Car ownership 101: The leaking radiator

This vital engine component must always be in good shape
by Paulo Rafael Subido | Aug 25, 2018

I began to notice a pink coolant residue that was beginning to form around the top of the radiator of my car. It eventually got worse. I’m glad I have a spare radiator handy. It’s time to install it.

Difficulty level

It’s easy, as long as you have a lifter and the necessary tools.

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Things to check

Never open the radiator cap when the engine is hot.

The gear

Lifter; brand-new replacement radiator; replacement nuts and bolts; fresh radiator hoses; coolant

Here's how to install a brand-new radiator:

1) Cool the engine down first

This car has been kind to me. Instead of a punctured or cracked radiator, the leak was very slow. I caught the problem in time, and there was no overheating. Pulling the old radiator down is quite simple. First, wait for the engine to cool before removing the radiator cap. Once on the lifter, find the drain plug and drain the old coolant into a container.

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2) Disconnect fans from the wiring harness

Find all of the electrical connections that lead to the auxiliary fans and disconnect them carefully. Don’t yank them out. Next, disconnect the radiator hoses by loosening the clamps first. If you will use the old hoses, be gentle as well. If the hoses are hard and brittle, it’s time to change them.

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3) Unbolt the radiator

Unbolt any nuts and screws holding the radiator in place and lift the radiator very carefully. Don't snag any of the wires or other components on it. Swap all the detachable parts from it (fans, rubber grommets, and brackets) to the new radiator. Don’t forget anything.

4) Install the new radiator 

Drop in the new radiator, connect the hoses and brackets, and fill it up with fresh coolant. Connect the electricals, start the engine, and make sure the fans turn when the engine is at operating temp. You are good to go!

Extra tips

Inspect the engine bay often for signs of leaks. If any go unnoticed, a blown radiator can be the reason for a catastrophic overheat.

I open up the engine bay every time I wash my car to wipe off the dust and to inspect all the belts and hoses. You should, too.

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PHOTO: Paulo Rafael Subido
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