When people think of a radiator, then they usually think of a radiator in a house. This is very different from a car’s radiator! Whereas a home radiator is designed to keep a room warm, a radiator in a car actually does the opposite; it cools the engine down.
The engine in your vehicle will heat up to a seriously hot degree. And when we say seriously we mean somewhere in the region of two and a half thousand degrees Celsius. At this kind of temperature metal can literally melt. If this happens in your engine, catastrophic failure is not far away, and a costly repair bill is right behind it.
Those ridiculous temperatures comes from the friction between the moving parts. We can minimise this friction with motor oil which is pumped through the engine, working as a lubricant, but it is not enough to stop your car from melting. There are still plenty of heat there to weld the engine together, and this is where the radiator comes in. A mixture of anti-freeze and water is pumped through the engine, absorbing all the excess heat produced by the moving parts.
Now the radiator kicks in and starts doing its job. This super-heated engine coolant goes through the engine, comes out the other side, and then into the radiator. The radiator is designed to have the largest surface area possible in order to let the heat dissipate. Some radiators have fans that bring cooler air from outside into the car and help the radiator with the process. The car’s grille is also designed for this purpose. With the outside air and the radiator lowering the coolant temperature, the mixture is now cool enough to go back into the engine and start the process again.
If your coolant is running low, or your radiator is not working properly for some reason, then this could be a serious problem. The engine will continue to heat up, getting hotter and hotter until it blows a piston or literally melts. This is why you should always check your radiator and oil levels on a regular basis- a quick check every couple of months can save you a lot of stress and money in the long term.
Radiators do not have to particularly cool to work, but if they leak or crack, then it can only be a matter of minutes before the engine reaches critical levels. Always allow the engine too cool down before trying to bring it to a mechanic.