Automotive expert Brad Bergholdt answers reader questions. This week: Should a noisy belt-driven truck fan be replaced with an electric one?
Q: I have a 1998 Chevy 2500 van with a 5.7-liter gas engine. It has a clutch fan that sounds loud at times, and I feel it is a waste of horsepower. I want to remove it and install an electric one. The clutch fan is easy to turn when the engine is cold, and I guess the clutch engages when the hot air hits it.
A: It sounds like your thermostatically controlled fan clutch is operating properly, since it spins freely when cold and occasionally engages fully. Your longitudinally mounted engine uses a mechanical radiator cooling fan, unlike the electric fans used in transverse-engine, front-wheel-drive cars. You’re correct that mechanical fans require a lot of energy to spin them — but that’s why your fan has a clutch. This mechanism allows the fan to largely freewheel under most conditions — saving gas — and engage only when needed to cool.
Are you driving the van in hilly terrain or towing a trailer? If not, more than rare fan clutch engagement may indicate a cooling-system deficiency, such as a restricted or under-capacity radiator.
Converting the fan to an electric style is possible, though the parts cost and effort would likely not be recouped via fuel savings.
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One of several choices is the Zirgo HFM-ZFU16S (3,600 cubic feet per minute) reversible electric fan ($225 at SummitRacing.com) and a high-quality thermostat/relay wiring kit such as the Painless Wiring 30103 ($65, also from Summit).
Another option (if space allows) is to install a smaller, quieter electric fan to supplement your existing mechanical fan. Your thermostatic fan clutch would likely not engage as often, if ever.
E-mail Brad Bergholdt at firstname.lastname@example.org