Let's look for the obvious solutions first...

1st check the coolant level. A proper system should include a surge tank to help remove any air from the system. With a properly working surge tank in place, the radiator should always be completely full when the cap is removed (only when cold). If it is not, there is a problem. Either the surge tank is empty, or there is a leak in the system.

If the tank is empty, then fill it appx. halfway up with a 45% mixture of antifreeze/water (a good compromise mixture for corrosion protection and maximum cooling effectiveness).

For a leak, the most common cause is a bad radiator cap. The cap should have a rubber gasket that seals the cap to the top of the neck. If the gasket is missing, cracked, or the neck's flange is bent, air will be drawn in here, instead of coolant from the surge tank, when the coolant cools off and contracts.

Next should come a pressure test of the system, including the cap. The system should hold a static pressure of 18 psi with no bleed-off for 5 minutes. An automotive or radiator repair shop will have the tools to perform this test quickly & easily.

Radiator Condition...

Coolant flow restriction can be caused by debris or corrosion that blocks flow thru the tubes. These flow restrictions will likely cause some areas of the core to reject more heat than others. If your radiator has cool spots in it, you likely have this problem. Reverse flushing the radiator can sometimes remove debris lodged in the tubes, and chemical flushing can reduce corrosion restrictions. Severe cases can only be remedied by a professional.

Just as coolant flow restriction can reduce radiator efficiency, so can airflow restriction. Bugs, dirt, leaves, and bent fins are always bad news. Careful cleaning and patience can cure these ills.

The Thermostat...

The thermostat, a vital part of the cooling system, is not a good place to save money. A "balanced", hi-flow unit should be the minimum accepted. The dime store varieties actually increase their opening temperature as pressure builds. At higher RPMs, the water pump can create 30lbs or more pressure in the block against the outlet restriction of the thermostat. With that 30 lbs of pressure acting against a cheap design thermostat, the opening temperature of a 185 degree unit can be raised to 199 degrees !!! The "balanced" design has equal pressure on both sides of the sleeve, so opening temperature is independant of outlet pressure. If your overheating problem is at higher RPM, a cheap thermostat could be contributing to your problem.
Ask for a quality "balanced design" thermostat, and most knowelegable partsman will know what you are talking about.

Radiator Hoses...

The lower radiator hose is another often overlooked source of high RPM cooling problems. As the water pump speed increases, the pressure inside the lower hose can become very low, as the water must be drawn thru the radiator core. If water flow becomes high enough, the core can become a restriction. When the restriction becomes large enough, the system pressure between the radiator core and the water pump can get low enough to allow the hose to COLLAPSE !!! If the hose collapses, no flow is happening, and overheating is the only outcome.

Most lower (or suction side) radiator hoses come with a spiral wound "spring" like coil inside it's length, which is typically made of stainless wire. If your lower hose does not have one, get one. Even if your hose feels stiff without one, it will become quite soft as the coolant temperature goes up.

Air Pockets...

An often overlooked cause of heating problems can be traced to trapped air in the cylinder heads. With the modern sloping hoodlines, radiator fill necks are often lower than some areas of the water jacket. Since the highest part of the water jacket tends to be in the heads of a V-8, the resulting air pocket can lead to a very bad situation. The areas inside the engine that the air pocket contacts are insulated from the cooling effects of the coolant, meaning less heat is carried away to the outside. When the temperature of the mostly un-cooled area of the head gets higher than the boiling point of the coolant, steam is created. Steam expands much faster than liquid, so the now "steam pocket" grows. The bigger pocket insulates even more area of the head, making it hotter yet. This situation will not correct itself, and often results in disaster.

A few things can be done to reduce or eliminate air pockets.

1st, is to re-locate the radiator cap to the highest point of the system. Aftermarket units are available that can be put into the upper radiator hose, and are very effective. Other units are available that bolt to the thermostat housing and place the cap there, but beware: If the thermostat is subjected to the pressures that exist before the thermostat, which are often above 30psi at speed, the cap's relief pressure will be exceeded, and coolant will be released.

2nd, an air seperator tank (AST) can be installed. This requires additional plumbing & small hoses from the high points in the heads to the top of the tank. The bottom of the tank is plumbed into the suction side of the water pump, providing a flow that carries away the air and traps it in the AST.

Heater Core Plumbing...

Here is an often overlooked cause of static or low speed overheating.

In many cases, the heater core is plumbed into the water pump suction side, and to the water outlet area before the thermostat. What can happen is that the water will go thru the free-flowing heater core, instead of the restrictive thermostat, effectively bypassing the radiator core with a high percentage of low RPM coolant flow. While the heater core is a form of radiator core as well, many get NO AIR FLOW when the heater is turned off, which is very likely in warm weather. If that's the case with your system, a large percentage of your low speed coolant flow is not getting cooled.

A simple test for this condition is blocking the flow of the hearer core. This is easily accomplished restricting flow thru the heater core with a clamp or locking plier at any point on the heater hoses. The added restriction will force more water to travel thru the radiator core, where the existing airflow can cool it.

If this helps your static overheating problem, a permanent fix is cheap and easy. All that is needed is a restriction in one of your heater hose fittings. You can buy a new one at a parts store with the restriction built-in (they are called flow controls), or add the restriction yourself. The opening on the hose end can be welded up or a smaller brass fitting can be threaded into the hole to reduce it's size. A 1/4" hole will allow enough flow for heater operation, but enough restriction to control the un-cooled heater core flow in hot weather.

Air Flow & Control...

Radiators work by taking heat from the coolant, and raising the temperature of the air flowing thru the core. The greater the temperature difference between the coolant and the air, the quicker the heat transfer takes place. Keeping this in mind, it easy to see that the cooler the incoming air is, the more heat it can absorb and take with it as it exits the core. Some engine compartments are tight, and have poor airflow characteristics, requiring special effort into controlling airflow. If the hot air makes it's way to the front side of the radiator for another pass thru, less heat will be taken from the coolant due to the elevated air temperature. The air exiting the core is now even hotter, further reducing heat transfer when it makes another pass thru. The situation only gets worse. Fortunately, there's something you can do.

1st thing is to verify that you have airflow thru all parts of the core. Airflow should be strong enough, when hot and at idle, to hold a 5"x5" piece of cardboard in place against the core, unassisted. If it falls off with the engine running, you need more airflow. A bigger fan, a closer fan, or a fan w/ more pitch are possible solutions. More severe situations may require a shroud to pull air evenly in all areas, even the corners, to get the maximum efficiency from the core.

2nd thing you can do is to manage the airflow that you have. The purpose is to get rid of the exiting air from the engine compartment, so that it cannot raise the temp of the cooling air. Since this is hard to do in a static situation, you should make it as difficult as possible for the pre-heated air to re-circulate thru the core. Possible solutions include blocking all the holes (except the core) between the engine compartment and the grill area, using weatherstripping to seal the top of the rad to the underside of the hood, and adding a flat baffle panel or chin spoiler under the radiator to force the heated air to take a longer path (allowing it to cool more) before it can recirculate.

Oil Coolers...

Transmission and engine oil coolers can also add to the loads on your radiator core. Transmission coolers inside the radiator tanks and oil-to-water oil coolers both add heat to the coolant. If you are already boaderline, the additional load can put you over the edge. By using external coolers, you are adding core area, which gives you more capacity. Since oil temperatures can be much higher than coolant under load, it makes sense to seperate them. Why add heat to the coolant if it's already close to boiling ?

Ignition Timing, Cam Timing, Compression & Octane...

Retarded ignition timing, early opening exhaust valves, and excessive octane/slow burning fuel (such as AV Gas) can also add to the heat in the engine compartment. All these situations release excessive energy into the exhaust system, due to the mixture still burning, releasing energy after the exhaust valve is opened. The excessive exhaust temperature can promote hot spots between the siamesed center exhaust ports (no coolant passages between them) of engines like the small block Chevy, causing steam pockets and the resulting downward spiral.

A common cause is a lower compression engine burning aviation or race gas with a higher than needed octane. More compression or less octane are the answers here.

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