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Different Types of Car Radiators (Explained)

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  • 6 min read

Last Updated on: 7th September 2023, 12:38 am

A car radiator is an integral part of a vehicle’s cooling system, tasked with the role of diffusing the heat produced by the engine.

There are two main types of radiator:

  • Aluminum and plastic
  • Copper and brass

There are other types as well. In this article, we will explore the different car radiators, the materials they are made of, their design, and their roles.

Types of Car Radiators and Materials

Listed below are the most common materials a car radiator is made of.

  • Copper/Brass
  • Aluminium/Plastic
  • Fully Alloy
  • Fully Aluminium

Car radiators frequently use materials like copper/brass, aluminium/plastic, and fully alloy or aluminium.

Copper and brass radiators are usually seen in industrial applications, while aluminium and plastic is most common in regular road vehicles.

Many radiators feature plastic end tanks with an aluminium core, but fully alloy or aluminium ones where the end tank and core are composed of the same material exist too.

These are typically seen in high-performance vehicles and aftermarket radiators.

copper brass radiator vs aluminium and plastic infographic

Radiator Core

The core of the radiator consists of tubes and fins that conduct heat from the coolant to the air around it. The core can differ in several ways, as listed below.

  • Thickness and depth
  • Fin density
  • Frontal surface area

End Tanks

The end tanks are components of the radiator located at each end that link the core with the rest of the cooling system. End tanks are generally made from plastic, aluminium, or some kind of alloy.

radiator end tank outlined in red

Radiator Rows

The term ‘radiator rows’ denotes the count of tubes and fins row formations within the core.

A higher number of rows implies more fins and tubes in the core, allowing a greater volume of coolant to circulate, thereby enhancing the cooling capacity.

This is why larger radiators are used in performance cars which require enhanced engine cooling.

Most modern vehicles equipped with aluminium radiators possess 1-2 rows.

Shrouding

A shroud is a cover positioned between the radiator fan and the radiator itself, serving to guide air through the radiator core.

This component contributes to enhancing both the cooling capability of the radiator and the efficiency of the fan’s cooling function.

radiator fan and shroud

Radiator Pass System

The radiator pass system denotes the route the coolant takes through the radiator.

A majority of modern radiators incorporate a single pass system, whereas those of higher performance may employ two or more pass systems.

Additional pass systems introduce a curve or bend in the coolant’s path, decelerating the coolant fluid’s journey, which allows the radiator extra time to cool it before it exits.

Size and Dimensions

The size and measurements of a radiator significantly influence its cooling capacity. For instance, a radiator with additional or denser fins enhances cooling efficiency due to increased internal surface area.

A more robust and deeper radiator core augments cooling capability as the surrounding air is allotted more time to absorb heat from the radiator fins.

A larger radiator boasting a greater frontal surface area improves cooling capacity due to increased airflow over the fins.

What Kind of Plastic Is Used?

The most prevalent type of plastic used in car radiators is glass-reinforced nylon, a type of plastic distinguished by its high softening point.

This high-softening-point nylon aids the plastic radiator tank in withstanding the pressure and temperatures involved. Some radiators are equipped with plastic end tanks, while others are not.

Why Are Radiators Made From Copper and Brass?

Copper and brass were the materials of choice for the first radiators due to their superior thermal conductivity. Copper’s heat conduction significantly outperforms that of aluminium, explaining its continued use in certain industrial applications.

However, aluminium has become more prevalent in modern vehicles and radiators due to its lighter weight and cost-effectiveness.

Are Copper Brass Radiators Better Than Aluminium?

When making a comparison between copper-brass and aluminium radiators, one must take into account their thermal conductivity and efficiency.

  • Copper-brass radiators typically possess greater thermal conductivity than aluminium radiators, enabling them to transfer heat more efficiently. This can lead to superior cooling performance and enhanced engine efficiency.
  • Aluminium radiators, known for their lighter weight and cost-effectiveness, make them a more fitting choice for the majority of vehicles.

Do Thicker Car Radiators Cool Better?

A thicker radiator will typically outperform a thinner one in terms of cooling. This is due to the larger surface area in a thicker radiator that allows more coolant to flow and provides more fins for the air to traverse, thereby increasing the heat dissipation capability of the radiator.

However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the radiator’s size and dimensions also significantly impact its cooling capacity.

  • A radiator equipped with additional or denser fins enhances its cooling capability due to an increased internal surface area.
  • A core that’s both thicker and deeper enhances the cooling function, as it provides more time for the ambient air to absorb heat from the radiator’s fins.
  • A larger radiator with an expanded frontal surface area improves the cooling ability due to the increased airflow over its fins.

What Type of Car Radiator Is Best?

The choice of the best type of car radiator ultimately hinges on the distinct needs and specifications of the vehicle in question.

High-performance vehicles may necessitate a fully alloyed or aluminium radiator for optimal cooling performance, whereas regular cars might better accommodate an aluminium/plastic radiator.

When making this decision, it’s vital to consider factors like thermal conductivity, efficiency, weight, and cost.

Conclusion

There exists a range of car radiator types and materials, each exhibiting unique features and benefits.

Consequently, when deciding on the most suitable radiator for a specific vehicle, it’s essential to consider factors such as thermal conductivity, efficiency, weight, and cost.

It’s also crucial to take into account the vehicle’s particular needs and requirements, whether it’s a high-performance or a regular vehicle, as these aspects can influence the overall performance of the radiator.

  • 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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