Can I drive my car with a leaky radiator?

Updated July 19, 2017

The radiator is a vital component in keeping a vehicle's engine cool. Driving with a leaky radiator can cause continued coolant loss, engine overheating and potential major damage. Only drive short distances, slowly and with caution, with a leaky radiator.


A car's radiator uses air to remove heat from the engine. Heat from the engine is transferred to coolant or water passing through it. The coolant then flows through a series of coils in the radiator, where oncoming air cools it, before returning to the engine. This prevents the engine from overheating. Driving long distances with a leaky radiator could result in severe engine damage from overheating.


Drive a car with a leaky radiator only as far as the local mechanic or repair shop. Bring extra coolant or jugs of water and monitor engine heat carefully while driving. Make sure to top off coolant before driving. If the engine begins to overheat, pull over and open the bonnet, allowing the car engine to cool before proceeding. Never open the radiator cap when the engine is hot.


Radiator leaks often can be sealed or repaired. Once the radiator has been repaired, make sure to top off coolant levels and monitor the radiator closely for the next few days.

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About the Author

Lindsay Pick has been writing professionally since 2010, when she started blogging at Centsible Pets. A former zoo keeper and animal trainer, Pick makes every attempt to keep her pets from training her. She attended Tulane University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English.