How Does a Radiator Keep an Engine Cool?

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Given that car engines work on the principle of combustion – that is, the explosion of the air/fuel mixture inside the cylinders – it should be no surprise that they make a lot of heat. That, combined with the friction generated by the many moving parts inside an engine, means that engine thermal control is vital. Engines that operate at lower temperatures are more fuel efficient, produce more power, and last longer. It’s the job of the radiator to keep an engine running at the ideal temperature and prevent overheating.

The vast majority of cars use a closed-loop liquid-based cooling system to regulate engine temperatures (some older vehicles are air-cooled). Liquid-cooled engines use a few common parts:

Engines have a system of channels which run throughout the block and cylinder head known as the coolant jacket. Specially-formulated liquid coolant (also known as antifreeze) mixed with water flows through these channels, absorbing engine heat. The water pump keeps the coolant flowing, the rate of which is regulated by the thermostat. Eventually the hot coolant flows from multiple coolant jacket channels into a single outlet before it reaches the radiator.

The radiator’s main function is to provide a high surface area for hot coolant so that heat can be effectively dissipated. Once it enters the radiator at one end, the single outlet splits into multiple smaller tubes, known as core tubes. The core tubes run through numerous thin sheets of folded metal called cooling fins, which further increase the surface area. Radiators are usually mounted at the front of the engine behind the grille, on top under a hood scoop, or some other area that receives high air flow. That way, as cool outside air passes over the cooling fins, heat dissipates as the car moves forward. A fan works to keep cool air moving over the radiator if the car is stopped or driving slowly in traffic.

Pressure generated by the water pump maintains the flow of coolant through the radiator. Once heat has dissipated, the core tubes join again at the other end of the radiator, pumping cold coolant through the coolant jacket again. It’s a continuous cycle of heating and cooling that occurs the entire time your engine is running.

A properly-working radiator and cooling system is vital to your engine’s function, so if there’s ever an issue don’t delay repairs. A coolant leak, blocked radiator, faulty thermostat, or bad water pump can all cause your engine to overheat rapidly. If your car is running hot or overheating, have a certified mobile technician from YourMechanic inspect the problem right away.


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Jason

31 years of experience
148 reviews
Jason
31 years of experience
Land Rover Range Rover Sport - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Surprise, Arizona
Needed new brake pads on my Land Rover-and booked through “your mechanic”- this was my second time using this service and I have to say- these guys are awesome- Today, Jason came out to my work place- and completed the work quickly. Thank you!!
Honda Accord - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Phoenix, Arizona
Jason was on time, self motivated, well educated in his craft, and very helpful. I am fully sold on your method of using the home service. Jason helped by creating a safer ride for my wife, saving me time, and saving money for my family. I will be a client forever. Dennis Laycock

Lee

18 years of experience
105 reviews
Lee
18 years of experience
Toyota Camry - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Richmond, Virginia
Lee was professional and knowledgeable. The job did not take long he was a little late but like I said professional because he let know that he was running late. LEE IS AWESOME!!!!!!

Willie

23 years of experience
23 reviews
Willie
23 years of experience
Jeep Compass - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - North Hollywood, California
I made an appointment to have my brake rotors/disc replaced. On the day I scheduled my car services- it ended up raining. Willie checked in, moved my appointment, and continued to communicate through out the day until he was able to come work on my car. He took great car to make the repairs ANNNDDD SAVED ME MONEY by only doing what was necessary (only one of the rotors needed replacing). A blessing.

Honorio

18 years of experience
782 reviews
Honorio
18 years of experience
Saturn Vue - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Sunnyvale, California
This was our second appointment to service our Honda and Saturn with Honorio and we will continue to do so in the future. We highly recommend Honorio.

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