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Do Car Radiators Have Copper in Them? (Answered)

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Last Updated on: 7th September 2023, 12:47 am

A car radiator is a critical part of the car’s cooling system. Its job is to keep the engine’s temperature in check by taking heat away from it.

Typically, you’ll find car radiators in two types; one made of aluminium and plastic, and the other from copper and brass. The aluminium variant doesn’t include any copper. The copper and brass type, although less common in modern cars, does contain copper.

In this article, we’ll see the role of copper in car radiators, understand the types of radiators and the materials they are made of, and see why copper and brass are chosen for radiators.

Types of Car Radiators

Car radiators primarily come in two varieties: those made from copper-brass and those crafted from aluminium.

  • Radiators made from a blend of copper and brass are not typically found in modern cars. Their considerable weight makes them more suitable for industrial use, rather than for standard vehicles.
  • On the other hand, radiators composed of aluminium and plastic are more prevalent in today’s vehicles. Their lighter weight gives them an edge for this application.

Each type of car radiator comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

copper-brass radiator next to a aluminium-plastic radiator

What Material Are Car Radiators Made Out Of?

A car radiator is usually made up of one or more of these materials.

  • Copper
  • Brass
  • Aluminium
  • Plastic

In the case of older car radiators or those used in industrial settings (like trucks, farming and construction machinery, etc), the materials employed are usually copper and brass.

Meanwhile, modern car radiators tend to be made of aluminium and plastic.

The choice of materials is influenced by their properties. Copper and brass, for instance, are excellent conductors of heat, while aluminium is valued for its lightness, affordability, and durability.

Do Cars Still Use Copper in Their Radiators?

Although it’s true that copper, famed for its heat transfer capabilities, was once a staple in car radiator construction, it is less common in modern vehicles.

Nowadays, aluminium is the more typical choice. However, you may still find copper-based radiators in older cars or larger industrial vehicles.

How to Identify if a Radiator is Aluminium or Copper

Identifying the material of your radiator is relatively simple.

A copper-brass radiator typically displays the distinct orange hue of copper, whereas an aluminium radiator will be silver (or possibly black if it’s painted or powder-coated).

Another telltale sign is the weight: copper-brass radiators tend to be heavier than their aluminium counterparts.

Why Some Car Radiators Use Copper and Brass

The appeal of copper and brass in radiator construction lies in their outstanding heat conduction abilities.

Both materials excel at transferring heat away from the engine efficiently, with the added advantage that brass is also resistant to corrosion.

Together, they make a highly effective combination for radiator construction, significantly reducing the coolant’s temperature.

Summary

Copper, with its excellent heat transfer properties, can be found in the radiators of older cars and industrial vehicles.

In contrast, modern cars frequently utilize aluminium radiators for their lightness and cost-effectiveness.

Knowing your car’s radiator type is crucial to ensure the right replacement when needed. Remember, copper and brass are great conductors of heat, with brass offering additional corrosion resistance.

It’s these traits that make them so effective in radiator construction.

  • Andy Lewin

    Andy Lewin is a senior mechanic, ASE qualified master technician, and an experienced automotive engineer. He's passionate about serving the automotive community with the highest-quality and trustworthy information on all things automotive. He loves to write about car repairs, maintenance, car modifications and tuning, faults, and much more.

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