In a car with a properly working cooling system, the coolant temp should be around the same whether the car is idling or running. There should be little variation. The car should warm up to that temperature quickly after a cold start.
The temp would depend on your car make and sometimes engine size and characteristics. In general, however, it should be a little lower than boiling. For example, the normal operating coolant temp on a jeep grand Cherokee is 210 degrees Fahrenheit.
The thermostat in a car regulates the coolant temperature inside the engine. When the engine is cold, the thermostat is closed, allowing the heat from the combustion chamber to heat the fluid (coolant) in the coolant galleys in the engine block. Once the engine reaches an optimal temperature, the thermostat opens, allowing coolant to flow through the radiator. The thermostat then controls the flow of coolant to hold the engine at its optimum operating temperature, irrespective of engine load and operating condtions.
No, the thermostat controls the temperature of the engine coolant. As long as the coolant temperature is below the thermostat set-point, the thermostat remains closed. Once the temperature arrives at the set-point, the thermostat starts to open, sending heated coolant through the radiator. The radiator then cools the heated engine coolant and the water pump forces the coolant back through the engine. The heater control valve allows more or less of the engine coolant through the heater core. Since the coolant should be very near the set-point temperature of the thermostat, you should be getting hot water through the heater core to warm the inside of the vehicle. The engine coolant is there to keep the engine from melting down or from breaking metal parts and burnng off the oil. It just happens that the heated coolant is useful to warm the inside of the vehicle.
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