Read this guide to learn more about a radiator’s operation and the reasons it’s crucial to the performance of your car.
Under the hood of your car, a complex cooling system is in operation to keep it from overheating and sacrificing performance. Temperature control is necessary to avoid damage because the engine becomes extremely hot while running.
The water pump, thermostat, hoses, fans, and radiator are just a few of the numerous components that go into this cooling system. The radiator is a heat exchanger that aids in cooling the engine.
What is a Radiator in a Car?
How precisely does the radiator accomplish this task of keeping your car cool?
Heat is produced by an automobile’s engine, which burns fuel to produce energy. It’s crucial to vent this heat away from engine components to avoid damage.
The engine’s heat is dissipated by radiators. The procedure starts when the thermostat at the front of the engine notices too much heat. After that, coolant and water are released from the radiator and sent through the engine to absorb the heat.
Once the liquid has accumulated too much heat, it is returned to the radiator, where it is cooled by air blowing across it and exchanging heat with the outside air of the car.
Heat is efficiently transferred from the radiator to the air outside the car by means of thin metal fins. The fan that moves air across the radiator frequently works in tandem with these fins.
Long story short, the answer to “What does a car radiator do?” is simple — The engine is cooled by a heat exchange that chills fluid.
Where is the Radiator in a Car?
Under the hood, in front of the engine, is the radiator. These components are situated close to the coolant reservoir as well.
What Does a Radiator Look Like?
Here’s a diagram of a vehicle’s engine cooling system, including what a radiator looks like:
How the Radiator Works
To keep the engine cool, a pressurized system called the cooling system is made up of a number of parts. Coolant is used to cool the engine by circulating coolant through the radiator, engine, and the engine’s cylinder heads to absorb the heat. A thermostat placed between the engine and the radiator regulates the flow of coolant and maintains the engine’s temperature. The thermostat restricts coolant flow if the coolant drops below the predetermined temperature, as it might when the engine is cool. As the engine gets hotter, it opens incrementally as needed to allow fluid to flow through the radiator through the radiator hoses.
In order to direct the flow of coolant so that it can cool and then run back to the engine to maintain the desired temperature, which aids in preventing overheating, radiator hoses are connected to both the radiator and the engine. The system is made to permit a significant increase in the boiling point, much like a pressure cooker, to prevent the coolant from boiling. Unfortunately, too much pressure can damage hoses and other parts within the cooling system; at some point, the pressure must be relieved, which is the job of the radiator cap. Once it reaches the specific pressure that the system is intended to handle, the radiator cap is programmed to release pressure. Once it has cooled, the coolant returns to the radiator.
Parts of a Radiator
The radiator is composed of a few major components, each of which contributes to cooling. They are:
- Core: The radiator’s largest component, the core, performs the radiator’s main duty. It is made up of a sizable metal block with a series of tiny metal fins that allow the coolant to vent heat to the air around the radiator (this air is expelled through the grill on the front of your car).) Radiators with one, two, or even three cores are just a few examples of the various types of cores.
- Pressure cap: The cooling system can be kept pressurized by the pressure cap’s assistance in sealing the system. To keep the coolant in the radiator from boiling, pressure is applied to it. It also keeps the system running more smoothly.
- Inlet and outlet tanks: Located in the radiator head, these tanks serve as the radiator’s inlet and outlet for coolant. Once cooled, hot liquid exits the engine through the outlet tank and returns through the inlet tank to the engine.
- Radiator hoses: Radiator hoses are used to transfer coolant through the engine. They are crucial for attaching the radiator’s radiator and the engine’s outlet and inlet tanks.
- Transmission cooler: Most likely, the transmission in your car is cooled by the same fluid that cools the engine. Your engine’s steel pipes carrying the transmission fluid are encircled by coolant, which conducts heat away from them. As a result of the automatic transmission’s significant heat production, this coolant is also cooled inside the radiator. If your transmission is under a lot of stress, a separate radiator may be present to cool the fluid, but it is much more typical to see a single radiator serving both purposes.
Important Cooling System Parts:
Along with your radiator, other crucial cooling system components like the water pump and the thermostat are also at work.
The engine’s thermostat controls temperature, as was previously mentioned. The thermostat will open to permit an influx of coolant if the engine needs to be cooled. If the engine is at the correct operating temperature, it closes.
The system’s coolant is pushed through by the water pump. The engine drive belt typically turns on the pump, which then spins the pump’s blades to push liquid through the system as needed. The coolant is contained by gaskets and seals.
Another vital component is coolant, which is pumped through the cooling system to keep the engine from overheating. Additionally, it aids in lubricating the various components it comes into contact with. More information about coolant’s operation can be found here.
Signs of a Failing Radiator
Various cooling system components may start to deteriorate over time. Check out this article on the most typical cooling system issues for a more comprehensive overview.
A few signs that your radiator specifically is having issues can include:
- Leaking coolant: The coolant beneath your car will spill out if the radiator has cracks or leaks. When you’re driving or leaving a parking spot, this can occur. This suggests that you may have a radiator crack if you also notice low coolant levels.
- Discolored coolant or sludge: Typically, coolant has a thin consistency and is either green or yellow in color. The fluid could become contaminated by rust and debris from a failing radiator, which could give it a rusty or dark color. Additionally, it could thicken and produce sludge, which would stop it from cooling the engine.
- Overheating: Since the radiator is where engine heat is dissipated, a vehicle that frequently overheats may have a radiator problem.
- Bent or damaged fins: The radiator’s airflow may become obstructed if its fins are bent or otherwise damaged. When driving over gravel, this may happen. It may also happen when cleaning with too much water pressure.
Why is Your Radiator Important?
The main method by which your engine vents heat while it is running makes a radiator crucial. The majority of cars you see with billowing smoke on the side of the road are actually caused by malfunctioning radiators. A malfunctioning radiator may result in significant engine damage from overheating. Physical damage is the most frequent reason for radiator malfunction, which necessitates the replacement of some or all of its parts. Radiator function may be hampered by coolant that has expired or by low coolant levels, which can be fixed with a coolant flush.
What Causes the Engine to Overheat
The most common time for a vehicle to overheat is in extremely hot weather, but it can happen at any time, especially if the radiator’s coolant level is low or there is a cooling system leak. Leaks are particularly dangerous because they allow coolant to be released from the radiator, leaving it low. This will undoubtedly lead to overheating. The engine will overheat if the radiator fails, resulting in significant damage that will require expensive and time-consuming repairs. Thermostat issues, hose leaks, or radiator caps are some additional potential causes of overheating. A defective radiator cap cannot maintain pressure, allowing coolant to overflow into the overflow tank and potentially overheating the engine.
How Your Car Radiator Cools the Engine
- In order to release the heat that the coolant has absorbed from the engine, the coolant is forced through tubes inside the radiator and then returned to the engine.
- A result of the overheated coolant entering the pipes and the turbulence inside the radiator pipes, the coolant quickly becomes highly pressurized.
- This results in the radiator cap opening at a specific pressure level.
- When the heat is dissipated, any extra coolant can flow into an overflow tank that is affixed to the side of the radiator.
- Once the radiator’s temperature has sufficiently dropped, the coolant is reintroduced.
The majority of systems use this method, though radiator and cooling systems vary slightly from model to model (especially in older cars versus newer models).
How to Flush a Radiator?
To keep operating, vehicles require routine maintenance. While many of these maintenance chores are small and easy to complete, if left unattended for a long time, they can result in significant, expensive repairs.
One of these chores is flushing your car’s radiator. The radiator is the brain of your car’s cooling system, sending antifreeze-containing liquid coolant to various engine components to prevent overheating. The antifreeze in your radiator should be drained and replaced every five years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first, according to experts.
This process, along with running distilled water through the radiator before adding fresh antifreeze, is collectively called “flushing” the radiator. Rust and grime that naturally accumulate in your car’s cooling system are removed by flushing. Skipping this step could result in an engine overheating and a blockage in the cooling system.
1. Determine If You Should Flush Your Car Radiator
A few variables determine when to flush a radiator. Your car’s make and model are the first. While some vehicles can hold up to 18 quarts of coolant, others can only hold about 6 quarts. You can determine whether your car needs a radiator flush by getting to know it.
The year of your car is another factor. The radiator should probably be flushed if your car is getting on in years. It’s definitely time to replace the coolant by flushing the radiator if it’s more than five years old, especially.
Additionally, your mileage will determine when to flush a radiator. To keep your car running smoothly, it is advised that you flush your radiator out about every 30,000 miles.
2. Make Sure the Engine Has Cooled
Place your hand on the engine block to feel whether it is hot or cold after determining that the radiator needs to be flushed, also known as a coolant flush. Avoid opening it if it’s hot and wait for it to cool. On your dashboard, look at the coolant temperature as well. Open the car’s hood as soon as the engine has cooled.
3. Drain the Coolant
Once everything has cooled, locate the radiator drain petcock under your car by looking underneath. The petcock is typically always found in the radiator’s corner. Once it has been located, place a pan—perhaps a disposable aluminum pan from the store—directly beneath the petcock.
Remove the petcock once everything is in place and allow the coolant to run into the pan. Close the petcock and properly dispose of the coolant after it has finished draining. How to properly dispose of the antifreeze can be confirmed by contacting your local hazardous waste control organization.
Tip: You should put on safety gear like gloves, clothing, and eye protection when draining the antifreeze.
4. Locate the Radiator
Next to your engine is a long metal tank that serves as your radiator. Once you’ve discovered it, unscrew the radiator pressure cap to start the radiator flush.
Tip: Put the cap in a safe location. You don’t want it to get lost or to fall into your car.
5. Pour Water and Cleaner into the Radiator
To clean your radiator, flush it out with distilled water and your preferred radiator cleaner. Using a funnel, pour both into the radiator, making sure to get every last drop of water and cleaner inside.
Tip: Refer to the instructions on the back of the radiator cleaner if you ever find yourself confused.
6. Close the Cap and Start Your Engine
You should then close the radiator cap, start the engine, and turn on the heat after adding the water and cleaner. At the very least, give your engine and heat five minutes to run. By doing this, you enable the water and cleaner to clear out debris as they pass through your cooling system.
7. Drain the Water and Cleaner
Turn off your car and let it cool after the engine has been running for five minutes. Put the same aluminum pan back under the car under the petcock once it has cooled. To drain the cleaner and water mixture, remove the petcock once more. Start the engine if you believe there is still water inside to force the remainder out and into the pan. Next, shut the petcock.
8. Add the Coolant
Your coolant mixture should now be poured into your radiator using the funnel once more. You can buy a 50/50 antifreeze mixture for most cars at any auto supply shop. However, it is advised that you consult your owner’s manual to determine the proper antifreeze mixture to use for your particular vehicle.
For more information on how much coolant to use, consult the manual. To the fill line with coolant Turn on your vehicle with the heat on to force the coolant to drain if there is any as you pour. Continue adding antifreeze after that. Once the radiator is full, replace the cap.
9. Start Your Vehicle
Turn on your car so the antifreeze can circulate through the system after you’ve properly flushed the radiator and added the new coolant. After a few minutes, shut off your car. You’ve now mastered the art of flushing a radiator.
It’s crucial to spend money on engine oil, hydraulic oil, and other car fluids to maintain the health of your vehicle.
Preventative Maintenance is Key
While it is practically impossible to predict when a thermostat or radiator cap will malfunction, there are some steps you can take to minimize the harm that an overheated engine can cause. It is advisable to replace your radiator hoses every three years or 36,000 miles, but no more than 50,000 miles. Because the hoses are made of rubber, dry air, high temperatures, and chemical reactions eventually cause them to degrade. Check your coolant level frequently because coolant is the radiator’s lifeblood. A level that is lower than usual might point to a systemic leak. Every 30,000 miles, a coolant flush helps to flush out any contaminants that have accumulated in the system and conditions and lubricates the system to help prevent rust and hard water deposits. The inconvenience of an overheating engine is avoided by having a coolant flush performed on your car, which keeps your radiator functioning at its best.
Being stranded on the side of the road with an overheating engine is the most annoying or inconvenient situation. In addition to being difficult for drivers, allowing the car to overheat repeatedly can harm the engine. When it comes to all things automotive, Sun Devil Auto is the authority, particularly on preventive maintenance procedures like cooling flushes and hose replacements. No matter the season, our ASE Certified Technicians can keep you and your engine cool. For your upcoming cooling system maintenance service, make an appointment at one of our many accessible locations.