How to Tell If Your Car Needs a New Radiator or Other Coolant Repairs

Posted on: 20 May 2016

Your car's radiator and coolant system are very important, as an overheating engine can suffer excessive wear and tear and even seize up and stop working. In these cases, you may need to replace the engine altogether versus being able to make simple fixes. To ensure that your car's radiator and coolant system are always in good working order, note a few troubleshooting tips.

1. Coolant leak

There are many fluids that can leak out from underneath your car, so the best way to note if the fluid leaking is coolant is by the color. Radiator fluid or coolant will have a greenish tinge to it, unlike motor oil which is brown or nearly black when it leaks. 

Coolant also has a very distinct sweet smell when it gets warm, but you shouldn't be able to notice this smell since the fluid should be contained in the radiator and coolant systems at all times. If you do notice a distinctly sweet smell when your car gets hot, this usually means the coolant is leaking onto other parts of the car.

2. Steam

It can be difficult to know the difference between steam coming out from under your car and actual smoke. The smell, mentioned above, can help, but note where you see the steam originating. If it's from the front of the car, it often means that the radiator is leaking as this is usually where the radiator is located. The steam usually means that there is a small hole in the radiator. If the smoke you see is coming from the side of the car or the tailpipe, this usually isn't the coolant system, so check the location of any wispy white clouds coming from under your car's hood to determine its cause.

3. Car feels too hot

When your engine overheats, you should notice the temperature gauge on your dashboard or a warning light. However, if the thermostat is broken or a sensor that alerts the gauge is defective, this might not happen. You can sometimes simply tell when an engine runs too hot even without opening the hood; you might notice heat lines coming from off the hood when you drive, or can even feel the heat when you walk by the car after driving and parking it. In these cases, have the thermostat checked and note if the water pump and all other parts are working, as they too may need replacement at the same time as the thermostat or sensors.

For more information on radiators and coolant systems, talk to a mechanic.