The radiator plays a crucial role in keeping a vehicle’s engine cool and functioning properly, however, radiator maintenance is often overlooked by drivers. Neglecting your radiator can lead to expensive repairs, and in some cases, engine failure. However, with proper maintenance, you can add years and thousands of miles to your car’s lifespan.
What Does the Radiator Do?
Car engines generate a tremendous amount of heat, but they’re also susceptible to damage from excessive heat. The radiator is a key component in the cooling system that helps regulate the engine’s temperature. It works by circulating a blend of antifreeze and water through its tubes and attached fins which causes the heat from the engine to be carried away by the air flowing through the cooling fins. Without a properly working radiator, your engine could overheat and suffer permanent damage.
The radiator works in conjunction with the thermostat, water pump, and fan system to ensure the engine stays at the optimal temperature. The cooling system also sends heated coolant to the heater core to produce hot air for the interior, while the water pump circulates the coolant throughout the engine. Meanwhile, the fan brings in the proper amount of air to the radiator to cool the antifreeze and water mixture. Essentially, the process is a heat exchange that cools the fluid, which in turn cools down the engine.
Tips for Maintaining Your Radiator
There are a few basic things you can do to maintain your radiator and keep it functioning properly:
- Check the radiator fluid level periodically and top it off as needed. The coolant reservoir is generally easy to identify; it’s usually made of translucent plastic and located near the radiator. The reservoir will have minimum and maximum lines marked on the exterior which makes it easy to tell when you need to refill the fluid. If you’re having trouble finding the reservoir, check your owner’s manual.
If your coolant isn’t premixed, you can mix equal parts of water and coolant together to fill the reservoir to the maximum fill line. Be careful not to overfill the reservoir because the coolant mixture will expand when heated. Additionally, make sure the radiator cap is properly tightened.
- Have your radiator flushed. Over time, radiators can accumulate scale deposits and rust which can lead to overheating and damage; flushing the radiator and replacing the coolant helps remove these deposits. This service interval varies by manufacturer.
- Drive your car. Believe it or not, a good way to keep your radiator working properly is to simply drive your car fairly often. Long drives are better than shorter drives because the engine will have time to come to full operating temperature. If practical, take your car on the freeway at least once or twice a month to allow your vehicle to run at full speed and temperature. This helps the cooling system and oiling system to keep contaminants at bay. You’ll find the more you run your car, the better it will perform.
Signs Your Radiator Needs Repair
By following the above tips and keeping up with your regular maintenance, you can ensure your radiator will stay in good working order for years to come. However, it’s important to learn to recognize the signs of radiator issues—catching an issue early on can help you save a significant amount of money on repairs:
- The temperature gauge reads hot
- Overheating; steam coming from under the hood
- Discolored radiator fluid
- Rust spots near the radiator
- Consistently low coolant levels
- Coolant leaks
If you’ve noticed any of the above signs, schedule an appointment with Accurate Automotive Attention as soon as possible. Some radiator issues can be as simple as replacing a damaged hose or radiator cap, but left unaddressed, can progress into expensive engine damage. With our 3-year/36,000-mile nationwide warranty on repairs and satisfaction guarantee, you can always trust that your vehicle is in excellent hands.
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