It stands to reason that any time you can add a fluid cooler to your engine or transmission, the operating temperatures will drop. Adding a fluid cooler will not only keep temperatures cooler, but they’re especially beneficial with tow vehicles, off-roading, and for performance applications, where heavy-duty use can be expected on a regular basis.
One area that many people overlook is the power steering system in their classic musclecar. Many modern vehicles have a fluid cooler in the power steering system, and that cooler is often a tube with a single loop mounted in direct air flow passing through the grille. It’s a simple, cost-effective design that works for many street driven vehicles.
A radiator-style cooler, like the Series 10000 Stack Plate Cooler we installed from Derale, will cool fluids much more efficiently than the single loop. Instead of a single pass, there are ten passes of fluid through the cooler, providing more surface area to cool the fluid while adding additional fluid capacity to the system. It can reduce power steering fluid temperatures significantly, and help to prolong the life of your steering pump and steering gear, as well as keeping your fluid from reaching the boiling point.
Why Install A Cooler?
Many classic cars had a very simple hose system for the power steering – without any type of fluid cooler at all. The reservoir, either pump- or remote-mounted, feeds the pump, which pumps fluid to the steering gear, and that hot fluid is returned to the reservoir. That cycle takes the hot fluid in the reservoir and pumps it back to the steering gear, with very little opportunity to reduce the operating temperature.
If you use your classic car for an occasional cruise nite, or a drive to the local hangout, you probably won’t notice any problems with your power steering system. The design was efficient for its time, and it was effective for a vehicle that wasn’t driven too hard. Most musclecars back then were primarily seeing the quarter-mile; autocrossing and slalom racing hadn’t yet been introduced to the mainstream enthusiast.
Most of the turning back when these cars were current was done at the local hangout or drive-thru, and daily driving where the steering system wasn’t put through too much demand. But these days, that same classic musclecar is being driven a bit harder, and the factory power steering system isn’t quite up to the task for today’s performance vehicle – particularly with autocrossing.
When your power steering fluid gets too hot from performance driving, it can affect more than just the fluid. Conventional fluids have a lower boiling point than a synthetic fluid, and in a performance application that boiling point can be reached much quicker. We learned this the first time we took our 1965 Plymouth Belvedere to the race track with a new, Borgeson steering gear conversion. When the power steering fluid began to boil, that affected the performance of the new steering gear because the fluid began to break down.
Adding a synthetic power steering fluid helped, but since we race this car a few times each year, we decided that a power steering cooler was in order. One visit to Derale’s web site and we found a cooler that would do the trick. There are several to choose from, in both tube design or radiator style, and various sizes and dimensions to suit your needs.
Fluid Cooler Installation
We knew that the fluid cooler would help to reduce temperatures, but how much? We wanted to test our cooler and see if there was going to be a significant reduction in power steering fluid temperatures, so we installed our cooler and all associated fluid lines prior to our “before” run.
The cooler was installed on the core support, with the hoses running into the engine compartment. Once everything was installed, we tied back the new hoses and closed the hood for the initial run.
We warmed up the engine a little and took the car out for a short drive for a few minutes, then returned to the garage to get a temperature reading of the power steering fluid. The temperature of the fluid in the reservoir read 176 degrees; that’s on a system without any type of cooler.
We immediately went to work, removing the return hose from the steering gear to the reservoir, and then connected the two new hoses from the fluid cooler and added some fluid to compensate for the increased capacity. With the new cooler installed in the return line from the steering gear, we headed out and made the exact same trip, and returned to the garage to get a temperature read.
With the laser pointed at the same spot in the reservoir, we saw a full eight degree drop in fluid temperature after we installed the cooler. This test might vary on your own vehicle, but it shows that adding a cooler can reduce the temperature significantly on a simple five-minute trip around the neighborhood.
This simple install was enough to convince us that adding the cooler was a good idea, and that can have a major affect on the car the next time we head out to the racetrack. If you’ve been thinking about reducing fluid temperatures under your hood, check out the Derale web site – they have an entire line of cooling products for just about any application.