checking radiator cap

A vehicle’s radiator works to cool the internal combustion engine, one of the most essential components for powering a car or truck. To do this, the radiator diverts the engine’s heat into the air, which keeps the engine at a consistent temperature and prevents overheating.

Without this relationship, the internal combustion engine risks overheating and experiencing a significant amount of damage, which could require extensive repairs or complete replacement. If you’ve ever spotted a car by the side of the road with steam coming from under the hood, this occurrence is often due to a malfunctioning radiator and an overheated engine.

How a Car’s Radiator Works

The engine burns fuel to operate but, in the process, generates a significant amount of heat that can damage the pistons and other vital components. Part of the vehicle’s cooling system, the radiator helps to counteract these effects.

Coolant travels from the engine through the radiator’s tubes, which are flanked by fins that control the airflow. This action keeps the coolant cool by dissipating the heat contained within the fluid, before it travels to an overflow tank and back into the engine, where the cooler fluid helps keep the temperature lower.

Also involved in this process, the engine features a water pump that creates and controls the flow of coolant going in and out of the radiator. Within this setup, the thermostat helps open and close the radiator in relation to the engine’s temperature.

After the coolant passes through the thermostat, it travels into the radiator through a hose, where it flows into a tank located toward the top of the radiator or the side.

Inside the tank, the coolant passes through multiple small pipes alongside rows of fins, before it flows into a secondary tank. Once the fluid goes through these smaller tubes, the fins help remove heat from the coolant. At the same time, because air flows between the fins themselves, the heat is quickly diverted into these passages. This step is crucial to prevent your engine from overheating.

In the secondary tank, the coolant collects before it passes through an outlet hose that is connected to the water pump, which then delivers the coolant to the engine.

Issues with Radiators and Cooling Systems

Radiators on their own, as part of the car’s cooling system and in relation to the engine may experience multiple issues:

  • Leaks can occur along the hoses, seams, tubes, core and within the radiator itself, especially if you recently had a front-end collision or parts are becoming worn out.
  • Clogged or rusting hoses and hose connections that can sprout microscopic leaks through corrosion. This causes the coolant to leak out at a faster pace.
  • A malfunctioning thermostat affects how coolant flows into the radiator and is often a key reason an engine overheats.
  • Air can enter and become trapped in the cooling system, affecting and bottle-necking the flow of coolant.
  • A malfunctioning water pump affects the flow of the coolant through the engine and radiator.
  • The radiator fan helps with keeping the car cool and overheating might go back to this component, especially if the car becomes suddenly hot when you’re waiting at a traffic light.
  • Obstructions, including engine debris or scale, prevent the coolant from flowing naturally through the engine and radiator, affecting the heat-transfer process.
  • Corrosion might go back to older coolant that has taken on an acidic pH and started to eat away the radiator.
  • Cracks that later emerge as leaks around the hose connections and fins may go back to an excessive amount of vibrations. Freezing coolant, due to a low percentage of antifreeze, may also cause cracks, especially in tanks and tubing.

Car Radiator Repair Services

After assessing your car’s radiator, cooling system and engine, a technician at DaSilva’s Auto Body may recommend:

  • A Radiator Flush: This process can remove any acidic, old or debris-containing antifreeze. Following any repairs, we’ll add new antifreeze to help keep the engine cooler. This procedure should be done every 40,000 to 60,000 miles, depending on a car’s make and model.
  • Leak Inspection: Especially around hoses and the compressor belt, we check for leaks and repair these parts. Parts may be sealed, patched or the engine radiator rebuilt.
  • Cleaning Out Clogs: We scan the radiator with an infrared thermometer for points with high levels of heat before doing a thorough professional cleaning.
  • Replacing Parts: The hoses, fan and belts composing the car’s cooling system all eventually start to weaken and perform below par. As such, if these parts are already affected or have been in place for over six years, we recommend having them replaced.

If you’ve noticed any of these signs with your vehicle, schedule a diagnostic appointment with DaSilva’s Auto Body. Contact us to learn more.