Heavy Duty Radiators are easy and cool
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Cooling is critical on an large motor. They generate heat like you really can't believe. Keeping them cool is a monumental task - and keeping them cool in summer traffic, at idle, with the AC on is next to impossible. Most cars came with wimpy 2-core radiators - AC cars typically came with 3-core radiators. Most had a "heavy duty cooling" package available - this usually means an upgrade to a seriously beefy 4-core radiator - maybe even a 5-core!

As you can see from the photos, the original unit in my 1973 Buick Electra was a weak 2-core unit. Lame - no wonder it would overheat in traffic. It was barely adequate when it was new and now it was old, clogged, and just not doing the job. It was time for a replacement, and I decided to go for an upgrade at the same time.

These radiators are available NEW from various aftermarket sources in exotic aluminum and as a more traditional copper-brass unit for very good prices. For reference, the unit for my Electra set me back about $170 and even came with an extra fitting in the side tank for a temperature gauge if needed. Check a variety of local parts stores and small radiator shops for prices - they can vary widely between places - I've seen up to triple the price between some places on some items. (Thought for the day: The same thing goes for heater cores...) If I can find a brand new (not re-cored) heavy-duty radiator for an old luxury boat of a car at a good price - image how easy and cheap getting one for a more common and popular car might be! Shop around, it's worth it.

If you carefully compare the size of the side tank on the new one, you can see how much beefier the new 4-core radiator is. Since I forgot to photograph the new radiator out of the car, I need to tell you that the core width on the new unit is the same width as the side tanks - unlike the original unit where the core was much thinner than the side tanks. When I first looked at them side by side, all I could think was "Wow!". When it comes to radiators, size does matter and bigger is almost always better. It's really hard to over-cool a car, so I'd recommend you go for the biggest radiator your can squeeze into the space you have.

If you've never done a radiator replacement before - I can tell you that it was a snap. It only took me about an extra hour in addition to the usual drain, flush, and re-fill the radiator routine that you do on a regular preventative maintenence process (you do do that, right? :-) - and much of that hour was spent cleaning up the grunge on the lower mounting locations for the radiator b/c mine were really nasty for some reason. Unless you get a unit that is a good bit larger (height, width, or depth) than your original unit, your original mounting brackets should work. You may need a little bit of gentle persuasion, but as long as it's close you'll be fine. Many GM's use little rubber insulators above and below the radiator with a top plate/bracket to "clamp" it in place. While it may not be a perfect fit, those little rubber insulators will usually flex a good bit to handle the larger radiator. Go slow, and make sure it's all going to be OK before you crank down on the mounting bolts. As long as the radiator isn't bouncing all over the place (you don't want it to hit the fan!), you'll probably be fine. Use common sense, and if you break it, you probably shouldn't have done whatever you did to break it. :-)

Remember to flush your cooling system before you remove the old radiator! Get as much gunk out of the engine as possible so it doesn't clog up your new unit right away. (Get a Prestone backflush kit and use it. It's well worth the $10 or so it costs...) Also remember that the larger radiator will probably take more coolant to fill than your original system, so you may need to adjust your antifreeze amount accordingly to get the right 60/40 mix. Check the manual for your car to see if it shows a different cooling capacity for a "Heavy Duty" cooling option. If it does, then use that larger number as a baseline for your refilling process. In my case I added about 1/2 to 3/4 of a gallon capacity to the system so I needed a bit extra antifreeze to maintain the right mixture. You may want to write down the approx number you end up with for capacity as a reminder for later.

This is a seriously easy upgrade with a very noticeable difference. On my car, it made the difference between overheating in anything resembling stop-and-go traffic and having the temp gauge sit rock-solid at 180 degrees no matter what kind of traffic or weather I was stuck in. Very, um, cool.

Comments? Kudos? Got some parts you'd like to buy/sell/barter/swap? Nasty comments about my web page so far? You can email Mike or Debbie.

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Page last updated 01/02/2009 01:51:39 PM