How to replace a car radiator?

How to replace a car radiator?

How to replace a car radiator?

This article originally appeared on The ride.

On a long enough timeline, random things on every car start to wear out. Liquids grow old, seals dry up, and age can overtake even the most tender love and care. One of those random wear items is the radiator.

Over time, the radiator’s metal and plastic become brittle, worn and deteriorated. If proper coolant flush intervals are not observed, it can rot, clog and catastrophically overheat from the inside out. Other times it causes a leak when the radiator splits with age and use. Anyway, when it comes time to change a radiator, it’s actually not that hard to achieve. All it takes are some basic tools and knowledge. If your car needs repair and the radiator is the problem, follow these general guidelines to get your ride back in good shape.

The basics of replacing a radiator

Estimated time required: two o’clock

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Cooling, engine


Doing this job can be messy more than anything. To ensure that coolant doesn’t end up somewhere that could be dangerous, have safety glasses, gloves, and towels handy, and make sure the car is cold when you’re working on it. Do not do this work while the car is warm. Do not even open the radiator cap when the car is hot.

Everything you need to replace a radiator

Then the tools you need are also quite basic. We don’t know exactly what’s in your toolbox, so we’ll make a list of what you need. In case that.

Tool list

Parts list

  • Coolant (of the correct type)
  • hose clamps
  • Radiator
  • radiator cap
  • Thermostat

Organizing everything you need before starting the job will save you precious time and frustration. Get the job done in one session and life will be easier. Believe me.

This is how you replace a radiator

Most radiator swaps work the same way, even if they’re attached to the car in slightly different ways. Let’s go through the general steps.

1. Locate the coolant drain/fuel cock and drain the coolant

Draining the coolant first allows the system to be completely evacuated while you continue with other steps. Most cars have a drain plug on the bottom of the radiator, but some don’t. In that case, it is best to remove the lower radiator hose. It will make a mess, but it’s the best way to clear the system. Once the system is empty, remove the upper and lower coolant hoses connected to the radiator. If there are transmission fluid lines, this is also the time to disconnect them, but avoid draining the fluid.

To learn more about what to do with that coolant once it’s drained, see How to Properly Get Rid of Toxic Used Car Fluids, Tires, and Parts.

2. Remove the radiator fan and fan shroud

Most cars have the radiator at the very front of the car, except for some exotic cars. A fan is attached to it with a plastic sheath or a plastic sheath and a fan to the motor. The radiator itself looks like a grille with extremely thin fins. Remove the plastic shroud and fan to gain access to the radiator. They are usually held by bolts on the top of the radiator or on the back of the radiator, but every car is different.

3. Remove radiator

Removing the radiator itself will be largely similar to removing the shroud. On some cars, the radiator is held by two bolted brackets at the top, and can be easily lifted out. Other cars fasten the radiator with four bolts and the radiator has to be tilted out. In any case, be sure to notice anything that came out with the radiator, such as rubber supports or bushings.

4. Inspect and Replace Thermostat

While the radiator is off, it is a good idea to change the cooling system in general. A new thermostat future-proofs the car against strange overheating problems and replaces another major point of failure that could leave you stranded. It is generally located on the inner end of one of the coolant hoses in a spherical housing. Most cars use a rubber gasket, although some call for sealant. Be sure to research beforehand. Some cars do not allow easy thermostat changes. In those cases, ignore it as a maintenance item.

5. Reinstall the radiator and fan shroud

Installing the radiator is exactly the opposite order of removing it. Take extra care not to damage the radiator’s incredibly fragile fins. Also make sure to align the radiator correctly in the fasteners or bolt holes, otherwise there will be more mounting issues later in the repair. Once it’s home, install the fan and shroud in reverse order.

6. Reconnect coolant hoses, top up and bleed

Once everything is in place, reconnect and re-clamp all of the coolant hoses, making sure the clamps are straight and tight. Then top up the cooling system through the radiator cap or coolant reservoir until no more coolant is needed. Bleeding the system is easy on most cars, but we have a detailed guide to make sure the bleed is done correctly. It is the most crucial part of the installation. After bleeding, the car is roadworthy.

Pro tips for replacing a radiator

  • Provide a large, wide collection container. Coolant gets everywhere and is not good for the environment. For more protection, you may also want to put some cardboard or plastic sheeting underneath.
  • Do not mix coolant types. Refill the system with what came out, or do a full flush and refill.
  • It pays to invest in hose clamp pliers that snap into place. Normal pliers do the job, but special pliers make it easy.
  • Getting new coolant hoses is not strictly necessary. If the hoses are intact and flexible, they should be reusable. If they are swollen and mushy, replace them immediately.


Some of us, myself included, learn better visually. So I have a few videos showing how to replace a radiator in easy to follow formats.

Frequently asked questions about replacing a radiator

You have questions. The ride has answers.

Q. Can you replace a radiator without draining the system?

A. No, you can’t. The system must be opened to do the job.

Q. How long do radiators usually last?

A. A long time, in general. Age, use and maintenance factor heavy but they should last at least 10 years if not longer.

Q. Will a new radiator make my car run better?

A. Not exactly. If the car overheated and caused a limp mode, then yes. But an otherwise functioning car will not run better with a new radiator.

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