If your radiator has more holes than a slab of Swiss cheese and left you high and dry, then it’s time for a replacement. If you’re on a tight budget you might be considering a used radiator or an aftermarket radiator, but which is a better choice?
Obviously buying used can have a huge cost benefit. Unless you have a rare or high-end luxury or sports car, a salvage yard special will be between $25 and $50. Not bad compared to the cost of a new cooling system from your local dealer.
The problem with buying used is that you have no idea what condition the unit is in. Appearance is not a good indicator and you have no way to do a pressure test. So, what do you do?
If you must buy used, be sure to do a thorough visual inspection. That means you need to look inside and out. Inspect for internal corrosion and damage to the cooling fins and hose connections.
To get a good look inside you will need a flashlight, so be sure to take one to the salvage yard with you. Look for excessive scaling and corrosion. If it does not look clean, then it was not well maintained.
Check the joins, too. Look where the cooling coil connects with the tanks. If you find an accumulation of sediment or mineral deposits from external corrosion, this is a pretty good indicator of poor condition.
Look for repairs. If you see big blobs of “cold weld” cement like J-B WELD, the unit has been patched and should be avoided.
If it’s an aluminum system check for corrosion and epoxy around the tank joins. Aluminum radiators need special coolant. If it’s not used they will corrode rapidly and begin springing pin leaks. Also, a common failure with aluminum cores is separation from the plastic tank. The common repair is epoxy cement. Stay clear if you see these obvious repairs.
Before you scour the salvage yards, consider aftermarket. For just a little more money you can get a high quality, aftermarket replacement unit with a warranty. The average price for an aftermarket radiator in 2011 is $120 shipped.
Most aftermarket components are exact, original equipment (OE) specification. In many cases, the manufactures provide the parts to the car manufacturer. In other cases, the components are “multi-fit,” which means it is the correct capacity and size for your vehicle, but it will have mounting hardware or attachment points for a range of fitments.
CSF, Inc. is one of the world’s largest manufactures and specializes in multi-fit radiators. According to CSF, they provide the overall best value. All of their products meet or exceed original equipment engineering specifications. Their manufacturing plants meet ISO 9000 standards and provide parts to OE manufacturers. They make over 1,000 different models that fit 2,001 vehicle fitment applications. If that wasn’t enough, they offer an industry leading warranty. Simply put, you cannot buy a used radiator with the same quality or assurance of performance.
If used is your only choice, be sure to inspect thoroughly. For complete confidence, invest in a quality aftermarket radiator.