Car radiator repairs might not be as complex as you think, and doing your own maintenance can mean saving yourself plenty of cash. Have you noticed the temperature gauge on your car going a bit higher than usual or has your car heater stopped working? If your answer is ‘Yes’, then you might have a radiator leak.
It is important to do any radiator repairs straight away because if they get worse it could even mean replacing the engine, which is going to set you back a bit. This is particularly true if you don't have an extended car warranty to cover repairs, unless your radiator happened to be damaged in an accident, in which case your car insurance should pay for radiator repairs. Luckily, you don't need to be an absolute expert to do radiator repairs yourself, so we're taking a look at the most common repairs and how to do them.
Radiator Repairs Step One: How a Car Radiator Works
If you're going to be doing some radiator repairs, then you should know how a radiator works before you begin. Basically, it's very simple. Petrol or diesel burns inside your car engine and generates a lot of heat. Engine oil is pumped through tubes in the engine to absorb most of this heat. Water is pumped through more tubes that run alongside the oil tubes and the water absorbs the heat from the engine oil.
That water must be cooled down or it will boil and escape as steam, so the hot water flows through a radiator at the front of the car. The radiator is made of narrow tubes and fins that allow cool air that flows over them to absorb heat from the water. The water exits the radiator a lot cooler than it enters it and is ready to be pumped around the engine again.
DIY Radiator Repairs
Before you attempt any radiator repairs, you must be aware that the water in your car engine is under pressure and when the engine is hot it can be 1100C or even hotter. All the caps on the system are pressure caps, and you must NEVER open them when the engine is hot because doing so will release super-heated steam that will give you a nasty scald.
Pro Tip: The pressure cap on a radiator is always stiff and hard to open, so use a kitchen jar opener for extra leverage if you need to. Be careful to tighten it back up properly too, because if it is not pressure tight all the water in your system will boil off!
Your first job is to see if there are any leaks, so check the coolant level, and top it up to the maximum level line when your engine is cold (how to do this varies by car, so check your owner's manual for info). Get rid of any airlocks by running the engine for 15 minutes and then top up the fluid level again. Go for a short drive, come home and let the engine cool down again. If the level of coolant in the plastic tank has fallen then you have a leak.
Radiator repairs might be the most obvious source of any leak, but check around the rubber hoses and clips for signs of dried up coolant before you do anything else. Replacing radiator hoses is a simple job and you can either do it yourself or take the car to a garage.
Fixing a Radiator Leak
If you do find a leak in your radiator, fixing it is usually pretty easy. Your local car parts supplier will willingly sell you cans of DIY radiator sealant for simple radiator repairs and this is the lowest cost solution. When you pour the radiator sealant into the plastic expansion tank that is linked to the radiator and run the engine the sealant goes through the radiator and plugs any leaks. All you have to do is:
Check your car owner’s manual to find out how much coolant it needs;
Buy antifreeze/engine coolant to mix with water according to the directions on the antifreeze;
Let your engine cool down for a few hours;
Locate the drain plug at the bottom of the radiator and put a bowl under the plug;
Put on rubber, nylon or PVC gloves and wear goggles because the antifreeze mixture you are going to drain out is corrosive and harmful;
Remove the pressure cap on top of the radiator or plastic expansion tank because otherwise the coolant will not drain out;
Remove the radiator plug and let the coolant drain into your bowl, replacing the drain plug when no more coolant is draining out;
Refill the radiator and expansion tank with plain water (this is called a radiator flush and it will rinse out any rust or other deposits that are clogging up the radiator);
Remove the radiator plug again and let the water drain into a bowl, replacing the radiator plug when no more water is coming out;
Mix the antifreeze with water until you have the quantity that your handbook says you need then add the radiator sealant to this mixture following the directions on the package;
Check the drain plug is in place and pour the sealant/antifreeze mixture into the radiator header tank, keep pouring until the mixture reaches the maximum level line in the header tank;
Put the pressure cap on then run the engine for 15 minutes to remove any airlocks;
Switch the engine off and leave the engine to cool down for two hours;
Remove the pressure cap and top up the level to the maximum line again;
Replace the pressure cap.
Check the level of coolant for the next few weeks and if it stays the same then you do not need any professional radiator repairs. This is not a permanent solution, but it will keep you going for a few months, so it is a great solution if you're selling the car or just need a few months to save for a professional radiator repair job.
Professional Radiator Repairs
Any professional radiator repairs are going to be expensive. First the mechanic needs to check that it really is the radiator that is leaking rather than one of the rubber hoses or the plastic expansion tank. He then needs to remove the radiator from your vehicle, find the leak and plug it using epoxy resin. All of this takes time and time is money. With radiator repairs costing so much there are many times when you would be better off buying a used radiator from a scrap dealer or a reconditioned one if you can find one. You'll need to get a quote from a good mechanic and then weigh up that price against the price of buying another radiator.
Radiator Repairs in Conclusion
Small radiator leaks are pretty simple to fix, and any fix should last you at least long enough to decide whether you want a pro fix or a new radiator. Just be careful and make sure you let everything cool down before starting work, and you should be able to get a few extra months out of that car radiator!
Main Subject: radiator repairs
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