There are few components better known than your radiator. But even if you know where your radiator is, knowing how it works and knowing when something is wrong is another story.
If you think you have a faulty radiator, read on. We’ll cover the five most common signs that you have a bad radiator, how it works, where it is, and how much it costs to replace it.
When you’re done reading, you’ll know for sure if your vehicle’s radiator is the problem, and you’ll be well on your way to getting repairs. Let’s start with a quick look at the signs:
The most common symptoms of a bad or clogged radiator are an overheating engine and visible coolant leaks. You may also notice a fluctuating temperature gauge on your dashboard.
Also, just because you have a leaking radiator or an overheated engine doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the radiator. We’ll break down each symptom of a faulty or clogged radiator and explain everything you need to know below.
Symptoms of a bad or clogged radiator
1. High Temperature Gauge Readings
If you notice your temperature gauge rising precariously, it’s a sign that something is not working as it should. If the engine gets too hot, it will simply shut down, which means the problem has become something a little more serious.
But an overheating engine can cause a wide range of problems, including a faulty thermostat, a broken fan, or coolant leaks. You will have to do a little more troubleshooting to identify the problem.
RELATED: 9 Causes of an Overheating Car Engine
2. Coolant leaks
One of the most common problems with a faulty radiator is a leak. Although you will usually see leaks under your vehicle, this is not guaranteed. Look around your radiator: If you notice white streaks or puddles of coolant, your radiator is leaking and needs repair.
RELATED: How to Fix a Refrigerant Leak
3. Damaged radiator fins
Another common problem with radiators is damaged fins. Radiators are located at the front of your vehicle, but the fins are one of the easiest components to damage. While a few broken fins will not overheat your engine, the more broken fins you have, the less coolant flow you will have through your radiator.
Plus, broken fins mean you’re more likely to leak.
4. Fluid Fade
One of the biggest radiator killers is corrosion. Although corrosion should not occur within your cooling system, as the coolant wears out, the likelihood of corrosion buildup increases.
Since the corrosion is inside your radiator, you won’t be able to see it, but it will discolor the coolant. Try a coolant flush if it’s an old coolant, but if it’s relatively new and already very discolored, you have significant corrosion in your system.
Try flushing the radiator to see if you can free up enough passages, but be prepared that the radiator may need to be replaced.
5. Visible corrosion
Visible corrosion is often the first sign that you are on the brink of a bigger problem. Corrosion leads to blown seals, worn fins, and a litany of other potential problems. While a little corrosion is not a big deal, you should have the radiator checked by a certified mechanic if there is an excessive amount.
The function of the radiator.
The radiator is an essential part of your cooling system. As the coolant passes through the engine, it heats up and, given enough time and without a cooling method, will continue to heat up until the engine overheats and shuts down.
Your radiator is an integral part of the system that cools your coolant. The coolant circulates from one side of the radiator to the other through the small metal fins you see. By becoming thinner as it passes through the fins, it becomes easier to cool.
Your vehicle does this by using an engine fan and allowing air to flow naturally over it as you drive. This is why the manufacturer places your vehicle’s radiator at the front of your vehicle.
The radiator is one of the easiest components to find in your vehicle. It’s still located at the front of your vehicle, that way you can use the airflow while driving to aid in the cooling process.
Typically you will have the bumper/grill area of your vehicle, behind which you will have the fan, and behind that, you will have the radiator.
The condenser and radiator look remarkably similar, but they’re not hard to tell apart once you know what you’re looking at. You can distinguish your condenser from your radiator in two ways. First, the condenser is in front of the radiator. Second, the radiator core is usually much thinner than your radiator.
When locating your vehicle’s radiator, simply look for the larger of the two components and you’ll be fine. However, if you try to access your radiator you may run into problems as it is often squeezed between other components.
Radiator Replacement Cost
The average radiator replacement cost is $550 to $800, depending on the car model and labor costs. Although it is a high cost, the good news is that a mechanic can fix many radiator problems.
For example, if one of the fins has a small leak, a certified repair shop can weld the leak, saving you a ton of money. Additionally, if the inside of your radiator is clogged, a mechanic could save you with a flush for about $100.
Just keep in mind that if the toilet isn’t flushing, you could be in the same situation and need to replace your radiator.
If you have a mechanical problem and are trying to save a little money, you can replace your radiator yourself. Although it’s usually a little more complicated, a replacement radiator typically costs between $100 and $200.
When you add the price of the new coolant you’ll need, you’ll probably spend around $250 to do the repairs yourself. If you opt for an OEM replacement part, you can expect to spend a little more on parts compared to an aftermarket replacement.