About Your Truck Radiator And Three Maintenance Tips To Help Keep It In Top Shape

Posted on: 8 February 2017

Keeping your truck in top shape, whether it's a typical pickup or a medium duty rig, is essential. If you use the vehicle for business, maintenance and regular servicing is even more important. One of the most crucial parts of that truck is the radiator, which helps keep the engine cool and purring away. The following is an explanation of what radiators do and three helpful maintenance tips.

Defining Radiators and How They Work

Truck radiators sit in front of the engine and are usually the first thing you see when you open the hood for an inspection. Vehicle radiators are made of high grade materials that effectively conduct heat. The most common are steel, aluminum, brass, and copper. Aluminum is most often used in cars and light trucks because it is light weight and resists corrosion. Medium and larger trucks tend to favor copper and brass because these metals tend to cool more efficiently.

The radiator cools the various moving parts of an engine that heat up because of the friction caused by the internal combustion process. Each cylinder has a source of ignition that lights the fuel and causes it to burn. If you have a diesel powered truck, the cylinders are heated by glow plugs. A gas engine uses spark plugs. The burning fuel makes the pistons move, powering the engine.  

To keep the engine cool the radiator pumps water and engine coolant into the engine block. Then a pump circulates the mixture, reducing the engine temperature. The heated fluid is then pumped back into the radiator where the excess heat can be released. This system works continuously as long as the engine is running.

If the heat exchange system on the radiator fails, then the engine overheats. Prolonged overheating can cause a blown head gasket, the seal that sits between the two main engine parts, or even a blown piston. The piston could punch through the cylinder, which usually means a costly repair or even an engine replacement. 

Three Important Maintenance Chores

Following these three maintenance tips is essential for keeping your radiator and your truck in top shape. If you find anything amiss, get your vehicle into a commercial truck dealer and service center as soon as possible. Catching problems early may help you save money and minimize down-time.

Cleaning the Grill

Keeping your grill clean is one of the easiest preventive maintenance chores you'll come across. The grill is the protective grate that sits in front of the radiator. Driving can lead to a collection of bugs and dirt clogging the air slits, preventing air flowing across the radiator. This inhibits the cooling process. It's roughly the same as having your truck idling. No air is flowing through the grill and the temperature gauge usually starts to show a higher reading.

Regularly Check Your Radiator Hoses

Radiator hoses transport the coolant between the radiator and the water pump. The hose itself is typically made of synthetic rubber and is held on by hose clamps. This flexible rubber/clamp combination can better tolerate the bouncing around of your truck when it's moving. Coolant is also referred to as anti-freeze because it also helps keep the radiator from freezing in low temperatures.

Light truck owners are typically advised to check their hoses and clamps at least twice a year. Medium duty truck radiator hoses should be inspected more frequently, especially if they get heavier use. The coolant level also needs periodically checked. A lack of coolant can cause overheating and may be a sign of a leak in the system. If the radiator hose is cracked or showing other signs of wear, have it replaced. 

Most trucks have a dashboard indicator light for an overheated engine. By the time the light goes on, you already have a problem. Some newer trucks are programmed to automatically shut down if the engine is overheating.

Keep an Eye on That Thermostat

A truck thermostat works much like the one that turns your furnace on and off. The thermostat opens if the engine temperature exceeds the recommended level, causing the coolant to flow. The thermostat on your truck can get stuck or fail, causing overheating. At first the signs may be more subtle, with the heat gauge fluctuating more than normal. It's important to get your truck's thermostat repaired or replaced or you could be left stranded.