How to Fix a Radiator

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If you are having an issue with the coolant system in your vehicle, one culprit may be the radiator. The radiator is designed to diffuse the heat the coolant absorbs as it travels throughout the engine, but low coolant levels caused by leaks or coolant that has gone bad can compromise your radiator’s ability to do so. If you are having issues with your radiator, there are a few things you can try yourself before resorting to having it professionally repaired. Remember though, an overheating engine can cause significant damage to internal components, so you may want to consider professional repair if the vehicle continues to have cooling problems.

Identifying a Problem with Your Radiator

  1. Look for puddles beneath your vehicle. A sure sign that there’s an issue with your vehicle’s cooling system is finding a puddle of coolant under your vehicle. Remember that there are a number of fluids in your engine that could feasibly leak, so check closely to confirm if the puddle you find is coolant, oil, or possibly even just water from running the air conditioner.

    • Touch the puddle with your finger, then wipe it on a white sheet of paper to see what color it really is.
    • If it is green or orange, it’s likely a coolant leak.
  2. Check the coolant reservoir.If you believe your vehicle may be leaking coolant, check the coolant reservoir in the engine bay. Most coolant reservoirs have “fill lines” labeled on the container that will let you know if the coolant levels are low in your vehicle. Check the coolant level in your vehicle and top it off with a water/coolant mixture if it appears to be low. Check it again after a few days to see if the level has changed.

    • Make sure to check the coolant levels with the vehicle at about the same temperature each time (either warm from driving or cool from sitting).
    • Dropping coolant levels in conjunction with puddles means a coolant leak is very likely.
    • Check in the owner’s or service manual for your vehicle to locate the coolant reservoir if you are unsure of where to find it.
  3. Pay attention to changes in your temperature gauge. If your engine is low on coolant, or the coolant needs to be changed, it will struggle to maintain a proper running temperature. Keep your eye on the temperature gauge in your vehicle. If it begins to run consistently warmer, or begins to overheat sporadically, there is an issue with your cooling system.

    • Failing to adequately cool your engine could mean your coolant levels are too low.
    • Coolant can eventually go bad. If the coolant levels are still high but the engine is overheating, one issue may be that the coolant needs to be replaced.
    • If you are uncertain of what the symbols on your gauges mean, refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual to determine which is the temperature gauge.
  4. Visually inspect your engine bay.If you suspect that your coolant system may be leaking, spray the engine with a hose to remove any existing signs of a leak. Then start your engine and visually inspect the engine bay, looking closely for signs of a leak. Coolant is usually under pressure, so a leak could spray out or it may only trickle. Wear safety glasses and exercise caution while looking around the engine bay with the engine running.

    • Do not put your hands inside the engine bay with the engine running.
    • Look for any new signs of coolant leaks then follow the coolant to the highest point to locate the crack or hole.

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