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Car radiator: what is it and what does it do?

Car radiator explainer

A car radiator is just one part of a complex cooling system that’s designed to keep an engine operating at just the right temperature.

The radiator is, in essence, a heat exchanger which comprises two coolant tanks that are linked together by a core made up of myriad narrow tubes.

How does coolant flow through a car radiator?

Hot coolant from the engine is pumped through one tank and then through the core.

As the car travels forward, cold air is forced between these thousands of narrow tubes, and in the process draws the heat out of the coolant.

The cooled fluid is then pumped out of the other end of the radiator and back into the engine.

It travels through numerous channels cut into the engine block and cylinder head, and so cools the structure of the engine, as well as the oil.

Car radiator

What can go wrong with a car radiator?

The efficiency of car radiators has been enhanced over the years by the addition of thermostatically controlled fans that force air through the radiator when the car is stationary.

However, in order to get the maximum throughflow of air when on the move, a radiator is typically mounted at the front of the engine compartment.

This, however, renders it vulnerable to road debris, such as stones, sticks, or even small animals and birds.

Even if impacts with the detritus on the road don’t actually puncture the radiator, they can bend the tubes in the radiator’s core, restricting the flow of coolant through them and adversely affecting the cooling efficiency of the radiator as a whole.

One way to tell if your car’s radiator isn’t working as it should is to simply look at the car’s temperature gauge. If the engine starts to operate at a higher temperature, the radiator could be damaged.

Another way to tell if the radiator is below peak efficiency is if the fan is operating even when the ambient temperature isn’t that hot.