You thought the puddle under your car was just A/C condensation until the temperature gauge went into the red. Now you’re stuck with having to fill up your busted radiator every day or paying a mechanic an arm and a leg to replace it for you.
Replacing a radiator is not as tough as you think. You should be able to replace your car radiator yourself with the right tools and a bit of effort. I don’t consider this to be a major repair. Radiator replacement time should be an hour or two.
Automotive cooling systems rely on radiators to keep your engine cool. Coolant is pumped through parts of the engine to pull off excess heat. Hoses take that water to the radiator where the heat is dissipated by air running over the radiator’s surface. When your radiator has even the smallest crack coolant leaks out and your engine is in danger of overheating.
While every vehicle is different when it comes to radiator replacement there are some universal steps that will apply to every model. Follow these 7 simple steps to get back on the road in no time.
Gather a few things before you start:
- Radiator replacement parts (make sure you either keep the cap from your old radiator some replacements don’t come with a radiator caps)
- A clean drain pan
- Pliers or a screwdriver (to remove radiator clamps and hoses)
- A Socket wrench
Lift up the front of the car with a jack and jack stands or by driving it up onto ramps. Some parts may be easier to reach from underneath.
Allow your car time to cool before you begin to work on it.
1. Drain the radiator
The first thing you’ll have to do is drain the coolant from the radiator. Make sure you have the drain pan handy. It’s unlikely that your leak has drained the system completely.
The first thing you will be looking for is the drain plug on the radiator. Most plugs screw off by hand but some will require you to remove a bolt. Unscrew the plug to drain the coolant from the radiator. Make sure you have your pan ready to catch the coolant as it leaks out.
2. Remove parts blocking access to the radiator
Some cars have radiator covers, remove it by taking out the bolts that are holding it in place. You can also unhook the radiator reservoir hose and remove it if it is close to the radiator and will get in the way when you are ready to pull it out.
If the cooling fan is blocking access to the radiator, you’ll need to remove it: First, unplug the electrical connector. Then locate and loosen all the brackets holding the fan in place. Once the fan system is free, carefully remove it from the car and set it down in a way that the blades will not be bent or broken.
3. Remove the hoses
Now you should remove the upper radiator hose. This large hose connects to the top of the radiator. It may take some wiggling and pry to get off.
The lower radiator hose can be a bit trickier to find. If you have a lifter your car, it will be easier to locate and remove. There may be some coolant left in the lower hose, so have your drain pan ready.
Some cooling systems for vehicles have hoses that run to the transmission or an oil cooler. Remove them and any other hoses connected to your radiator.
4. Remove the mounts
Now you are ready to take the radiator off the radiator supports. This normally involves removing a bolt or two.
5. Pull the radiator out of the car
The radiator is now loose and ready to be taken out. Watch for your radiator fans when you are pulling the radiator up. The fans may come out with your radiator or they may be a separate part altogether. You don’t want to damage any of the blades. You can set the old radiator aside.
Compare the new and old radiator to make sure you transfer any hoses, mounts or fittings to the new one. If the fan system was attached to the radiator, you’ll have to pay close attention to how it comes off so you can install it on the new one.
6. Install the new radiator
Carefully slide the new radiator into the car. Mount it with the brackets and reattach all the hoses and cables that came off the old one.
Reinstall the cooling fans if you had to remove them.
Replace the drain plug. Before adding any fluid to the system ensure that every hose is reconnected.
7. Fill the Cooling system
Consult your vehicle’s manual to find the proper type and amount of coolant your cooling system needs to operate properly. If the coolant in your drain pan was not contaminated, you can pour it back into your radiator.
Once you have poured the proper amount of coolant into your system, check for leaks.
You will also need to get any air out of the system for it to function properly. With the radiator cap off, start the car. The radiator should “burp” some air out. It may be helpful to squeeze the upper radiator hose to ensure that the coolant is flowing into it. Don’t squeeze too rapidly since you can make coolant shoot out of the top of the radiator.
Now you can replace your cap. You’re good to go!
*Use at your own discretion, this content is for educational purposes only.