Radiator Repair Options And Which You Should Choose

The radiator could be to blame if your coolant system is not working properly.

Radiators are designed to disperse the heat that coolant absorbs. However, low coolant levels or coolant that is corroded can cause your radiator to fail.

There are some radiator repair methods you can do to fix your radiator problems by yourself before calling a professional to have it fixed.

You should remember that an overheating engine can cause serious damage to internal parts, so it is worth considering professional repair if your vehicle continues to experience cooling problems.

Before we get into the steps of a radiator repair, it is important to fully understand the functions and characteristics of the radiator before you begin to discuss the details of radiator repair.

What Is A Radiator?

The radiator is the vehicle’s mechanism for cooling internal combustion engines. Coolant is a liquid that circulates through internal combustion engines to cool them. The coolant then heats up as it passes through the engine block. It then runs through the radiator, where it loses heat and finally returns to the engine.

The coolant is usually water-based, but it can also contain oil. The radiator transfers heat from the coolant into the air. The radiator cools the coolant; then, it returns it to the engine. This cools the engine.

In short, the radiator controls the engine’s temperature. Radiators can also be used to cool transmission fluids and refrigerants as well as intake air and steering fluid.

Radiators are placed at a certain angle in a vehicle so that they can take in the vehicle’s forward momentum. It is common to fine the radiator behind the grill when the engine is in the middle or back of the vehicle.

The side-mounted grill is another spot where radiators can be placed. For long vehicles such as buses, a radiator should be placed to the side.

How Does A Car Radiator Work?

To run an engine, it must burn fuel. This naturally generates a lot of heat. To ensure that the pistons don’t break down and cause damage to the engine, it must be kept as cool as possible.

Here is where the radiator (part of the engine’s cooling systems) comes in.

How A Radiator Cools The Engine Of A Car

  1. The coolant inside an engine goes through tubes within the radiator. Heat it has absorbed from the engines and is dissipated to the atmosphere before the coolant is returned to the engine.
  2. The pipes become extremely pressurized when coolant is in overheated form. This is due to turbulence within the radiator pipes.
  3. This causes the radiator cap’s to open at a predetermined pressure level.
  4. The heat is released, and any coolant that remains can be ejected into an overflow tank attached at the side of the radiator.
  5. The coolant is then returned back to the radiator once its temperature has been sufficiently dropped.

Although the cooling system of a vehicle and radiator systems may vary from one model to the next (especially comparing older cars with newer models), this is the most common process.

Why Do Car Radiators fail?

Why Do Car Radiators fail
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Radiator failure can be caused by a coolant leak. This could lead to cooling system failure.

If coolant is not properly topped up or checked, radiator, hoses, and hose connections can become clogged and rusty.

This corrosion can cause tiny holes, or “pinhole leaks“, to form in your car’s radiator over time. This can lead to engine coolant loss and the need for a radiator repair or replacement.

How To Identify Radiator Problems

1. Look For Coolant Puddles Beneath Your Vehicle.

If you find a pool of coolant underneath your vehicle, it is a sign that your cooling system may be in trouble. There are many fluids that can leak from your engine. Make sure you check to make sure that the coolant is not oily, coolant, or water.

To determine the color of the puddle, touch it with your finger. It’s most likely a coolant leak if it is orange or green. If it is, then you should consider radiator repair immediately.

2. Check The Coolant Reservoir

Check the coolant reservoir located in your engine bay if you suspect that your vehicle is leaking coolant.

Coolant reservoirs usually have fill lines on the containers that let you know if coolant levels in your vehicle are low. If your coolant level gets low, top it up with water/coolant mix. You can check it again in a few days to verify that the level has not changed.

Check the coolant levels at the vehicle at the same temperature every time you check it (warm from driving, cool from sitting).

If you don’t know where the coolant reservoir is located, consult the owner’s manual or service manual.

Also Read: Coolant Reservoir – Everything You Should Know

3. Pay Attention To Changes In Your Car’s Temperature Gauge

Your engine will not run properly if it is running low on coolant or if coolant needs to be replaced. You should always keep an eye on your vehicle’s temperature gauge as it tells you when your engine’s temperature is hotter than it should be.

Your cooling system may be faulty if your vehicle starts to heat up more frequently or runs consistently hotter.

Coolant can go bad eventually. If coolant levels remain high but engine heat is excessive, it may be time for coolant change.

You can refer to the owner’s manual of your vehicle to learn the meanings of the temperature gauge symbols.

4. Visually Inspect Your Engine Bay

To remove any signs that the coolant system might be leaking, spray your engine with a hose. Next, start the engine and inspect the engine bay for any signs of leakage.

The coolant is under pressure, so it could leak out or trickle. While the engine is running, wear safety glasses and be careful when looking around the engine bay.

When the engine is running, do not touch it. Follow the coolant up to the highest point to check for leakage.

How To Drain And Flush A Radiator

How To Drain And Flush A Radiator
Credits: Velimir Zeland / Shutterstock

If you are having radiator problems, before you consider any radiator repair options, draining and flushing your radiator could be the solution.

Follow these steps to know how to drain and flush your radiator.

1. Allow the engine to cool completely

It is possible to burn yourself if you open the radiator cap or petcock when the coolant system is still under pressure. Leave the car to cool down for several hours before contacting any coolant parts.

To check if the radiator is still cool, tap it lightly after a while. If the radiator is still warm, it could be because of the heat in the coolant.

It is very dangerous to open the coolant system when it is hot as this can lead to the hot coolant spraying out.

2. Jack The Car To Access The Bottom Of The Radiator To Drain The Old Coolant

You will have to raise the car high enough for you to put a container under it to catch the draining fluid. Find the designated jacking points of your car by referring to your owner’s manual to avoid any damage to your vehicle.

To support the vehicle’s weight, place jack stands underneath the vehicle once it is high enough for you to slide your container under it.

A vehicle that is only supported by a jack should not be used for work. Jack stands to prevent the jack’s pressure from evaporating and will lower the vehicle when you are under it.

3. Drain The Coolant From The Petcock By Opening It

You will often see the petcock as a spout with an opening valve. It should be located on the radiator’s bottom to drain the coolant. After you locate it, ensure that the container is properly placed beneath it. Then open the valve.

You should allow the coolant to cool down as it comes out of your radiator. However, you must be careful not to let it touch your skin.

You should check your owner’s manual to determine the coolant capacity of your vehicle. Also, make sure you have enough space to store it all.

4. Flush The Radiator Using A Hose

After draining the radiator, you will find that there is still a lot of coolant in the system. The coolant reservoir should be filled with water. Allow the engine to start for a few seconds before draining it again. Repeat this process at least two to three times.

Allow the engine to run for only a few minutes each turn, and it will heat up enough to drain the radiator. The engine will be flushed clean with the water.

5. To Maximize the Coolant System Efficiency, Fill The Radiator With Water And Coolant Mix

It is possible to buy pre-mixed coolant or mix it yourself. The engine should be filled to about an inch above the “full-line”. The thermostat will expand as the coolant flows in, and it will warm up. Continue to add coolant to the reservoir until it drops. Continue to add the mixture to your radiator or reservoir until it reaches the maximum recommended capacity.

You can find fluid capacities on the manufacturer’s website if you don’t have your owner’s guide.

It might take some time for coolant to drain into your system. Be patient while you pour it in.

If your car’s radiator has a bleeder valve at the top, open it, then allow the engine to keep running for about ten minutes to let excess air escape.

Radiator Repair: How To Repair Radiator Leaks

How To Repair Radiator Leaks
Credits: Soonthorn Wongsaita / Shutterstock

Here are radiator repair methods that you can use to repair a radiator leak

1. Replace The Radiator Cap

The radiator cap is a common failure point on radiators. Radiator caps allow excess pressure to escape in order to prevent coolant system damage. However, over time, they can become oxidized or full of dirt.

To carry out this radiator repair step, Simply wait until the engine cools completely before you remove the radiator cap. Replace the cap by screwing it on.

Your local auto parts shop can sell you replacement radiator caps. Ask for a cap that matches your vehicle’s year, make and type.

2. If You Are In A Pinch, You Can Use A Commercial Leak Sealing Agent

These leak sealants can’t be used to make permanent repairs however they are a radiator repair option you can use to repair radiator leaks for a short time.

To do this radiator repair method, Simply open the radiator cap of a cool engine to pour the leak sealant in. If the radiator is low due to a leak, top it off with coolant and water.

It is likely that you will still need to find and repair the leak or carry out other radiator repair methods after applying a leak sealant.

If you have to transport your vehicle to repair or home, then leak sealant can be a great choice.

3. Seal Visible Cracks With Epoxy

Epoxy can be used to repair a crack in your radiator if you are able. The epoxy may not seal if there is grease or dirt in the area. Spray on brake cleaner with a rag to get rid of any stuck-on grime, then leave the cleaned area to dry out completely. You can use your hands to work the epoxy into a smooth paste that you can spread over the crack.

Before you start the vehicle, allow the epoxy to set for at least an hour.

Radiator epoxy is available at most auto parts shops.

4. Replace A Cracked Radiator

It is most unlikely you will need to carry out this radiator repair method and get a radiator replacement.

To do this, Drain all fluids and disconnect the hoses that lead to and from the radiator. Slide the radiator up and out from your vehicle’s front by unscrewing the brackets holding it in place.

There will be different mounting hardware for each vehicle, but radiators are usually held in place with four to six bolts. Place the radiator and attach it with the same bolts.

To access the radiator bolts and remove the radiator from your vehicle, you may need to take off the body or trim panels.

A radiator can be purchased directly from the manufacturer of your vehicle or at most auto parts shops.

Radiator Repair Cost

A radiator repair costs around $200 to $900, depending on your car’s make and model, the severity of the damage, and what needs to be done. The average radiator repair costs $400.

Radiators were often made entirely from metal in late-model cars, such as those built in the 80s, 70s, and 80s. These radiators can be easily repaired. You could repair the radiator if it burst.

Modern vehicles have radiators made from an aluminum core (the portion with the tubes, fins, and tubes) and a plastic end tank (the black parts at the top or bottom of the radiator where the hoses connect). They are difficult to repair and must almost always be replaced with a brand new radiator.

If you carry out a radiator repair and replacement at home, the price will be much lower, between $100-$300. If you need to have your radiator replaced in a garage, the labor costs could be as high as $600 to $700.

Why Is Radiator Repair So Expensive?

Radiator repair and replacement can be quite costly as you’ll need to drain your cooling system and refill it.

Antifreeze or Engine coolant can cost a lot because of the size and complexity of many vehicles’ cooling systems.

A universal coolant can be a cost-saving option that will still get your car on the road. Concentrated coolant is usually less expensive than pre-diluted coolant.  Make sure that you only use the right product for your vehicle.

Another thing that adds to the radiator repair and replacement cost for your vehicle is the coolant disposal fee. Engine coolant poses a danger to the environment and should be removed.

Coolant additives can cause severe harm to the environment and could be fatal if they are ingested. You will have to pay an additional fee to dispose of the coolant that they take from your vehicle if you hire a shop to replace it.

You may need to pay an additional fee to dispose of the coolant from your vehicle, even if you replace it yourself.

Also Read: Alternator Repair Options And Which You Should Choose

How to Replace a Radiator

Follow these steps to know how you can replace your radiator yourself

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to repair a radiator?

A radiator repair costs around $200 to $900, depending on your car’s make and model, the severity of the damage, and what needs to be done. The average radiator repair costs $400. 

Can a leaking radiator be repaired?

A lot of radiator repair methods can be carried out on a leaking radiator temporarily. However, a professional still needs to replace your radiator. This is the only permanent and safe way to fix a leaking radiator. Don’t forget your technician if you have added any stop-leak to your cooling system.

Can you fix a crack in a plastic radiator?

A true fusion welding is the only radiator repair method that can be done on a plastic radiator tank. Radiator Repair Kit allows you to melt nylon fill material directly into the base material. This creates a strong, seamless repair that will last a long time.

How much does it cost to fix a leaking radiator?

The cost of a mechanic will vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle. However, replacing a car radiator can cost you between $300 and $900. Labor costs include a mechanic inspecting for leaks, taking out the radiator, and installing a new radiator.

Can I replace a radiator myself?

If you’re familiar with the process, changing radiators and other radiator repairs can be accomplished in a matter of minutes. It is easiest to replace your radiator like-for-like. This means that you will find one the same size as your existing one.

Can I use Flex Seal on my radiator?

No. Flex Seal is not designed to withstand the pressure of a cooling system.

Can I drive my car with a radiator leak?

You should not drive your vehicle if you have a radiator leak. Leakage in the radiator can cause coolant to evaporate and lead to engine overheating. Take your vehicle to the mechanic to get it fixed as soon as possible, as your vehicle will be more likely to overheat which can damage your engine.

How long does it take to fix a radiator?

Many factors affect the time taken to replace a radiator. It should take 2 to hours for a professional mechanic to do it. Someone can have difficulty finding the bolts or other parts the first time. This could mean that it can take up to eight hours to complete the job.

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