Exploring Automotive Electrical Faults

Radiator Problems Can Spell Big Trouble

Your car's cooling system is one of its most important components, and the radiator is a key part of that system. The coolant that flows through your vehicle's cooling components keeps the engine at a safe operating temperature. Should this system fail, it will most likely result in your engine overheating. While popular media has made the steaming car along the side of the road into something of a joke, overheating is actually a serious issue. Many modern engines cannot tolerate running above operating temperature for even a short period of time, and it is easily possible to seize and destroy your vehicle's motor by allowing it to overheat for even a few tens of seconds.

While overheating may have a variety of causes, radiator issues are one of the most common. These are just a few of the common ways that radiators can potentially fail.

Improper Fan Operation

Your radiator's fan is responsible for helping to cool the coolant that flows through it. Without this fan, your car's cooling is dependent entirely on the natural motion of air through the radiator's fins. This may be fine if your car is traveling at speed on the highway, but it is certainly not enough on warm days when stopped or driving slowly. Depending on your make and model of car, your fan may be mechanically driven by the engine itself or it may be an electric fan.

A failure of either type of fan can easily lead to an overheating condition. This is likely to be a suspect if your vehicle only begins to run hot when idling or driving slowly.


Leaks can occur from both the radiator itself and from the areas where the inlet and outlet hoses attach. Direct radiator leaks are often the result of physical damage. Radiators are surprisingly fragile, and a branch or other solid object embedding itself through the grill of your vehicle can potentially cause serious damage. In addition to leaks of this type, many cars also have plastic spouts where coolant hoses attach. These spouts can get brittle over time, cracking and ultimately leaking. In some cases, the leak may be caused by a fail clamp.

When your radiator is leaking, often the best fix is to replace the entire unit. Fix-a-leak compounds can sometimes provide a temporary repair, but they are not substitute for replacement. If the problem is simply with a clamp or outlet, however, sometimes a full replacement is not necessary.

Damaged Fins

Your radiator's fins provide the extra surface area needed to properly cool the hot coolant that is being returned from your engine. Although it takes a significant amount of damage to seriously affect the overall cooling capacity of the radiator, this does sometimes happen on older vehicles or on cheap, aftermarket replacement radiators. If a radiator is damaged in this way, the fins can sometimes be repaired if the metal is not significantly stressed. In most cases this extra labor is not worth it, however, and a full replacement is the better option.

There are a huge number of components that can potentially fail on any given vehicle, but the cooling system is one of the most vital. Radiator issues should be repaired as soon as possible to prevent causing additional damage to the engine as overheating occurs. Contact a radiator repair service to learn more.