When you picture a vehicular breakdown, it’s likely you imagine a car on the side of the road, it’s hood lifted and smoke billowing from the engine compartment. While this may be a cliche scene, it happens to many drivers and is a strong indication that something is wrong with the car’s cooling system.
The primary function of your vehicle’s radiator is to keep the engine from overheating. Without a radiator, your vehicle could overheat and cause significant damage to the engine and other parts of your vehicle.
How the Radiator Works
As engine coolant, or antifreeze, circulates through the engine it absorbs the engine’s heat. It is then moved through the radiator where it loses that heat to the atmosphere before returning to the engine.
Radiators are typically made of aluminum with thin aluminum fins soldered to flattened aluminum tubes. The coolant flows through the tubes while the fins conduct heat from the tubes. This heat is then transferred to the air flow created by the radiator.
Overheating and the Risks to Your Vehicle
Allowing your vehicle to overheat poses significant risks to the engine and other important components of your vehicle.
Overheating can cause seals and gaskets to melt which could lead to oil-related problems. Without a functioning system to keep your engine cool, your cylinder heads may warp and lead to head gasket damage or could directly crack the head gaskets, allowing water leaks into the cylinder.
If your vehicle overheats, it is imperative that you shut the engine off immediately. Attempting to continue driving will cause costly and devastating damage.
More noticeably, if your radiator is not working properly, your car will likely begin to overheat. While it may not overheat to the point of breaking down, it will overheat consistently over a period of time.
Another telltale sign of a damaged radiator is the presence of sludge. Coolant is either yellow, red or green but when contaminants from other areas of your engine are present, the fluid is discolored and thickens into a sort of sludge.
This could be caused by mixing incompatible coolants, a bad head head gasket or cracked cylinder allowing oil and coolant to mix or a chemical reaction between the coolant with metallic surfaces.
Repairing a Radiator
If left unfixed, a broken or damaged radiator will cause your vehicle to continue to overheat and lead to a complete breakdown and potential damage to the engine.
There are a few reasons why your radiator may not be functioning properly:
Radiator hose leaks
Leaks in radiator
Obstructions in cooling system
Air in cooling system
Failed water pump
Failed radiator fan
Whatever the reason for a damaged radiator, a professional mechanic can properly diagnose the problem in order to carry out the necessary repairs.