Even amateur mechanics know that engines get quite hot when they're being used, and the summertime can cause these temperatures to rise even further. That's why so much depends on a vehicle's cooling system, which includes the radiator.
The way the radiator works is actually quite simple. Much like radiators found in homes, the radiators in your car give off heat. The heat is transferred from the engine to the radiator through coolant. That coolant is constantly cycling through a system of hoses, going from the engine to the radiator and back again.
Anyone who has ever worked with a garden hose knows that one small leak can cause problems. Fortunately, the radiator hoses in your vehicle are quite a bit tougher than your average garden hose. That being said, it's not just handling water - often the coolant traveling through hoses is very hot. Over time, it's natural for these hoses to break down and begin to spring small leaks.
Responsible car owners need to stay on top of their radiator hoses, as these leaks can ultimately cause major problems for your vehicle. The hose is pretty cheap to replace, but dealing with an engine that's overheated due to a coolant leak will not be easy on your bank account.
Whenever dealing with the radiator, make sure the car is off, and the engine has not been turned on for at least an hour. Not every part of the vehicle gets hot while the car is running, but the radiator certainly does. Think of touching any part of the radiator or its hoses as similar to touching the engine itself, as it's taking all the heat out of there.
With the engine off, locate the upper and lower radiator hoses. Your owner's manual can show you the exact location of these parts, though the lower hose especially may be a bit difficult to get to. Inspect the entire hose for any wear. One frequent problem with radiator hoses are small pinholes that open up in the rubber. These might be very small, but over time they can leak a large amount of coolant.
If you've inspected the hoses and everything looks good, be sure to check your coolant levels to ensure they're okay. If your your coolant is low, you might want to turn on the engine. This will allow you to see if there is any coolant leaking out as it begins cycling through the hoses. Be very careful when doing this, however - don't get too close, as a leak could spray burning hot coolant everywhere. You may want to look into certain coolant additives that will highlight where leaks may be.
In the case of a small leak or pinhole, there are certain products you can find at any auto parts store that will travel to the leak and seal it up. However, you might want to consider simply replacing the radiator hoses altogether. Hoses are not all that expensive, and the problem will be completely taken care of. The quick leak fixes may work, but they should be thought of as temporary rather than permanent solutions.
Even if you don't spot any problems with your radiator hoses, it might be a good idea to replace them anyway, especially if you've owned the car for awhile and have never replaced them. As previously stated, a bad radiator hose can easily overheat an engine very quickly, so a new hose will pay for itself if it helps you avoid a breakdown.