Can I drive with a car radiator leak?

Signs and symptoms you have a leaking radiator

A leaking radiator is a common automotive issue that can leave you in a dilemma, wondering whether it’s safe to hit the road or if you risk causing further damage to your vehicle. In this article, we’ll explore factors to consider and potential consequences and provide guidance on temporarily driving short distances with a radiator leak or if it’s best to pull over in a safe location and call for assistance. Safety, vehicle longevity, and practical solutions are the most important factors when tackling this issue and are all considered in our suggestions below.

Has your car overheated recently?

If your vehicle is experiencing overheating during normal driving, this is a strong indicator that something might be awry with your cooling system. Overheating is typically the result of coolant leakage, which prevents the cooling system from effectively keeping the engine cool.

Overheating from a coolant leak can damage components within the engine, and if the coolant continues to leak, this issue will only worsen. It’s important to determine the severity of the problem as soon as it’s noticed. We’ll discuss this more in-depth below.

Nip into Natrad where a qualified technician can perform a free cooling system check.


Got a query about a product or need a quote?


Can I drive a car with a radiator leak?

Depending on the severity of the leak, you might get away with driving with a leaking radiator for a short time. Eventually, as your vehicle cycles coolant, the lack of coolant liquid will cause your car to overheat – which will likely damage various engine components. This is why it’s a good idea to stop and inspect the issue as soon as you notice it.


How long can I drive my car without a working radiator?

A car with a broken radiator might drive for only a few minutes before its engine overheats. How long it lasts will depend on how much you work the engine, how fast you drive, how hot the day is and how little coolant is actually inside your cooling system.

You might be able to drive yourself to your nearest mechanic or Natrad workshop even if your coolant leaks, but we suggest you only do this if they’re extremely close by. The longer you drive with a fault in your cooling system, the more time your car has to overheat.

As a temporary fix, you can put distilled water in your radiator to give yourself more driving time. Keep in mind that water is not a healthy replacement for coolant and that it will still be leaking while you drive.

If you’re going to drive to us, then remember to keep an eye on your dashboard temperature gauge to make sure your engine isn’t overheating. If it’s getting too hot, pull over, turn off your engine and let it cool back down again. 

DO NOT pour cold water on a hot engine or radiator. Different materials react differently to rapid temperature changes, and splashing parts in cold water can damage your components.

How does a radiator leak affect the heater core?

A radiator leak can significantly impact your vehicle’s heater core (also known as the heater). Leaking coolant can affect the heater core’s ability to function properly. The heater core is responsible for warming the air that enters your cabin, keeping you at a comfortable, warm temperature.

With a radiator leak, reduced coolant levels can hinder this process, preventing your heater from warming the air and making for uncomfortable driving conditions in colder weather. Promptly addressing radiator leaks is important for maintaining your vehicle’s ability to provide warmth.

Signs and symptoms of radiator leakage

Close up of green fluorescent coolant liquid leaked out from the engine coolant

Some key indicators that your radiator may be leaking include:

  • Temperature gauge reading high or temperature warning light on
  • Overheating
  • Coolant fluid underneath your car (leaving coloured stains on the ground)
  • Sweet smell
  • Low coolant level inside the radiator

Sometimes the leak may be small, and you might be losing coolant slowly. You probably won’t notice the problem until your car overheats if this is the case. It is then a good idea to check your coolant levels regularly to see if it needs a top-up or if it is losing coolant frequently. This can help prevent overheating or alert you to a possible complication early on.

Causes of radiator leakage

There are several reasons why your radiator might be leaking coolant, some more serious than others. If you notice any of these, notify your nearest Natrad immediately:

  1. Radiator cap malfunction: The radiator cap maintains the required pressure inside the cooling system. Without it, coolant may boil over or escape from the radiator.
  2. Broken or disconnected hoses: This one is pretty obvious. Over time, radiator hoses can crack or become disconnected, leading to coolant leaking. This will likely leave a puddle under your car. It is, luckily, a fairly simple fix.
  3. Radiator corrosion: Corrosion breaks down a radiator and causes deterioration in its materials. This can allow coolant to leak where the metal has weakened.
  4. Header tank leak: Sometimes weak stress points, such as where the header tank meets the radiator, can crack or become perforated. This might let coolant escape.

If you’ve identified a car radiator leak, talking to a cooling specialist at Natrad can help determine how serious the leak is. Fixing the issue could be as simple as replacing some hoses or hose clamps or as complicated as replacing major components in the cooling system.

radiator specialist

radiator specialist Radiator specialists

We have the parts and know-how to repair or replace your vehicle's radiator.

If you do need a replacement radiator, Natrad has a high-quality range available to suit numerous vehicles. Contact your local store today to learn more about our 3-year nationwide radiator warranty.