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Five Radiator Leak and Overheating Warning Signs

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Although it's a relatively common problem, a leaking radiator can leave you stranded if your vehicle overheats. Knowing the signs of a leaking radiator will help to protect your investment and keep you and your passengers safe. Take it a step further and keep up-to-date on your vehicle maintenance to avoid the major pitfalls that occur when automotive problems are ignored.

Radiator Leak Warning Signs:

1. Visible Leaking Fluid

Designed as a heat exchanger, your vehicle's radiator uses a liquid-based coolant in the fluid to air cooling process. As a result, the easiest way to spot a leaking radiator is to keep an eye on your garage floor or driveway. Coolants come in a number of different colors, but leaking fluid will typically look sticky and be bright green, orange or pink in color. A sweet smell is also common with coolant. It's important to note that coolant often flows along component surfaces in the engine compartment. Wash the engine bay and again look for leaks, as the source may be a water pump, hose or thermostat housing. If the engine is still warm, a leaking radiator may produce steam from the area of the leak. Remember that coolant fluid is extremely toxic to people and pets and should be cleaned up safely and thoroughly. Learn more about leaking fluid and car care basics here.

2. Dropping Coolant Level, Rising Temperature Gauge

A quick drop in your vehicle's coolant reservoir level can generally be a good indication that your radiator is leaking. As the coolant level in the radiator normally rises and falls with engine temperature, small changes or drops in the reservoir level are not unusual, however, a drastic drop is typically a sign of leakage. If you think there may be a leak, fill the coolant reservoir and check the level after several days of normal driving. If you notice your temperature gauge rising or experience frequent engine overheating it's probably time to take action in order to avoid major damage.

3. Examine Parts and Hoses

Rust and discoloration on your radiator and the surrounding engine components is also a sign that your radiator may be leaking. Radiator hoses and clamps are also subject to normal wear and damage and should be washed and inspected to find possible cracks and leaks.

4. Fixing a Radiator Leak

If your radiator is leaking there are a number of temporary fixes you can perform until you are able to replace the leaking part or get your vehicle into the shop.

After identifying the leak and allowing the radiator to cool, plug the leak with a leak repair product, but it is important to remember that this fix is temporary. Always replace the leaking part or get your vehicle to a repair shop as soon as possible.

5. Lack of Preventative Maintenance

If you have not been following your owner's manual recommendations and getting regular coolant flushes, that may be the cause of your leak. Regular radiator coolant exchanges are necessary to prevent coolant souring. Once coolant sours, it becomes acidic and therefore more conductive. Your coolant system can actually conduct energy when the dissimilar metals (such as aluminum, iron, steel, brass, or copper) join together to create a unique electrical energy, and have an effect similar to your car battery. If electrolysis occurs, your coolant will begin to eat the soft aluminum of your radiator away, causing it to become more porous and leak.

As always, the car experts at Pep Boys are happy to discuss your specific vehicle's recommended maintenance and offer a range of services including comprehensive coolant system evaluations.