A radiator is a vital component of a car as it ensures that the car remain reliable for its owner. It is an essential part of the cooling system of the vehicle, and it works in conjunction with the other systems, especially the water pump, in order to maintain the optimal temperature of the car engine while it is at rest and while it is in motion. This cooling system is constructed using a large, flat metal device with very small fins–which are designed to exponentially increase the surface area of the radiator. Note that surface areas in radiators determine the potential the systems have for cooling, as it regulates the rate of airflow across the surface. Therefore, a larger surface area will result in an increased airflow across the surface, thereby resulting in a higher potential for cooling.
The radiator functions by allowing hot liquid pass through the radiator and behind the radiator fins. Heat exchange then occur when the cooling effect from the air passing over the surface cools the liquid that is passing directly beneath the surface.
A radiator is most effective when the airflow across its surface is maximum, thereby optimizing cooling. There is usually no airflow inside the radiator while the vehicle is at rest, which may result in the liquid in the system becoming quite hot. In order to efficiently manage this situation, which often occur in slow-moving traffic, radiators are fitted with a radiator fan that runs when the vehicle is at rest.
Why do Radiators Fail?
There are various factors that can be held responsible for the failure of radiators on vehicles, and they range from accidents to manufacturer defects and poor maintenance etc. The following include the most common reasons why radiators fail:
- Accidents (or Damage): This involves the occurrence of accidents or damage to the radiator or radiator structure. It also involve road debris kicking up from underneath the vehicle and hitting the radiator structure, as the front of the car is maximized for airflow. Any damage to the fin system of the radiator can result in problems with cooling, and the eventual demise of the radiator. In addition, when the debris is large, it often strike with force enough to dislodge the radiator support, punch a hole in the radiator or knock off coolant hoses among others.
- Electrolysis: This factor is often the result of a bad engine ground. When the engine is not properly grounded, electrical current often flow through the motor and into the coolant. The electrical current that flows through the motor then combines with the electrical current flowing into the coolant. This combination then result in the deterioration of the metals within the radiator across time.
- Corrosion: A radiator is made mostly of metal, which tend to corrode over time. This component employs an engine coolant or antifreeze which provides a mechanism for cooling, along with anti-corrosive properties. Failure to change this engine coolant frequently enough could result in corrosion forming within the radiator. This corrosion can: prevent the coolant from moving through the radiator, cause plugs or stoppages within the radiator channels and lead to a breakdown or overheating.
Signs of Radiator Failure
When your radiator starts to develop issues, there are a few signs to look out for that will inform you of the impending damage. They include:
- Coolant loss: One of the signs of radiator failure is when the coolant is found underneath the vehicle after it has been driven for a period of time. This shows that the coolant is removed from the main system, thereby resulting in the radiator losing the ability to effectively cool the engine.
- Low coolant: In a situation where the refill tank of your vehicle is consistently low, and the continuous addition of fluid makes no difference: there is an issue with coolant loss in the cooling system, which may cause the vehicle to overheat.
- Coolant sludge: The color of the coolant in a vehicle is either a bright green or a bright yellow. When a radiator begins to fail, this bright color becomes infected with the already contaminated metals within the radiator. The resulting mess (or sludge) from the contamination will not be able to cool down the engine of the vehicle effectively.
- Running hot: When your vehicle is constantly running hot, then the radiator has developed issues. Note that every vehicle features a temperature gauge as a part of the instrument cluster that serves as an indicator of the temperature of the engine. When the gauge is consistently around the high side, or the red zone of the gauge, then the engine is running hotter than it should.
Replacing your Radiator
The most difficult part about a failing radiator is the amount involved in repairing it. A radiator is an expensive piece of equipment, and it involves a high amount of labor. The cost of replacing a radiator varies depending on the type of vehicle you own. However, these prices are often high and they do not include repairs such as coolant hose replacements, belt replacements etc.
The radiator is an expensive part of the vehicle, and it ranges from around $100 to over three or four hundred dollars. It may cost up to $900 or more to repair this radiator.
In order to gain access to the radiator, a technician has to remove the structural pieces (or the entire bumper) from the front of the vehicle. This is a high labor task, and it often takes an experienced technician several hours to complete.
Some people might repair other components related to the radiator, as the front of the vehicle is open. These include:
- Coolant Hoses
- Drain Plug
- Gaskets and Connections
- Radiator Fan
- Radiator Support Structure