Some symptoms that indicate the radiator fan is damaged include warning lights on, warm air blowing while using the air conditioning, and an overheated engine. If caught early, the repairs are fairly inexpensive.
The radiator fan is a vital component of a vehicle.
Many radiator fans will last the lifetime of the vehicle. If the radiator fan fails it is typically because of a component connected to the radiator fan, such as broken fuses or sensors.
In general, the lifespan of a car today is about twelve years. It isn’t that common for the radiator fan to go bad on a newer vehicle, but it could happen for several reasons. Never rule it out. In older cars, however, it’s a pretty likely repair.
If symptoms aren’t as severe as an overheated engine, a bad radiator fan can be replaced fairly easily. Unfortunately, if symptoms are severe and lead to an overheated engine, the engine could seize. Not only does that mean added stress, but it also means added costs.
By knowing and researching the symptoms, you can determine if the radiator fan needs to be replaced, how it became damaged, and estimate the cost of the repair. This is a necessary repair to have a fully dependable vehicle.
This article outlines some common questions about radiator fans, symptoms it needs replacing, and associated costs.
What Is the Radiator Fan and What Does it Do?
The radiator fan pulls cooling air through the radiator.
This is helpful when the car is stationary or moving at a slow speed, as it forces air through the grille. A broken radiator fan can result in your engine overheating.
There are two types of radiator fans
Older vehicles typically have a mechanical radiator fan. These radiator fans have a built-in clutch that allows the fan to idle when the engine is cold and turns on when the engine is hot. Mechanical radiator fans are usually attached to the water pump alley.
Electric radiator fans are found in modern vehicles and are controlled by an electric motor. The engine’s computer determines when the fan turns on and off. This can be tricky. This means that a mechanical breakdown of the part is less likely (not impossible) but also that a digital malfunction could arise.
This is the case with many new cars, and sometimes it works out for the best as sensors are easier to replace than whole systems. Some sensors, are hard to get to though, driving the labor cost up.
Why Do Radiator Fans Fail?
Radiator fans could fail for a variety of reasons, including:
- A broken fuse
- A defective coolant temperature sensor
- Bad or broken connections
- A bad fan controller module
- Electrical motor failure within the radiator fan
- Damaged radiator fan relay
- Insufficient coolant
Fuses support almost everything electrical in a vehicle. Sometimes, fuses cut electricity surging towards a piece of electronic equipment, saving it from destruction. This is known as a blown fuse. If the fan fuse is blown, it could also mean there is a problem with the connections or the radiator fan.
A temperature sensor is used to know when to start the radiator fan. If this sensor is broken, the control unit doesn’t know when to start the radiator fan.
Over time, vehicles experience normal wear and tear, which can lead to several issues. Connector plugs used outside of the radiator fan could corrode. If corrosion is present in any of the connector plugs or the wiring is bad, the radiator fan may not work.
Some models have a separate control module for the radiator fan control. This module is normally in the engine bay, exposed to heat and dust leading to corrosion. A corroded control module means the radiator fan will not function.
Sometimes, the electrical motor within the radiator fan wears down.
Normally, there is a relay between the coolant system and the radiator fan. A faulty relay could lead to the radiator fan not coming on when needed.
If the vehicle’s coolant level is low, there is an increased chance of air entering the system. The coolant temperature sensor will malfunction, meaning the radiator fan will not turn on. If the coolant is not kept at an optimum level, you risk your engine becoming overheated and seized, leading to a costly repair.
If a vehicle is properly maintained, you should be without major issues. However, if symptoms are present and ignored, the engine could seize. A seized engine repair is much more costly than replacing the radiator fan itself.
How Do I Know if the Radiator Fan is Bad?
A damaged radiator fan can cause many problems:
- An overheated engine
- Warm air blowing while the air conditioner is running
- Warning lights are on
A damaged radiator fan can cause the engine to overheat, especially at lower speeds. An overheated engine can become quickly ruined and lead to expensive repair bills. If this happens while driving, safely move to the side of the road and turn off the engine.
The radiator fan helps the condenser and is responsible for removing heat from the A/C system. A damaged radiator fan means the condenser fails and the A/C system blows warm air.
The engine temperature light and check engine light may turn on if the radiator fan has failed. Sometimes, the A/C system may also display a warning light.
You can just the old-fashioned listening technique. The radiator fan is pretty noisy, especially in older vehicles. When the car is sitting for a long time on a nice day, you hear that second fan kick in. That’s the radiator fan. It’s keeping things cool.
If you know that radiator fan should have kicked on long ago, and it is hasn’t, you need to check on that part and stat – if the car actually overheats, you’ll have an even bigger problem on your hands.
These symptoms can also be caused by other issues. For example, the A/C system could blow warm air due to a refrigerant leak. To be sure, have your vehicle diagnosed by a professional.
Can you Drive with a Bad Radiator Fan?
Driving with a faulty radiator fan is like flirting with disaster. If you are nervous about the cost of the repair or don’t have the time available to visit the mechanic, you should avoid driving. Your safety far outweighs the risks.
As long as the vehicle is moving, enough air should pass through the grille to keep the engine cool. But what happens when we stop and sit in traffic? Normally, the radiator fan would turn on during this time to keep our engine cool. Without the fan working, the engine will overheat.
Once you notice symptoms, it would be much smarter to take the vehicle to a mechanic for a proper diagnosis. Typically, the motor on the electric fan needs to be replaced. This is an easier fix than replacing an overheated engine.
In summary, you could drive your car a short distance, and possibly farther, but you should avoid driving the vehicle with a damaged radiator fan. If the weather is hot, then don’t push it. You’ll be stranded.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Radiator Fan?
The radiator fan is an integral component of any vehicle. You may be scared when your mechanic confirms the radiator fan needs to be replaced. The average cost to replace the radiator fan varies depending on why the radiator fan failed.
Luckily, the majority of replacement costs associated with a radiator fan are inexpensive.
The easiest fix is optimizing coolant levels. The average cost of coolant ranges from $10 to $30.
A broken fuse and wiring can be replaced for approximately $10 to $20, in addition to diagnostic costs.
A damaged fan relay can be replaced for an average of $60 to 70 including labor.
If the engine coolant temperature sensor needs to be replaced, the average cost is between $120 and $160, depending on your vehicle model.
If the fan controller module needs to be replaced, the average cost is between $250 and $400, again depending on your vehicle module.
The most expensive repair, outside of replacing a seized engine, is the radiator fan motor. If the radiator fan motor needs to be replaced, the average cost is between $590 and $625.
Most of the costs outweigh the risk of driving around with a damaged radiator fan. If the repair is not worth the investment, you could just send the car to a junkyard.
Can I Replace a Radiator Fan Myself?
If you aren’t confident, you should bring your vehicle to a trained professional to replace the radiator fan.
While accessing the radiator is not difficult, removing and then reinstalling all of the parts is a different story. This requires removing bolts, screws, clips, and hoses, disconnecting the battery and electric components, and finally, removing the radiator fan assembly.
These steps require the meticulous care of a mechanic.
You can save time and money by asking for a specific diagnosis on what needs to be fixed. Ask about the cost of each part and its labor. Otherwise, you could recycle your car at a junkyard and get paid cash.
Is Fixing a Vehicle with a Bad Radiator Fan Worth It?
Without the radiator fan, airflow through the radiator decreases, the temperature of the engine increases, and the engine will overheat. In most vehicles, there is not enough airflow through the radiator without the radiator fan.
At its most expensive, a radiator fan repair will cost from $590 to $625. Although not entirely affordable, it is a smaller price in comparison to replacing a seized engine. However, there are other factors to consider.
If the vehicle is your daily driver and an absolute necessity, the repair is also a necessity. If the vehicle is old and could be done without or replaced entirely, the cost of the repair could be better spent on something else.
If you decide to forgo the repair, you could sell the car for parts.
Another option is sending the car to the junkyard.
Area junkyards give payment in cash. If your engine seizes and tow is necessary, you can have your vehicle towed directly to the junkyard.
Don’t Mess with a Damaged Radiator Fan
Imagine driving while your engine overheats. If the radiator fan breaks, this could happen at any time, especially while stuck in traffic. Our daily commutes cause us enough stress. The added stress of time and money as we watch smoke billow from our car hood is something we can avoid.
Understanding the symptoms of a bad radiator fan helps us better know our options. If the symptoms do not include an already overheated engine, we have plenty of options. The costs associated with these repairs are affordable and worth our safety.
If you cannot afford to repair the bad radiator fan, it’s best not to drive the car. Use public transportation or ask a friend to help you with your daily commute. You can save money to properly afford that repair.
If the symptoms are severe and your engine overheats while driving, safely move to the side of the road, stop the car and turn the engine off. Do not attempt to restart the car. Call for a tow service.
Since you are stopped without anything else to do, consider your options. When the tow service arrives, you can have your car towed directly to your mechanic for repair. If you choose not to repair the car, you could send the car to a junkyard instead.
A damaged radiator fan that leads to an overheated and then seized engine is nothing to mess with. Consider your finances before making the best decision for you.
Ask your mechanic to check the radiator fan the next time your car receives maintenance.