Common Symptoms & How to Deal with a Clogged Radiator –

Common Symptoms & How to Deal with a Clogged Radiator –

Bad or Clogged Radiator Symptoms

1. High Temperature Gauge Readings

If you’re watching your temperature gauge get prec

If you’re watching your temperature gauge get precariously high, that’s a sign that something is not working as it should. If the engine gets too hot, it’ll just shut off, which means that the problem has progressed to something a little more serious.

But an overheating engine can be a wide range of problems, including a faulty thermostat, a broken fan, or coolant leaks. You’ll need to do a little more troubleshooting to pinpoint the problem.

RELATED: 9 Causes of an Overheating Car Engine

2. Coolant Leaks

One of the most common problems with a faulty radi

One of the most common problems with a faulty radiator is a leak. While you’ll usually see leaks underneath your vehicle, that’s not guaranteed. Take a look around your radiator – if you notice any white streaks or coolant puddles, then your radiator has a leak and needs repairs.

RELATED: How to Fix a Coolant Leak

3. Damaged Radiator Fins

Another common problem with radiators is damaged f

Another common problem with radiators is damaged fins. Radiators sit at the front of your vehicle, but the fins are one of the easiest components to damage. While a few smashed fins won’t make your engine overheat, the more smashed fins you have, the less coolant flow you have in your radiator.

Additionally, smashed fins mean there’s a higher possibility that you have a leak.

4. Fluid Discoloration

One of the biggest radiator killers is corrosion. While corrosion shouldn’t be happening inside your cooling system, as the coolant wears down the likelihood of corrosion building up increases.

Since the corrosion is on the inside of your radiator, you won’t be able to see it, but it will discolor the coolant. Try a coolant flush if it’s old coolant, but if it’s relatively new and already severely discolored, you have significant corrosion in your system.

Try a radiator flush to see if you can free up enough of the passageways but be prepared as you might have to replace the radiator.

5. Visible Corrosion

Visible corrosion is often the first sign that you’re about to have a more significant problem. Corrosion leads to blown seals, worn down fins, and a litany of other potential issues. While a little corrosion isn’t a huge deal, you should get your radiator looked at by a certified mechanic if there is an excessive amount.


Common Signs and Symptoms of a Bad Radiator

Because your radiator is so integral to the proper function of your engine, any of the signs and symptoms of a failing radiator should be further investigated to ensure that no engine damage is occurring or has occurred. Ignoring these signs and symptoms could result in an engine rebuild or replacement, a much more expensive prospect than a visit to your local mechanic.

Engine Overheating

Engine overheating is the primary sign that your radiator is or has failed. Your engine has many moving components that function at high speeds. Insufficient cooling causes increased friction, resulting in heat buildup. Enough heat buildup can cause internal component melting, ultimately resulting in the need for an engine replacement. 

Coolant Leaks

Your cooling system does not just include your radiator. Any leaking along the cooling system of your car should be cause for concern, but radiator leaking means that the largest part of your cooling system is experiencing problems. The good thing about radiator leaks is that they are usually fairly obvious, leaving puddles of coolant on the floor. Some cars with additional underbody panels may obscure leaking.

Low Coolant Levels

Low coolant levels are often the result of a leak somewhere within the system of your vehicle. Another reason for cooling levels is the insufficient addition of coolant after a system flush. Regardless of the reason, low coolant levels are not always easily identifiable and are often the cause of engine overheating. If your engine is overheating, coolant levels should always also be checked.

Discolored or Sludgy Coolant

Normal coolant is a yellow or bright green color. Radiator rusting, oil leaks, and transmission fluid that infiltrate the cooling system will mix with clean coolant and change its color or cause it to become less viscous. Sludgy coolant is not able to circulate properly through the cooling channels of the engine, and again, overheating is usually the result. Discolored coolant should also be cause for alarm since the only fluid designed to be in the cooling system is coolant.

Vehicle Interior Heating Issues

Turning on the heat in your car and not feeling any heat can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but it may also be a sign of a radiator issue. The heat produced by the engine, carried away by hot coolant, is used to heat the cabin of your vehicle. A malfunctioning or clogged radiator can cause a lack of interior heat.

Damaged or Clogged Radiator Fins

Radiator fins are the small hoses that run from one side of the radiator to another. Usually damaged or clogged fins are what causes the signs and symptoms of a radiator failure, but they can also be a sign of radiator failure. The radiator is usually one of the easier things to physically see when you look at a vehicle or open the hood, making radiator damage easily identifiable.

Transmission Issues

A less common symptom of radiator failure is transmission issues. This is only present on vehicles with a transmission cooler that is linked to the main cooling system of the vehicle. Transmission issues occur when the cooling system leaks coolant into the transmission cooler or vice versa. This causes incompatible fluids to mix, which can ultimately lead to transmission failure, radiator failure, or both.

Check Engine/Engine Temperature Light

Very few signs and symptoms lists would be complete without mention of the check engine light. Radiator failure in and of itself will not usually cause the check engine light to come on. Rather, the failure of the radiator will usually affect other systems, causing the check engine light to illuminate. 

Most cars also have an engine temperature light that will illuminate if the engine temperature rises to dangerous levels. 

2. Vehicle overheats

If your vehicle is constantly overheating, the radiator may be going bad. One of the most common failures in the vehicles that overheat is a failing radiator since it is the only way engine coolant is cooled. It may not be to the point where it has completely failed, so the issue should be addressed immediately. If this problem is left unattended, then the engine will continue to overheat and cause the vehicle to break down. When this happens, the repair will be much more extensive, so it is a good idea to address the issue as soon as the vehicle starts to overheat.

Expectations vs. Reality: Auto Repair Diagnostics

You can tell something is wrong with your car – now what? Many car owners also have a negative impression of what will happen when a technician runs diagnostics on their car – or may think that they’ll get an easy answer for how to fix their car. Vehicle diagnostics…

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How to clean a clogged radiator

Now that you have become aware of the common symptoms of a clogged radiator and how to diagnose a clogged radiator, let’s have a look at a clogged radiator fix, that is, how to clean a clogged radiator.

Let the engine cool down before you start cleaning

Never ever try to clean a car before turning off the engine and letting it cool down first. For starters, when a car’s engine is in operational condition, the coolant is circulating from the engine to the cooling system, flowing through the tubes before flowing back to the engine again.

This circulation of coolant will hamper the cleaning process, making it necessary for you to ensure that the engine is not in a hot condition when you begin cleaning. Besides that, if the engine is in a hot condition, the pressure inside the engine could force the coolant to spray out of the radiator cap when you try to clean it. 

Place a bucket below the radiator to catch the debris

While you let the engine cool, put a bucket below the radiator. This will catch all the waste that will be flushed out

Pull off the radiator cap and fill all the tubes with radiator flush

Once the car is no longer in a hot condition, it’s time to fill all the tubes with radiator flush solution. Remove the radiator cap and pour radiator flush solution inside.

Let the flush solution to simmer in the radiator for 10 minutes

Wait for 10 minutes, let the flush solution to flow through the radiator piping system and thoroughly clean them.

Flush out the radiator flush solution with water to remove debris

The last step involves flushing out the solution with water. Use a hose or a bucket filled with water and rinse the interior pipes of the radiator. All the debris and contaminants that had clogged the radiator will pour inside the bucket placed underneath the radiator.

Radiator Replacement Cost

The average radiator replacement cost is between $550 and $800, depending on the car model and labor costs. While this is an expensive cost, the good news is that a mechanic can repair many radiator problems.

For instance, if one of the fins has a small leak, a certified repair shop can weld the leak shut, saving you a ton of money. Additionally, if the inside of your radiator is gunked up, a mechanic might be able to save it with a coolant flush for about $100.

Just keep in mind that if the flush doesn’t work, you might be in the same predicament and have to replace your radiator.

If you’re mechanically inclined and are trying to save a little money, you can replace your radiator yourself. While typically a little more involved, an aftermarket radiator typically costs between $100 and $200.

When you add in the price of the new coolant that you’ll need – you’ll likely spend around $250 to complete the repairs yourself. If you opt for an OEM replacement part, you can expect to spend a little more in parts compared to an aftermarket replacement.


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