It always happens at the worst time. You notice that something is wrong with the radiator on your truck, but you’re already on pace to be late to work. The big question is: can your truck run without a radiator?
Technically speaking, a truck engine can run without a radiator. You wouldn’t want to drive your truck very far without a working radiator, though. The radiator serves the purpose of keeping the truck engine from overheating. It is a vital part of the engine cooling system.
Luckily, a broken radiator is an easy problem to fix (albeit a little pricey). You can save a couple hundred bucks by doing the repair yourself. You might luck out and resolve the issue with the replacement of a simple part. You can also avoid future issues with good radiator maintenance practices.
Yes, you could theoretically start a truck up and run it without a radiator, but you would need to be very careful. The radiator is responsible for keeping the vehicle cool. Overheating can damage vital parts of the engine, leading to expensive damage.
It’s easy to underestimate the value of a radiator. In your truck, only 25% of the heat generated by the engine is converted to useful energy. 30-35% of the remaining 75% of total heat generated must be removed by the engine cooling system.
Here’s how radiators keep your truck cool:
- A thermostat at the front of the engine detects heat.
- Coolant and water are released in response to heat. The liquid is cycled through the engine, where it absorbs heat.
- The radiator blows cooled air through the heated coolant. The engine coolant is then cycled back through the engine.
If you take the radiator out of the equation, then you have no way to ensure that the engine coolant can do its job.
Here’s a video showing exactly how a radiator works:
A new radiator may cost $600-$800 for all the parts, and the cost of labor may add $200-$300 onto the total cost. You’ll also have to pay sales taxes and disposal fees for parts that need to be disposed of.
You could potentially save money by doing the repair yourself, especially if you have the tools and know-how. More details on doing a DIY radiator repair or replacement are included in the sections below.
This is a worthwhile investment since a broken radiator can cause your engine to overheat and parts to be melted. With good maintenance, you’ll only have to replace a radiator after 5-8 years of driving your truck.
If your radiator is not working, then this is a problem that you’ll want to fix immediately to prevent your truck from overheating. One of the first steps to fixing the problem is understanding the various components of the radiator. Often a broken radiator can be chalked up to one specific part.
|Cooling System Part||Purpose|
|Radiator||Regulates the temperature of the engine coolant|
|Radiator Fan||Pulls cool air into the radiator from outside the vehicle|
|Radiator Hoses||Circulate coolant between the engine and the radiator|
|Pressure (Radiator) Cap||Help keeps the engine cooling system pressurized|
|Water Pump||Carries coolant from radiator to the engine|
|Thermostat||Controls how much coolant is released into the engine|
Courtesy: Universal Technical Institute
If your engine cooling system is not working correctly, it could be because one of the above parts is in need of repair.
Here are some signs that your radiator may require repair:
- Your truck’s engine is overheating.
- The temperature gauge is jumping back and forth rapidly.
- You notice steam coming from under the hood.
- Your exhaust is white.
- Lower fuel economy
- Coolant is leaking under the vehicle.
DIY mechanics should have little trouble fixing or even replacing their vehicle’s radiator. This is a several step process, so be sure to view the outline of procedures before you proceed.
- Inspect all the individual components to see if the problem can be resolved with a simple replacement part.
- Radiator replacement: Drain the coolant from the radiator into a plastic reservoir.
- Disconnect all the hoses, connectors, bolts and lines.
- Remove the radiator.
- Install the new radiator and add coolant.
- Bleed air from the engine coolant system.
First of all, you’ll need to make sure that you have a mechanic’s toolset, such as the Dewalt 205 Piece Mechanics Tool Set. Other tools needed include a jack and stands and a drain pan for the engine coolant.
It’s essential to look for OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts when you are in need of replacement parts for your engine cooling system.
Radiator Replacement Prevention: Change the Coolant
When it comes to which engine coolant to use, always be sure to consult the owner’s manual of your car for recommendations. You may also need a high-mileage coolant in some scenarios. Regardless, you’ll need to periodically change the coolant to prevent rust and dirt from clogging and damaging the radiator.
How often do you need to change the coolant?
- Any time you notice particles floating in the coolant
- At least every 50,000 miles; some new models may recommend changes every 10,000 miles.
- Pay attention to the freezing temperature of the coolant, as the coolant can freeze during the winter and damage your engine.
You might consider flushing out your radiator every year, or even more often if you put a lot of miles in. You are encouraged to use a radiator flush and cleaner during this process, like the one found here, which removes heavy deposits by drawing out metal oxides.
A broken radiator can turn into a problem that is much worse and more expensive. The radiator is responsible for keeping the truck’s engine from overheating. You can replace the radiator at home, as long as you know which parts to inspect for damage and you have the right tools on hand.