Piston Slap: Cool Thoughts on Electric Fan Conversions

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Robin writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Back with a topic that might be real to many Texans and others of warmer climes. I’m close to 220,000 miles on my 94 Nissan D21. She’s still motoring along and I’m doing my to keep her maintained.

We’ve just come through the dog days. Back when it was hitting 112° in Dallas, I was finding myself stuck in afternoon rush hour traffic on 75 and the coolant temp was pushing upwards into a zone that definitely had my attention. Fortunately, the traffic cleared and I could get back up to speeds that moved sufficient air across the radiator.

This experience prompted research and pondering: what about an aftermarket electric fan? When stopped in traffic, it would keep up while the engine was idling at low RPMs. And how many times have I stopped briefly to run in somewhere and returned to start up and see the temperature way up there from sitting still?

So, my research has yielded data on how to go about electric fan installation. My question is, would it be a worthwhile upgrade or just “putting a wing on it?”

Sajeev answers:

I think an electric fan conversion is a great upgrade for some people … but not for you.

Looks like an Altima fan swap is doable, but will its significant electrical draw burden your stock alternator? (Compare the amperage output vs. the donor Altima) And assuming your D21 is still factory stock, why go through all this effort?

Your problem lies with a (clogged) radiator, a (leaking) fan clutch, or both. Thankfully, both are easy to replace, unlike the Altima fan swap which requires more parts and far more labor. Run your hand behind the (not running!) fan clutch. If you feel oil and dirt, it’s gotta go. Start there first. Considering the mileage, replacing both of them isn’t a bad idea anyway.

I feel like I know you and your truck well by now, hence my conclusion: there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, just recondition it when needed. What say you, Best and Brightest?

[photo courtesy: Shutterstock user Maksim Vivtsaruk]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Dividebytube Dividebytube on Jan 22, 2016

    aw man, the first truck that I purchased with a loan was a used '94 Nissan hardbody. I loved, loved that truck even with the gutless 4cyl. They've all rusted out here in Michigan. But still, I got a lot of work out of that truck and only sold it because it was an awful family vehicles, baby seat 'n' all.

  • JustPassinThru JustPassinThru on Jan 24, 2016

    My own experience with going electric on my four-cylinder YJ Wrangler, was nothing but positive. Removing the stock fan took off the weight of the fan and clutch and let me remove the eighteen-inch funnel-like fan shroud. This opened up the engine bay (spaced for a six; the four was pushed back against the firewall) and made other maintenance a snap. Engine was quieter, in and out, idling or running. And the fan was needed...almost never. I had an override switch on the dash I could click on if I was in traffic, or on a logging trail, or otherwise going to be moving under 25 for long periods. Otherwise, forward motion brought all the air through there that I needed. That said...if this truck is overheating in traffic when it never did before, something has changed. Bug-plug of the radiator; or fan clutch...or...wait for this...a head gasket leaking. Engine running hotter is an early sign. Check those out; and instead of buying a fan clutch, I'd look into going electric.

  • MaintenanceCosts "But your author does wonder what the maintenance routine is going to be like on an Italian-German supercar that plays host to a high-revving engine, battery pack, and several electric motors."Probably not much different from the maintenance routine of any other Italian-German supercar with a high-revving engine.
  • 28-Cars-Later "The unions" need to not be the UAW and maybe there's a shot. Maybe.
  • 2manyvettes I had a Cougar of similar vintage that I bought from my late mother in law. It did not suffer the issues mentioned in this article, but being a Minnesota car it did have some weird issues, like a rusted brake line.(!) I do not remember the mileage of the vehicle, but it left my driveway when the transmission started making unwelcome noises. I traded it for a much newer Ford Fusion that served my daughter well until she finished college.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Couple of questions: 1) who will be the service partner for these when Rivian goes Tits Up? 2) What happens with software/operating system support when Rivia goes Tits Up? 3) What happens to the lease when Rivian goes Tits up?
  • Richard I loved these cars, I was blessed to own three. My first a red beauty 86. My second was an 87, 2+2, with digital everything. My third an 87, it had been ridden pretty hard when I got it but it served me well for several years. The first two I loved so much. Unfortunately they had fuel injection issue causing them to basically burst into flames. My son was with me at 10 years old when first one went up. I'm holding no grudges. Nissan gave me 1600$ for first one after jumping thru hoops for 3 years. I didn't bother trying with the second. Just wondering if anyone else had similar experience. I still love those cars.