What to Do If You Have a Radiator Leak

Green liquid pooling on the ground is a sign of a radiator leak.

Don’t let a radiator leak dampen your day.

Many of us have been guilty at some point of procrastinating on car repair.

But unlike a busted A/C or squeaky brakes, auto experts say you should never delay repairing a leaky radiator, which is responsible for cooling your car’s engine. Not fixing a radiator leak in a timely fashion can cause an engine to overheat, leading to a costly repair or replacement.

Stop the vehicle immediately if you have a leak. Even a short overheating event can cause a blown head gasket or engine failure on today’s low-tolerance aluminum engines.

What causes a radiator leak?

The most common reason for a leak is lack of maintenance, such as coolant flushes, that allow oxidation of the system. Another leading cause is over-pressurization of the system because of sticking thermostats or head gasket failures. Most leaks are located at a seam between the radiator’s core and the tank.

Because of the new materials being used, such as plastic-based composite, they also crack much easier. A cracked tank could be caused from a head gasket failure that allows high-pressure exhaust to be pumped into the system.

What to do if you have a leaking radiator?

Mechanics say it’s a good idea to regularly check your coolant level to make sure it’s at capacity. If you notice a sudden drop, you might have a leak.

Typically, a decent-sized radiator leak is easy to spot because you’ll see green, orange or red fluid pooling under the vehicle. Rising engine temperature is another warning sign.

If you suspect you have a radiator leak, reputable mechanics we spoke with say it’s important to have the radiator diagnosed. Mechanics can determine the size of the leak and where it’s coming from, such as the water pump, radiator tubing or connection hoses.

Should I use a radiator sealant?

If you’ve ever had a radiator leak, you may have Googled ways to fix it, and found several radiator sealants that range in price from $3 to $30.

Mechanics generally don’t recommend using these products for long-term use.

Only use it as a temporary repair or in an emergency. The glue that doesn’t find its way to the leak will adhere to other areas that could cause blockage. These sealants should be used as a last resort only.

A rule of thumb, if it’s a vehicle you intend to keep, don’t use them. If you are doing this to gain relief in an emergency, do what you have to do.

Don’t neglect radiator replacement

Radiator leaks can’t be repaired in the long-term, replacement is recommended.

If the radiator has a small damp area in the core of the tank – which is the main cooling component of radiators – but no dripping, you can make the call on whether to replace the radiator.

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