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What you need to know about radiator and cooling system maintenance

In this post, we’ll address four questions for drivers who are less familiar with vehicle maintenance:

1. What kind of service does my cooling system need

2. How often is service necessary?

3. What goes into cooling system maintenance IE what am I actually getting for my money?

4. Can I do the maintenance myself?


1. What kind of maintenance does my cooling system need?


Your coolant fill level needs to be kept up, or your vehicle is at risk of overheating. Check the level at regular intervals (say, once a month, when you’re refueling).Only do this when the vehicle is cold, as hot coolant is under pressure and can spray from the radiator, causing burns. Remove the cap from the radiator. Add coolant as needed to bring the level up to the bottom of the filler neck.


A big concern with your radiator is that the coolant inside it can expire or potentially gum up if neglected. If coolant can’t circulate as intended, your vehicle will overheat, and this can cause engine components to warp or crack. There are multiple reasons the coolant can gum up (gunk build up overtime from corrosion, mixing different types of coolants, other fluids leaking into the system, etc). The best way to prevent this is too keep your coolant fresh. This involves changing the coolant at regular intervals. This will also prevent the coolant from going bad, which leads to acid buildup, as well as less resistance to boiling and freezing.


To clean out impurities, cooling systems sometimes need to be flushed. There are three common methods for this. One involves draining the coolant and then, with the system still open, circulating water through until it comes out clean. Another method involves draining the system, refilling it with water and flushing solution, running the vehicle for a set amount of time, and draining and refilling with new coolant. The other method requires a machine, which only a mechanic or service shop is likely to have.


2. How often is service needed?


Refer to your owner’s manual or service manual for manufacturer’s recommendations for service intervals. If you can’t find the answer there, you can always call a dealership. Every 100,000 miles is a common recommended interval.


You may need it more often, judging by the quality of the coolant in your radiator. Some people also push it past the intervals if they estimate that their coolant is still in good condition. We can’t recommend this in good conscience, though, as its always safest to go with the manufacturer's recommendations.


3. What goes into cooling system maintenance IE what am I actually getting for my money?


A drain and refill is fairly simple. Most vehicles have two drain plugs for coolant. The thermostat is also removed, as there can be coolant trapped behind it. The old coolant is captured and disposed of. The system is flushed by the chosen method. The thermostat and drain plugs are re-installed and coolant is added. In some vehicles, there is a precise bleeding process that needs to be followed to prevent air bubbles from getting trapped in the system, which can cause overheating.


The same thing is accomplished with a coolant flushing machine, but nothing needs to be removed except one end of hose or two. Its easier, cleaner, and faster.


4. Can I do the maintenance myself?


Yes, you can, but that doesn’t mean you should. Before you undertake the project, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of doing so. Its not a terribly expensive service to have done, and it can be messy todo yourself. Additionally, you’ll need a few basic tools (wrenches, drain pan, pliers, jack stands, etc),and some coolant. You’ll need to know where your drain plugs and thermostat are. And you’ll need to set a few hours aside, just in case it doesn’t go as planned. Your vehicle will be inoperable until you refill the coolant and bleed the system. Bleeding the system can be a tricky process, so you’ll need to research how to do it for your specific year/make/model before your begin. Finally, you’ll need to know how and where to store and dispose of the coolant safely.


Besides the occasional, almost inevitable failure of components like fans, thermostats, and water pumps, your cooling system should last the life of your car --- if you keep up on maintenance. Keep an eye on the fill level of your coolant, and be sure to check the coolant itself for rust flakes or other specks. Other than that, an inexpensive coolant change and/or flush every 100,000 miles or is a small price to pay to keep your vehicles operating at its best.


For radiator and cooling system maintenance and repairs in the Des Moines area, you can call on ABC Auto. Call us at 206 395 5300 or click here to fill out a contact form.

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