Steep mountain roads can be quite strenuous on cars. During the summer season, many people will be driving to Baguio City. Readers have sent us photos from the most recent long weekend. In them, cars were lined up bumper-to-bumper, crawling their way up the steep inclines of Marcos Highway. Some photos even showed groups of cars broken down by the side of the road. Why so many breakdowns?
We explain the causes below:
The harder an engine works, the more stress on its cooling system. Exacerbating the problem is when traffic slows to a crawl on very steep inclines (like what happens when too many tourists flock to Baguio City) and not enough air is pushed through the radiator. To avoid this situation, wait for a clear path up the slope. But if you must attack the hill at a snail’s pace, be sure that your car is in good condition.
An overheating engine can be caused by several factors, the simplest of which is not having enough coolant. Be mindful of the coolant levels and always use distilled water mixed with rust inhibitors. It is always recommended to use distilled water so that no mineral deposits collect and form throughout the pipes and passages of the cooling system. Ordinary tap water has minerals that will leave scales and eventually pile up into deposits which will impede the flow of coolant throughout the engine. Water is still one of the best coolants out there, and in a tropical climate like ours, an 80% water, 20% rust inhibitor mix should be fine. Always keep levels topped up.
When checking the cooling system, be mindful of the condition of all the hoses (upper radiator hose, lower radiator hose, bypass hoses, and heater core hoses). Check for leaks around the joints and collars, and on the hoses themselves. It’s also not a bad idea to keep spare hoses with you.
Cooling fans should always be functioning properly, too. If not, an engine will overheat in traffic because the radiator needs a constant flow of air to maintain operating temperatures. When the car isn’t moving and there’s no air flowing through the radiator the water will boil.
Belts should be checked for proper tension and condition as well. Cracked fan and drive belts should be replaced. The drive belt turns the water pump, and the water pump circulates the coolant through the engine. A properly tensioned drive belt ensures that the pump works properly. Water pumps should be replaced every 80,000km to 100,000km.
For tips on what to do if your car begins to overheat, click here.
2) Clutch issues
Cars with worn-out clutches will have difficulty climbing a mountain road. In a manual- transmission car, the clutch transfers engine power to the drivetrain using friction material. This friction material can be worn out prematurely when in the hands (or left foot) of an inexperienced driver. A burnt clutch due to misuse of the clutch pedal during a long and slow crawl up an incline is enough to render a car immobile. You can smell the damage, too. (We’ve done a story about the warning signs of clutch issues—check it out here.)
Don’t even dare go on a long trip up to the mountains with a worn-out clutch disc. Even if an engine is in good condition, power cannot be transmitted to the drivetrain and the wheels. If you suspect that your clutch is slipping and you smell burnt friction material, it might already be too late. If so, pull over and give the clutch a ’rest.’ If you are lucky, the clutch will work properly again after a few minutes and you will be able to limp the car to your destination. If the clutch has failed completely, it’s time to call a tow truck.