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Cost to replace a radiator

Replacement costs for our sample vehicles averaged between $750 and $1,850

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    Your radiator is the backbone of your car’s cooling system. A broken radiator means you won’t be going anywhere fast — unless you want to do serious damage to your engine.

    To help you set expectations for how much radiator repair or replacement may cost you, we got quotes from five different mechanics around the country. Average costs to replace the radiators in our three sample vehicles ranged from $765 to $1,826, but bear in mind that your costs may differ (and repair is often far cheaper).

    To get you up to speed on radiators, we’re going to cover what they do, how you can tell if yours is bad, how much a repair should cost and how much you might pay for an all-out replacement.

    Key insights

    • Radiator replacement costs vary widely depending on the type of vehicle in question.
    • The radiators in our sample vehicles averaged $765 to $1,826 to replace.
    • Radiator repairs for those same vehicles were more affordable, averaging between $286 and $725 to fix a radiator hose.
    • Warranty coverage can help you pay for a radiator repair or replacement.

    What is a radiator?

    A radiator is the most important component of most vehicles’ cooling systems. It is generally placed near the front of the engine bay, behind the grille, for optimum airflow.

    Here’s how a radiator works:

    1. Your water pump moves coolant through your engine and into your radiator.
    2. Once coolant enters the radiator, the heat from the coolant is transferred to the metal housing of the radiator. This housing is covered in thousands of thin metal fins that efficiently bleed off the heat into the air and allow the coolant to cool down.
    3. The coolant then moves back to the engine (where it's heated again), and the cycle repeats.

    If your vehicle is stationary, large cooling fans may provide supplementary airflow to help the radiator do its job. As a general rule, the more heavy-duty or high-performance an engine is, the more effective its radiator must be to help keep things cool.

    Symptoms of a bad radiator

    Here are some signs that you may be dealing with a bad radiator:

    • Overheating: The most obvious sign of a radiator failing is overheating. Since your radiator’s job is cooling your vehicle’s engine, a radiator that isn’t working can lead to excess heat accumulating. Overheating can cause a cascade of other issues, so be careful if you see your engine temperature rising.
    • Leaking or low coolant: If you notice a pool of green, red or orange fluid under your vehicle, then your radiator may be in trouble. Leaking coolant doesn’t necessarily mean the radiator is broken, but it should be looked at by a professional. In addition to a visible leak, you may also notice that the coolant levels are low in your reservoir.
    • Sludgy buildup: The coolant in your radiator should be bright red, yellow or green. If you notice a rusty color, or the coolant looks thick and milkshake-like, you may have a failing radiator. This color occurs when buildup and debris accumulate over a long period of time.
    • Heater not functioning properly: Your vehicle's climate control system is tied to the temperature regulation of your engine. In your heater, air passes over a core that's filled with the hot coolant; so, if your radiator is blocked or no coolant is getting to the radiator, the heater will not function properly.

    How much does it cost to repair a radiator?

    The good news is that most radiator issues can be repaired. Tom Bonfe, from Bonfe's Auto Service & Body Repair in St. Paul, Minnesota, explained to us why radiator repair is usually all you need:  “Radiators are pretty durable pieces of equipment, and coolant leaks usually occur in the hoses or overflow tanks and not the radiator itself. Radiators are expensive to replace, and we typically do everything we can to fix the issue instead of replacing the whole unit.”

    Radiators are expensive to replace, and we typically do everything we can to fix the issue instead of replacing the whole unit.”

    It’s worth mentioning that “repairing” a radiator can mean unclogging a blockage, fixing damage, flushing out old coolant, cleaning it or simply filling it with new coolant. As a result, it’s hard to predict how much a given radiator repair will cost.

    As we surveyed mechanics for repair costs, we asked them to estimate the cost of repairing a radiator in each of our sample vehicles that has a damaged or failing radiator hose. See the results below.

    VehicleAverage parts costAverage labor costAverage total cost
    2017 Honda Civic$113 (39.51% of total cost)$173 (60.49% of total cost)$286
    2017 Ford F-150$125 (17.86%)$575 (82.14%)$700
    2019 BMW 740i$188 (25.93%)$537 (74.07%)$725

    How much does it cost to replace a radiator?

    If your radiator has too much damage to repair, you may have to replace the whole unit. Radiators are generally expensive, and they can get even more expensive for larger trucks or high-performance vehicles that require more cooling capacity. The quotes we received had parts costs ranging from about 50% to 60% of the total cost, but you may pay more or less depending on your vehicle.

    VehicleAverage parts costAverage labor costAverage total cost
    2017 Honda Civic$370 (48.37%)$395 (51.63%)$765
    2017 Ford F-150$1,084 (61.7%)$673 (38.3%)$1,757
    2019 BMW 740i$1,086 (59.47%)$740 (40.53%)$1,826

    What if you have a warranty?

    Radiators are covered by manufacturer warranties; so, if your manufacturer’s warranty is still in effect or you purchased an extended auto warranty, your radiator service may be paid for. Just keep in mind that warranty coverage usually only covers defects or malfunctions, not accidental damage or neglect.

    Kelly, a ConsumerAffairs reviewer from Covington, Louisiana, had a faulty radiator that was pouring steam out from under the hood of their SUV, but their extended warranty helped cover the cost.

    “The dealer called late Tuesday to inform me it was the water pump and radiator, front brakes and the driver side window that needed to be replaced,” Kelly said. “The brakes and the window was not covered by CarShield, but the water pump and radiator was. I picked up my Highlander from the dealer on Friday morning only having to pay my deductible and for the brakes and window.”

    A radiator replacement may not be enough to completely offset the cost of an extended warranty, but it can put you ahead if your vehicle's overheating caused other problems. A service contract may be worth considering if you have doubts about your radiator’s continued health.

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      What does a radiator do?

      Radiators help keep engines cool by allowing outside air to cool down hot engine coolant. As coolant flows through a radiator, tiny metal fins on the radiator dissipate the heat with the help of airflow from movement down the road or from radiator fans. The coolant then returns to the engine to absorb more heat, and the cycle continues.

      What is a radiator’s life span?

      Properly maintained radiators should have no problem lasting eight to 15 years.

      Do extended car warranties cover radiators?

      Most extended warranties cover cooling system failures, including components like water pumps and radiators. However, if your vehicle is not maintained properly or the radiator is damaged in an accident, extended warranty coverage is likely to be denied.

      Bottom line

      Replacing a radiator can be an expensive proposition, especially for people who find themselves outside of warranty coverage. However, repairs are usually far cheaper. Whatever the case, it’s important to get your radiator fixed sooner rather than later — an overheating engine can put you in jeopardy of an even bigger bill.

      If you need assistance paying for a radiator replacement, a personal loan can be a huge help, and an extended auto warranty can provide some serious peace of mind and help cover future expenses.

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