An automobile engine wastes a lot of energy in the form of heat. Left unchecked, that heat can build up and start damaging not only the engine itself, but the surrounding parts. It's important, then, that temperature of your car's engine be kept below a certain level. That job falls to the coolant system, which pumps coolant -- usually water mixed with ethylene glycol (aka antifreeze) -- through the engine to absorb the heat. Once it becomes heated, the water is circulated back to the radiator, where the heat is transferred to the cooling fins and radiated into the air. This cools the water and antifreeze mixture, which can then repeat its journey through the engine.

Without a radiator to remove the heat from the coolant, your car would quickly overheat and the engine would begin to destroy itself. So having a working radiator in your car is essential to the vehicle's proper operation. But how long can you expect your radiator to continue doing its job? Most auto mechanics feel that a properly maintained radiator should last for at least eight to 10 years. Older metal radiators, when well maintained, can last for the life of the car, but modern radiators are mostly made from plastic rather than metal, and plastic expands and contracts as the radiator heats and cools. Over time this leads to cracks, though it's rare for this to happen in less than a decade.

To achieve the maximum lifetime for your radiator, it's important to have the coolant system flushed out as often as your car's manual suggests, so that the water and antifreeze mixture continues to flow properly. And, of course, make sure that the radiator always contains the proper level of coolant, since coolant can escape when the radiator overheats. If you frequently find that the level of coolant is too low it may mean that you have a leak. Take the car to a mechanic to have a look at your cooling system.

Other potential problems include rusty hose clamps, corrosion to the aluminum core and problems with the thermostat that regulates coolant flow. Thermostat problems will cause frequent overheating, which is a problem you should have checked out as quickly as possible.

Take good care of your radiator and it should be with you for quite a long time -- maybe even the entire life of your car.

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