Oil Cooler Buyer's Guide
- An oil cooler is a device used to extract the heat from the oil and dissipate it into the atmosphere.
- High-performance vehicles with dedicated oil cooling systems typically have them mounted behind the bumper, whether in front of the radiator or behind the side air vents.
- The oil cooler’s job is to constantly make sure that the oil is at its functional viscosity. When the engine heats the oil too much, the oil loses its viscosity, eventually causing its failure to lubricate the moving parts.
- Similar to how the radiator cools the coolant down, the oil cooler prevents the hot oil from reaching the uncooled reservoir by letting it flow inside its core. The drawn air then passes through the fins and cools the oil inside the tubes before exiting through the outlet tube.
- Be sure to check for oil leaks, coolant in the oil cooling system, or coolant leaking from the oil cooler, as it could be an indicator of an oil cooler problem.
- The price of an oil cooler varies depending on the quality and brand of the product you’ll find suitable for your car. Oil coolers on CarParts.com could cost you $4 to $1,200.
Internal combustion engines, from the term itself, operate by igniting fuel and air inside its chambers. The series of ignition that takes place in every cylinder generates heat which, if it becomes too much, could potentially damage the engine. The workaround is by liquid cooling the engine, which is letting a fluid flow into the engine, carry it out, and cool it off by means of heat transferring. The components that make up the process is known as the cooling system.
Now depending on what your car is, its cooling system may vary. There are air, water, and oil-cooling systems that keep the engine at its ideal operating temperature. Older vehicles rely on the good-old air-cooling process that’s lighter and simpler compared to its modern counterpart. Water-cooled engines, on the other hand, use a liquid-based substance known as the coolant, to transfer heat from the engine to the atmosphere.
The water-cooling system is a standard when it comes to today’s engine cooling. However, it may not be enough for some vehicles that are made or modified to produce more power. To compensate for the surplus heat, such vehicles are fitted with an oil cooler. If you’re having some issues with your oil-cooling system or looking forward to installing one, you’ve come to the right place. Here are the things you need to know about oil coolers.
What is an oil cooler?
An oil cooler is a heat transfer device used to extract the heat from the oil and dissipate it into the atmosphere. It looks like a small version of the radiator and is usually mounted in front of the same. It’s quite common for oil cooling system upgrades to result in the oil cooler being externally mounted on the front bumper. This is typically done on upgraded tuner cars that do not have a provision for an oil cooler. High-performance vehicles with dedicated oil cooling systems typically have the device mounted behind the bumper, whether in front of the radiator or behind the side air vents.
What does an oil cooler do?
High-performance vehicles generate enough heat to affect the oil’s viscosity. An oil’s viscosity is determined by the flow behavior characterized by the fluid’s consistency. A highly viscous oil means that it has a thick consistency, whereas a lower viscosity would equate to a thinner consistency. An oil that’s too viscous might not flow well inside the system, while oil that’s too thin won’t cling to the parts that need lubrication.
The oil cooler’s job is to constantly make sure that the oil is at its functional viscosity. When the engine heats the oil too much, the oil loses its viscosity, eventually causing its failure to lubricate the moving parts.
How does an oil cooler work?
In a regular car, it’s normal for the oil to get hot as it passes through the pipes inside the engine. Typically, the airflow that’s sucked in through the grille is enough to cool the oil down back to its original viscosity, as it isn’t that hot. This is not the case for high-revving, high-powered engines outfitted with serious modifications. Such engines produce more heat within shorter periods of time, able to cause the oil inside to reach its boiling temperature depending on the viscosity.
Similar to how the radiator cools the coolant down, the oil cooler prevents the hot oil from reaching the uncooled reservoir by letting it flow inside its core. The drawn air then passes through the fins and cools the oil inside the tubes before exiting through the outlet tube. The oil will recirculate again and the cycle will continue as long as your engine is running.
Symptoms of a failing oil cooler
The oil filter can fail due to various reasons. The loss of a functioning oil cooler is a big issue for your engine, as the oil could lose its lubricating properties, leaving the engine to overheat. Good thing there are symptoms that you can detect if your oil cooler is in bad shape.
Oil leaking out from the oil cooler
Leaks are often either caused by damaged gaskets or punctures within the return lines. The gasket in your oil cooling system is found in the oil cooler adapter. The adapter is what connects the lines to the oil cooler. If this gasket gets damaged, depending on which side, it will allow either hot or cooled oil to pour out of the system. If you fail to notice this symptom, you’ll be at risk of depleting your oil level, which can result in engine overheating.
Antifreeze/coolant leaking from the oil cooler
A failing oil cooler can force out the coolant that is inside the engine. You may notice this underneath the front-end of your vehicle. If a puddle has formed and without any visible dripping, the leak could be considered minor. If you see a stream of fluid flowing onto the floor, it means that your coolant is being depleted fast, leading to a failing cooling system. Do not ignore a coolant leak and seek your trusted mechanic’s help.
Coolant mixed with oil or oil in the cooling system
In a running engine, oil pressure is greater than the pressure in the cooling system’s pressure. If the oil cooler adapter gets damaged, the oil can infiltrate the cooling system and get mixed with the coolant. Conversely, coolant may enter the oil sump from the cooling system in an engine at rest and if the cooling system is still pressurized. The problem with this is that the coolant raises the oil level, which affects the rotation of the crankshaft.
How much is an oil cooler?
The price of an oil cooler varies depending on the quality and brand of the product you’ll find suitable for your car. Oil coolers found on CarParts.com could cost you $4 to $1,200. You could buy it as a single assembly or as part of a kit. Be sure to take note of the inlet and outlet attachment styles that you need.
You may filter the result by selecting from the different categories like types, material, and overall dimensions in the “Refined By” section on the left-hand side corner of the products page. To get the right fit, type your vehicle’s year, make, and model in the filter tab under the search bar.
Selecting an Oil Cooler That Best Suits Your Car
Basic engine development completely relies on your oil cooler of choice. High-performance cars use small coolers, while off-road heavy equipment cars use huge coolers. Other than these, you have to consider other factors when selecting an oil cooler. Read on and find out.
Types of oil cooler based on function
Tube and fin oil cooler: This type uses cooler lines to circulate air and take up the heat, releasing it into the fins. This will make the air move around the fins and absorb the heat. This cooler also works best when modified to prevent any sludge formation. This has good cooling efficiency but also has a higher pressure drop.
Transmission oil cooler: This is used for automatic transmissions in higher strain applications. This type is not really necessary for highway driving or other low to medium strain applications. Nevertheless, any vehicle whose transmission is subjected to a great deal of stress will need this cooler.
Stacked plate oil cooler: This cooler has plates that are arranged in a stack pattern. The oil passes through this, making the air move quite slowly. This makes it less efficient than the tube and fin oil system. Although this cooler has poor cooling efficiency it has lower pressure, and it is more durable.
Types of oil cooler based on design:
Bundle-type oil cooler: This type of oil cooler has a common design. It has a cylindrical "bundle" of tubes with headers at both ends, enclosed in a housing. The oil inlet is at the opposite end to the coolant inlet. The engine oil at its hottest is first exposed to the coolant at its coolest. This slightly increases cooling efficiency.
Plate-type oil cooler: This cooler allows the oil to circulate within a series of flat plates and the coolant to flow around them within a housing assembly. It is easier to clean and repair, but it has a lower cooling efficiency. It is also cheap, easy to maintain, and compact, making it the more preferred type.
8 Simple Steps in Installing an Oil Cooler
Maintaining oil temperature not only helps the radiator keep the motor cool, but it also helps the oil be at its best lubricating potential. This is where the oil cooler comes in. An oil cooler extends the life of oil, and this in return, extends the life of the engine. By installing an oil cooler, you're doing your car a huge favor. You don't have to be a pro to install one. You can install an oil cooler in 8 simple steps.
Difficulty level: Easy
Tools that you'll need:
- Oil drain pan
- Oil strap wrench
- Socket set
- Flat head screwdriver
- Engine oil
- Jack stand
Step 1: Place your car on a jack stand for safety. Make sure there is enough room to allow yourself to work under your car.
Step 2: Use an oil strap wrench to detach the oil filter (be careful: the oil could spill). Next, install the sandwich adapter on the oil filter fitting on the engine block.
Step 3: Smear the gaskets of the adapter with oil before screwing it in place and attach the filter to the adapter.
Step 4: Put the hose fittings on the adapter before installing it on the block. Wrap the threads of the fittings with thread tape for a tight seal.
Step 5: Fasten hose clamps to the oil lines and run them to the radiator. Attach the oil cooler to the radiator using knobbed nylon ties and locking collars.
Step 6: Thread the ties through the radiator and then through the oil cooler. Press the locking collars tightly against it.
Step 7: Cut off the excess nylon ties and attach the oil lines. Check if all fittings are tight before you start the engine.
Step 8: Make sure there are no oil leaks. If tightening doesn't stop it from leaking, see if you've done any mistake.
Remember that not all engine cars need oil coolers. Cars that run in high temperatures usually need them. If you have established the temperature range of the engine oil and found it to be hotter than 230 degrees F, that means you may need to install one.