How to Guides

How To Replace A Damaged Radiator

Zaki Moulvi posted this on Jun 4, 2014

A radiator has the bad habit of breaking down at the most inopportune times.  Usually on the hottest day of summer, you will be cruising down to the beach with the A/C on full blast when you notice the temperature gauge has creeped into the red.  Or maybe it jumped, and what you notice is smoke pouring out of the front of your car.  Either way, the only thing you can do is pull over, wait out the storm and then assess what is going on.

What Damages a Radiator?

There are many things that can cause your radiator to suddenly stop working.  The most common is a leak, created by a hole or crack in the aluminum.  Since water runs through the radiator, rust can develop making the metal susceptible to damage.  Being located at the very front of the car further contributes to this by putting it in a prime position to be struck by road debris.  This can form a hole in the radiator that will begin leaking out your engine coolant fluid.

Rust also causes other problems in your radiator.  As pieces of rust break off, they join the engine coolant in circulating through the motor.  This will cause the coolant to thicken and clog the small tubing that makes up your radiator.  Without sufficient amounts of fluid to pass, your engine will begin to overheat.  You may be able to temporarily fix this problem with a radiator flush, but with a rust build up inside the problem will just resurface again in a few months.

How to Tell If the Radiator is Damaged

To check for a leak in the radiator first hose it off.  Then make sure there is sufficient fluid inside and start your car, allowing it to get hot.  Once the engine coolant begins to circulate you should be able to pinpoint exactly where, if any, the leak is.

If you can’t locate a leak, check the output hose that is running away from the radiator to the engine.  There should be fluid flowing through it when your engine is running.  If not, then it is most likely a clog in your radiator that is causing the problem. 

Whether it is a leak or a clog, both issues warrant that you replace the radiator with a new one.  Order a new one through to ensure that you get the radiator that is right for your vehicle without paying the inflated prices offered by your car dealership.  You should also consider changing the hoses at the same time since there is a good chance they were put under pressure during the engine overheat.

Tools For the Job:

  • A wide mouth bucket or basin
  • Screwdriver
  • Ratchet and sockets
  • Liquid engine coolant
  • Distilled water
  • Wrench
  • Work gloves

Getting the Job Done:


  • At the lowest portion of your radiator you should find a drain plug.  Open that and allow the engine coolant to flow into your bucket or basin.  If there is no plug you will have to remove the lower radiator hose in order to drain out the fluid.  Liquid coolant is caustic and poisonous so make sure you are wearing work gloves.
  • Remove the radiator hoses by loosening the clamps with a screwdriver and pulling the hose away.  You can also gain some extra space to work by detaching the auxiliary belts.
  • Now you are going to need to take out the cooling fan and radiator shroud.  The wrench should work to release the mounting hardware, and the fan should be pulled out first.  On some models you may have to pull them out as one unit if there is not enough space to get them out separately.  Be careful how you set down the fan.  It should be standing upright so as not to damage the clutch.
  • You should now have full access to the bolts that are holding the radiator in place.  Remove those and lift the damaged radiator straight up out of the engine.  Don’t be alarmed if any leftover engine coolant spills out.  Just make sure that you clean up and spillage when finished.



  • Be careful when handling the new radiator not to damage the cooling fins.  Gently slide it into its spot inside of your engine.
  • Attach the new radiator with the same mounting hardware used to remove the old one.
  • Reverse the process for removing the fan and shroud cover and make sure they are being held firmly in place.
  • Replace the old cooling hoses and attach them to the new radiator mounting necks with clamps.  They should be held down tight enough so that you are unable to simply pull them free.
  • Reinstall your auxiliary belts and adjust the tension nuts and belts to ensure that they are firmly in place.

Adding the Coolant:

  • Check your owner’s manual and mix together the recommended proportion of engine coolant to distilled water.
  • Add the coolant mixture to your new radiator, either directly inside or into the reservoir tank.
  • Turn the car on and allow the coolant to circulate through the system, watching to make sure that the belts are not leaking fluid.
  • Check your owner’s manual for the location of the bleeder valve. Open the valve and allow the coolant to run through the motor until there are no more bubbles present.  This will remove any air pockets that may have entered the cooling system and help you avoid future overheating.

You should now be good to go with a new radiator that is not going to go up in smoke. 

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