Top Ways To Tell Your Radiator Is Bad

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Keeping your car’s engine temperature under control is one of the most important things you as an owner needs to worry about. All modern vehicles have an engine coolant temp gauge that will monitor this for you; but you need to watch the gauge. There are some warning signs to when the in your vehicle needs to be replaced. Not all of these signs are obvious and we decided to list the most common signs of failure below.

What Does A Car Radiator Do?

The radiator in your vehicle is an unsung hero and might be the hardest working part in the engine bay. An auto radiator has two tanks that are on the or bottom or sides that hose the coolant “reserve” and small tubes that connect these tanks flow the coolant through them as they zig zag back and forth. The water pump forces the coolant into one end of the radiator, through the small tubes, and then out the other end of the radiator. Just this time out of the engine helps reduce coolant temperatures but there’s more to the magic. The little fins that are connected to the tubes help pull the heat out of the liquid coolant. The last piece to the puzzle is the air that flows through or past the radiator. This can be from a radiator fan that is driven mechanically or electrically. All of these factors together reduce coolant an engine temps.

How to Tell if Your Radiator is

  1. Steam or Smoke Coming out of Hood- This is often seen when sitting at a light or caught in traffic. If you see steam coming from out around the hood or grill of your car there’s a definite problem. Immediately pull over and carefully check for the issue. Usually steam or smoke indicates a broken hose, damaged radiator or an overheating engine.
  2. Engine Temperature Gauge High or Pegged Hot- If your coolant temperature gauge is quickly rising when you’re driving or sitting in traffic or is suddenly pegged all the way hot you must pull over and check the issue. This indicates that the coolant temperature is probably over 220 degrees Fahrenheit or more and could be damaging to the engine. If your radiator is clogged, broken and leaking, or is blocked it could cause the temperature to rise quickly. A failing water pump or thermostat will also cause similar issues, but you may want to start diagnosing from the front of the car back.
  3. Rust, Green or Brown Residue Visible on Radiator- If you see excessive buildup around the radiator cap, hoses, or any other connections there may be a problem. If there’s visible wet spots on the radiator you may have a leak. If you see a residue or buildup around the cap or inside the radiator when removed you could have an issue with a partially clogged radiator. This reduction in flow will disrupt the coolant flow and could cause an engine to run warmer than normal or even overheat. Periodically flushing your coolant can save you from these issues. Also make sure that you use the correct coolant for your vehicle as mixing coolants can cause this residue or blockage.
  4. Proper Airflow Through the Radiator- The exterior of your radiator needs to be clear of obstructions. The more you block the direct flow of air through the grill or radiator the less efficient your radiator might be. If you’ve recently installed a brush guard, fog lights, bumper, etc. that partially blocks the grill you might see a rise in engine temps at idle. If this happens you may need to adjust the location of this bumper-mounted accessories.

If your radiator is bad you may want to upgrade to a high performance radiator. The Tri-Flow aluminum radiators give up to a 24F degree drop in temps over standard radiators. You can find all of our aluminum radiator offerings HERE.



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