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You’ve done all the checks needed and you’ve determined that your cooling system troubles stem from a faulty radiator – now what? You have several options depending on how severe your problem is. Let’s look at how to maintain the radiator, flush it, repair cracks and replace it.

How Do You Maintain a Radiator?

Every car has a maintenance schedule offered by the manufacturer. To care for your system, you want to replace the coolant typically between 25,000 to 40,000 miles. This prevents issues with coolant delivery.

As soon as you notice any trouble with the engine temperature, you want to have the radiator inspected. It’s possible to repair the tank, flush old coolant, replace leaking hoses or swap out the entire radiator.

, How to Replace a Faulty Radiator
To prevent issues with coolant delivery, it’s best to replace the coolant between 25,000 to 40,000 miles.

How Do You Flush a Radiator?

If you think a clog is the problem, you can attempt a radiator flush.

Step 1: Your engine must be cool. Don’t attempt to open the petcock or radiator with a warmed engine. Before performing any work, tap on the radiator to ensure it’s cool.
Step 2: Put your vehicle on jack stands so you can access the bottom of the radiator. Place your container underneath.
Step 3: Open the petcock to drain all of the coolant.
Step 4: Once it is drained, close the petcock. Now, fill the reservoir with water. Run the engine for a few minutes.
Step 5: Run the engine for a few minutes so the water circulates. The engine shouldn’t get too warm.
Step 6: You need to drain the radiator a second time.
Step 7: You want to repeat this flush a couple of times.
Step 8: Once all of the bad coolant is flushed from the engine; you can fill the system with fresh coolant.

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How Do You Seal a Leaky Radiator?

If you find a leak, there are ways to seal it. Try these steps to see if any work for you.

Step 1: Begin by replacing a leaky radiator cap. This is probably the easiest fix you might need.
Step 2: Apply a commercial sealant. This isn’t a permanent fix but merely helps you stop the leak or slow it down long enough to get repairs. Make sure the engine is cool before you pour it in the radiator. Make sure the coolant is topped off.
Step 3: Use epoxy for small cracks. If you see the crack, you might be able to use some epoxy. Make sure you clean the area first. Then, cover the entire crack with epoxy and let it dry overnight before running the car.

, How to Replace a Faulty Radiator
Apply a commercial sealant if you find a radiator leak. This isn’t a permanent solution but helps you stop the leak or slow it down long enough to get repairs done.

Cost to Replace a Radiator

The worst case scenario means you need to replace the radiator. This isn’t a job that everyone can tackle. It requires some expertise and a good amount of tools. Most radiators cost between $200 and $600. If you need someone to replace it, you will need to factor in labor costs as well.

Tools Needed for Radiator Repair

  • Safety glasses
  • Air compressor
  • Flare nut wrench
  • Vacuum fill tool
  • Repair manual
  • Jack
  • Jack stands
  • Protective gloves
  • Pliers
  • Sockets and ratchets
  • Ratchet extension
  • Wrenches
  • Screwdriver

Tips for Replacing a Radiator

Before you begin, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • It’s wise to replace the thermostat and radiator cap anytime you swap out the radiator.
  • You may not need a new radiator. Sometimes clogs can be resolved with a simple coolant flush.
  • Once you’ve completed replacement, you will need to have it checked for leaks.
  • Make sure you inspect the entire cooling system including the radiator hoses.
  • Wear protective gear anytime you work on the cooling system.
  • Don’t attempt to work on your radiator while the engine is hot.
  • Be careful you don’t damage any fins when replacing the car radiator.
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, How to Replace a Faulty Radiator
Don’t attempt to work on your radiator while the engine is hot. Wear protective gear anytime you work on the cooling system.

Steps to Replace a Radiator

If you plan to replace the radiator yourself, these are the steps you will want to follow.

Prepare the Vehicle

Step 1: Raise your vehicle and provide proper support. Use jack stands in the front and wheel chocks in the rear. Don’t forget to apply the parking brake.
Step 2: Drain all of the coolant out of the radiator into an approved container. Remove the car’s lower radiator hose or open the petcock valve.
Step 3: Remove the reservoir hose. You can loosen the hose clamp with a screwdriver or pliers, depending on the design. Then, twist the hose and pull it away from your radiator.
Step 4: Use your pliers or screwdriver to disconnect the upper radiator hose.
Step 5: Take off the lower radiator hose. Use your screwdrivers or pliers and then pull it away from the connection.
Step 6: Push in the tab and pull back to disconnect the cooling fan electrical connector.
Step 7: Take off the cooling fan mounting bolts with a socket, ratchet and extension.
Step 8: Take off your cooling fan.
Step 9: Use your flare nut wrench to remove the transmission cooler lines from the radiator.
Step 10: Remove the mounting bolts on the radiator. Use your socket and ratchet or wrench.

Replacing the Radiator

Step 1: Take out the radiator.
Step 2: Mount your new radiator in the same position.
Step 3: Install the radiator mounting bolts. Tighten them down.
Step 4: Use a flare nut wrench to connect the transmission cooler lines to the radiator.
Step 5: Mount the cooling fan and install the bolts.
Step 6: Install the cooling fan connector.
Step 7: Connect the lower radiator hose and tighten.
Step 8: Connect the upper radiator hose and tighten.

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, How to Replace a Faulty Radiator
Bleed the air out of the system through the bleeder valve, by using a cooling system vacuum fill tool or by running the engine while the radiator cap is off.

Step 9: Attach the radiator reservoir hose and tighten.
Step 10: Fill your radiator with fresh coolant according to manufacturer specs. Make sure the drain petcock is closed before filling.
Step 11: Bleed the air out of the system through the bleeder valve, by using a cooling system vacuum fill tool or by running the engine while the radiator cap is off. Each car has a different procedure, so make sure you check your repair manual for complete instructions.
Step 12: Lower your vehicle.
Step 13: Make sure you always recycle your coolant at a local shop.

Fix Your Radiator Right

Whether you think you can simply replace a cap or you have to install a new radiator, it’s important that you get the job done right. A faulty radiator leads to many other problems and you don’t want the expense.

Time after time, customers came to me at the dealership wondering why they had to replace multiple cooling system parts. In almost every instance, it was due to neglect. When you ignore the first warning signs, you put your entire system at risk. If that’s what you choose to do, then be prepared for the consequences that follow.

Here’s a tutorial video on how to replace your radiator:

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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John F

An excellent How-To article by Brian Jones, explained in detailed steps that are easy to follow. Well-organized with lots of good information. It’s worth a Bookmark.

John F

Because of the high cost of a new Radiator, the last time I had one replaced, I replaced not only the Radiator Cap and Thermostat, but also replaced the Water Pump, upper & lower Radiator Hoses, Heater By-pass hoses and the Serpentine Belt. All of which are crucial to the cooling system working properly.

The cost of all of the extra parts amounted to less than the cost of the Radiator. After that, I had completely new cooling system that would last for many years. I didn’t have to worry about what would break next… the water pump failing or the belt breaking or a hose bursting – any of which could cause sudden engine overheating despite having a new radiator.

In the event that any of these older parts suddenly failed, the best scenario that I could hope for is getting stranded somewhere and having to call for a tow – Just a major inconvenience. The worse case, could be severe engine damage – Now I could have a major repair bill. And having that new radiator wouldn’t help much.

As the author said, “Fix It Right” – one problem leads to another.

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