Torque shop

What could be the reasons for a fluctuating coolant temperature gauge? Is this an age-related thing and to be left as it is or something to be concerned about? When the car was new, the needle was always at mid-point in the gauge but now, after seven years, it fluctuates but has so far not moved into the red zone.

A car's temperature gauge rarely falters with age. Hence a fluctuating gauge is reason for concern, as it points to possible faults elsewhere.

One common cause is a defective thermostat, a component that is inexpensive and easy to replace.

Other causes of a fluctuating temperature gauge are a failing radiator fan, insufficient coolant level and a leaking cylinder head gasket.

An erratic fan speed is both visually and audibly noticeable, and a sign that the electric motor is nearing the end of its life and should be replaced.

In almost every car built after the 1980s, the cooling system is a closed-circuit type with an expansion tank that has a clearly visible coolant level marking. It is important to visually check this level periodically because any drop is a sure sign of a leak somewhere in the system. Even the smallest leak must be rectified without delay.

If an engine overheats, its cylinder head gasket will be the first thing to be damaged. When this happens, coolant will seep into the oil passageways, contaminating the engine oil. The resulting mixture is no longer able to lubricate critical parts in the engine and damage can be permanent.

Usually, a simple pressure test that most workshops can perform would be able to identify a system leak.

Shreejit Changaroth

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2020, with the headline 'Torque shop'. Print Edition | Subscribe