How Does Your Heater Core Keep You Warm in the Winter?
Your vehicle's heating system is relatively simple and efficient. Instead of using electricity or extra fuel to convert to heat, it instead uses the waste heat generated by your engine to keep the cabin warm. Turning on your heat allows warm coolant to cycle through your car's heater core. The heater core functions as a radiator by extracting heat from the coolant for use in the cabin.
Although there are certainly more components involved in any modern vehicle heating system, the heater core is the star of the show. Without it, your car's heater would fail to function at all.
Heater Core Essentials
If your heating system is working well, then you should ideally never need to see or think about your car's heater core. You can find it buried deep within the dash in most vehicles, making replacement a challenging job at best. Depending on your car's make and model, accessing the heater core may require disassembling and removing the entire dashboard.
Despite the work required to reach it, the heater core itself is not an intricate component. Most heater cores consist of a metal coolant line surrounded by fins. Warm coolant from the engine flows through the heater core's inlet side, releasing heat into the cabin before flowing back out through the outlet side.
The Signs of Trouble
Heater cores may be simple components, but they are not immune to failure. Like any part of the engine cooling system, constant exposure to coolant can lead to problems. In some vehicles, corrosion of the internal coolant line is a common problem. When this occurs, your car's coolant can leak from the heater core into the cabin.
Depending on the severity of the leak, you may or may not notice coolant on your vehicle's floor. Small leaks may quickly evaporator before dripping onto the floor. With minor leaks, you may see a film of coolant developing on your windshield or the smell of coolant whenever the heater is on. Never ignore these symptoms since they can quickly progress to a much messier problem for your interior.
Heater cores may also become clogged if your car's coolant is contaminated. This situation usually occurs if you do not flush your coolant often enough or if another part of the system is degrading. Clogged heater cores not only cause you to lose your cabin heating but may also cause your engine to overheat.
Dealing With Heater Core Problems
In most cases, the only option for dealing with a bad heater core is to replace the entire unit. For clogged cores, replacing your coolant and flushing the system may resolve the issue. Because of the difficulty of removing most heater cores, you should consider hiring vehicle heating repair technicians.