The radiator plays a critical and central role in your car’s cooling system. In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about radiator replacement and the repair cost.
Seeing liquid under your hood could suggest a coolant leak. The liquid is usually colorful, with variations such as pink, green, and orange.
The coolant may have a sweet smell to it; however, it is toxic to animals such as cats and dogs. Therefore, important to clean it off, to prevent animals from ingesting it.
With the health of others taken care of, it is time to focus on the health of your car. How much does it cost to replace and/or repair a radiator? How much is a radiator even?
The answer, just like in the rest of the car world, is very dependent on multiple factors, including car model and type of radiator. To give a rough estimate, the radiator replacement cost could be everywhere from around $300 to over $1000.
The Role Of A Radiator
The radiator is usually located in the front of the car. Today, most cars have radiators, but you might be surprised to hear that some cars do not have radiators.
In the vast majority of cases where a radiator is not used, the cars in question are vintage. They use an air-cooled engine, meaning the air directly goes to the engine compartment and cools it.
As the internal combustion engine works and produces power, a great amount of heat is produced. If this heat is not cooled off, the engine may be severely damaged.
The plastic parts of the engine will melt, and components made from aluminum and other metals could crack and swell, causing serious damage.
For example, the head gasket could crack, allowing water to leak into the cylinders. To learn more, head to our article explaining how car engines work.
The Cooling System
Nowadays, the cooling system consists of several components where the radiator does the main cooling.
The cooling system consists of several components, besides the radiator. Most modern cooling systems use the following:
- Water pump
- Cooling fan
- Fan switch
In this article, most attention will be given to the radiator itself, but other components will be shortly touched upon, so you get a better understanding of how it works, and if it really is the radiator that is faulty.
The engine is cooled down with the help of antifreeze. The antifreeze goes around in the cooling system by the water pump, also called coolant pump.
After the coolant has been passed through the radiator, the liquid is cold, providing a cooling effect. The role of the water pump is to send the cooling liquid to the engine block and cylinder head gasket.
The thermostat is located between the engine and the radiator. It makes sure that no coolant is running through the engine when it has not reached its operating temperature.
When the engine reaches a point higher temperature, usually >200°F, the thermostat valve opens, letting the coolant pass through and cool the engine.
The thermostat is a very interesting piece of engineering, using a type of wax to determine when it should open. If you would like to read more about this remarkable engineering feat, make sure to check our article “How Does A Thermostat Work”.
For the radiator to cool the liquid, it uses air that is sucked in as the car is moving. If the car is still, or driving slowly, the amount of air might be insufficient to cool down the liquid.
When this happens, the cooling fan assists the radiator by pulling in more air into it. As a result, the radiator will have more to work with and the liquid will consequently be cooled appropriately.
Rear-engined cars have generally a tougher time cooling the engine, as a solution, a more powerful cooling fan is installed.
The cooling fan is operated by a fan switch which will turn the cooling fan on or off, depending on the current engine temperature.
If you have ever noticed a fan going off after you have turned off the car, it is the cooling fan working to cool the engine down.
How Does A Radiator Work?
As it has been established above how the different components of the cooling system work, it is time to talk about the component that does the cooling – the radiator!
The radiator consists of tubes, where the water passes, and fins, in which air goes through to cool the tubes.
As the coolant heats up from the working engine, it will enter the radiator as a hot liquid. As it goes through the radiator, air from the outside enters the radiator which in turn cools down the liquid and sends it back to the engine.
The Signs Of A Broken Radiator
As the radiator plays a central role in the car’s cooling system, the most obvious sign of a potentially bad radiator is an overheated engine.
If you see any smoke coming out of the engine, or the temperature warning light illuminates on your dashboard, stop your car as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that all other components of the cooling system, such as the water pump could also be the culprit in an overheated engine. Also, make sure that there is enough coolant available for the car.
A fairly common sign of a broken radiator is leakage. As previously mentioned, the coolant is usually a colorful color and has a sweet smell.
Besides maintaining your car regularly, as you leave your parking spot, it is wise to check for any fluid that may have leaked. In that way, you can fix the problem before any serious consequences occur.
Not only may you observe a coolant leak under your car. Other fluids that may leak are for example coolant, oil, transmission fluid, and brake fluid.
Cost Of Repairing A Radiator
If the radiator is damaged and does not function, usually a replacement is needed. This mostly applies to structural damage to a radiator.
An old radiator can be damaged by a buildup of rust, in that case, a replacement is needed. Leaks can sometimes be repaired, depending on the extent of the leakage.
Besides leaks and rust, a radiator is susceptible to clogging. In that case, either the radiator tubes are clogged, or the front radiator has been obstructed by debris.
If the latter has occurred, it may be cleaned with pressurized water or compressed air. Clogged tubes must be flushed out, which will set you back $100 – $150.
A damaged radiator that cannot be repaired has to be replaced. Here, the prices vary depending on the car you drive.
The best way to get a more precise cost is to get an estimate from your mechanic. The cost varies from $300 to over $1000. On average, the cost is about $700.
In many cases when the radiator is not functioning, it is due to a hose leak. In those, cases a simple hose replacement is enough.
A hose replacement will set you back approximately $150.
The radiator plays a central role in the engine’s cooling system. The most obvious sign of a faulty radiator is overheating.
Leaks are also very common and may suggest a leak in one of the hoses that lead the coolant into the radiator. If that is the case, a simple replacement will cost around $150.
Sometimes, your radiator will be clogged and will therefore need a coolant flush. This procedure costs approximately $100-$150.
If it turns out that your radiator has damage such as holes or cracks, the whole radiator must be replaced.
In this, the price will vary depending on the car and model you drive with an average price of $700. The price can exceed $1000 but it may also be as low as $300.
Make it a habit to look for any leaks that your car might leave at the sparking space. It is a great indicator for potential problems regarding your coolant system, lubrication system, transmission, and more.