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How to Deal With a Radiator Leak

Radiator Leak

A radiator leak isn’t something you can safely ignore. Your car’s cooling system is under a lot of pressure to keep your engine operating at optimal temperatures no matter how warm or cold it is outside or how hard it’s asked to work. This pressurized system is only as strong as its weakest link, which means a leak can quickly escalate into a breakdown that can leave you stranded.

Different types of leaks have different causes and thus, different solutions, and identifying what’s happening under your hood is half the battle. Check out these tips on how to deal with a radiator leak.

Stay Safe
radiator grille

The most important aspect of dealing with a radiator leak is making sure you stay as safe as possible at all times. Keep in mind, you never want to open the radiator cap when your engine is hot, as the pressurized coolant will burst out of the opening and potentially cause severe burns. Always make sure that your radiator is cool to the touch before opening the cap. The amount of time before the engine and radiator cools down will vary from car to car, and climate to climate, so you’ll have to check carefully to know if it’s safe or not.

Look for Puddles

The simplest way to find a radiator leak is to look for a puddle under your car and then follow the drip or wet spots on your motor up to the source. It’s possible that the leak might only occur while the engine is warm and the system is pressurized, which means you should either idle your car to get it up to operating temperature or take a look right after a drive. Keep in mind that the engine fan can sometimes blow coolant around the engine bay and make it hard to locate the exact source, so seeing the drip in progress is always helpful.

Replace Rather Than Repair

If the leak seems to be coming from a hose connected to the radiator, once the car has cooled off your first step is to determine whether the connection simply needs to be tightened. If you tighten the hose and the leak continues, then that’s an indication that the hose should be replaced—not wrapped with tape or repaired, as these interventions rarely last long enough to be worthwhile.

The same is true if you notice a leak for the radiator itself. Don’t stock up on products that claim to “stop the leak” by dumping it into your coolant and gumming it up from the inside. You run the risk of lowering your cooling system efficiency and setting yourself up for a more dangerous radiator failure later on. Leak stopping products are meant for emergency situations where a proper repair is not possible, and are not a permanent solution.

Check out all the heating & cooling products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to deal with a radiator leak, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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