What is thermal shock?

Thermal shock warning signs

Thermal shock can be a cause of failure for radiators, but you typically don’t hear about it these days. We think it’s time you get informed so you can ensure you keep your cooling system in tip top shape.

Radiators, as with other automotive components are tested to withstand certain conditions and often undergo temperature cycling and pressure tests to make sure they can last. In some cases, thermal shock can occur when exposed to extremes. This can severely damage your radiator.

If you’ve noticed some odd behaviour lately, it might be close to failing. Things like overheating, inefficient cooling or coolant leakage are some telltale signs.

So how do you catch the culprit? Read on to find out.

Natrad’s nationwide network of cooling specialists can help diagnose your radiator or cooling system problems. The friendly team can perform a cooling system check and guide you to the right course of action. 

What is thermal shock?

Let’s explore the idea of thermal shock on a basic level. Engines and engine bay components are tested and designed to work under a variety of temperature conditions. Even so, they can become stressed when exposed to extreme temperatures.

Exposure to extreme temperatures, particularly at a high rate of change can be damaging to components like your radiator. This process is known as temperature cycling, where the system cycles between 2 extremes rapidly.

This can sometimes happen in a radiator as hot coolant travels through the radiator tubes. The temperature difference forces the metal to flex and expand – which is known as thermal expansion – and contract once the heat decreases.

If it happens frequently, particularly in a specific area, it can begin to fatigue the material and lead to component failure. This is known as thermal shock. This is commonly found where the tube meets the header plate, resulting in cracks, brittleness or deterioration of the metal.

How does thermal shock look?

There are some physical signs to look out for when thermal shock occurs. You might see the following as key indicators:

  • tube failure where tubes appear disintegrated
  • leaking coolant from where the tube meets the plate
  • cracks or breaks on the tube
  • withered metal around key pressure points (tubes close to the inlet manifold)

Thermal shock symptoms

While there are several reasons that your radiator may have these symptoms, at least knowing what they are may help you pick a problem before it becomes too late. Thermal shock may result in:

  • coolant leakage
  • inefficient cooling
  • physical wearing and brittleness of the metal (particularly at stress points)
  • overheating
  • radiator failure in extreme cases

Most radiators are difficult to repair these days, so if the damage is severe you’re probably looking at a replacement. Natrad can assess the situation and provide you with expert advice on radiator replacement options.

Prevention measures

Now that you know what thermal shock is, how do you prevent it? Here are some simple tips to save you from bucket loads of trouble down the track:

  1. Always use a quality radiator. Adrad’s quality assurance demonstrates that quality manufacturing generally means thermal shock can be avoided. Natrad can supply a large range of high-quality radiators suited to your vehicle. 
  2. Upkeep coolant maintenance to avoid other factors which may accelerate damage and fatigue, such as corrosion or electrolysis.
  3. Regularly check and maintain your cooling system to avoid any other conditions that may contribute to thermal shock damage.

What now?

If your radiator has experienced thermal shock, get in touch with Natrad today for expert assistance and advice from a cooling specialist. There’s a range of radiator options that are highly durable and covered by Natrad’s 3 year nationwide warranty.