When an engine runs, it produces a lot of excess heat. Amazingly, your vehicle may reach temperatures of 1,000° F inside individual engine chambers. This heat needs to be properly dispelled. A specialized liquid (“coolant”) absorbs this extra heat and passes it into a radiator to be cooled. The coolant is then recirculated back through the engine in an ongoing and crucial process.

Is Your Radiator Dying

(Pixabay / mirekmurmir)

The radiator is the principal component of your car’s cooling system. It effectively releases the heat of the engine into the surrounding air. A radiator accomplishes this vital task by receiving hot liquid from the engine, circulating this hot liquid through many small tubes that allow the heat to dissipate rapidly. Therefore radiators are typically mounted in a position in which they can receive airflow from the forward motion of your car.

Driving on a lousy radiator may allow your engine to heat to high levels and may affect your entire engine. It is crucial to notice when your radiator may be going bad; otherwise, you could end up with some very expensive repairs. Replacing a radiator is costly but not as expensive as replacing the radiator and most of the engine as well.

Leaking coolant

Is coolant leaking onto the floor underneath your vehicle? Although you may notice a leak at home, a mechanic may be needed to verify the fluid as coolant.

If you see liquid under the ground where your car has been parked, try collecting enough on your finger to smell it. Coolant smells sweet, in contrast to water, which should carry little or no smell on inspection. Depending on the size of the leak, you may also notice the color of the liquid. Green, yellow, pink, or red liquid is probably coolant, while clear liquid is probably just water.

If you suspect coolant, then get a flashlight and inspect your engine. Is there wetness around the radiator or the coolant recovery reservoir? Any moisture or signs of deposits around your radiator are cause for further investigation.

Leaking coolant does not automatically mean that your radiator must be replaced. A radiator hose replacement may be all that is needed.

Discolored coolant

Is the coolant in your vehicle a bright yellow, green or red? Then breathe a sigh of relief. Coolant should be a monochromatic and bright color. If your radiator is strained, contaminants discolor the coolant causing it to become brown or brownish. This contaminated and darkened coolant is called “sludge” and is a sign that your radiator needs to be replaced.

Low coolant

Modern cars include a dashboard light that indicates low levels of coolant or engine temperature. Sometimes the engine temperature warning light appears as a thermometer with wavy lines next to it or a box with wavy lines inside of it. These dashboard indicators alert the driver that the coolant levels need to be checked. If the dashboards indicators are often activated, even if you are refilling your coolant, this is a reliable indicator that your radiator is distressed or leaking coolant.

Overheating vehicle

Does your vehicle overheat regularly? If other cars are passing you by on a steep hill, while you are pulled over to let your engine cool off, then your car’s cooling system is not functioning. An overheating vehicle is a telltale sign that your radiator is not working.

However, before getting your radiator replaced, check the pressure cap. A mechanic can run a pressure-test to check your pressure cap to see if it’s functioning correctly. If you need a new one, make sure to check the new cap against your owner’s manual. Replacing the pressure cap is much less expensive than replacing the entire radiator.

Old hoses

Hoses connect your radiator to the other components of the cooling system. If a radiator hose bursts while you are driving, it will result in an explosion of steam. Faulty hoses can be identified by sight and touch. Hoses should be flexible and present a uniform appearance. They should not have bulging areas, cracks, or show any signs of leaks. Also, hoses should be neither soft and thin-walled nor hard and brittle.

Poor functioning car heater

If your car’s cabin doesn’t warm up when it’s cold outside, then check your car’s radiator and associated cooling system. The heating system uses the same coolant that courses through the radiator and cools your engine. If a hose is leaking coolant or if your radiator is distressed, your car’s heater will be affected. A nonfunctioning or poorly functioning car heater indicates a problem in your engine’s cooling system.

You don’t have to be a professional to keep your radiator healthy. Knowing the symptoms of a failing radiator will allow you to notice a cooling system that is in distress and needing maintenance. Preventive or timely maintenance will keep you driving safely while avoiding unnecessarily expensive repairs.


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