Category Archives: Radiator Services

Radiators and Coolant Changes

Radiators are heat exchangers used for cooling internal combustion engines.

Internal combustion engines are often cooled by circulating a liquid called engine coolant through the engine block, where it is heated, then through a radiator where it loses heat to the atmosphere, and then returned to the engine. Engine coolant is usually water-based, but may also be oil. It is common to employ a water pump to force the engine coolant to circulate, and also for an axial fan to force air through the radiator.

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Many service shops, though — including some at dealerships that sell cars with “lifetime” coolant — say you should do it more often than the maintenance schedule recommends, such as every 30,000 or 50,000 miles.

Here’s why: Most vehicles use long-life engine coolant (usually a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water) that for several years will provide protection against boiling in hot weather and freezing in cold weather, with little or no maintenance[EM1].

 

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Coolant can deteriorate over time and should be tested to see if it’s still good, as it can be hard to tell just by appearances. Even if testing shows the cooling and antifreeze protection are still adequate, antifreeze can become more acidic over time and lose its rust-inhibiting properties, causing corrosion.

 

Corrosion can damage the radiator, water pump, thermostat and other parts of the cooling system, so the coolant in a vehicle with more than about 50,000 miles should be tested periodically. That’s to look for signs of rust and to make sure it has sufficient cooling and boiling protection, even if the cooling system seems to be working properly. It can be checked with test strips that measure acidity, and with a hydrometer that measures freezing and boiling protection.

 

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If the corrosion inhibitors have deteriorated, the coolant should be changed. The cooling system might also need to be flushed to remove contaminants no matter what the maintenance schedule calls for or how many miles are on the odometer.

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