Muscle Mustangs & Fast FordsHow To Tech Qa
Stacked Plate vs. Tube-and-Fin Oil Coolers
Tech Center: How it Works
Keeping fluid temperatures under control is crucial to keeping your pony alive in the sweltering summer heat. This is especially important when the modification bug bites and you start making serious power. More power equals more heat, and if you can’t effectively dissipate that heat, it could lead to headaches down the road. One such area where excessive heat buildup can result in a bad day is automatic transmission fluid. Even a mild high-stall torque convertor can increase fluid temperatures significantly, so it’s important to address this problem right at the source.
The best thing to do is install a large external oil cooler to soak up some of that heat and keep the transmission fluid working at a cooler temperature so that it doesn’t lose its viscosity and break down. High temperatures will cook the fluid and with that, the friction materials in the clutch packs inside the transmission will also start to cook and fall apart.
Luckily there are options for those of us who want our slush boxes to live a long life with go-fast parts. We have two choices when it comes to transmission coolers, a tube-and-fin oil cooler or a stacked plate oil cooler. You can even get either of these as a complete kit with an electric fan and shroud to help the temperatures drop even more.
So which one is the right style for your Mustang? That depends on how much you’re willing to spend and how much room you have to work with. Tube-and-fin oil coolers are generally a lot more affordable. They also aren’t as susceptible to getting air pockets as the fluid works its way through the cooler. The smaller cooling fins surround the tube and help dissipate heat buildup, but they are not as effective at cooling the oil because their surface area isn’t big.
A stacked plate oil cooler, on the other hand, does have a large surface area. Oil flows into each plate across the entire cooler. This system is very effective at releasing the built-up heat and can handle a substantial volume of oil without causing a large drop in pressure. Of course, adding a small electric fan into the mix will work wonders for any oil cooler, but you can see why a stacked plate design is more beneficial to keeping your transmission cool on a hot day when underhood airflow could be scarce.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that if you end up smoking a transmission, it’s far easier to clean out a tube-and-fin oil cooler than a stacked plate one. The latter could get filled with metal shavings and potentially hurt a fresh transmission. Then again, it’s probably a better idea to use a new oil cooler instead when you’re replacing the transmission.