How Often Should You Get a Radiator Flush

January 27, 2012

Your car's radiator is a reservoir that holds water and antifreeze to help keep the engine cool, and will occasionally require a radiator flush. Your car's radiator not only helps cool the engine when it's running, it also helps keep the engine from freezing up during the winter when the car is parked.

Depending upon the type of vehicle you have, a radiator can be very small to relatively large, and will be filled with a combination of water and antifreeze (or sometimes just antifreeze). Over time, radiators can become dirty, or water and antifreeze may contain too many impurities that render the antifreeze ineffective at cooling the engine. This means the radiator will need to be flushed.

When to Get a Radiator Flush

There is no set rule for how often you should get your radiator flushed. The frequency of radiator flushes will depend on several factors, such as your own driving habits and the quality of antifreeze you use. Occasionally flushing your car's radiator will help extend the useful life of your vehicle.

Over time, the antifreeze in your vehicle may become acidic and lose its ability to help protect the engine from extreme temperatures. You can purchase a pH level litmus test at your local auto parts store to test the acidity level of the antifreeze. Simply insert one of the litmus test strips into your car's radiator and refer to the color guide on the box. If the test reveals that the water and antifreeze in your radiator is too acidic, then it's time to get a radiator flush.

While there is no set schedule for getting a radiator flush, almost all car manufacturers recommend that you drain and refill your radiator with quality antifreeze at least every other year, or every 40,000 to 60,000 miles - whichever comes first. Occasionally flushing the radiator will help keep it clean and prevent buildup of dirt and sediment. Fresh antifreeze will also help protect your car engine from extreme cold or hot temperatures.

Related Questions and Answers

What are the Main Components of a Car Engine Cooling System?

The main components of your car engine cooling system consist of the thermostat; the water pump; the radiator; the hoses and clamps; the engine's serpentine belt that turns the water pump (at one time it would have turned the fan too, but fans are now electronic), any intercoolers; the heater system for the passenger cab as it has its own radiator core and set of doors that provide heating and defrosting; and the coolant overflow tank. Although the cooling system seems relatively straightforward and easy to diagnose, it is one of the most complicated and important systems under the hood of your car.

What is the Main Reason for a Car Radiator Overheating?

The major reason for car radiator overheating is that there is some sort of blockage or problem with the cooling system that prevents the coolant from reaching the radiator to release its heat. It may be a problem with a non-working thermostat, or it may be that your car's radiator system is full of dirt and other things that may be causing bottlenecks. On a simpler note, it may be that your car's fan isn't working, or in conjunction with the water pump, so the antifreeze/coolant is sitting. Not moving and not dissipating heat. Or, if it is a snowstorm, you may find that your car's grill quickly fills with snow and ice, and this can block free air flow and lead to overheating.

Can I Use Just Water Instead of Wanting to Buy Engine Coolant?

You need to buy engine coolant and cannot use just engine coolant on its own for several reasons. You must buy antifreeze/coolant for maximum protection. First and foremost, water freezes in the winter and you can easily end up with a frozen cooling system that might damage your vehicle. Further, antifreeze/coolant is meant to not only work under the pressure of a cooling system (six or eight PSI), but also at a 50:50 mix for maximum protection. Water alone cannot do that. Plus antifreeze/coolant often have sealers and things floating around, in case pinhole leaks develop in your car's cooling system and this gives you instant protection. You can trust any of the major brands.

How Much can the Average Engine Coolant Tank Hold?

On average, the engine coolant tank can hold between 4 or 6 liters of liquid in Europe. When you move to this side of the pond, the amount is 1.06 gallons of antifreeze/coolant to 1.92 gallons in some of the bigger cooling systems. Which vehicles have this type of cooling system? There are three-quarter-ton trucks with this capacity. Vehicles such as the Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon and even Toyota's Tundra pickup fit this category. The importance of this cannot be understated, as you must use a 50-50 mix of water and antifreeze/coolant for maximum protection in the cold (down to 25 below F) and the same in the heat (up to 290 F) under the hood.

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