The internal combustion engine is somewhat amazing, but it's far from perfect. In fact, the process of converting fuel into mechanical energy is somewhat inefficient. When fuel combusts in the engine, it helps drive the car forward - this is mechanical energy. Yet these controlled explosions also generate a fair amount of heat, and this is a problem.
The car's cooling system is tasked with dissipating this heat in order to keep the engine stable. Engines that overheat can be a serious headache for owners, as they'll likely find themselves on the side of the road and faced with a big repair bill. That's why it's important that all drivers take the time to understand how their car's radiator works, as this critical part is what keeps their car going for long periods of time.
Engines run best at a certain temperature - about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Modern engines can hit the optimal temperature with excellent accuracy. This temperature ensures the oil moves at the correct speed, metal parts don't begin to wear down and fuel is vaporized quickly and efficiently.
Most modern vehicles use coolant in order to achieve this temperature. Amateur mechanics who go to work on their engines shouldn't be fooled by the name - coolant gets extremely hot. That's because the coolant's job is to absorb the excess heat in the engine and move it through the cooling system. Water is actually quite excellent at doing this, which is why most coolant is 50 percent water. The other half of the coolant is antifreeze, which improves the freezing and boiling points of the water so it can handle temperature changes without causing issues.
Since coolant moves heat away from the engine, those looking under the hood will likely find a tangle of hoses traveling all through the engine compartment. These hoses are what the coolant travels through. Obviously, these are extremely important when it comes to maintenance - a leak or crack in these hoses can mean bad news for your engine. Many car owners even choose to replace these hoses preemptively, as they'd rather pay for an inexpensive new hose than have to deal with a coolant leak later on.
The radiator is the key component of the cooling system. Coolant eventually travels through the hoses to the radiator, which essentially works as a heat exchanger. The radiator has tubes inside it that conduct heat. When the coolant touches these tubes, it transfers the heat from the engine. The cooling system is a circuit, so the coolant (now cold), will continue on back to the engine, where it can pick up more heat. Meanwhile, the radiator takes the heat from the tubes and dissipates it into the air.
One piece of advice that drivers may have heard is that they can prevent an engine from overheating by opening all the windows and turning the fan on full blast. While not foolproof, it is true that the heat inside the car is a direct result of the cooling system. The car's interior fans act as a secondary way to dissipate heat into the air. This also ensures that drivers can stay warm in the wintertime - they're essentially taking the heat from right inside the engine. A broken heating system probably won't cause trouble for your radiator - it works fine in the summer with the fan off, after all, but it is something that drivers should keep in mind, even if they reason that they won't need it for a few more months.