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What Is A Radiator Fan And Why Is It Important?

A radiator fan helps keep your car's engine from overheating. Depending on the size and shape of the radiator, your VW will have one or two cooling fans that draw air through the radiator and helps keep the engine operating at the right temperature. The fan really makes a difference when your car is sitting in traffic or idling for long periods of time. Without a radiator fan, your car would overheat and eventually break down.

Why Does My Car Need A Radiator Fan?

Your car uses coolant or antifreeze to keep the engine from overheating. The coolant circulates through the engine and is then cooled when it passes through the radiator. When the weather is cold or the car is moving the radiator can provide sufficient cooling on its own. However, in hotter weather or when the car is stopped with the engine running, it needs the radiator fan to draw air through the radiator.

Where Is The Radiator Fan Located?

VW radiator fan

Image Credit: HumbleMechanic

The radiator fan is located behind the radiator between the car's grille and engine. It may be hard to see because it's encased in a plastic or metal shroud. The shroud serves two purposes. It offers protection for you and from debris when it's running and helps maximize airflow through the radiator.

You will probably hear the fan when it's running. It makes a whirring noise similar to an air conditioner or fan in your house.

How Does The Radiator Fan Work?

The radiator fan creates airflow by pulling air through the radiator which cools the engine coolant. Some fans run off a pulley hooked up to a serpentine belt but most cars today have electric fans which are powered by the car's electrical system. In some cases, the radiator fan may use a thermostat switch to cycle on and off as needed instead of running constantly.

What Happens If The Radiator Fan Stops Working?

OEM volkswagen radiator fan

If the radiator fan stops working, your VW will eventually overheat and cause one or more problems:

  • The coolant or antifreeze will get hot enough to boil and put too much pressure on your cooling system. When this happens it can cause coolant hoses or the radiator to spring a leak.
  • If the engine gets too hot the oil lubricating its internal moving parts starts to break down, losing its viscosity. The high temperature and oil breakdown create more friction on the engine's internal moving parts causing damage and excessive wear.
  • Run the engine too long in this condition and eventually the friction will cause the internal moving parts to seize up. If you've ever heard of an engine "throwing a rod" or having a "spun bearing" it's most likely due to overheating and/or running out of oil.
  • Extreme temperatures can also crack the engine block with our without the internal moving parts seizing up. If the engine block is cracked, the whole engine will most likely need to be replaced costing thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars.

How Can I Tell If My Radiator Fan Needs To Be Replaced?

Image Credit: HumbleMechanic

There are several common signs of a failing radiator fan:

  • The fan stops working completely, even when the car is parked and running.
  • Your car's temperature gauge runs much higher than normal.
  • Your car overheats while stopped in traffic.

One common misconception is that when the radiator fan fails the air conditioning stops working. Air conditioning issues are completely unrelated to radiator fan issues because the air conditioner is a completely separate system in your car. For help on how to troubleshoot air conditioner issues, check out this guide.

If you need a new radiator fan or have other questions about your car's cooling system, call or contact us online! Our experienced parts staff will help you get the right radiator fan for your Volkswagen. We have a no-hassle return policy and will do free parts lookups for you.