Eight Tricks To Make Working A Cooling System Easier

If you like to play with cars, if you put your car on a racetrack for HPDE and especially if you race cars, you will become involved in working on its engine. That means oil changes, brake work, suspension bits, exhaust and, yes, cooling systems.

Working on a cooling system can be a source for busted knuckles, burns and big messes on the garage floor. To keep your knuckles from bleeding, to make working on a cooling system easier and to keep messes to a minimum, we have assembled a brief list of some cooling system essentials.

What follows should help you be more efficient in your work, neater, help you get the job done right, and even make it easier for the next time you have to pull things apart. Oh, and there will be a next time.


Back when cars started coming with oxygen sensors, the use of silicone sealer became a no-no. If I recall correctly, it was because the silicone in the sealers fouled the sensors, caused check-engine lights and resulted in mayhem and automotive angst among the general population.

General Motors was one of the first companies to introduce a silicone-free sealer, aptly named General Motors Sealer, or GMS for short, and the only place you could get it was from a GM dealer. I still remember the part number: 1052917.

That sealer has evolved a bit. It’s now gray and it’s now sold to the public through ACDelco and it’s the only sealer I use. It’s never let me down. GMS or any other similar sealer you prefer works best when used sparingly. Just dab on a bit and use your finger to spread it thinly over the sealing surface.

Assembly Lube

Yeah, go ahead and make all the “lube” jokes you want, but this stuff will make your life easier and result in fewer busted knuckles. Let me run through a scenario that can happen while working on a car and see if you can relate.

You need to remove a hose, so you unscrew the clamp and pull it off the water outlet or nipple — insert nipple joke here — and then when you try to remove the hose, it won’t budge. So, you add more grunt. Then more. And more. Suddenly it breaks loose and the back of your hand slams into the nearest blunt object and, sure enough, you’re bleeding.

Putting things back together with assembly lube will keep that from happening the next time you pull things apart. It doesn’t take much, just enough to coat the barb on the engine coolant fittings, but it goes a long way toward ensuring you don’t bust your knuckles next time.

Good Gaskets

When you race a Mazda, you can get a little spoiled because we can get the factory gaskets from the factory at discounted prices. They’re high-quality gaskets and they do make a difference in doing a job right the first time. The last thing you want when you perform a cooling system repair is to see it leak and have to start all over again.

That doesn’t mean you have to buy factory gaskets if they’re too pricey, but good aftermarket gasket companies like Fel-Pro provide gaskets that can keep you out on track rather than in the hot pits in a cloud of steam.

Aftermarket and factory gaskets like the one shown above use high-quality materials and often have sealer built into them that congeals and provides a greater seal when an engine reaches operating temperature for the first time.

High-Quality Parts

Factory clamps are often geared more toward ease of assembly than disassembly. I can recall some older cars that came with thin-gauge wire clamps that pinched the hose, but did little to spread the load to create an effective seal. Just as often, the factory clamps are pretty good, so there’s no excuse not to use them.

Stainless steel worm clamps are usually good enough, but the “threads” on the strapping often get bent and worn the more you remove and replace them. If you’re going to use worm clamps, consider replacing them after a few on-offs.

For hoses, factory parts always fit better, so if you can find and afford them, and they’ll work on your racecar, they are better. The factory hoses from Mazda have a small white dot on each end, which tells you where to locate clamp, and if you look closely, the dot is located just behind where the barb on the nipple is located. It’s made for fast assembly on a production line, but also to provide the best seal.

Also of note, the sealer on coolant fitting shouldn’t be oozing out all over the place. If it does, you’ve used too much. Note how little is visible outside the water outlet. Just right.

Hose and Belt Tool

This tool also goes a long way toward preventing busted knuckles. Remember that hose that was still stuck on even after you remove the clamp? This tool fixes that.

Slip the pointy end between the hose and the nipple and work it around the circumference. That breaks the seal between the rubber and metal and the hose will come right off. If you’re trying to reuse a hose that’s on the car, this tool will help because it won’t distort the hose or tear it from trying to wrench it off.

Back when cars had V-belts on them, this tool also was helpful for installing a tight belt over a pulley, but it’s not so great for serpentine belts. Google “hose removal tool” and you’ll find lots of options.

Drain Pan

Just because you’re a car person doesn’t mean you hate the environment. Show the environment how much you love it by draining your coolant into a sealable container and taking it to a facility that can recycle it properly.

Even if you have removed the coolant and refilled the system with just water and a lubricant like Water Wetter, it’s best to drain it into the pan and recycle it. Good drain pans are cheap, and most facilities will recycle the used coolant at no charge as long as there’s no oil in it.


Truth be told, you need two kinds of gloves. You need Mechanix Wear gloves like these for before the coolant starts flowing and then some good rubber gloves when the system is opening and oozing all over the place.

The Mechanix Wear gloves keep you from busting your knuckles when you’re disassembling and reassembling. They also protect your hands if you’re working on a hot engine. The rubber gloves keep your hands clean when you’re working with oil and coolant. And brake fluid. And gear oil. And blinker fluid. And gasoline.

Image courtesy of Eric Green


  1. The point Mr. Becker makes about capturing and containing engine coolant begs the question; what kinds of engine cooling liquid would NASA Tech permit in a track car?

  2. Section 15.18 from the CCR has the rules on coolant.

    15.18 Engine Coolant
    Glycol-based antifreeze and other additives that may cause a slippery condition if spilled on track are prohibited. Other water additives such as Redline Water Wetter may be used.

    • There are many Non-Glycol coolants on the Market that are approved for SCCA and NHRA. Redline an Non’Glycol coolant makes one with Water Wetter, anti corrosion additives and water pump seal lubricants already. Check your rule books, but if it’s NHRA approved it should pas any Tech inspection. Glycol is the main ingredient stuff that cause the problems on Race Tracks.

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