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Why You Should Care About Your Radiator

The Radiator is an important piece of the car’s coolant system, and it functions to help keep the car from overheating.  We have all seen the image of a car pulled off to the side of the road with steam pouring out of the hood.  Maybe it has even happened to you.  But do you know what caused this predicament?  There is a good chance it occurred because of an overheated engine.  A car engine functions through a series of moving parts, creating a great deal of friction. The friction means there is excess heat energy, not to mention the heat from fuel burned in the engine.  A car engine ideally runs between 180 and 210 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than this and the engine will start to overheat.  Naturally, we want to avoid this scenario, and as long as the car’s radiator is functioning properly there is a good chance we will be able to.

The radiator is located behind the grill of a car and contains a liquid made up of 50 percent water and 50 percent coolant/antifreeze (usually ethylene glycol).  The coolant/antifreeze allows the water to keep from boiling at temperatures as high as 275 degrees Fahrenheit and keep from freezing at temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  The terms coolant and antifreeze can be used interchangeably.  The entire mixture is usually referred to as coolant or antifreeze but it is important to note that the fluid in your radiator is half water too.  While the radiator itself has no electronic parts, a thermostat near the engine gauges the engine temperature and when it starts to get too hot, allows the radiator to push coolant through the engine chambers.  The coolant conducts the heat away from the engine and travels from the engine through the upper radiator hose into the radiator.  The radiator has a large surface area, which helps the coolant temperature to lower as it travels through the radiator’s coils.  Cool air coming in through the grill also plays a crucial role in cooling the liquid.  Once the liquid’s temperature has been sufficiently lowered it travels through the radiator’s lower hose back to the engine and the process is repeated.

Now that we know how crucial the radiator is we want to be sure to keep it running properly.  A radiator should last 8 to 10 years.  In older cars, it was likely the radiator would last the life of a car.  Although this can still happen with modern vehicles, it is less likely because radiators are currently being built with plastic, as opposed to the older metal versions, which is susceptible to cracks after years of hot and cold exposure.  There are a couple of things you can do to ensure that your radiator lasts as long as possible.  The first is to make sure that the radiator always has the proper level of coolant.  When the radiator overheats coolant escapes.  Coolant can also be lost through leaks.  Without enough coolant, the liquid will boil over, causing damage not only to the radiator but also the engine.  It is especially important to maintain the right amount of coolant during hot weather and long trips, as both of these make the car more prone to overheat.  Many cars have a separate coolant reservoir to pour the coolant into.  If not, the coolant is poured directly into the radiator.  Remember though, the liquid you want in your radiator or reservoir is half coolant, half water.  You can buy a premade mixture or buy straight coolant and mix it yourself.  Consult your manual for instructions on filling coolant, and be sure the engine is completely cool.  NEVER open the radiator cap while the engine is hot!  Serious injury could result if you do.  If you notice your car is consistently low on coolant, it is likely you have a leak, perhaps in the radiator or one of the hoses.  The best thing to do is take your car to a reliable mechanic.  To find a qualified automotive professional click here.  Even small leaks can lead to big and expensive problems if left unchecked.  The other key component to a long radiator life is to flush out the coolant system regularly.  Check your car manual to see how often this is.  Flushing the system ensures that coolant can flow freely and parts of the engine and radiator will not be too hot.  If you notice your engine overheating, it may mean you have a problem with your radiator, or some other part of the cooling system.  Taking your car to the mechanic is the only way to know for sure.  Good luck and cool driving from!

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