Save thousands on vehicle repairs with Endurance.
Get a FREE Quote

The Importance of Your Car’s Radiator in Staying Cool

BY: Keith Benline
Overheated car and engine broke with breakdown radiator steam and hot oil smoke from under the hood

Changing your oil and keeping your tires at the correct PSI are two great ways to keep your car running smoothly and driving safely as the seasons change. Your vehicle’s cooling system is another area that should be considered in order to keep your car properly maintained.

At the heart of your cooling system is the radiator, a vital component of the functionality of your vehicle’s engine. While many drivers know their car has a radiator, many do not understand how they function. Let’s examine how a radiator works and why it is important in keeping your vehicle running.

How a Radiator Works

The goal of a radiator is to help cool the engine coolant before it returns to the engine block. This large, rectangular radiator unit has a series of tubes and fins that work together to cool the hot engine coolant. Most radiators have an upper inlet and bottom outlet to which your radiator hoses are attached. Hot coolant comes in through the upper radiator hose and disperses coolant throughout the radiator tubes.

As the coolant flows down the tubes, the air is drawn in through the radiator to allow the passing air to cool the coolant. In many cases, a cooling fan is used to help draw airflow into the radiator, especially when the car is not moving. Once the coolant has reached the bottom of the radiator, the flow of coolant goes through the lower radiator hose and back through the engine. A car uses a water pump powered by the accessory drive belt to push coolant through the cooling system.

Why Keeping Your Engine Cool Is Important

The engine coolant is responsible for keeping the engine at a specific temperature, known as operating temperature, for optimal performance. However, the cooling system is not only for cooling; it also brings your engine to operating temperature by restricting coolant flow to the radiator. This allows the coolant level to heat up quickly and reach operating temperature faster.

A car engine cannot operate efficiently if it is too cold or too hot, so balancing the coolant temperature at a specific specification is important. If your antifreeze or coolant is too cold, your engine will struggle to operate efficiently, causing an increase in fuel consumption. If your coolant gets too hot, your engine can cause overheating, causing various issues within your engine.

What Are the Parts of a Car Radiator?

While the radiator in your vehicle is one component, there are a few different parts of the radiator that you should be familiar with.

  • The Core – The radiator core is the large center section of the radiator that houses the tubes and fins that help cool the coolant.
  • The Radiator Cap –  The radiator cap may not seem like much, but it actually has a very important job. A radiator cap helps to keep your cooling system pressurized.
  • Inlet/Outlet Tanks – The inlet and outlet tanks are located at the top and bottom of your radiator and store coolant before and after it flows through the radiator.
  • Radiator Hoses – Lastly, while not an actual component of the radiator, your radiator hoses connect to your radiator to deliver coolant to and from your radiator.

5 Signs of Radiator Issues

The radiator in your car is essential to how your engine performs. When there is an issue with your radiator, you must resolve it as soon as possible to avoid any larger issues that can be detrimental to your vehicle. Let’s look at five signs that you might have a radiator issue.

  1. Your engine is overheating. – If your engine temperature gauge (or thermostat) creeps up, this is a tell-tell sign that your coolant system is malfunctioning. Have your vehicle inspected by a licensed mechanic immediately to prevent your engine from overheating.
  2. You smell a sweet smell. – Coolant has a naturally sweet smell that is similar to syrup. You most likely have a coolant leak if you notice this strange smell coming from your vehicle.
  3. You notice a leak under your vehicle. – Leaks under your vehicle can come from a variety of issues. If the leak smells sweet or is the same color as your coolant, have your cooling system looked at by a professional.
  4. Your coolant is discolored. – If you inspect your radiator or coolant tank and notice that your coolant is discolored, you most likely have an internal leak, causing a foreign fluid to leak into your coolant.
  5. Your heater is not working. – The heater in your vehicle runs off the cooling system, utilizing a small radiator called a heater core to blow hot air into your cabin. You might have a radiator or cooling system issue if your heater is not working.

How to Keep Your Radiator Maintained

Maintaining your radiator can ensure your cooling system is better protected from unexpected issues. While radiators and cooling system components fail over time, following these tips can help prolong the life of your radiator.

  • Follow your recommended maintenance schedule for coolant flushes
  • Replace worn or damaged cooling system components on time
  • Check fluid routinely
  • Keep radiator fins free of debris
  • Keep an eye out for coolant leaks

How Climate Affects Your Radiator

The type of climate you live in could have a significant effect on your radiator’s performance. For example, for those who live in scorching areas such as Arizona or New Mexico, your radiator may wear out more quickly as it has to work harder to keep your engine cool on hot summer days.

If you live in a frigid area, your cooling system must work harder to keep your engine at operating temperature. Those who live in milder climates without extremely hot or cold temperatures will most likely see the best longevity from their radiator as it will not be subjected to harsher climates.

What To Do If Your Radiator Fails While Driving

If your radiator fails while driving, you must pull over as soon as possible. A failed radiator can cause your engine to overheat very quickly, leading to a blown head gasket or warped cylinder heads, ruining your engine. Follow these steps to keep you and your vehicle safe if your radiator fails while driving:

  • Pull over to a safe spot as soon as possible
  • Turn off the vehicle and call for a tow truck
  • Do not open the hood or attempt to remove the radiator cap. This can cause a scalding hot coolant to spray and may cause severe burns.
  • Have your vehicle towed to a reputable mechanic

Choosing and Installing a New Radiator

If you need to purchase a new radiator, it is always recommended to go with a factory replacement. You can choose an upgraded, aftermarket radiator with more rows if you want more cooling capacity. These radiators have more coolant capacity and can cool down coolant much quicker.

When installing a new radiator, there are a few precautions you need to take. We recommend having a trusted professional replace your radiator to prevent air bubbles from getting trapped in your system, which can lead to overheating.

How to Install a New Radiator:

  1. Ensure that the car and coolant are completely cooled down
  2. Place a bucket under the drain on the radiator and loosen to allow the coolant to drain
  3. Replace the drain plug and move the bucket under the upper radiator hose
  4. Remove the upper radiator hose, directing any remaining coolant into the bucket
  5. Repeat the same process with the lower radiator hose
  6. Unbolt any radiator, hold down the brackets, and remove the radiator
  7. Install the new radiator by reversing these steps
  8. Fill the radiator with coolant using the proper steps for your vehicle

The Financial Impact of Neglecting Your Radiator

Neglecting a leaking radiator can lead to many different issues with your vehicle. According to RepairPal, these are the average costs that stem from a leaking radiator.

  • Radiator Replacement: $1,042 – $1,196
  • Radiator Hose Replacement: $417 – $440
  • Head Gasket Replacement: $1,899 – $2,202

How Endurance Helps Keep Your Car Running Smoothly

While a radiator is usually covered in most bumper-to-bumper coverages in factory warranties, the question remains whether or not a radiator is covered with an extended warranty. With an extended auto warranty from Endurance, your radiator could be covered as part of your powertrain coverage.

Powertrain coverage is standard on all Endurance plans, so your parts will be covered. Along with this great coverage, each plan includes 24/7 roadside assistance, rental car reimbursement, and trip interruption support. Endurance customers can also sign up for one year of Elite Benefits for a small activation fee. This includes up to $2,000 worth of extra features such as tire repairs, collision repair discounts, key fob replacement, and more.

To get started with your Endurance auto protection plan, you can request a FREE quote or call (800) 253-8203 to speak to a team member. You can also shop our online store for instant pricing and coverage details.

Read more about all things automotive, like warranty provider comparisons, repair shop guides, DIY auto repair, and more on our blog.

More like this

Get started with a FREE quote.

        Get a FREE Quote