When it comes to custom cooling systems, things can get kind of tricky. Most of us are used to upgrading a system that came from the factory, which has the benefit of having been designed by a team of engineers who specialize in cooling systems. However, creating a custom cooling system isn’t that difficult, as long as you understand the basics. Canton Racing Products has teamed up with car builder and driver Shane Whalley to explain to you some of the key components and theories of a custom cooling system.
Shane Whalley is a Formula Drift Pro Am driver, who is currently building a turbocharged LS-powered 2015 Mustang for competition (aptly dubbed the “LS550”). Since this build is for a professional-level dedicated drift car, it will be running a rear-mount cooling system, as most of the pros do. It also helps that Whalley is one of Canton Racing Products’ sponsored drivers, giving him access to the company’s engineering staff to help bring his system design to fruition. As such, it makes for a great platform to discuss the different types of tanks used in a custom cooling system.
In any water-cooled engine, there are a number of components that are always there, like a radiator to transfer the heat from the coolant to the atmosphere, a water pump to circulate the coolant throughout the system, and a coolant tank to provide enough coolant capacity to allow the system to work efficiently. Where things can start getting confusing is when you start talking about expansion tanks, recovery tanks and overflow tanks.
In Whalley’s LS550 custom setup, he runs a sealed radiator along with an expansion tank that feeds into a recovery tank.
“When you are running a vehicle and it gets hot, the coolant gets hot. As the molecules in the coolant heat up, they start moving around really fast, and they expand,” Whalley says.
When the coolant expands, it takes up more volume. The expansion tank, as the name suggests, allows for that expansion, without generating pressures that could be detrimental to the system.
“The expansion tank also allows for a way to get out any air in the system,” says Whalley. “The radiator has an expansion port at the top, which feeds into the top of the expansion tank, while the line at the bottom of the tank feeds back into the radiator hose.”
The next point in Whalley’s custom setup is the recovery tank.
“Say your system exceeds its capacity, because you’ve gotten it really hot and the system pressure is starting to rise. That’s when the radiator cap [which is actually on the expansion tank in this case] opens up and gives that fluid someplace to go.”
There are two kinds of overflow tanks, as Whalley explains.
“A catch tank does exactly what it sounds like: it’s there to catch overflowing fluid,” Whalley says. “Generally a catch tank line will go to the top of the tank, and act as a reservoir for any fluid that comes out. There will be a drain at the bottom which you will have to use occasionally to empty the tank, and you’ll have add coolant back into the system to account for the volume lost.”
The second type of tank is a little more complex in its plumbing but makes a more complete system as a whole, which is why Whalley uses one, and that’s the recovery tank.
“In a recovery tank setup, the line coming off of the expansion tank will go to the bottom of the secondary tank,” Whalley explains. “What that does, is allow the overflow fluid to be drawn back into the system as the system temperature returns to normal and pressure drops.”
The obvious advantage is that a recovery tank setup requires less maintenance to the system, as any overflow from exceeding normal parameters will be drawn back into the system. However, due to packaging constraints, or for simplicity’s sake, you may choose to run just a standard overflow catch can. Regardless of how you decide to plumb your custom cooling system, companies like Canton make it easy by offering a variety of tank shapes and sizes ready to go, as well as the ability to build anything you can dream up.