Every automobile engine generates a great deal of heat which is carried by the coolant system to the radiator where heat is drawn off. This sits in a position where it receives good airflow.
In order to transfer heat efficiently, a radiator has a core made from many fine passages of thin metals which are themselves made more effective by having thin metal cooling fins mechanically attached. The cooling system is pressurized to increase its boiling point which means the radiator also has to hold pressure.
The radiator usually sits in the front of the engine compartment. In some older vehicles, removal is generally simple: two hoses and the fan shroud, and a couple of mounting bolts.
In newer vehicles, removal can be complicated; often involving removing various other parts of the cooling system that are attached to it or interfere with access. These include cooling fans, the AC condenser, transmission coolers, etc.
In a few newer vehicles, the whole front bumper and sub-assembly have to be removed; the consequences of an integrated assembly.
What’s the Price of a New Radiator?
The cost to fix a radiator can vary widely as labor rates can be charged differently across different shops and they aren’t always billed out at book time. Parts prices can also vary considerably depending on the brand, availability, and the mark-up practices of any individual shop.
Another factor to consider is the type of vehicle being repaired. Some radiator replacement costs on some common vehicles using $100 per hour labor rate are presented below:
- 2006 Toyota Tacoma 4.0-liter engine – A factory radiator costs around $297 and a TYC replacement part is around $88. The labor time for radiator replacement is estimated at 0.9 hours. With about 2 gallons of factory coolant, the total job cost would be about $425 using OE parts and about $214 using aftermarket parts.
- 2005 Chrysler 300 5.7-liter engine – A factory radiator price is around $257 and a Spectra replacement part is about $155. The labor time for radiator replacement is approximately 1.8 hours. With about 2 gallons of coolant, the total cost to complete the job would be about $477 using OE parts and about $375 using aftermarket parts.
- 2007 Subaru Tribeca 3.0-liter engine – A factory radiator costs about $330 and a Denso replacement part is about $132. The labor time for radiator replacement is around 1.4 hours. With about 2 gallons of coolant, the total job cost would be around $510 using OE parts and about $312 using aftermarket parts.
- 2012 GMC Acadia – A factory radiator costs around $295 and a CSF replacement part is about $103. The labor time for radiator replacement is estimated at 7.7 hours (involving front bumper and core-support removal). With about 2 gallons of coolant, the total job cost would be about $1,197 using OE parts and about $905 using aftermarket parts.
As with many repair jobs, sometimes money can be saved on a radiator replacement if time isn’t urgent. The most readily available part is not always the most economical part, or even the best choice, and if time isn’t pressing other options may be available.
One other possible way to save money on radiator repairs, depending on the problem, is to have the old radiator repaired. Radiator-specific shops often have equipment to flow-test radiators, to clean radiators internally, and to repair leaking seams or seal up core leaks. If time allows, it’s usually possible to have a radiator sent out for a repair estimate, that can then be compared with an estimate for replacement.
Radiator Replacement Costs
It may have already crossed your mind to check your telephone directory or yellow pages for local auto shops. If you haven’t done that yet, try to see if there’s any nearby. Almost every city in the US has multiple auto repair shops that can replace a radiator. Dealerships are also widespread.
If you purchased your car at a dealership, it’s recommended to bring your car back there, especially if it’s still under warranty. This way, you won’t have to pay for the repair. Some examples of good dealerships are for brands like Chevrolet, Hyundai, and Toyota.
Local automotive centers generally offer more competitive labor pricing than dealerships, although their staff isn’t guaranteed to handle every car issue. In some cases, they can turn down a job if they deem a vehicle to be unrepairable.
A few well-known and popular ones include Boca’s Best Auto Repair, America’s Best Automotive, and Sierra Tire Shop & Auto Repair.
The labor cost to fix a coolant leak can range from $77 to $182. Any of the aforementioned shops’ labor costs may lie somewhere in this range. When it comes to the total repair, the majority of the cost will come from the price of the radiator itself.
An option that you have at your disposal if you have extra time and the tools to do the work is to replace the radiator by yourself straight from your garage. If you’re interested, we’ve created a step-by-step guide for you to follow in the last section.
How Radiators Fail
Radiators can leak. Most often, they are made of an aluminum core joined to plastic side tanks that have the inlets and outlets built in. The seam between the core and the side tanks can sometimes leak and is generally not repairable without specialized equipment.
The core itself, which is often very thin and relatively fragile aluminum, can also develop leaks. Internal or external corrosion can weaken the metal and sometimes, gravel or road debris can strike a radiator hard enough while driving to puncture a coolant passage.
Radiators can also become blocked; leaves and other obstructions can build up in front of the radiator and block airflow. Usually, these can be cleaned off with more or less effort.
The coolant that flows through a radiator usually has good corrosion inhibitors. However, if the coolant isn’t serviced on an adequate schedule or if the coolant isn’t correct for the vehicle, internal corrosion can build up and prevent coolant flow through the radiator. Mixing of incompatible coolants can also clog a radiator.
Other Things That Might Be Needed
If a leaking radiator caused or occurred in conjunction with an engine overheating event, it is common to have thermostat replacement recommended at the same time.
The thermostat is the mechanical valve that regulates engine temperature and coolant flow and it can be damaged by overheating. It’s also usually fairly easy to replace and sometimes considered as a maintenance item during other repairs.
Most radiators have a cap with a spring-loaded seal built in which regulates the system pressure and protects it from over-pressure. It’s fairly normal to replace the cap along with the radiator as inexpensive insurance.
Sometimes radiator replacements require removal of the AC condenser which usually sits in front of the radiator. In that case, evacuation and recharge of the system aren’t always considered in the labor times and may be additional, along with freon costs if those are involved.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to remove a transmission cooler as well and reassembly will involve topping up the transmission fluid which might be billed as an additional parts charge.