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Is It Okay To Drive a Car With a Leaking Radiator?

Driving with a leaking radiator is a dangerous operation and will cause your engine to overheat. If you are driving down the road and notice your engine is overheating, we recommend you pull over immediately and let the vehicle cool down.
Is It Okay To Drive a Car With a Leaking Radiator?
Is It Okay To Drive a Car With a Leaking Radiator?

Within our role as your go-to automotive service provider in Winchester, we frequently get questions from conscientious customers looking to take care of their vehicles. Things like, “When should I replace my timing belt?” or “Is there something wrong with my suspension?” or “How can I prevent a transmission repair?” These are just the kind of questions we love to answer, because a little attention and preventive maintenance can significantly prolong the life of your car, and save you money. Which brings us to this one: Can I drive my car with a leaking radiator? 

You Can Drive with a Leaking Radiator, But You Shouldn’t

First of all, a warning: Never touch a hot radiator! Absolutely never try to remove the cap of one. When your radiator overheats, pressure builds up. The resulting rush of steam and hot coolant can cause third degree burns and permanent scarring.

Now, the short answer to the question is: Yes. But there are very real dangers to driving with a leaking radiator, both to you and your vehicle.

Driving with a radiator leak is a dangerous operation, as it will very likely cause your engine to overheat. If you are driving down the road and notice your engine is overheating, we recommend you pull over immediately and let the vehicle cool down. While it’s cooling, call us to schedule an appointment. We can quickly pressure test your system, identify the issue, and repair it.

Depending on how bad your radiator leak is, stopping might be the only safe option. If you must drive there are a couple of tricks you can use in order to prevent further damage to your car. These aren’t a replacement for fixing your radiator–these are just emergency measures to buy you a little extra time and help you move short distances.

1) Turn Up The Heater

The heater in your vehicle cycles coolant through a heater core to blow warm air through the cabin. The heater core is a heater exchanger, so by turning on the heat in the car you allow the remaining coolant to work more efficiently.

Basically, the coolant that’s left can work better at cooling your engine down by shedding excess heat faster. It can buy you a little more time if your leak isn’t too severe.

2) Add Coolant to the Radiator

Before driving, check your coolant levels and fill up your coolant if needed. If you have coolant with you, make sure it’s a coolant mixture, such as 50/50 antifreeze and water. Antifreeze alone can damage your cooling system.

If you can’t find any coolant, distilled water will work in a pinch. Places like Walmart have distilled water. If you’re really in a jam, just regular water will do, but it can carry contaminates that may cause damage later on. It’s also important to know that water alone won’t cool your engine as efficiently, so this option is a short term, emergency solution only.

Just remember, don’t try to add coolant if your radiator is steaming! Remember the warning NOT to touch a hot radiator. Your radiator must be completely cool before you can open the cap and add coolant.

Keep The Drive As Short As Possible

If you have to drive with a leak, keep the drive as short as possible, preferably to a safe location where you can diagnose and assess the severity.

At Mission Auto Repair we exist to be your go-to automotive service provider in Winchester, performing auto repairs with accuracy and integrity while supporting our community by helping those in need.

“Mission Auto was fantastic. I brought my truck in and they were able to find and diagnose my truck rather quickly, even though they had a full schedule. Prices are fair, and the people there are very friendly.” – Samuel H.