Contributed by Bob Chabot
Reboot Your Cooling System Service Practices
Archaic service procedures can initiate premature failures
“Like many other modern vehicle systems today, when individual cooling system components wear, they put the entire system at risk,” explained Bobby Bassett, national training manager for Gates Corp. MOTOR visited with Bassett following a training session he provided for a/c and cooling system professionals at the 2017 Mobile Air Conditioning Society’s Training Event, held in Anaheim CA in mid-February.
“Outdated service procedures still practiced in many shops today are initiating problems before vehicles even leave the shop,” Bassett advised. “These are forcing many premature failures that are service-based, not manufacture-related. For everyone’s sake, this needs to change.”
Manufacturers of cooling system components are increasingly rejecting warranty claims when improper service procedures are the root cause of failures. (All images — Gates Corp.)
Sometimes, Service is the Issue
“A recent study by the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) concluded that 97.5 percent of all warranty claims were preventable,” Bassett shared. “AASA noted the root cause of failures was rarely manufacturer-related but rather the result of improper service procedures.
“For example, AASA cited that if a “full flush and fill” of new coolant was not part of the service repair process, post-replacement premature failures rates were found to be as high as 95 percent for water pumps and 40 percent for radiators. No wonder water pump and antifreeze manufacturers are increasingly rejecting warranty claims when improper service is evident.
“To stop initiating premature forced failures, the industry has to work together. It’s not so much about replacing coolant as it is about purging damaging service procedures and replacing them with updated ones. It’s not just an independent shop issue either; it’s happening in dealership facilities too. In fact, only some automakers have begun to put the knowledge we’ve been sharing into their service information.”
Here are the top reasons AASA’s survey found as to why water pumps fail. For each, consider if and how outdated service practices could be responsible:
- Contamination due to mixing dissimilar coolants.
- Inhibitors protecting metal were diluted or failed.
- Leaking created by using sealant with a metal gasket or rubber o-ring.
- System overload or imbalance causing the housing or shaft to break, causing the hub or pulley to fall off, or causing the bearing to walk out of the pump.
- Electrolysis and/or galvanic corrosion causing particulates to form and seals to become damaged.
- Contamination due to using hard water creating mineral deposits that break off and damage the seals.
- Improper torque of all bolts on the water pump.
Want to Stake Your Service Reputation on an Unknown?
Bassett shared a number of key coolant service takeaways:
- Implement the Gates Corporation I60R90/Be System Smart Inspection Recommendations, which are also recommended by the Car Care Council — “There is a difference between component failures and system failures. Start inspecting the coolant and serpentine belt drive systems at 60,000 miles, then re-inspect or replace worn components by 90,000 miles, or as advised by the manufacturer.”
- Contaminated Coolant Left in Vehicles When Serviced Can Cause Premature Cooling System Failures and Customer Comebacks — “There are three distinct problems happening in cooling systems today, namely contaminated coolant, suspended solids, and inadequate inhibitor protection. Shops need to understand that if old or contaminated coolant is reused, suspended solids in that coolant will act as abrasives that can quickly destroy a new water pump.”
- Shops Must Adopt ‘Full Flush and Fill of New Coolant’ Into Their Service Procedures — “Anything less is detrimental. Proper formulations of coolants and their inhibitor packages lubricate and protect internals. As little as a 17 percent inter-mix of coolants can create catastrophic premature failures in the cooling system.”
"Don’t stake your reputation on an unknown," Bassett stressed. “Realize when you service a customer’s cooling system that the coolant may have been contaminated and is no longer viable. If you don’t check, you just don’t know. Your customer may not either, so protect yourself. Ask them, recommend and explain why a full flush and fill is needed, and document it and their response on the work order.”
Be “System Smart” — Remember to consider the entire cooling system when servicing, not just individual components. For example, similar to a broken belt in a vehicle’s belt drive system, a water pump failure can indicate future failures to come in just a few months. Be sure to conduct a visual inspection of the whole system, as it may reveal other immediate service opportunities. To protect yourself, if you just replace the pump, be sure to advise your customer of system risks and note that on the work order.
Out With the Old, In With the New
“We must all be more vigilant,” Bassett urged. “Cooling system technology is changing so fast, it’s continually impacting the way we need to service and repair systems. As examples, he then shared three cooling system service best practices shops should consider implementing:
- When Replacing a Cooling System Component, Recommend a Full Flush and Fill of Coolant — Research shows that if a flush and fill (which renews the inhibitors that protect new components) was not performed at the same time the water pump was replaced, the customer may see their water pump begin to fail again beginning as soon as seven months or 7,700 miles later.
- Protect New Water Pumps From a Dry Start-Up — Before installing a new water pump, invert the pump, impeller side up and pour a small amount of coolant around the shaft. Rotate the impeller a couple of turns to work the new coolant between the water pumps seal sealing surfaces helping to guard it against a dry start up.
- Give New Water Pumps a Clean Start — Once a water pump failure has been determined, flush the system with the old water pump. Then once all of the old coolant has been removed, remove the old pump and install the new pump, gently refilling with new coolant. This eliminates forcing old contaminated coolant through the new water pump seal during the flush.
“Technicians often tell us they don’t provide ‘full flush and fill’ of coolants because their shop’s current machines take too long and add cost to the service,” Bassett explained. “To offset those concerns, new quality total coolant replacement tools, such as the Gates PowerClean Tool, can become a profit center by shortening service time and reducing comebacks, premature failures, and rejected warranty/labor claims.”
“It’s also important that we and other manufacturers provide updated service training on a timely basis,” he concluded. “Likewise, service facilities must ensure their technicians have access to that training. Finally, technicians must integrate new knowledge and apply the most current service procedures. If we all keep pace, then everyone, including our customers, will benefit.”
[Editor's note: Visit MOTOR.com for the latest diagnostic and service insights.]