How to Install a Radiator in Your Car or Truck

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Time For a New Radiator?

car radiator
You can replace a radiator on your own, it's easy!. John Lake

 Every radiator has a lifespan. Some will outlast the engine or even an entire car, others seem to bite the dust prematurely. There are a number of things that can cause a radiator to need replacement. Overheating without any other explanation could mean the radiator has become clogged inside and is not longer circulating well. More obvious reasons include major leaks or cracks in the existing radiator. Either way, when it's time to replace it, you know. The good news is you can save some serious money by doing it yourself, and it's not even a tough job on most vehicles!

This step-by-step will illustrate a basic radiator replacement. The vehicle shown is a Chevy SUV, but the process is very similar for many vehicles. For more detailed info on your car or truck, check a proper repair manual.

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Radiator Removal Step 1

radiator shroud
Remove the bolts that attach the fan shroud. John Lake

The first step to removing your radiator is removing the fan shroud assembly that is bolted to it. There will be a number of bolts holding it on from the top, and sometimes the back. Remove these screw and/or bolts. Be careful when you pull on the plastic shroud. If you missed a screw or bolt you don't want to accidentally break it. In many cases there will be an electric fan attached to the radiator which must also be removed. It's up to you to decide whether to remove the fan before or after you pull the radiator. Whichever you do, be very careful to disconnect all of the wiring in the cooling system harness before you start pulling things out of the engine bay. It can get a lot more expensive that way!

You're now ready to drain the radiator, so go ahead and get all of the coolant out. Be sure to do it safely, and remember that coolant can be toxic to animals so never leave it sitting around. 

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Removing the Radiator

radiator hose
Remove the clamps that hold the radiator hoses in place. John Lake

With the shroud out of the way and the radiator drained, you can start to get it out of there. The radiator will only have a couple of mounting points, usually on the side and bottom of the radiator. This is where some long ratchet extensions can come in handy. Remove the bolts.

Disconnect all of the hoses. There will always be a large upper hose and a lower radiator hose. These are clamped onto the radiator, so remove them by removing the clamps. There will also be a much  smaller overflow hose that is connected at the top of the radiator. Disconnect this. There may also be some rigid lines that connect to the radiator, and these must be removed, as well. 

Remove the wiring from any sensors that are part of the radiator assembly. Your coolant sensor will be one of them, but there are often additional sensors on the radiator. Be careful when removing these wiring harnesses as they have been exposed to heat and can often become quite brittle. If they feel like they are breaking up in your hands, there's nothing you can do to prevent this. If the wiring appears intact, you can often reinstall the sensor with no issues while adding your own protection to the harness via heat shrink tubing or even tape if you have to. 

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Radiators and Sensors

coolant sensor
Remove the coolant sensor to be reused on the new radiator. John Lake

With all of the bolts and hoses disconnected, the radiator is ready to come out.  Remove it carefully, because you'll want to reuse any sensors that are attached to the radiator. Carefully remove these sensors and they can be reused in the new radiator. 

Installation is the reverse of removal. Use some thread seal on the sensor threads to ensure a tight fit and ease of removal next time. Flush your radiator to keep it fresh!