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The mechanical fan of Lada is reliable but it has two disadvantages. Firstly, it unnecessarily robs power from the engine; not much - but every bit counts in a Niva.
More importantly, during water crossings the fan splashes water around under the bonnet that can kill the electrics - especially the distributor. Also spinning fan blades can twist when they hit water and risk damaging the radiator.
Replacing the mechanical fan with an electric one is relatively easy. You can either use an after-market fan, or one from a wreckers yard. Fans can be mounted in the original behind-the-radaitor position or in front. Engine-side mounted fans need to suck backwards through the radiator, and front mounted fans need to blow backwards through the radiator. Obviouisly. (and make sure you get one that goes the right way - apparently some 'suckers' have different blades to 'blowers').
Click images for bigger view.
To have an electric fan activated automatically when the engine gets hot you'll need to connect it with a thermal switch in the cooling system (essential if you have an injected Niva as you'll risk making it run too cold and thus too richer mixture if you don't). After-market switches for exactly such a role are available, or you could use one from a donar Lada.
Thermal switch or not, if your fan is on the engine side of the radiator I'd also include a kill-switch so the fan can be easily deactivated while crossing water (or the fan will splash water all over the ignition and risk stopping the engine). I'd use a single-pole-double-throw (non-centre-off) switch to illuminate a warning light when the fan is off (so there's no chance of accidently leaving the fan off):
Gadgetboy's guide to fitting an electric fan on a Niva 1.7i
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