Fan clutch

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Engine fan with viscous drive Thermo Visco fan.JPG
Engine fan with viscous drive

A fan clutch is a thermostatic engine cooling fan that can freewheel at low temperatures when cooling is not needed, allowing the engine to warm up faster, relieving unnecessary load on the engine. As temperatures increase, the clutch engages so that the fan is driven by engine power and moves air to cool the engine.

Thermostat component which maintains a setpoint temperature

A thermostat is a component which senses the temperature of a physical system and performs actions so that the system's temperature is maintained near a desired setpoint.

Internal combustion engine cooling uses either air or liquid to remove the waste heat from an internal combustion engine. For small or special purpose engines, cooling using air from the atmosphere makes for a lightweight and relatively simple system. Watercraft can use water directly from the surrounding environment to cool their engines. For water-cooled engines on aircraft and surface vehicles, waste heat is transferred from a closed loop of water pumped through the engine to the surrounding atmosphere by a radiator.



When the engine is cool or even at normal operating temperature, the fan clutch partially disengages the engine's mechanically driven radiator cooling fan, generally located at the front of the water pump and driven by a belt and pulley connected to the engine's crankshaft. This saves power, since the engine does not have to fully drive the fan.

An operating temperature is the temperature at which an electrical or mechanical device operates. The device will operate effectively within a specified temperature range which varies based on the device function and application context, and ranges from the minimum operating temperature to the maximum operating temperature. Outside this range of safe operating temperatures the device may fail.

Radiator (engine cooling) heat-exchanging component of liquid cooled engines

Radiators are heat exchangers used for cooling internal combustion engines, mainly in automobiles but also in piston-engined aircraft, railway locomotives, motorcycles, stationary generating plant or any similar use of such an engine.

Pulley A grooved wheel to support movement and change of direction of a taut cable

A pulley is a wheel on an axle or shaft that is designed to support movement and change of direction of a taut cable or belt, or transfer of power between the shaft and cable or belt. In the case of a pulley supported by a frame or shell that does not transfer power to a shaft, but is used to guide the cable or exert a force, the supporting shell is called a block, and the pulley may be called a sheave.

However, if engine temperature rises above the clutch's engagement temperature setting, the fan becomes fully engaged, thus drawing a higher volume of ambient air through the vehicle's radiator, which in turn serves to maintain or lower the engine coolant temperature to an acceptable level.

A coolant is a substance, typically liquid or gas, that is used to reduce or regulate the temperature of a system. An ideal coolant has high thermal capacity, low viscosity, is low-cost, non-toxic, chemically inert and neither causes nor promotes corrosion of the cooling system. Some applications also require the coolant to be an electrical insulator.

fan clutch for a 1994 lexus LS 400 Fanclutch.JPG
fan clutch for a 1994 lexus LS 400

Mechanical fans are most common in trucks and SUVs, and some RWD cars. This is easier to accomplish because the engine is mounted longitudinally, with the belt accessory components mounted facing the radiator. The fan is mounted on the crankshaft pulley or one of the accessory pulleys (e.g. the water pump pulley) and will spin in between the radiator and the engine, drawing air back through the radiator and blowing it over the engine. Even though the air has been heated by passing through the radiator, it is still much less hot than the engine surface, so the airflow over the engine helps with cooling.

In contrast, in a front-wheel drive vehicle, the engine is usually mounted laterally, with the crankshaft and typically all the major accessory shafts parallel to the front axle, so as to directly drive the transaxle; a fan mechanically mounted on an accessory pulley would blow sideways and would not face the radiator. This is why electric engine-cooling fans are used virtually universally in front-wheel drive vehicles. The conversion of mechanical energy to electricity and back to mechanical rotary power with a fan motor is less efficient than a direct mechanical connection, but this is more than compensated by greater control of an electric fan through electronic thermostatic controls which can turn the fan completely off when the engine temperature is below the setpoint.


A transaxle is a single mechanical device which combines the functions of an automobile's transmission, axle, and differential into one integrated assembly. It can be produced in both manual and automatic versions.


Most fan clutches are viscous or "fluid" couplings, combined with a bi-metallic sensory system similar to that in a thermostat. Some clutches are electronically controlled (instead of bi-metallic strip). These provide the potential to control the level of engagement depending on any number of inputs. Common controlling factors might include engine oil temperature, transmission oil temperature, coolant temperature, AC system pressures and ambient air temperature.

Bimetallic strip strip used to convert a temperature change into mechanical displacement

A bimetallic strip is used to convert a temperature change into mechanical displacement. The strip consists of two strips of different metals which expand at different rates as they are heated, usually steel and copper, or in some cases steel and brass. The strips are joined together throughout their length by riveting, brazing or welding. The different expansions force the flat strip to bend one way if heated, and in the opposite direction if cooled below its initial temperature. The metal with the higher coefficient of thermal expansion is on the outer side of the curve when the strip is heated and on the inner side when cooled.


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