Dealing with Radiator Repairs on Cars and Trucks

Radiator Problems
Radiator Stop Leak
Radiator Stop Leak

Dealing with radiator repairs on modern automobiles is a little different. They manufactured radiators, back in the old days, out of metals like brass, steel and aluminum. In addition, these heat transfer devices had top and bottom reserve tanks. Now, they make radiators exclusively out of plastic and aluminum. These newer components often locate the coolant reserve tanks on the sides now.

With that said, the radiator core remains largely unchanged from those used on older automobiles. Despite extended life coolant and other advances in antifreeze technology, we still see our share of radiator problems on modern automobiles. Whether it’s a leaking radiator or an overheating condition car owners must still deal with radiator repairs on cars and trucks.

Here we’ll discuss how to apply standard diagnostic procedures to pinpoint problems. In addition, we’ll review a myriad of options car owners can take to solve common issues. Spoiler alert, sometimes people look for simple solutions to complicated problems. Although it’s tempting to break out a bottle of radiator stop leak, most mechanics would advise against it.

In fact, when radiator stop leak products are misused they can actually make things much worse. Not only can they ruin a repairable radiator, but the stop leak product can solidify in the engines coolant passageways and restrict coolant flow. So let’s see how to fix it the right way.

Properly Diagnosing Radiator Problems

Before we decide whether to repair or replace a defective radiator we need to find out exactly where the problem is. In addition, we need to evaluate the extent of the damage and the severity of any leak. Since overheating and coolant leaking, become the two most common complaints when it comes to radiator failures let’s start with these issues.

Radiator Pressure Tester
Radiator Pressure Tester

The most common cause of an overheating situation is when coolant leaks out and therefore reduces the amount of reserve coolant available to flow through the engine. Although a coolant leak from the radiator remains a distinct possibility we often find coolant leaks from other areas. Leaking radiator hoses and engine water pump problems remain just as likely if not more so.

Professional mechanics check for coolant leaks on the radiator, water pump and hoses at the same time. In order to identify the location of the leak we need to simulate the pressure conditions of normal operation. The automotive cooling system operates at 15 PSI (pounds per square inch).

Pressurizing the engine coolant raises its boiling temperature and increases the efficiency of heat transfer. Luckily, they make a tool that mounts in place of the radiator cap. A manual hand pump is then operated to apply even pressure throughout the entire cooling system. On systems without a leak the pressure gauge on the testing tool doesn’t move.

When you see the pressure decreasing in the radiator this means you have a leaking condition. A thorough visual inspection reveals the problems in most cases. The only issue that you might not be able to see becomes a heater core leak. This troublesome part is located in the heater case and looks like a small radiator. Even in this situation coolant escapes and a wet passenger side floor becomes the telltale sign of problems.

Make Radiator Repairs or Replace the Part

Common Radiator Problems
Common Radiator Problems

Making the decision to perform radiator repairs or buy a new replacement part boils down to a personal decision. The choice becomes more obvious when discussing classic car repairs. On vintage cars and trucks retaining the original parts can also help retain the value of the automobile. In these situations we can seek out the assistance of a radiator repair shop.

As I mentioned in the opening the newer radiators are made out of aluminum and plastic. Often we find deteriorating rubber seals where the aluminum core joins the plastic side tanks. Local shops that repair radiators can perform these types of repairs in the $50 range. This means that do-it-yourself mechanics can pull the radiator out of the car and take it over to the repair shop. This allows you to sidestep labor charges and save money on the total repair.

Other car owners might place more importance on having the vehicle repaired in the shortest length of time. In this situation, it’s hard to beat ordering brand-new replacement parts and swapping them out in the driveway. Purchasing an automotive radiator at a dealership can give you sticker shock. With that said, a little shopping around on the Internet can yield replacement parts under $100 for many popular models.

In some scenarios removing an automotive radiator remains a fairly straightforward operation. However, on some cars and trucks the operation becomes more difficult. Before you start pulling off parts make sure to check your vehicle specific auto repair manual for the step-by-step instructions on your particular automobile. After reviewing the procedure you’ll have a clear idea whether or not this falls within your skill level. In addition, it should go without saying, but only remove the radiator cap on a cold engine. In addition, you should only drain engine coolant when the vehicle is completely cold.

Final Thoughts about Radiator Repairs

In this final thoughts section about radiators I wanted to tackle a common issue that faces people that purchase used automobiles with high mileage. It’s not uncommon for a 10-year-old vehicle with 150,000 miles on it to have cooling system and radiator problems. One of the reasons for this is when drivers ignore the maintenance recommendations for coolant change when the vehicle reaches 100,000 miles.

After this point the antifreeze turns acidic and starts to eat away at the internal parts of the cooling system. The aluminum core of a radiator doesn’t hold up long against this corrosive antifreeze. If these previous car owners were too lazy to change the engine coolant they might try to dump a load of coolant system stop leak in the radiator to solve the problem. Then they sell or trade the vehicle in before doing any repairs.

This can leave the new owner with a hard to find overheating problem. As I mentioned in the opening the coolant system stop leak can restrict the free flow of antifreeze. Car owners can look for a few signs that the previous owner dumped in some kind of stop leak material. You often see a dirty-looking coating on the inside of the coolant reserve reservoir bottle. In addition, you can often see white crusty trails from where the coolant leak once occurred on the radiator.

Mechanics can use a few diagnostic tricks to identify a radiator filled with stop leak. They use an infrared thermal sensing temperature probe to locate hot and cold spots on the radiator. This indicates plugged areas in the radiator core. Although re-coring a radiator still remains possible, the cost is usually as much or more then replacing it with brand-new auto parts.