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To ensure optimum engine performance, automobile owners have to adhere to a comprehensive car or truck maintenance checklist. Unfortunately, even with such a checklist, many still tend to overlook one of the most critical aspects of the engine – the cooling system. While car owners will check the level of antifreeze in their coolant reservoir, not everyone will perform a timely and correct radiator flush. Your vehicle’s radiator may not be a part of its engine, but it is a critical component in your ride’s cooling system.

Neglecting your truck’s cooling system can ultimately lead to issues in your engine. That being said, flushing the radiator should be performed at least every two years, although some automobile manufacturers would want you to flush the radiator every year. The question remains, however. How do you effectively flush a radiator? Let’s go through the process and check out other car and truck maintenance tips along the way.

car radiator

Prepare Your Vehicle for a Radiator Flush

Flushing your radiator has to start by draining the engine coolant that is present in your vehicle’s cooling system. To do this, you need to park your car in a shade and on flat and even ground. If you took your car for a drive, make sure to cool the engine first. Thirty minutes should cool down your engine. Remember that the engine coolant circulates throughout your engine so if you used your vehicle, this fluid will be extremely hot.

It is also wise to wear protective gear such as safety glasses and rubber gloves. This is more of a precautionary measure in case you spill the antifreeze or engine coolant. You don’t want any of this getting into your eyes or even your skin.

Lift the front end of your vehicle using an appropriate jack. This is to make sure you have better access to the drain plug underneath the radiator. This is also needed to make sure that you can position correctly the drain pan or any other container to collect the engine coolant that you will need to drain. Under no circumstances should you allow the engine coolant to run onto the ground surface or even into a storm drain.

It is also important to check your vehicle’s manual about the amount or volume of coolant that is present in your system. For instance, most cars and trucks with V6 engines will hold about 5.5 quarts of engine coolant while other systems may hold up to 18 quarts. This will give you an idea as to just how much fluid you are going to drain or remove from your vehicle.

Drain the Old Engine Coolant

Once your vehicle’s engine has sufficiently cooled down, you can lift the hood and locate the radiator. This is a good opportunity to check the condition of the radiator including the radiator hoses, clamps and the tubing towards the coolant reservoir. Inspect these components for any sign of wear, cracks, or even rust. If there are any, forego the flushing of the radiator and bring your car immediately to a mechanic for these issues to be fixed first. It would make no sense to flush the radiator and replace the engine coolant if there are existing problems in some of the components. If there are none, then you can proceed to drain the coolant.

Remove the pressure cap located at the top of the radiator. It is often advisable to place a piece of clean rug over the cap just to make sure you don’t burn yourself. The liquid inside may still be hot and this can create pressure on the cap. At least you will have something to protect yourself just in case. Also open the lid on the engine coolant reservoir so you will be able to empty this, too. If you can remove this easily, then do so.

Get under the vehicle and locate the drain plug. If you’re not sure where it is located, you can check your owner’s manual. This plug is typically located in one corner at the bottom of the radiator. Once you’ve identified the location of the drain plug, get your drain pan and position it directly under this plug. Alternatively, you can create your very own funnel with a lengthy hose to convey the drained fluid into another container. Once you’ve got this in place, loosen the drain plug using a socket wrench or a screwdriver, depending on the type of drain plug that is present in your radiator.

Allow the liquid to be drained completely. Once fully drained, try to measure the antifreeze that you have collected. This should be roughly the same in amount to the specifications for your vehicle. If your car manual says your cooling system can hold 2 gallons of coolant, then you should be able to drain more or less that amount.

Put the drain plug back and tighten it. Pour the drained fluids into old plastic containers or jugs. You can also check the guidelines set by your local government on the collection and management of hazardous wastes. Use only containers that local authorities have prescribed. Make sure to label these containers appropriately and place them in an area where your local hazardous waste management facility can take them.

If none is available in your community you can bring the drained coolant to your local automobile shop and check if they can handle such waste.

Flush and Clean the Cooling System

Once you’ve drained the coolant, you don’t replace it with a new one immediately. This is the perfect opportunity to clean your cooling system.

Get a radiator cleaner or radiator flush solution and pour its contents into your radiator. Make sure you have closed and tightened the drain plug underneath; otherwise, you will simply spill this fluid onto the ground. It is best to use a funnel when pouring the contents of the radiator flush so that you can get every last drop of it. Now fill your radiator with distilled water. Again, take note of the volume of the radiator flush solution so you will know just how much water you need to put into the radiator. Alternatively, you can watch the radiator opening for the rising fluid levels.

Put the pressure cap back onto the opening of the radiator and close it tightly. Start your engine and let it idle for a good 5 to 10 minutes. At the same time, switch on your car’s heater to the highest possible setting for at least 5 minutes. During this time the combination of water and radiator cleaner will be circulated throughout the cooling system of your car including the engine and the radiator. This will help remove any residue that may still be present in the system. If you happen to be working inside your garage, you should open the garage door so that exhaust fumes and other volatile gases can escape.

After having the engine and heater run by about 5 to 10 minutes, turn off your engine. Wait about 15 to 30 minutes for it to cool down again. This is a very important step and one that should never be skipped, unless you don’t mind getting scalded by boiling-hot fluids.

Once the engine has cooled enough that it is safe to touch without getting burned, you can remove the radiator pressure cap on top and the drain plug under the radiator. Make sure you have a drain pan or a container with which to catch the fluid you’re about to drain. Depending on the condition of your cooling system, you may notice the drain fluid to be either brown or colored like rust. These are deposits that the radiator cleaner-water solution has removed from your system.

Dispose of the drained fluid properly. Do not let it run off on the ground or get into your storm drain. This contains plenty of harsh chemicals that are not only harmful to the environment, but can also be dangerous to children and pets especially cats and dogs.

Repeat the radiator flushing process, but use distilled water instead. You may also choose to add another container of radiator cleaner if you wish, but this is not really necessary. What you would want to achieve is to keep on flushing your radiator until the fluid that you’re able to drain is as clear and clean as the water that you put in.

So, close the drain plug and fill the radiator with the correct amount of distilled water. Close the radiator pressure cap and turn on your engine. Also switch on your heater to the highest possible setting. Let these two run for another 10 minutes before switching them off. Let your engine cool down for 15 to 30 minutes before draining the fluid again.

Do this several times until the fluid that you see in your drain pan is as clear as water. As such, this stage of flushing your radiator can take several hours to complete with each cycle taking around 45 minutes to accomplish. If the first return flow is already clear, then you don’t have to worry about flushing the radiator again. However, given that your cooling system has never been flushed for the past 2 years or so, then expect to flush your radiator about 2 to 3 times at the minimum.

coolant

Pour In the New Antifreeze

By the time you notice the return flow of water in your radiator is already clear, that’s a sign that you’ve cleaned up your cooling system. Now comes the easy part: replacing your old antifreeze with a new one.

Choose an antifreeze that is recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. Generally, most cars and trucks use an engine coolant with green dye, although there are those that use red. For example, Toyota mostly uses red-colored engine coolant. You may also want to check the type of technology that is put into the antifreeze. Some come with rust and corrosion inhibitors which are originally intended for heavy-duty trucks. Some of these are colored orange.

Check your vehicle manual how much engine coolant you need to pour into your radiator after flushing. Always adhere to such recommendations. If you cannot find such information you can always purchase an engine coolant that is ready to use. These typically come in a 50/50 split between coolant and distilled water. You can also purchase pure engine coolant. However, this should also be diluted using the same 50/50 composition.

To do this you will need to check again the capacity of your vehicle’s cooling system. If the manual says that your cooling system can hold 2 gallons, then that means you need to combine a gallon of distilled water and a gallon of antifreeze. Mix this first in a large container before you slowly pour it into your radiator. Use a funnel so you will not spill any of it onto yourself, the vehicle, or the ground. When using a funnel, make sure to pour the fluid slowly as there is a tendency for the fluid to back up. Watch the fluid level rise until it reaches the fill line in the radiator.

Just like during the radiator flushing stage, you will need to turn on your engine and set the temperature to the highest. Let your vehicle run for a good 15 minutes. This will help circulate the new coolant-water solution throughout your car’s engine cooling system.

After running your engine and the heater for 15 minutes, turn it off and let it cool down. That’s another 30 minutes of waiting. Open the radiator pressure cap and check if the coolant level is still within the fill line of the radiator. If it is less than the level of the fill line, then you should add more coolant-water solution.

Flushing your radiator is relatively easy. The only thing that is quite bothersome is that it is time-consuming especially during the actual radiator flushing step. Other than that, flushing your radiator is a breeze. This is why it should always be included in your car or truck maintenance checklist.

 Sources:

  1. How to Flush a Radiator – wikiHow
  2. How to Put Water In a Car Radiator – howstuffworks

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