Selecting a Radiator – What You Need to Know About Materials

Your radiator is essential to the health of your drive train. Engines and transmissions both rely on radiators to operate at the correct temperature. If they run to hot, serious damage can occur. If they run too cool, your engine won’t be able to get optimal gas mileage and may develop other less common problems. Because of this, it makes sense to purchase a high quality radiator that uses the best core and tank materials possible. What are the best materials? That’s the focus of this article. We’ll examine the recent history of radiator materials, and then explain the benefits – and drawbacks – of modern manufacturing materials.

In the past, radiators were constructed primarily of brass and copper. These radiators were not as strong as modern radiators, nor did they cool as well as modern radiators. Their main benefit is that they are easier to repair than the recently manufactured radiators. This might sound like a major benefit, but any time you repair a radiator, you reduce its ability to cool. Most reputable mechanics would recommend that any time your radiator needs repair that you replace it. The cost difference isn’t great unless you’re repairing the radiator yourself, and your chances of having to make the repair again in the future are mineralized. When costs and benefits are weighed out, replacing a radiator is better than repairing the old radiator.

New radiators, from reputable manufacturers, use aluminum cores. Aluminum radiates heat much better than brass or copper and thus does a better job of cooling. Many times aluminum does such a better job that the number of rows in a core can be reduced with the aluminum core radiator still doing a better job cooling. For example, an application that in the past may have called for 3 rows of copper tubing might only call for 2 rows of aluminum cooling. Vehicle owners benefit from this with weight reduction. 3 rows of aluminum would always be lighter than 3 rows of copper or brass. Reduce the number of rows, and you have some serious weight reduction!

Tank material has primarily switched to plastic. This is both a weight and a cost issue. The thick plastic tanks are every bit as strong as the old copper or brass tanks in regards to holding pressure. Aluminum tanks are also available at an increased cost for many vehicles. Plastic will do the job for most applications; aluminum more than does the job. To be honest, for most applications aluminum is an aesthetic consideration only.

Regardless of core and tank material, production methods and quality control have to be considered. You’re not going to get a tour of the factory where your radiator is made – that’s just the way things are. One thing that indicates the quality of your radiator is the warranty. Quality radiators will come with an excellent warranty, no ifs ands or butts. So how long is an excellent warranty? There are plenty of manufacturers offering 90 day or 1 year warranties. The best radiators come with a lifetime limited warranty. Keep in mind that you should always make sure to keep your radiator fluid at the correct levels and keep good clean fluid in the radiator. No reputable company will warranty abuse, but all reputable companies will warranty their workmanship. So buy a quality radiator made from quality components!