Automotive Radiators

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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Automotive radiators are charged with one of the most critical tasks your car must perform: cooling your engine. Your radiator's ability to do this directly affects the life of your engine, for overheating can lead to a myriad of maintenance problems, some mild, others more severe. In a worst-case scenario, a malfunctioning radiator can lead to total engine meltdown, even when weather conditions outside are fair.

Radiators work by transferring the heat generated through combustion to coolant flowing through their tubes. This heat is then led away from the chamber to the radiator, where it is dispersed and fed back into the system via the engine's water pump. In this fashion, a car's heating and cooling system simply recycles the energy it creates.

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The more coolant that is in contact with the radiator's aluminum tubes, the better that radiator is at dissipating heat. To this end, many radiators include devices called "turbulators" that help shake up the flowing coolant to ensure its uniform distribution through the tubes. This allows more of the hot coolant to coat the tubes, thereby maintaining a higher overall temperature inside them, which in turn raises the system's "heat-exchange" capabilities and more effectively cools the engine.

Not all automotive cooling systems use fluid, though. Older cars in particular use air-based cooling systems that mix heat from the engine with air blown over its grooved channels by a separate fan. Coolant is unnecessary in such setups, which are almost nonexistent in modern cars and trucks and merely vestiges from the "Golden Age" of manufacturing.


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