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How to Determine If You Need a New Radiator

Whatever type of vehicle you operate, be it a private vehicle, heavy-duty machinery, or a power generator, all engines run at extremely high temperatures. 

To prevent overheating, the radiator keeps the engine cool by removing excess heat the engine produces. To do this, hot coolant from the engine is transferred through to the radiator – where the liquid is cooled down via liquid cooling – and then transferred back to the engine to regulate the temperature. 

Radiators are specially designed to handle extreme working conditions. But they are prone to failure as a result of wear-and-tear, lack of maintenance, low quality parts, and poor workmanship. To avoid the risk of costly breakdowns and unnecessary downtime, it is vital to have your radiator serviced by a radiator mechanic at least once per year.

In the meantime, there are ways to spot the early signs of a failing radiator, before they result in catastrophic failure. Here are the most common faults to look for in a radiator, what to do about it, and when it’s time to have your radiator replaced.

Consistently High Temperature Reading

When a radiator is running properly, the reading on your temperature gauge will comfortably sit in the middle. But if the temperature slides into the red, you need to quickly pull over and let the vehicle cool down, or else the engine will overheat. 

There are many reasons why a temperature gauge will produce a high reading. Here are some of the most common culprits to look out for.

Radiator blockage

When a radiator becomes blocked, it can no longer transfer coolant from the engine through to the radiator, and vice-versa. 

Most blockages occur in the hoses where the coolant travels. But other components like the radiator fans and fins can also get clogged by debris. The most common objects to cause a blockage are rocks, dirt, rust and corrosion, sludge, leaves, and other organic material.

Some industry-specific vehicles are more prone to blockages than others. For example, farming equipment like tractors are prone to blockages caused by grass, crops, and hay.

Faulty thermostat

In a radiator, the thermostat is designed to give an accurate reading of the engine’s temperature, and to regulate the flow of coolant between the engine and the radiator. When the thermostat fails, it can no longer produce an accurate reading, and this can result in the incorrect flow of coolant.

There are two ways a thermostat can fail. Either, it gets locked in the ‘Open’ position and allows too much coolant to flow through (causing it to ‘overcool’), or it gets locked in the ‘Closed’ position and doesn’t let any coolant to come through, thus causing the engine to overheat.

While having the thermostat default to ‘Open’ is the safer option, neither scenario is ideal. If you do notice the engine has begun to rapidly overheat or overcool, take the vehicle to a radiator mechanic for an emergency service.

Leaking coolant

Tracking down a coolant leak is relatively easy. In most cases, you just need to look under the parked vehicle to see drops of coolant on the surface. Depending on the type of coolant you use the colour will be red, green, or yellow. 

There are many parts of a radiator where a leak can occur. Radiator hoses can become cracked or split and cause the coolant to leak as the liquid is passing through. Cooling fans can also develop holes or cracks as a result of rust, which causes the coolant to leak through as well.

If you do notice a coolant leak, take the vehicle to a radiator mechanic. They will perform a pressure test on the hoses, where they add pressure to the radiator and coloured dye to the coolant tank. When the coolant leaks, the dye gives a clear visual representation as to the source of the leak. If the hole is relatively small, the hose can be replaced. But if the problem is worse the radiator may need to be replaced.

Rust and corrosion

Severe rust build-up in the radiator can lead to a number of problems. Often rust will build-up due to the use of low-quality coolant, adding the wrong type of coolant to the system, or adding regular tap water (which has more contaminants than distilled water) into the coolant tank.

Carrying out a regular radiator flush is an effective way to prevent rust from eating away at components in the radiator, and ensure the system can provide a consistent airflow and allow the engine to operate at a safe temperature.

Water Pump Failure

The purpose of the water pump is to circulate coolant between the engine and the radiator. Typically, the pump is located under the timing belt cover on the side of the engine. 

There are many ways the water pump can fail. If the water pump pulley becomes loose, it will produce a high pitched sound from the front of the motor, which is typically caused by a loose belt. The gaskets and seals can also wear out, dry up, crack or break entirely, which causes the water pump to leak coolant.

If the reading on your temperature gauge is running hot, this could be a sign the water pump has failed and can no longer circulate coolant through the engine block. When this happens, have your radiator inspected by a licensed mechanic.


Created by Coxons Group

Author: NBMs

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