Symptoms that indicate a vehicle needs a radiator flush include an overheated engine, odd odors rising from the hood, grinding or knocking noises from the engine, coolant underneath the vehicle, and visible debris in the coolant. If performed with regular maintenance, the cost is fairly inexpensive.
A radiator flush is essential for optimal vehicle performance.
Most mechanics recommend a radiator flush be done yearly; however, it depends on your vehicle’s make and model. Regardless, a radiator flush should be performed as part of regular maintenance on your vehicle. Confirm with your mechanic to ensure this is being done.
By researching the symptoms, you can determine if a radiator flush needs to be done or if the vehicle has further damage. You could then estimate the cost of the repair.
This article outlines some common questions about a radiator flush, symptoms it needs to be done, and associated costs.
What Is a Radiator Flush and What Is It Good For?
A radiator flush resolves any built-up contaminants or debris that could run through the system.
Radiator fluid keeps your radiator cool. Vehicle engines run hot and without something to cool the heat generated by the engine, your car can overheat quickly.
Over time, radiator fluid can contain unwanted contaminants. The contaminated radiator coolant can cause corrosion which you do not want in your vehicle’s radiator or engine. A radiator flush forces cleaner, water, and new coolant through the system to get rid of old coolant and any build-up.
If you drain the fluid, it gets rid of most of the old coolant, but not all of it. This means contaminants could also be left behind, which would then mix with the new coolant. A full radiator flush ensures all of the contaminants are removed before any new fluid is added.
When you get a radiator flush, make sure to inspect the entire cooling system. This is beneficial to ensure there are no leaks or any other potential problems.
When Is a Radiator Flush Necessary?
Usually, a radiator flush needs to be done once a year; however, every make and model is different. Some experts say every three years. Others say five. If there are no signs that you need a radiator flush, you should do it at least every 30,000 miles.
Radiator fluid, known as antifreeze or coolant, is designed to remove excess heat from your engine. Engine coolants come in many different types. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations.
Many people don’t realize how much high school science content goes into a car. For example, the coolant has a ph. If the coolant becomes acidic because of its age, this is bad for the car as one could easily imagine.
Over time, old coolant becomes acidic. It is important to flush this out of the system because once it becomes acidic, it can damage the water pump, rubber hoses, and any aluminum components of the engine.
A radiator flush provides many benefits to the cooling system. The cooling system works hard to prevent the engine from overheating, which would happen fairly quickly without it.
It is important to maintain the cooling system, just like other parts of your vehicle.
How Do I Know If I Need a Radiator Flush?
Several signs indicate your vehicle needs a radiator flush, including:
- An overheated engine (watch the temperature gauge on the dashboard)
- Steam or an odd (sometimes sweet) smell rising from the hood
- Grinding or knocking noises from the engine
- Leaking coolant underneath your vehicle
- Visible debris in the coolant
If your car overheats, it could mean there is a leak in the coolant system or that the coolant is contaminated. Before the car overheats, you may see steam or smell something odd from the hood. An overheated engine can become quickly ruined and lead to expensive repairs.
While the engine may not overheat, you could hear grinding or knocking sounds from the engine. This indicates there is debris or some type of contaminant in the coolant that needs to be removed.
If you see antifreeze underneath your vehicle there is a leak coming from some area of the cooling system. In addition to a leak, you may see visible debris in the coolant, indicating build-up.
These symptoms can also be caused by other issues. For example, an overheated engine could indicate the radiator fan motor is damaged. Ask a professional to inspect the entire cooling system to make a proper diagnosis.
Can you Drive with Low or Contaminated Coolant?
A radiator flush ensures the coolant is not contaminated. If you drive with contaminated coolant or have a low coolant level this causes the cooling of the engine to be inefficient. It is vital to check your coolant regularly.
Low coolant without a leak is bad news, too. The coolant is supposed to evaporate rapidly or vanish into thin air. This coolant more or less sticks to its job unless there is a leak or it is burning. A leak is visible. you’ll see it as a colorful puddle underneath the car.
Burning coolant, or coolant that’s entering the cylinders due to a broken head gasket, doesn’t show up as a leak.
Driving your car with low or contaminated coolant is dangerous. If you are driving, your check engine light may come on. When you open the hood to check your car, you may smell something odd, indicating the coolant has spewed everywhere. This could lead to severe engine damage that costs a lot to repair.
When you have low or contaminated coolant you will still be able to drive your car for some time, but it depends on how severe the problem is. If the coolant is low, you can still drive for a few days, but if it is too low, you shouldn’t drive at all. The same applies if the coolant is contaminated.
Driving your car with low or contaminated coolant could lead to an engine block, engine meltdown, a blown head gasket, or corrosion. Once you notice symptoms, it is wiser to take the vehicle to a professional for an inspection. A radiator flush is cheaper than replacing part, or all, of the engine.
In summary, it is not advisable to drive a car with low or contaminated coolant. You could drive your car a short distance, but driving farther could lead to more damage.
How Much Does a Radiator Flush Cost?
A radiator flush keeps the coolant and other parts of the vehicle in optimal condition. Luckily, a radiator flush is fairly inexpensive. The average cost of a radiator flush is between $70 and $125, depending on the type of vehicle you have and where you have it done.
A radiator flush should be performed as part of regular maintenance on your vehicle. The procedure involves draining the old coolant, replacing it with a special mixture, circulating it through the cooling system, draining the special mixture, and then replacing it with a new coolant.
The procedure itself can take a few hours. This means you will pay more for labor than parts. The additional time comes from needing to cool the engine, heat the engine, and then cool the engine again.
When having this procedure done, remember there is a big difference between having the radiator flushed and having the radiator drained. A drain is cheaper than a flush, but will only remove some of the coolant from the system and will not clear the majority of build-up.
The cost outweighs the risk of engine damage but if the time and cost of the repair aren’t worth it, you could send the car to a junkyard.
Can I Do a Radiator Flush Myself?
If you’re comfortable working on your car, you can save money by doing a radiator flush yourself.
While the engine is completely cool, find the radiator drain and use a container to catch the flushed antifreeze underneath the drain. Once the container is in place, let gravity do its job, forcing the antifreeze out of the container.
Pour some radiator flush fluid, according to the directions listed on the fluid, into the radiator opening and top with water. Close the caps and run the engine for ten minutes with the heater on full blast.
Now comes the most time-consuming part: waiting for the engine to cool down completely. Once it has, drain the radiator again and refill it with water. Close the caps and run the engine for another ten minutes with the heater on full blast.
After the engine has cooled completely, drain the radiator again and add your new antifreeze.
Engine coolant is highly toxic and needs to be recycled properly. If you do this yourself, ask your local garage where you can recycle the old fluids. Keep it away from children and pets.
If these steps seem daunting, you can save money by shopping around for the best deal. If you don’t find a good deal, you could recycle your car at a junkyard instead.
Is Fixing a Vehicle That Needs a Radiator Flush Worth It?
Without a radiator flush, your car’s performance will suffer. You could experience leaks, steam, rapid overheating, or odors coming from the hood. It is much better to do a radiator flush instead of ignoring it and pay for more costly repairs later.
If you skip a recommended radiator flush, expect corrosion, sediments, and contaminants to continue to build up in the coolant. Eventually, this will lead to engine damage.
This repair is necessary regardless of vehicle age as it helps your car function properly. If you decide to ignore having a radiator flush done, you could sell the car to a mechanic or send it to the junkyard.
Junkyards play a vital role in the local economy and environment. They will salvage any valuable parts, recycle your car, and give you payment in cash.
A Radiator Flush Is Essential to a Car’s Health
Imagine driving while your engine overheats. The engine could overheat for a variety of reasons. Your brain is scrambled with possibilities as to what the problem could be and more importantly, how much this repair will cost. We have enough stress without having to deal with car issues.
Knowing when to have a radiator flush done is crucial in proper vehicle maintenance. It is also important to understand the symptoms of contaminated coolant. Both can help us make an informed decision.
If the symptoms aren’t severe, we can calmly drive to our mechanic and ask for a complete cooling system inspection and ask for an estimate of cost, including both parts and labor. Remember, a radiator flush takes more time than parts, so labor will be more expensive.
If you can afford to have a radiator flush done, your car will run at optimal performance and your safety will not be compromised.
If you cannot afford to have a radiator flush done, it is best to drive only short distances or not at all. You can save money to afford the radiator flush or sell the car to a mechanic.
Alternatively, you could send the car to a junkyard instead. The cash payment could be used towards other things, including a new car.
A radiator flush should not be postponed or ignored. The possibility of further damage to the vehicle is not worth the risk. Both your safety and finances are important.
The next time your car receives regular maintenance, confirm that a radiator flush will be done.