Amy's Amazing Auto Service and Repair Blog

How to Troubleshoot Common Radiator Problems With a Car

by Derek Davidson

A car's radiator is very important to its overall function; even though it doesn't power the car itself, it keeps everything cool so that the engine doesn't seize up altogether. When a radiator begins to experience problems, it's best to have it looked at right away, as driving a car that runs too warm can mean permanent damage to the engine and in turn, more extensive and expensive repairs. 

Note that a car's radiator doesn't need to actually burst or fail completely for it to need repairs. Understanding some signs of parts that are breaking down or other such problems can mean getting it to a shop like Natrad before this happens. Note the following.

1. The engine overheats very quickly

One of the most common problems for this is that the thermostat to the car is broken or malfunctioning. The thermostat is not technically part of the radiator, but it tells the radiator how much coolant to release to keep the car's engine running at an optimal temperature. If it's broken, this coolant isn't released and the engine overheats very quickly, much like a broken thermostat in your home means the air conditioner won't come on when the room gets warm. The thermostat should be the first thing to check when an engine consistently overheats.

The next most common cause of this problem is a broken water pump. This pump is what moves the cooled water used to regulate an engine's temperature from the radiator to areas of the engine, and then back to the radiator to be cooled. When the pump breaks, this water is not circulating and the engine overheats. If the thermostat is working, check the water pump.

2. Noticeable leaks of radiator fluid

It can be easy to detect a leak of radiator fluid, since this fluid has a distinct greenish tinge and a very sweet smell. You shouldn't be able to see or smell it since it should always be contained within the cooling system of your car's engine.

A common cause of leaks is not the radiator itself but the hoses that connect the radiator to the engine. If these begin to tear or degrade due to age, they may allow fluid to leak out. A gasket to the radiator may also have come loose or become worn out; this is what provides a tight seal around the radiator cap itself, where the fluid is stored. Replacing these is a simple fix and can mean keeping radiator fluid where it belong, inside the cooling system of your car.