Updated: Feb 3
✔ This article has been fact checked.
A car radiator is a crucial component of a vehicle's cooling system, responsible for dissipating the heat generated by the engine. They are made up of a series of fins and tubes that are designed to transfer heat away from the engine into the ambient air.
There are two main types of radiator:
Aluminum and plastic
Copper and brass
However, there are other variants you should be aware of. In this article, we will delve into the different types of car radiators, their materials, design, and functions.
Table of Contents:
What Is a Car Radiator?
A car radiator is a crucial component of a vehicle's cooling system, responsible for dissipating the heat generated by the engine. It is typically located in the front of the car, behind the grille, and is made up of a series of fins and tubes that are designed to transfer heat away from the engine.
What Does a Radiator Do?
The primary function of a car radiator is to cool the engine by transferring heat from the hot coolant that flows through it to the air passing through the radiator.
Coolant, which is a mixture of water and antifreeze, is pumped through the engine block to absorb heat and then flows through the radiator, where it loses that heat to the surrounding air.
This process is essential for the proper functioning of the engine and its longevity.
Different Types of Car Radiators and Materials
Below are the most common types of car radiator.
The most common materials used in radiators are copper/brass, aluminium/plastic, and fully alloy or aluminium.
Copper and brass radiators are typically found in industrial applications, while aluminium and plastic radiators are the most common in regular vehicles.
Most radiators have plastic end tanks and an aluminium core, although there are fully alloy or aluminium radiators in which the end tank and core are the same material. These are typically found in high-performance vehicles and in aftermarket radiators.
The radiator core is the heart of the radiator, which is made up of thin tubes and fins that transfer heat from the coolant to the surrounding air. The radiator core can vary in the following ways.
Radiator core thickness and depth
Radiator core fin density
Radiator core frontal surface area
Radiator End Tanks
The end tanks, on the other hand, are the radiator parts that hold the coolant and connect the core to the rest of the cooling system.
End tanks on a car radiator are usually either plastic, aluminium, or an alloy of some kind.
Radiator rows refer to the number of rows of tubes and fins within the core. The more rows there are, the more fins and tubes in the core, and the more coolant can pass through, which improves the cooling capacity. Most modern vehicles with aluminium radiators have 1-2 rows.
A radiator shroud is a cover that sits between the radiator fan and the radiator, and its purpose is to direct air through the radiator core. This helps to improve the radiator's cooling ability and the radiator fan's cooling efficacy.
Radiator Pass System
The radiator pass system refers to the coolant's path through the radiator. Most modern radiators have a single pass system, while higher-performance radiators may have two or more pass systems.
More pass systems add a curve or bend in the coolant pathway, slowing down the travelling coolant fluid, which gives the radiator more time to cool it down before it exits.
Radiator Size and Dimensions
The size and dimensions of a radiator also play a role in its cooling ability. For example, a radiator with more or denser fins will improve cooling ability due to more internal surface area.
A thicker and deeper radiator core will improve cooling ability because the ambient air has more time to absorb heat from the radiator fins. A larger radiator with more frontal surface area will enhance cooling ability due to more airflow over the fins.
What Kind of Plastic Is a Car Radiator Made Of?
The most common type of plastic used in car radiators is glass-reinforced nylon, a plastic that features a high-softening point.
The high-softening-point nylon plastic helps the plastic radiator tank withstand the pressure and temperatures involved. Some radiators have plastic end tanks, and some don't.
Why Are Radiators Made From Copper and Brass?
Copper and brass were used for the original radiators because of the metals' excellent thermal conductivity. Copper conducts heat considerably better than aluminium, which is why it is still used in some industrial applications.
However, aluminium is more common in modern radiators as it is more lightweight and cost-effective.
Are Copper Brass Radiators Better Than Aluminium?
When comparing copper-brass and aluminium radiators, it's important to consider thermal conductivity and efficiency.
Copper-brass radiators generally have a higher thermal conductivity than aluminium radiators so that they can transfer heat more effectively. This can result in better cooling performance and increased engine efficiency.
Aluminium radiators are typically more lightweight and cost-effective, which makes them more suitable for most vehicles.
Do Thicker Car Radiators Cool Better?
In terms of thickness, a thicker radiator will generally have better cooling performance than a thinner one. This is because a thicker radiator has more surface area for the coolant to flow through and more fins for the air to pass over, increasing the heat that the radiator can dissipate.
However, it's important to note that the size and dimensions of a radiator also play a role in its cooling ability.
A radiator with more or denser fins will improve cooling ability due to more internal surface area.
A thicker and deeper radiator core will improve cooling ability because the ambient air has more time to absorb heat from the radiator fins.
A larger radiator with more frontal surface area will improve cooling ability due to more airflow over the fins.
What Type of Car Radiator Is Best?
When it comes to determining the best type of car radiator, it ultimately depends on the specific needs and requirements of the vehicle.
High-performance vehicles may require a fully alloy or aluminium radiator for maximum cooling performance, while regular cars may be more suited to an aluminium/plastic radiator.
It's essential to consider thermal conductivity, efficiency, weight, and cost when deciding.
In conclusion, car radiators are an essential component of a vehicle's cooling system and play a crucial role in maintaining the engine's proper functioning. There are various car radiator types and materials, each with unique characteristics and advantages.
Therefore, it's essential to consider the thermal conductivity, efficiency, weight, and cost when deciding which radiator is best for a particular vehicle.
It's also important to consider the specific needs and requirements of the car, whether it's a high-performance or a regular vehicle, as it can affect the radiator's overall performance.
Wikipedia. "Radiator (engine cooling)" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiator_(engine_cooling)
Wikipedia. "Radiator" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiator
Rowan Johnstone. (May 3, 2022) https://www.autoguru.com.au/car-advice/articles/what-are-the-different-types-of-car-radiators
(Mar 25, 2022) https://jalopytalk.com/types-of-radiators-for-vehicles/
MotorTrend. Tony Nausieda. (Aug 11, 2009) https://www.motortrend.com/how-to/ccrp-0211-aluminum-or-copper-radiator-for-your-car/