Is Your Vehicle’s Radiator Leaking? Signs and Symptoms


How do you know if your vehicle’s radiator is leaking? Of course, the easiest way to tell is when your temperature gauge (found on the dashboard) illuminates and shows the temperature warning light. It tells you that you have a problem with the cooling system, which could be caused by a leak, though it could be in the radiator or other components of the system.

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Determine That You’re Losing Coolant

The first step is to determine that you are leaking coolant; you could be leaking other fluids that look similar or come from a similar location. While it’s usually referred to as antifreeze, coolant is actually a mixture of water and antifreeze, usually in a 50/50 ratio. That is why you can use water to cool the engine in a pinch if you run out of the mixture.

It’s easy to check the coolant levels of the vehicle; there is a see-through tank, called the overflow tank. If there is no fluid in this tank or there isn’t much, it’s likely you have a coolant leak. The next step is to check the radiator’s coolant levels, but you must wait until your engine is cool.

It is essential that you have the right amount of coolant in the system; otherwise, the engine could overheat, or your cabin’s heater might only blow cool air.

Radiator Leaks

Once you know that coolant is being lost somewhere, the radiator is the natural place to start looking. Most radiator leaks are easy to spot; you can see a puddle of liquid under the radiator on the ground. However, other leaks are quite difficult to spot. It’s best to look at the radiator from all angles and pay close attention to the bottom and seams. If you notice any holes or rust inside the radiator, it is likely that your leak begins there. However, you may have an aluminum radiator which cannot rust; instead, aluminum can develop pinholes and can corrode over time.

It’s important to note that antifreeze comes in a variety of colors, such as pinkish-red, yellow, or green. It can help to know what color yours is, but you can also determine if the liquid under the car is antifreeze because it is going to smell sweet and feel a little slimy. If you cannot see dripping or seeping coolant, you can look for tracks on the ground and the radiator. Along with such, rust and discoloration can also prove that a leak exists, even if you can’t see any drips.

Not the Radiator

If your radiator doesn’t appear to be leaking, there are still many areas where a leak can be present. These can include the radiator cap, hoses to the engine from the radiator, engine block, water pump, reservoir tank, thermostat, or heater core (which is like a smaller radiator used to circulate the hot coolant into the dashboard ventilation system for heating). Coolant can also start leaking from a blown gasket between the engine block and cylinder head. This is particularly troublesome as the coolant gets inside the combustion chamber and must be checked out by a trusted mechanic immediately. You’re likely to notice thick, white smoke from the tailpipe if this is the case.

Even if you can’t find a leak, it is best to go to a mechanic, especially if the engine overheats or you don’t get warm air blowing into the vents. While you can try easy fixes, such as a stop-leak additive, it’s best to find the source of the issue to prevent further and more costly damages later.

If you notice leaking coolant, it’s likely the radiator, but it could be many other things and should be checked by a mechanic.

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Is Your Vehicle’s Radiator Leaking? Signs and Symptoms

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