Aluminum Radiator - Keeping Your Engine Temperature Cool

Engine over-heating solution for Truck, Jeep, or SUV

May. 05, 2008 By Jaime Hernandez

One of the biggest problems off-road vehicles face on the trail is excessive engine heat. Moving slowly while 4-wheelin', mud bogging or rock crawling can put a great deal of stress on your engine and cooling system. Not to mention that it kills your horsepower. In addition, you run the risk of over-heating. Fortunately racing technology has come to the masses with aluminum radiator technology. Over-heating on the trail may be a thing of the past.

aluminum radiator
This race inspired radiator is fully constructed of empirical element 13 - (Al) aluminum. In other words, it's really cool stuff and you want one on your rig.

Radiator technology has come a long way since the early copper/brass radiators off-road trucks and Jeeps were sporting before the 1990s. Today the OE radiator construction standard is an aluminum core combined with plastic tanks. These new style radiators are lighter and cool much more efficiently than their old counterparts. For the ultimate in cooling performance, the race inspired all-aluminum radiator tops the charts.

About 10 years ago, all-aluminum radiators were primarily used for motorsport teams with NASCAR budgets. There weren't any off-the-shelf applications. They were only made to order by companies like C & R - which happen to make some of the nicest high quality off-road aluminum radiators (read C&R Racing article).

C&R Racing Radiator
C&R makes custom off-road racing radiators. They are OE on Jimco off-road race cars and also a supplier to top teams like Baldwin Racing and Pflueger Racing in CORR and SCORE.

Today more truck, Jeep and SUV applications are being manufactured by people like Griffin, Afco, and BeCool. Prices have also come down; you don't have to be Tony Stewart to afford one. You can find all-aluminum radiators for around $500. To rebuild or get an OE plastic/aluminum replacement you are looking at around $250 in parts.

So why pay the extra money for the all-aluminum radiator when you can get an OE replacement for under $300? All-aluminum radiators provides high efficiency, are light weight and will outlast a conventional brass/metal or OE Plastic/Aluminum radiator. Not convinced, here's more:

  • They have more cooling power than copper/brass - 15% cooler.
  • They don't corrode and clog inside like copper/brass radiators because they have bigger cooling tubes (1-inch diameter, compared to .5-inch for copper/brass).
  • They weigh less - up to 40% lighter.
  • Coolant capacity increases by 25%.
  • They are shiny and they look cool.

    radiator shroud
    Removing the radiator shroud and cooling fan will give you more room to work on your radiator.

    I personally installed an all-aluminum radiator I sourced from a local radiator shop. After I put bigger tires on my truck I was having issues with my truck always running hot, especially when off-roading or climbing mountain roads. I noticed the OE plastic/aluminum radiator on my truck had sprung a leak, so it was time to take care of business.

    The installation was pretty straight forward. It only took about 1.5 hours to take out the old one and replace with new radiator, hoses, and fluids.

    Here is what you do:

    1. Drain engine coolant (this stuff is toxic, so make sure you contain it and recycle).

    2. Remove the radiator shroud, radiator hoses and reservoir hose.

    3. If the vehicle has an automatic transmission, disconnect the lines going into the radiator and allow them to drain (There's a built-in radiator transmission cooler in most OE replacements).

    4. Plug the lines and fittings to prevent spilling fluids.

    OE aluminum plastic radiator
    The OE radiator is made up of an aluminum core with plastic tanks on the side. One of the common failure points for this type of radiator is where the core meets the tanks.

    5. Remove the radiator mounting bolts, lift out the radiator.

    6. Test the new aluminum radiator for fitment.

    aluminum radiator
    The all-aluminum OE replacement radiator fit into stock location and had pre-drilled hole that did line up with core support.

    7. If everything lines up, bold in the radiator.

    8. Replace radiator hoses with new ones while you're at it (Don't use the old ones, spend the money).

    9. Re-install the radiator support brackets, fan(s), and radiator shroud.

    transmission cooler hoses
    Make sure to carefully tighten transmission cooler hoses into the radiator. Don't over tighten, aluminum strips easily.

    10. Thread in transmission cooling hoses.

    11. Fill with 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water (Some already come pre-mixed - read the label).

    12. Start your engine.

    13. Add transmission fluid if necessary.

    14. Check for leaks.

    15. Take it for a spin.

    You should notice a dramatic drop in your engine temperature. Mine dropped about 25-degrees Fahrenheit under normal use. When off-roading, climbing, or hauling heavy loads I have not experienced temperatures in the red zone (this is where you generally start to over-heat and can damage your engine). It stays at about 3/4 of the way on the dial (225-degrees Fahrenheit). Before the swap, I always had to closely watch my engine temperature gauge. If it started climbing, I would turn on the heater. What? Turn on the heater?

    Laugh all you want, but this trick actually works - if your vehicle is running really hot, you can turn on your heater and it will aid in getting rid of some of that excess heat.


    aluminum radiator

    I would strongly recommend an all-aluminum radiator for solving engine heat problems. You'll be happy you did it, especially when you end up towing your buddy back into camp after a day on the trails.


    C&R Racing
    Manufactures all-aluminum radiators for custom applications.

    Griffin Radiators
    Manufactures all-aluminum radiators for on Jeeps, foreign and domestic trucks.

    Manufactures all-aluminum radiators for on Jeeps, foreign and domestic trucks.

    Manufactures all-aluminum radiators for on Jeeps, foreign and domestic trucks.

    aluminum radiator
    Note: Other cooling solutions exist, like adding electric fans and high performance water pumps. A combination of all these will exponentially increase your cooling power. It really depends on what you are using your vehicle for and how much horsepower you are trying to squeeze out of your engine. Consult your local off-road shop for recommendation for your specific application. Newsletter
    Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!