If you're trying to warm yourself up as you're driving to work on a cold, frosty morning, then you may be concerned about the lack of progress. You've been driving for some time now, and the heater may be on "full," but it doesn't seem to be making any difference. It looks like you have an issue with the heating system, but how does this work and what could be going wrong?
Diverting the Coolant
Ironically, your car's heating set up is actually part of the cooling system. It relies on water being diverted when it is on its way between the hot engine and the front-facing radiator to provide a higher temperature within the cabin.
How It All Works
As you may know, coolant is circulated around the engine core to absorb heat from the combustion process. It needs to be sent through pipes to the radiator, where it is cooled by the movement of the car before being sent back to start the process again.
Within this loop is a relatively simple component known as a thermostat, and it is designed to open or close (like a valve) at a specific temperature. It is also able to divert hot coolant away from this loop and towards the heater matrix, which is typically positioned underneath the dashboard.
The heater matrix is essentially a small radiator by itself and is equipped with a blower, which can push the generated heat through the various vents and into the passenger cabin.
There are several things to check when you discover problems with your car heating.
To begin with, you need to see if there is enough coolant in the system, as you will need to maintain a certain level in order to protect the engine, quite apart from heating your toes. You should also check to see if the blower fan linked to the heater matrix is working and check to see if the thermostat is opening and closing as it should.
Over time, rust particles and other debris can accumulate within the coolant, and as it flows through the system, it can become lodged within the heating core itself. When it does this, it will hinder the flow and could be at the root of the problem.
If the issue is associated with the heater core, you will definitely need to take the vehicle into a mechanic for their assistance. This component is very difficult to reach at the best of times and can be tricky to repair.