As the heart of your cooling system, the radiator is essential to keeping your Saturn cool. Should it become damaged somehow or start to leak, it's a pretty immediate problem. A leaking radiator can very easily cause your engine to overheat, which will leave you stranded (at the very least) and could possibly cause permanent damage.
Here are the symptoms of a failing radiator and what you need to know about replacement.
Radiator Problem Symptom #1 - Coolant Leakage
If there is a leak or compromise in the radiator, coolant may begin to leak. You may not immediately notice this leak because it can collect on parking lots or be lost as you are driving, so looking for leaks is not the most reliable method for checking the status of your radiator. You should check fluid levels on a regular basis. If the level drops, odds are good there's a leak somewhere.
Of course, if you see coolant on your driveway or in your parking spot at work, that's a pretty good sign there's a leak too.
In terms of finding the leak, you can trace it back by looking for drips. Sometimes, a dye can be used to identify leaks (only this is a process that is typically only used by a repair professional).
Radiator Problem Symptom #2 - Overheating
The radiator is supposed to remove heat from the engine coolant via thousands of cooling fins on the front of the radiator. If there's a problem with the radiator (like a leak, a clog, etc.), the radiator won't be as effective. This, in turn, will lead to high engine temperatures and/or overheating.
Since a failing radiator could lead to severe engine damage, it's important to keep on eye on your vehicle's engine temperature gauge. Also, it's important to note that overheating doesn't automatically mean that the radiator is failing - a faulty thermostat or a leaking radiator cap can also lead to an engine that overheats. Overheating may also be the result of a temperature sensor unit or an electrical problem.
Radiator Problem Symptom #3 - Contamination via Radiator Sludge
Coolant is normally a bright color - depending on your vehicle, it can be green, yellow, or even red. If your coolant looks "muddy" or "cloudy," there may be some sort of contamination. Sometimes, it's just normal discoloration caused by the deterioration of seals and rubber parts. Other times, it's a symptom of corrosion in the cooling system (and potentially a radiator that's filled with sludge).
By itself, muddy or cloudy looking coolant isn't indicative of anything. But if you see that your coolant is contaminated and you're having some trouble with your engine running hot, radiator sludge is a possibility.
- Floor jack
- Two jack stands
- Wheel chock
- Ratchet set
- Socket set
- Open end and box end combination wrench set
- Channel Locks
- Straight screwdriver
- Drain bucket
- Shop towels
- Start by parking on a flat, dry surface and let the engine cool.
- Pop the hood and set the parking brake.
- Put the wheel chock behind the rear tire.
- Lift the hood and take off the radiator cap.
- Jack up one side of the Saturn by the rocker panel. Place the floor jack under the frame rail on the front. Do the same thing with the other side of the vehicle.
- Put the drain bucket under the radiator and release the drain plug on the bottom of the radiator.
- Use the Channel Locks and squeeze the clamp that is on the bottom hose. Slide the clamp backward.
- Use your screwdriver, pry the hose off the radiator and let the coolant drain into your bucket. Clean up any spills. Coolant is poisonous to animals and people.
- Shut the radiator drain valve and move the bucket.
- Lower your Saturn back down.
- Take your Channel Locks and slide the clamp down the hose on the upper radiator inlet hose. Use your screwdriver to pry it off the radiator.
- On an automatic transmission, you need to remove the upper cooler line, the wheelhouse liner on the front left, the splash shield and the lower cooler line.
- Take the cooling fan assembly off the radiator. You can do this by moving the fan shroud up and unsnapping the clips. Move the fan out of the way.
- Take off the air dam retainer.
- If you have air conditioning in your Saturn, then take the condenser bolts off and move the condenser down in order to take the upper mounting tabs off. Put the condenser on the motor. Take the baffles for the radiator off the right and left sides.
- On the right side, take off the push-in retainer that holds the splash shield to the radiator. If you have a manual transmission, you need to do the left side too.
- Use the ratchet and socket to take off the mounts and brackets on the bottom of the radiator. Take off the reservoir overflow line. Tilt the radiator forward, and then lift up to remove it. Take off the air baffle to the upper radiator.
- Put the air baffle onto the new radiator, and tip the condenser forward before inserting the new radiator into place. Align the mount pins on the upper part of the radiator.
- Tighten the brackets and bolts to the bottom of the new radiator.
- Reinstall the splash shield.
- Reinstall the air baffles if your Saturn has air conditioning.
- Slide the condenser back into place and tighten the bolts.
- Put the air dam back in place.
- Put the fan shroud back on and snap the assembly back to the radiator.
- If you have an automatic transmission, then reconnect the transmission lines and tighten them.
- Reconnect the lower and upper hoses back to the radiator. Lift the vehicle again if you have trouble reconnecting the lower hose.
- Reconnect the overflow tube.
- Use a 50/50 mix and refill the radiator. The old fluid may be fine to replace into the new radiator.
- Once you have the radiator filled, start the vehicle and let it run.
You want to let the vehicle run to normal operating temperatures. Watch for leaks or other abnormal behavior. If you need more help or this does not fix the problem, you may need to consult with your local dealership for additional assistance.