The radiator is a key component in the cooling system of your vehicle. The radiator helps prevent overheating by removing excess heat from the engine and transferring it to the air. Radiator fluid, also known as antifreeze, cools the engine by absorbing excess heat and carrying it away from the engine to be cooled by air.
Air pockets in your radiator can cause bubbling. Air is being pushed out of it and into the radiator overflow. If the coolant level is too low or if the cooling system was not appropriately bled when refilling, air bubbles may have been trapped in the cooling system.
There are many reasons why there could be air pockets in your radiator. Some of these reasons include coolant leak, water pump failure, a defective radiator cap and other details I will go over in this blog.
Why Is My Radiator Making Noises and Bubbling?
The radiator cap is a very important part of the cooling system. It allows the pressure in the cooling system to build up to its maximum when the engine is hot. This increases the boiling point of the coolant, which lets it run at a higher temperature without boiling.
The cap also serves as a way for trapped air to escape. When you fill the radiator or replace coolant, some air can be trapped in the cooling system. The cap has a valve that allows air to escape when it reaches a certain pressure (the pressure rating on the cap). This keeps pressure from building up until all of the air is out of the system.
Your radiator is making noise because the air inside is heated, forming bubbles. These bubbles grow so massive that they pop and make an audible sound.
Air trapped in the coolant system can result from several factors. Air bubbles can develop from leaks in your coolant system or faulty parts.
If you put your hand on a well-heated radiator and then take it away, the popping sensation you initially feel comes from the rapidly expanding gas in the bubbles trying to escape.
Radiator bubbling is usually because of overheating caused by low coolant. If the coolant level is low, as you drive the car, the motor heats up, increasing pressure in the system.
When it gets hot enough, the coolant will boil. So, it expands and increases the pressure in the system, causing some to overflow through the radiator cap.
Check for Low Coolant and Leaks
The first thing to do is to check the coolant level and top off if necessary. The coolant should be up to the “full” mark on the side of the reservoir. If the level gets too low, it’ll trigger a warning.
Your coolant levels may decrease due to a leak or evaporation over time. If you don’t top off the coolant, the engine will eventually overheat and possibly cause damage.
If you have a leak in the system, add coolant to keep it full. But if your engine is overheating, and you’re sure there’s no leak, you need to look for other causes.
Release the Air in the Cooling System
If you have air in the system, you need to bleed the air out. There are several ways to do it.
Some cars have a special bleed valve near the top of the radiator – I’ve never seen one, but they’re out there somewhere.
If you’re lucky, you might also have a radiator cap with a pressure relief valve – when it’s closed, it holds pressure in the system and increases boiling point; when it opens, it releases excess pressure and allows air to escape without blowing coolant all over the place.
Another common way is to open the bleeder screws on the engine cylinder head (usually at the front of each cylinder head). Ensure the engine is still warm enough for the coolant to be under pressure and come out of these valves if they’re opened.
Their valves will open and close and finally stay open, which means all the air is purged, and coolant is flowing freely again. When that happens, tighten/close the valves and refill as needed.
Other Potential Causes
A coolant overflow is a sign that your cooling system has excess pressure. A lousy thermostat or radiator cap typically causes this.
When the engine reaches its average operating temperature, the valve should open and allow the coolant to flow through the radiator and back into the machine (i.e., complete the circuit).
These two parts regulate the coolant flow, so if one of them breaks, the entire system will stop working properly.
Radiator Cap and Thermostat Test
Radiator caps relieve pressure if a certain threshold is reached, which is why you need to replace them when they fail.
If the radiator overheats even with the right cap, you need to check your thermostat.
The thermostat opens at around 95 °C (203 °F). If it opens too soon, the coolant will start flowing through the radiator before it reaches its operating temperature, which will bring the engine’s temperature below what it needs to be.
As a result, your engine will use less fuel than expected, which could mean worse gas mileage and lower power production.
In severe cases, it can lead to costly repairs such as head gasket replacements or even replacing the whole engine and cooling system.
If this isn’t happening due to a faulty thermostat, steam will form in the engine and force its way out of any available opening—in this case, the radiator cap.
Engine Temperature Sensor Malfunction
If the sensor is malfunctioning, it’ll send an incorrect signal to the vehicle’s computer, and this can cause it to over or under-compensate for actual operating temperatures.
Be very cautious when you remove the radiator cap to check the coolant level. If your engine has been overheating, pressure may have built up in the cooling system, and you risk being burned by the hot coolant.
Never remove the radiator cap immediately after turning off an overheated engine; wait until it has cooled down.
Your engine temperature sensor is the most critical in your engine. Without it, you can’t get the right mixture of air and fuel to give your machine the best power while maintaining a safe operating temperature.
The engine coolant temperature sensor is on your cylinder head, usually below the intake manifold runners, and screws into the head.
It communicates with your computer and tells how hot or cold your engine is through electrical resistance. The hotter it gets, the higher the resistance; colder temps allow for more current to flow through it.
You have two hoses connected to your radiator: one carries hot liquid in and the other carries cooled liquid out. The thermostat between these two hoses enables proper water circulation throughout the car. It also prevents coolant from circulating when it’s not yet necessary (hot or cold weather).
Final Culprit: Water Pump
The coolant can’t flow properly through your engine and radiator if something happens to your water pump. As a result, heat can’t escape from your engine as quickly as possible.
The water pump’s job is to pump water throughout the cooling system to transfer heat away from the combustion chambers (cylinder). It moves this heat (which is now trapped in the liquid) out to your radiator, where fins help dissipate this heat into the wind created by driving down the road.
A faulty water pump can cause problems with your cooling system because the engine’s heat can’t go to the radiator to cool down.
Bubbles mean that air is being pushed out from the radiator into your overflow tank. If there isn’t enough coolant in your system or it isn’t appropriately bled when refilling, air bubbles may be trapped in your cooling system.
Pressure will begin to build up in your system due to the heat, so you get gurgling and bubbling sounds as a result of overheating.
Insufficient coolant in your radiator can cause overheating, eventually leading to engine damage.