Top Ten Common Radiator Problems for Older Vehicles

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

If your ride is over five years old, then you might have noticed how your vehicle’s engine seems to be running just slightly hotter than before. This usually indicates damage on your radiator that may require quick repair or replacing. After six years of being a proud owner of your vehicle—whether it’s a coupe, sedan, car, truck or SUV, the likelihood of radiator problems greatly increase. It doesn’t matter if your odometer shows that your vehicle has run 250 miles or 50,000—the fact remains that like all your other vehicle parts, your radiator is not immune to slow damage and corrosion caused by age. So what exactly are the common radiator problems that you’ll have to deal with? The following are some of the most prominent reasons behind radiator failure.

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

#1 Rusting. We’ve recently covered how you can remedy rusting problems on your vehicle exteriors, but if the rust settles inside your radiator, then this problem can’t be remedied with simple repair tips. Your radiator is greatly affected by road debris, salts, humidity and other catalysts that could cause chemical reactions. When this happens, expect rust to slowly eat away at your radiator, effectively lessening this component’s capabilities before completely breaking down.

#2 Constricted Coolant Flow. Another possible reason behind your radiator troubles is the build up of mineral deposits in the small and narrow tubing located in the unit’s core. When the coolant flow becomes too restricted, your radiator may no longer function the way it’s supposed to, greatly reducing your engine’s capabilities.

#3 Epoxy Failure. Your OEM radiator may be comprised of high quality and hardwearing materials, but after four or five years of use, the epoxy that joins most of your radiator’s seams may begin to quickly wear out. Check your radiator once in a while to determine if it’s in need of repair.

In a number of cases radiator failure doesn’t start with an actual radiator problem. The following are some “outside factors” that could have brought your current radiator issues.

#4 Malfunctioning Thermostat. The inaccuracy of your current thermostat can eventually lead to radiator failure requiring complete unit replacement.

#5 Damaged Water Pump. Just like your malfunctioning thermostat, a damaged water pump can prevent proper water-coolant circulation, which will eventually lead to radiator disaster. Like your thermostat, it’s important that you replace your water pump sometime between 50-100,000 miles.

#6 Brittle Hoses. Remember the previous post on checking for loose fanbelts and hoses? Well, brittle hoses are prone to drying and cracking which could conversely lead to a broken radiator. Check these parts once in a while to see if they are still in good working condition.

#7 Blown Seams. Blown seams and overall wear in these vehicle parts usually take place after years of using the same radiator.

#8 Leaky Fittings and Tube to Header Leaks. Leakage can not only destroy your radiator, it could also affect your engine. Check your vehicle regularly to see if there are some parts that require repair due to leakage.

#9 Faulty Solders. The solder is the part of your radiator which attaches your numerous cooling fins to the core tubes. When this part comes loose, radiator problems occur. The cooling fins are naturally delicate and thin, making them prone to damage caused by different catalysts.

#10 Electrical Problems brought by Ignition Wires. If you have faulty ignition wires, then electrochemical reaction can occur inside your radiator tubes, effectively stopping water-coolant flow. Your ignition wires naturally give out electromagnetic energy. With faulty ignition wires, stray currents can easily attack your radiator tubes, destroying the unit slowly but surely.

While you can’t completely prevent radiator damage from settling in, you can slow down its corrosion through instant repair. If the damage is beyond repair, then I highly suggest quick replacement.


One Response to Top Ten Common Radiator Problems for Older Vehicles

  1. John says:

    Great post guys !!! Its good to see you are educating users on the common radiator failures. A lot of which we can’t cover on warranty. The manufacturer’s are now just covering general manufacturing defects. If someone does purchase a radiator with a warranty. They should check the term of the warranty. Most common coverages are “seam leaks”.. If anyone needs any advice on warranty coverages, they can visit me at or e-mail me, I’d be happy to comment.

    Again – very informative !!

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