A radiator cap is a small device that sits on top of your radiator. It’s responsible for regulating the pressure in your cooling system and keeping the coolant from boiling over. However, when the radiator cap goes bad, it can cause all sorts of problems for your car, which can manifest in several ways.
Here are 9 bad radiator cap symptoms:
- Your radiator cap is leaking coolant.
- The engine is overheating.
- The radiator hose has white residue.
- The coolant reservoir is overflowing.
- The temperature gauge is moving upward.
- The engine is billowing steam.
- The radiator hose has collapsed.
- There is air inside the cooling system.
- Rust on the radiator cap.
In this article, I’ll describe each of these symptoms in detail and explain what it means for your car. If you suspect your radiator cap is damaged, keep reading to learn the various signs that this is the case.
1. Your Radiator Cap Is Leaking Coolant
A radiator cap leaking coolant is one of the tell-tale signs of a bad radiator cap. If you notice a puddle of fluid under your car, then there’s a good chance the radiator cap is to blame.
If your car is leaking coolant, it’s essential to get the problem fixed as soon as possible. Leaking coolant can cause your engine to overheat, and it could also damage other components of your car.
2. The Engine Is Overheating
If your engine is overheating, there’s a good chance that the radiator cap is at fault. When the radiator cap fails, it can’t regulate the pressure in the cooling system properly, leading to an increase in temperature.
If your engine is overheating, it’s essential to take your car to a mechanic as soon as possible. Overheating can cause extensive damage to your engine and potentially lead to a total breakdown.
3. The Radiator Hose Has White Residue
White residue on your radiator hose typically means the radiator cap is bad. It’s left over from coolant that has boiled over and can cause all sorts of problems if not cleaned up, so be sure to clean it off as soon as possible. If left unchecked, the residue can cause the hose to corrode and eventually break.
4. The Coolant Reservoir Is Overflowing
The coolant reservoir is a crucial part of your cooling system. It’s responsible for holding the coolant until the engine needs it. However, if the reservoir is overflowing, it’s likely the radiator cap is bad.
If you spot this symptom of a bad radiator cap, you should take your car to a mechanic as soon as possible. Overflowing coolant means the engine receives less cooling fluid, leading to overheating.
5. The Temperature Gauge Is Moving Upward
If the temperature gauge moves upward, the radiator cap is likely bad. This means the coolant isn’t being held in the system, thus, it escapes through the radiator cap.
As a result, the engine overheats, causing the temperature gauge to move upward. If you see this symptom, it’s vital to replace the radiator cap as soon as possible.
Read: Why Car Overheats?
6. The Engine Is Billowing Steam
If you see steam coming out of the hood of your car, it’s possible that the radiator cap is damaged. When the radiator cap fails, the coolant can escape from the system. This can cause the engine to overheat and billow steam.
If you see steam billowing out of your car, it’s essential to take it to a mechanic as soon as possible. An increase in engine temperature poses the following problems to your car:
- Reduced fuel efficiency. When the engine is running too hot, it becomes less efficient and burns more fuel.
- Premature engine failure. If the engine temperature gets too high, it can cause the engine to fail prematurely.
- Reduced performance. When the engine is running too hot, it can also reduce your car’s performance.
- Damage to the engine internals. If the engine temperature gets too high, it can damage the engine’s internal components.
7. The Radiator Hose Has Collapsed
A collapsing radiator hose is another sure-fire sign that your radiator cap is broken. When the pressure in the cooling system becomes too high, the hose can burst under strain.
If you see this symptom, it’s crucial to replace the radiator cap as soon as possible. A collapsed radiator hose can prevent coolant from getting to the engine, leading to overheating.
8. There Is Air Inside the Cooling System
Air inside the cooling system is a tell-tale sign of a bad radiator cap. When the pressure in the system exceeds the radiator cap’s capacity, it can allow air to enter the system.
As a result, you may encounter any of the following problems:
- The engine overheats
- The engine doesn’t run as smoothly as it should
- The car’s performance is reduced
- The engine stalls
9. Rust on the Radiator Cap
If you see rust on your radiator cap, it’s a clear sign that it needs to be replaced. The rust can prevent the cap from sealing properly, leading to coolant loss and overheating.
Note: If you’re experiencing any of these bad radiator cap symptoms, it’s time to replace your cap. Not only can a faulty cap cause your engine to overheat, but it can also lead to coolant leaks and other serious problems. So don’t wait – replace your radiator cap to keep your engine running smoothly.
How Quickly Do Radiator Caps Go Bad?
Radiator caps go bad every 5 years in normal conditions and with regular maintenance. However, if the car is in a dusty or dirty environment, radiator caps may wear-out more quickly. Extreme hot or cold weather can also cause the cap to deteriorate more rapidly.
If you notice your engine heating up too quickly, or if you constantly have to top off the radiator fluid, then it’s probably time for a new cap.
The Bottom Line: It’s a good idea to replace the cap every 5 years, even if it doesn’t appear damaged, to keep your car running efficiently.
How To Clean a Radiator Cap?
Cleaning a dirty, malfunctioning radiator cap could help to get it working correctly, again. Yet, at that point, it’s usually best to replace it to help avoid any future problems with the cooling system.
However, keeping a radiator cap clean helps to keep it working correctly for longer, and luckily, it’s very easy to do.
Here’s how to clean a radiator cap:
- Allow the radiator to cool down before cleaning the cap, if necessary.
- Soak the cap in a bowl of hot, soapy water.
- Use a soft cloth to scrub away any built-up dirt or residue, taking care not to cause any damage.
- Rinse the cap thoroughly with warm water.
- Allow the cap to dry completely before replacing it on the radiator.
Tips for Maintaining a Radiator Cap
To maintain your radiator cap, follow these guidelines:
- Regularly check the cap for signs of damage or wear
- If the cap is damaged, replace it immediately
- Keep the cap clean and free from dirt and residue
- Replace the radiator cap every 5 years
How To Test a Radiator Cap?
Testing a radiator cap is an easy, straight-forward process. The only equipment needed is a pressure tester. If you don’t already have one, I recommend this AutoWanderer Tool Radiator Pressure Tester from Amazon.com. It’s compatible with most radiator caps and is easy to use.
To test a radiator cap, follow these steps:
- Unscrew the radiator cap.
- Attach the pressure tester to the radiator cap.
- Pump the pressure tester until it reaches the recommended pressure level.
- Watch for any leaks around the radiator cap.
- If the radiator cap doesn’t hold pressure, replace it.
If you’re not sure how to test your radiator cap, here’s a tutorial that may simplify the process: