Without a doubt, truck radiators are among the most important engine component in a truck or other heavy-duty vehicle. A fully working radiator is a necessity to prevent heat buildup within the engine which can cause engine overheating problems. The radiator needs to be in top working condition to ensure the engine is kept in the normal operating temperature range for its performance and longevity. Having an idea of the usual causes of problems can help owners and operators make their radiators last even longer.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how long radiators are expected to last, what problems can shorten their lifespan, and how to maintain them for long-term performance.
Tips for Extending Your Radiator’s Lifespan & Performance
I. How Long Do Truck Radiators Last?
This is a difficult question to answer because there are many different radiator designs. Also, the treatment of the vehicle and its engine will have a big impact on the lifespan of the radiator.
It’s safe to say that a new radiator should last for many years if there is no physical damage.
As for how long it could last, one of the big factors is what material the radiator is made from. Original truck radiators were made from copper and brass and designed for longevity. These can, with proper cleaning and maintenance, last as long as the truck or vehicle they are installed on.
Today, the Original Equipment (OE) vehicle manufacturers are typically using lighter materials because of the high cost and weight of copper and brass, usually manufacturing radiators from aluminum and plastic and mounting inside a steel metal frame. The new aluminum/ plastic radiator construction may not necessarily result in them lasting as long as a traditional copper and brass Bolt-On style radiator, however, they are significantly lighter to help with increased payloads and improved fuel economy.
Dura-Lite’s aluminum/plastic radiator construction details, such as fiber reinforced tanks, heavier gauge headers, and an extra header stiffening plate, positively affects the radiator service life. Our heavy-duty truck radiators have a higher efficiency core design and reinforced tubes so that there is extra strength where it is needed most. Dura-Lite headers include extra deep crimp tabs, reinforced tank crimp area on the tanks and extra stainless-steel outer crimp strips used to reinforce applications with traditional style crimp designs.
Dura-Lite’s traditional style Bolt-On steel copper/brass heavy-duty truck radiators offer the same quality components as OE with additional structural support, additional header corner supports, a powder coated heavy gauge steel frame, heavy gauge copper fins, thick wall brass tubes, and heavy solder reinforced tube-to-header joints. These improvements help improve the radiator service life and make them better than the original equipment. Some of our bolt-on steel copper/brass radiators are also available with extra high efficiency core and dimpled tubes for better cooling.
In general, it’s worth investing in a well-built radiator since it can help extend the life of your engine. If the radiator is leaking, the engine can start overheating and catastrophic failure may not be far off. At a minimum your vehicle may be stranded on the side of the road, and you will end up with an expensive towing and repair bill.
II. What Problems Will Shorten Truck Radiators’ Lifespans?
The best way to extend the life of your radiator is to properly maintain it and avoid things that could unnecessarily damage it. These are some of the most common problems which can harm a radiator:
1 – Inadequate coolant
The single most common reason a radiator would fail early is if it either doesn’t contain enough coolant, or else the mixture is wrong for the engine. In either case, this causes the radiator to corrode quicker affecting the cooling performance and reducing the freeze protection.
Regularly checking your truck’s coolant level and temperature protection (freeze point) is a must-do, for protecting the engine and extending the radiator’s lifespan. Also, if you’re ever in doubt about the right type or mixture of coolant to use, be sure to check the engine manual before buying. Guessing wrong could become a very expensive mistake!
2 – Corrosion
Another common problem among some radiator types is corrosion within the main core of the radiator. This is most often caused by the operator using water as a stopgap coolant if they’re in a situation where they have no access to proper coolant. This can work for a very short time, such as driving to a shop, but it should not be done often, and the coolant lines should be flushed afterward to get the water out.
Otherwise, be aware of the possibility of coolant leaks. If you smell coolant or see it dripping under your truck, this is a serious problem that should be taken care of immediately. Don’t drive the truck any further than is absolutely necessary until the leak is fixed.
3 – Bent or broken fins
The fins on the radiator are an important feature because they increase its surface area and allow it to dissipate more heat, more quickly. However, these fins are relatively fragile. They’re easily bent or broken.
If the fins are broken off entirely, that will degrade radiator performance – although you would need to have a lot of broken fins for this to truly become a problem. Bent fins can be a bigger issue because they can impede the flow of air through the radiator core. So, be aware of the state of the fins in your radiator, and don’t let them become damaged.
III. Common Warning Signs of Failing Truck Radiators
Truck radiators rarely break down all at once without any warning. Generally, there will be indications of problems before things get serious. We already mentioned the possibility of coolant leaks, which can be seen and smelled. Here are some other warning signs:
1 – Engine overheating warnings
If the radiator is failing, it may cause the engine to overheat. If your cab instruments are often reporting the engine as running too hot, or near the red line, the radiator is one of several likely causes of the problem.
2 – Contaminated coolant
The coolant color in any given vehicle can be a wide range of colors. The color depends on the manufacturer and application. The two key points are to make sure the antifreeze is the right type for your vehicle and that it is clean.
Coolant can be contaminated from impurities in the system which will build up over time. If the coolant looks rusty or has begun to turn a dark oil like color, it may have become contaminated and should be replaced. It would also be a good idea to have your radiator inspected and tested at the same time since there may be a larger issue.
3 – The in-cab heater isn’t working properly
Most truck heaters work in part by converting the heat from the engine coolant system into hot air through the heater core inside the cab. If the radiator, heater core, and/or heater lines are obstructed, it may interfere with the proper operation of the heater.
However, this isn’t always a sign of radiator problems. The heating system is complicated enough that there are multiple potential points of failure. This is still an issue that should be checked into, just in case.
Dura-Lite Truck Radiators Are Built to Last!
For almost thirty years, Dura-Lite has specialized in building excellent heavy-duty radiators, charge air coolers, and associated testing tools. Our expertise has led to us being trusted by over 2500 shops and dealerships across North America, Mexico, and Australia, especially for trucks in need of heavy-duty cooling protection.
Contact us today for charge air coolers and more!
If you’re in need of a new charge air cooler or heavy-duty radiator, find your exact replacement in our catalog with the OE part number or your vehicle make, model, and year. For more, contact us online or call (800) 661-1117.