing” the system. You want to make sure that the final system draining reveals clear water and no more antifreeze.If your city doesn’t have hazardous waste disposal for the spent antifreeze, the safest way to get rid of it is to pour it into a household drain, clothes washer pipe, or toilet. Don’t pour it onto the ground or into a storm drain. Make sure you keep the old and new antifreeze away from animals and children. It is typically sweet, tempting, and very poisonous.The Filling and the BleedingNow that the system is clear of the old antifreeze, you need to fill the system with the new antifreeze. Again, check the total capacity of the system. You’ll fill the system with half antifreeze and half water. Some antifreeze is available pre-mixed 50/50 with water. If this is the kind you have, then you can just fill as-is.This process takes a little care and patience to perform correctly. Because the engine block has lots of nooks and crannies, care must be taken to remove trapped air. The radiator fill cap and neck should be at the high point of the system to allow air to bleed out, however sometime this is not the case. So, if you have not raised the front of the vehicle, now is the time to do so.Fill the radiator with the antifreeze or antifreeze/water mixture. You may have a bleed screw somewhere on the top of the engine. Follow the upper radiator hose. The bleed screw may be on the top of the radiator, on top of the thermostat housing located on the top of the engine, or both. If you have a bleed screw, open it to allow the air to escape. Slowly pour in the required amount of antifreeze until you see it oozing from the air bleeds and then close the bleed screws. Pour the remaining antifreeze into the radiator and top off the system with water.If your system has a heater core valve, move the dashboard switch to COLD to close the system. Now with the engine running and warm, have someone move the dashboard switch back to HOT and listen to the valve. You should hear an initial rush of coolant into the heater core. After that, the valve should be silent. If you hear the gurgling sound of bubbles, air is still in the system. Check the whole system for leaks and then lower the vehicle. Make sure that you periodically check the coolant level in the system over the next few weeks. Continually top off the radiator as necessary as air rises to the top.Here’s a quick breakdown of the steps:Draining1. Make sure the engine is cool and protect your eyes
2. Raise the front of the vehicle if necessary
3. Move the ventilation lever to HOT
4. Remove the radiator cap
5. Open the radiator plug
6. Open the engine water plug if you have one
7. Close system, fill with water
8. Run engine, drain and repeatFilling and Bleeding1. Raise vehicle if you already haven’t done so
2. Open bleed screws if applicable
3. Move the ventilation lever to COLD if vehicle equipped with heater coolant valve
4. Fill with antifreeze or antifreeze/water mixture
5. Close bleed screws when coolant oozes out
6. Have assistant move ventilation lever to HOT, listen for rush and bubbles
7. Check for leaks and lower vehicle
8. Check coolant level periodically over two weeks and top off as necessaryRemoving old coolant and adding new coolant isn’t that difficult. It just takes a little time and patience. Performing this procedure at the proper intervals will aid in the protection of your cooling system components. You’ll have the satisfaction of a job well-done, a smile on your face, and an extra jingle in your pocket!

Five Easy Lessons for System Design

I never really understood the hubbub associated with system design. People tend to look upon it as a complicated process. Actually it’s not, yet the corporate landscape is littered with disastrous system projects costing millions of dollars, all because developers overlooked some rather simple principles for design and focused on technology instead. There are five easy lessons which can greatly expedite the development of any information system. To begin with, it’s not a matter of following a rigorous set of instructions, but simply having a different perspective on information systems, to illustrate:1. Information = Data + ProcessingThis is a simple formula involving two variables, data (the facts), and systems (how the data is processed). It also means there are differences between Information and Data, they are not synonymous. Data is nothing but the facts of the business; Information is the intelligence needed to support the actions and decisions of the business and, as such, it only has value at a particular point in time. Consequently, Data is stored, Information is produced. As an aside, there is little point in producing information if nobody is going to act on it.All system design projects begin with a definition of information requirements, not hardware/software specifications such as “functionality.” If information requirements are improperly defined, everything that ensues will be incorrect and a colossal waste of time and money.2. An Information System is a product that can be engineered and manufactured like any other product.All Information Systems consist of a four level hierarchy where the product is represented in various levels of abstraction, from general to specific. This is no different than an architect designing a building, or an automotive engineer designing a new car. This also means systems are designed “top-down” and tested and implemented “bottom-up.” When the various sub-assemblies are designed, they can be finished separately. This means a system design project can be conducted in parallel with different parts running concurrently. This is clearly a departure from the “waterfall” approach which assumes systems are designed in a linear manner.The system structure consists of: LEVEL 1, the System (the product); LEVEL 2, Sub-Systems (sub-assemblies represented by business processes used to collect data and produce information); LEVEL 3 (procedures, both manual and automated, interconnected to represent a flow of work); LEVEL 4 (steps for performing manual procedures, and programs for automated procedures).3. Systems communicate through data.Data is the glue holding systems together. It is the only way one part of the system communicates with another, through shared data. By identifying the fundamental data requirements for the Sub-Systems at Level 2, we can then develop the business processes in parallel knowing they will work together at the end of the project.4. There are logical and physical dimensions to systems and data.Sub-Systems (Level 2) represent logical processing; it is what we want to do, and when we want to do it. Levels 3 and 4 represent physically “How” the Sub-System is to be implemented which is normally based on economics and available technology. Whereas the logical portion of the system will rarely change, the physical portions will change more dynamically. For example, consider Payroll Systems used in business, both commercial packages and in-house developed systems. All provide the means to collect data regarding worker profiles (salaries, hourly rates, deductions, etc.); time worked, vacations taken, overtime, etc.; producing the actual payroll, and; various government reporting tasks. How this is physically implemented though, varies from one package or system to another, yet they all satisfy the logical specifications. In other words, payroll systems have logically been performed the same way for many years, their physical implementation though differs significantly.As another example, consider the various spreadsheets available (e.g., MS Excel, Lotus 123, Google, OpenOffice Calc); all fundamentally work the same but are physically implemented differently under the hood. How a system is physically implemented is of little importance if it solves the problem effectively.Data also has logical and physical dimensions. A data element has only one logical definition (what it is meant to represent), but may be physically implemented many different ways. For example, consider the different ways time can be represented, dates, weights, money, etc., yet the logical definition remains the same.Logical data models of the facts and events of a business (e.g., customers, orders, products, shipments, etc.) are required for implementation in physical file management techniques, including data base management systems.As should be obvious, whereas logical information resources will remain relatively static, the physical resources will change dynamically.5. Documentation is a byproduct of the design processJust like an architect or engineer who produces a set of blueprints depicting the various levels of abstraction in their product, systems developers should do likewise. At LEVEL 1 of the system hierarchy, Information requirements are used to define the various sub-systems; at LEVEL 2, the various sub-system definitions, complete with inputs, outputs, and logical files, are used to define the procedures; at LEVEL 3, the procedure definitions, including inputs, outputs and physical files, define the steps for manual procedures and software specifications. At this point, LEVEL 4, there should be sufficient documentation for programmers to develop and test their programs.This approach is no different than an architect completing the blueprints before laborers can begin construction. In systems, programmers produce and test each program; they then test the software as a string (Level 4); then test the workflow of the sub-system, including both manual and automated procedures (Level 3); then parallel testing of the sub-systems (Level 2), before putting the system into operation (Level 1). Again, you design top-down, test and implement bottom-up.The point is, good specifications can improve programmer productivity far better than any tool or technique.Yes, system design is actually quite that simple. However, people tend to make it more complicated than it needs to be. It’s not a matter of lengthy instructions as embodied in a methodology, it’s a matter of perspective. If you can accept the concepts embodied by these five easy lessons, you can build any information system. That’s right, any.