My father used to own a recreational vehicle, (RV), that was heavy and had a large engine. Our province, British Columbia, has a lot of mountain passes that you must travel through. These are very steep so a lot of climbing is necessary when driving. Also, you tend to drive an RV in the summer when the weather is hottest. All this adds up to engine overheating in many cases. Engine overheating is a major problem since the oil is much less effective and internal engine components made of aluminum are prone to warpage with high heat. Often an engine's head gasket is unable to contain the heat of combustion which quickly leads to catastrophic engine failure. As well, the radiator is designed to vent clouds of steam rather than explode dangerously but this release is also dangerous due to the heat and toxic chemicals.

To reduce the danger and eliminate engine overheating, my father fashioned an emergency, standby cooling system that worked perfectly. He bought an inexpensive windshield washer pump, some tubing and a plastic tank. These were mounted in the RV so that the pump could deliver water in front of the radiator where it could spray onto the copper coils. The pump was wired to the battery and a switch on the dash. Normally, when the engine was operating in the normal temperature range, there was no danger so the standby system was off. In the event that the engine temperature started to rise, such as when ascending a steep hill on a hot day, the standby pump could be turned on. This had the effect of immediately cooling the radiator and the coolant inside. The resulant drop in temperature was dramatic, often reducing the dashboard gauge from 200F to 180F. After cresting the hill, the system could again be switched off as the regular engine cooling was then adequate.

By all means, regular attention should be given to the RV cooling system. The radiator coolant should be checked and changed regularly. There is a tool that rates the effectiveness of the coolant. It uses a simple suction bulb to extract some of the coolant from the radiator. A level or a series of floating balls indicates the coolant strength. If you don't have this tool, you should change your coolant every two years or so. Remember that the coolant also gives freeze protection to the engine in the colder areas. In fact, many states refer to coolant as "antifreeze". Regular maintainance of the cooling system must also include radiator cleaning and examination. Make sure that there isn't any debris in front of the radiator. Ensure that any installed shrouds are correctly positioned and have no damage to them. Periodic flushing of the radiator will help its effectiveness. If leaks are detected, these must be repaired quickly or the radiator replaced. The radiator cap is also a key component. This must be installed correctly. It is an inexpensive part so replacement every 10 years or so is advised.

If you have an older vehicle, an RV or not, you might want to consider the installation of a standby cooling system as described above. The required steps are not difficult and the added protection for the engine could be valuable. You should be aware that the standby system won't fix anything. If your vehicle is prone to overheating due to a clogged cooling system, head gasket failure or other problems, the standby cooling system will not help. It is just a simple option that you might consider. I once saw a classic car in a show that could have used such as system as well. Due to the slow cruising and extensive idling on a hot day, the car suffered a radiator boilover in a flat parking lot. The owner later installed a standby cooling system and never had a similar problem again.