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The modern automobile is a piece of engineering ingenuity. There are so many advanced features, complex circuitry, and gadgets that most of us clearly don’t have a clue what they are for. One of them is the heater core. In this post we’ll try to demystify this component of your car to help you better appreciate its function and what to do in case it goes awry.

From the term itself, a heater core is a device that serves to provide warmth to the cabin of a modern vehicle. This device is just like the radiator in front of your engine and as such is considered as part of your vehicle’s cooling system. It allows for the more efficient dispersion of heat and facilitates the proper and more optimal functioning of your car’s defroster and heater.

How Does a Heater Core Work?

The way the heater core works is dependent on the series of tubes or hoses that connect the different components of your car’s cooling system. A water pump circulates a mixture of water and antifreeze through both your car’s engine and radiator. This allows the radiator to give off or dissipate heat emanating from the engine into the atmosphere. Some of the water-antifreeze solution also gets circulated through heater hoses and into your vehicle’s heater core.

The hot water-antifreeze solution makes its way through the heater core where it gets in contact with fins attached to a variety of tubes inside the heater core. The function of these fins is to increase the overall surface area upon which heat transfer can be maximized. Heat is dispersed from the heater core with the aid of a fan which blows and circulates the dispersed heat throughout the car cabin.

There is another function of the heater core that most people don’t know about. This device aids the car’s air conditioning system in the removal of moisture from the air. This moisture is typically the result of condensation and is generally removed from the cabin by your car’s evaporator coil. The addition of heat from the heater core can significantly reduce the workload of the evaporator coil and improve the overall efficiency of moisture removal from inside your car’s cabin. This can ultimately spell greater comfort for you and your loved ones.

What are the Most Common Issues related to a Heater Core?

We mentioned that the heater core is like a mini radiator typically located behind your car’s dashboard instead of in the engine bay. And if you’re familiar with the structure of a radiator then you know that it’s essentially made up of many tubes. This is exactly the same thing with a heater core. It has a lot of small pipes and tubes with numerous bends. As such the most common problems will be closely related to this general setup of the device.

  • Clogging – This can occur anywhere in the network of pipes and tubes as well as in control valves and other similar components. Clogging almost always occurs because of infrequent changing of the coolant as well as failure to flush the cooling system. Clogging can result in reduced heating efficiency.
  • Leaks – The joints upon which the different components of the car’s cooling system connect to the heater core can also lose their integrity over time causing leaks. This is often signaled by the unmistakable sweet smell of ethylene glycol. In some cases, fogging on the windshield just above the heater vent can also be a sign of a leak in the heater core. It is also possible that you may notice dampness on your car’s floor carpeting or upholstery especially under the dashboard.
  • Corrosion – This is often the result of electrolysis which can, in turn, lead to rupture of the heater core. When this happens, hot coolant will be sprayed directly into the cabin followed by white smoke. If you’re driving when this happens, you had better pull over, open the windows, and get out of the vehicle immediately.

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