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Tech Tip #3: Thermostats & Restrictors

Thermostats & Restrictors

We strongly recommend NEVER using a restrictor: they decrease coolant flow and ultimately inhibit cooling.

For applications requiring a thermostat to keep the engine at operating temperature, we recommend using a Stewart/Robertshaw high flow thermostat. This thermostat does not restrict flow when open. The Stewart/ Robertshaw thermostat enhances the performance of the cooling system, using any style of water pump. However, the Stewart Stage 1 high-flow water pump may require this thermostat to operate properly, and Stewart Stage 2, 3, and 4 water pumps simply will NOT operate with a regular thermostat because these pumps have no internal bypasses.

Stewart further modifies its thermostat by machining three 3/16″ bypass holes directly in the poppet valve, which allows some coolant to bypass the thermostat even when closed. This modification does result in the engine taking slightly longer to reach operating temperature in cold weather, but it allows the thermostat to function properly when using a high flow water pump at high engine RPM.

A common misconception is that if coolant flows too quickly through the system, that it will not have time to cool properly. However the cooling system is a closed loop, so if you are keeping the coolant in the radiator longer to allow it to cool, you are also allowing it to stay in the engine longer, which increases coolant temperatures. Coolant in the engine will actually boil away from critical heat areas within the cooling system if not forced through the cooling system at a sufficiently high velocity. This situation is a common cause of so-called “hot spots”, which can lead to failures.

Years ago, cars used low pressure radiator caps with upright-style radiators. At high RPM, the water pump pressure would overcome the radiator cap’s rating and force coolant out, resulting in an overheated engine. Many enthusiasts mistakenly believed that these situations were caused because the coolant was flowing through the radiator so quickly, that it did not have time to cool. Using restrictors or slowing water pump speed prevented the coolant from being forced out, and allowed the engine to run cooler. However, cars built in the past thirty years have used cross flow radiators that position the radiator cap on the low pressure (suction) side of the system. This type of system does not subject the radiator cap to pressure from the water pump, so it benefits from maximizing coolant flow, not restricting it.