How Does a Car Radiator Work?

The inner workings of our beloved motors are a mystery to many. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a vehicle mechanics expert to ensure your car stays in tip top condition and continues to get you from A to B with our help. 

Getting to grips with the basics of which car component does what is however advisable. By understanding the role of specific components, you will be better placed to be able to spot the tell-tale signs that repair, replacement or maintenance is needed.

In this blog post, we take a closer look at the car radiator, highlighting its importance, how it works, and what every vehicle owner should do when they encounter a problem.

Why is my car radiator so important?

Your car radiator and engine work in perfect harmony to ensure any heat generated during operation can be vented quickly and safely. The car radiator is a vital part of your vehicle’s wider cooling system. The engine generates a significant amount of heat, which has to be expelled into the air to guarantee an optimal running temperature. 

Many vehicle problems are caused by the engine overheating, which means a faulty or incorrectly working radiator can cause significant damage if it is not repaired or replaced. 

How does my car radiator work? 

There are several components that make up the car radiator. This includes the core, pressure cap, outlet and inlet tanks, and transmission cooler.

The core is the biggest and most integral part of your vehicle’s radiator system. Featuring a large metal block complete with metal fins, the core allows the coolant (which is responsible for cooling the engine) to vent heat into the air that surrounds the radiator before it can be expelled through the grill positioned at the front of the vehicle. Depending on your vehicle’s needs, your radiator will consist of one, two or three cores.

As its name suggests, the pressure cap creates the pressure needed to heat the coolant without it reaching boiling point. It utilises a spring to do this. Caution should be exercised when handling the pressure cap, which should not be removed to minimise the risk of burns. The outlet and inlet tanks move coolant from the engine to the radiator effectively.

The transmission cooler uses this same coolant to provide a similar cooling effect for your vehicle’s transmission system. In selected vehicle makes and models, the transmission fluid is cooled using a separate radiator. 

All these components work together to transport heat from the engine, cool it using coolant and then exchange it with the air outside the car to prevent the engine from overheating. Some radiator units incorporate a fan to aid the movement of air and expel heat efficiently.

What are the common problems affecting car radiators?

There are many issues that may affect the operation of your vehicle’s radiator. Car radiators are susceptible to damage. Rocks and debris from the road can puncture the radiator, particularly if your car radiator has any weak points or rust spots. Physical damage to the system requires immediate car radiator repair or replacement.

A leaking car radiator can also cause issues for the engine and wider system. The tell-tale signs of a leaking car radiator are a high reading on your dashboard temperature gauge and/or the illumination of your temperature warning indicator, a low or empty coolant level, and visible signs of a leak. 

Again a leaking car radiator should be remedied quickly with car radiator repair or replacement. Failure to do so could make your vehicle flammable, which when combined with an overheating engine is a recipe for disaster!

If your radiator fan keeps running when the car is off, this may be a sign of overheating or a relay fault with your temperature sensors or ECU unit. The underlying cause should be identified and the necessary car radiator repair undertaken to fix the issue.

Does my car radiator need to be maintained?

Like any vehicle component, your car radiator needs to be correctly maintained to ensure safe and optimal operation. Car radiator maintenance will also prolong the life of this essential vehicle part and safeguard your car from overheating or freezing during hot or cold weather. It’ll minimise the need for car radiator repair too. 

Maintaining the correct fluid levels is a vehicle maintenance must that will preserve the life of your car radiator. You should also use the right coolant for your vehicle type and check the car radiator hoses on a regular basis, preferably every time you complete an oil change. Your engine coolant should be topped up just as frequently with a recommended replacement at least every three to five years.

Filling your car radiator with water is another maintenance task every vehicle owner should complete. Your car radiator will need a certain concentration of anti-freeze to allow it to function correctly in cold weather. Getting the ratio of water to anti-freeze just right is important. A 50/50 split is suggested by most; this should then be added to your car radiator reservoir, and topped up and checked regularly.

Try not to overload your vehicle either. Overloading your car will make overheating more likely as your car has to work harder to transport the heavier load. 

Need assistance with your car radiator? Contact our friendly team today for further advice and support on car radiator repair, replacement and maintenance.