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What Causes Radiator Leaks?

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A radiator technician puts a new radiator in a car.

If your car’s overheating and you’re scratching your head as to what caused the problem, a radiator can be one of the first things to check. Radiators are a crucial component of any vehicle’s cooling system, and any leaks in the radiator can lead to serious problems down the line.

Corrosion, pressure, damage, poor maintenance, cold weather, and simple old age can all cause radiator leaks.

And we aren’t just talking about automotive radiators. A leaking industrial radiator can bring production to a halt! An expert radiator service technician can detect the source of the leak and get things moving again. 

Potential Causes of Radiator Leaks

Corrosion & Rust

One of the most common causes of radiator leaks is corrosion and rust. Coolant constantly moves over the metal that makes up a radiator. Over time, the coolant can become acidic due to an incorrect additive or contaminant.

This acid can make a feast of your radiator’s pipes, eating through them until they corrode and rust settles in. You can help prevent corrosion with regular radiator flushes, which clean debris from your cooling system and refresh the coolant. Unfortunately, once rust starts making holes, the only answer is usually to replace your radiator.

Pressure Buildup

Radiators have an important job in your car and at your business, so they’re built tough and ready to take a lot of pressure. But sometimes, the pressure can build up too much, causing leaks. The pressure buildup could be due to thermostat failure, a damaged radiator cap, or a clogged coolant passage.

Too much pressure can cause the radiator to crack, leading to costly repairs. It’s advisable to let an expert handle this complex issue.

Physical Damage

Your radiator isn’t just sitting pretty under the hood. It’s right up front, facing the world head-on. Unfortunately, that can put it right in harm’s way for some physical damage.

Even if you’re being careful, you could cruise down the highway, enjoying a smooth ride, when suddenly a rogue pebble flies up and smacks into your radiator. Even a little pebble could cause a dent or possibly a hole that leads to a leak. And if you’re hitting rough terrain, you can expect more than a little pebble.

You should always check your radiator after a fender bender. Even minor accidents can jostle your radiator enough to cause damage. If the damage is more significant, the radiator may need to be replaced. However, if the crack is small, a professional could patch it up for you.

Poor Maintenance

There’s an old cliché that says, “Prevention is better than a cure.” The same can be said about your radiator. Neglecting regular maintenance can lead to leaks.

Coolant can become acidic over time, damaging the metal as your radiator does its job. You should also check the radiator cap from time to time. It might seem insignificant, but it’s a crucial part of the system. If you don’t check it regularly, it could fail, causing the coolant to boil over and lead to—you guessed it—a leak.

Cold Weather

A radiator’s job is to keep things cool, so you’d think it would love a bit of cold weather. But, just like us, it’s not a huge fan of the freezing temperatures.

When it gets really cold outside, the coolant in your radiator can actually freeze. And if you’ve ever left a can of pop out in your car in February, you already know what happens next. When the coolant freezes, it expands. This puts a lot of pressure on your radiator and its hoses.

If the pressure gets too much, before you know it, you’ve got a leaky radiator on your hands.

Make sure you’re using a coolant suitable for our local climate. Also, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your temperature gauge during the winter months. If it’s running cooler than usual, that could be a sign your coolant isn’t doing its job.

Old Age

All these factors come down to one thing: radiators experience wear and tear over the years and need to be maintained. Radiators have a lifespan of around ten years, and as they age, they become prone to leaks. When the radiator is due for a replacement, take it to a professional mechanic, and they can replace it with a new one.

How to Fix a Radiator Leak

Before we proceed, we should remind you not to do these things yourself. Radiator leaks are serious car problems that require expert help.

First, experts perform a pressure test on your car’s cooling system to diagnose it properly. Once they’ve identified the cause and the severity of the leak, they can determine the appropriate repair method for it. Some common methods include adding sealants, applying epoxy, or replacing the radiator altogether.

Technicians clean the radiator’s surface to help the sealant or adhesive stick properly. They’ll remove all oil, rust, or dirt using various cleaning agents and methods. If the leak is located near a weld or seal, they may need to remove it and redo it to secure the radiator.

Once clean, it’s time to apply a sealant or adhesive to fix the leak permanently. They can choose the right product for your radiator based on its material, the location of the leak, and the severity of it.

Last comes the test drive to ensure the repair has fixed the leak completely. If everything is good, then you’re ready to go!

A radiator technician explains the cause of a car's radiator leak to the car owner

Radiator Repair & Replacement in Red Deer

Not all radiator leaks are easy to fix or identify, and it’s best to seek help from a professional mechanic if you notice any signs of a radiator leak. Trying to fix the issue yourself could cause even more damage.

Our service technicians at Northland Radiator can look for signs of wear that could cause radiator leaks. From industrial to automotive, radiators are the core of our business.If you notice a radiator leak, contact us for a quote. Remember, the cooling system is a critical part of your vehicle, and maintaining it correctly can keep you driving for years!

Written by
Northland Radiator

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Northland Radiator

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  • 6870 Edgar Industrial Dr.
  • Red Deer, AB T4P 3R2

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You can find us on the corner of Edgar Industrial Drive and Johnstone Drive.

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