Your car’s radiator needs extra TLC in winter
Vishal Premlall, national director of the Tyres Equipment Parts Association (TEPA)

If your car is acting up, something could be wrong and without getting it checked out, a minor problem could become a major one. Some components react to weather, which is why your radiator may need a bit of extra TLC in winter.

Vishal Premlall, national director of the Tyre, Equipment, Parts Association (TEPA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry (RMI), says there are many tell-tale signs your radiator is not performing as it should – the first being that your car’s engine will overheat.

He explains that the radiator is a critical component of a car's cooling system and plays a vital role in regulating the engine's temperature, so as to prevent overheating. For this reason, your radiator is one of the most critical components of the engine.

“You will notice the engine is hotter than usual after a long trip, and this is normal as engines tend to heat up after prolonged use. It is the radiator that controls the heating of the engine with the help of coolant, to prevent the engine from overheating.

“By doing so, the radiator contributes greatly to the optimal performance and longevity of your vehicle. Regular radiator maintenance is essential, especially as we are just about in mid-winter, to maintain the cooling system's efficiency and prevent costly repairs or breakdowns.”

But how exactly does a radiator work?

Radiators work on the heat transfer principle of convection to eliminate heat from the engine and its chamber. The process starts when the thermostat detects excess heat. Coolant and water are released automatically from the radiator and flow towards the engine to absorb this excess heat and to cool the engine down. 

And why can cold affect a radiator?

Cold weather can cause the coolant to freeze inside the radiator. This puts a huge strain on the radiator casing and might cause a crack that can lead to a leak. The fluid might also freeze in transit in the hoses, causing a rupture.

Premlall says one of the first warning signs of radiator trouble is the engine constantly overheating. This should not be ignored as an overheating engine is a serious issue that can lead to severe damage, reduced performance and breakdowns.

Another 3 signs to look out for are:

1.            Leaking coolant

Coolants only function as well as the radiator. If there is anything wrong with the radiator, coolant may not flow through the pipes of the engine box.

2.            Sludge

Sludge can build up in the radiator or its passage, which is why regular servicing of your car is so important to ensure all the components are working smoothly. Sludge build-up indicates a radiator problem.

3.            Low coolant levels

Low coolant levels can be a sign that the radiator is not functioning well and it could result in overheating of the engine. Check the levels regularly.

TEPA’s best practices for radiator maintenance include (so make sure your workshop does this if your car goes in for a service - with or without suspected radiator problems):

  • Coolant inspection and flush to maintain the coolant's quality and prevent the accumulation of debris or contaminants.
  • Check for coolant leaks and address these to prevent coolant loss and potential overheating.
  • Clean the radiator's exterior surface and fins to remove dirt, debris and bugs that can obstruct airflow and compromise cooling efficiency.
  • Inspect hoses, clamps and connections for signs of wear or damage and replace them as necessary to prevent coolant leaks.
  • Verify the radiator cap's condition and functionality. A faulty cap can lead to coolant loss and subsequent overheating.

Motorists should also have the vehicle’s thermostat, which is critical for optimal engine temperature control, in conjunction with the radiator, checked by a qualified technician from time to time

In conclusion, Premlall says it is imperative to follow the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule and guidelines specific to your vehicle model.

“Proper radiator maintenance is essential for maintaining a car's performance, reliability and longevity. Regular inspections by an accredited fitment centre, cleaning, coolant flushes and timely repairs help prevent engine overheating, preserve fuel efficiency and identify potential issues before they escalate into costly problems.”

Feel free to visit a TEPA-accredited fitment centre for any further expert advice on your radiator or cooling system.