Your car may be telling you that its radiator isn’t working properly.

And you may be worrying what that might cost you. But don’t panic yet: there’s a simple way to ensure your mechanic doesn’t overcharge you.

Average radiator repair cost

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According to David Bennett, manager of repair systems for AAA, the average cost to repair a car’s radiator is $1,000. But what you’ll pay depends mostly on the make and model of your car.

AAA offers a handy tool that allows you to estimate the cost of a repair on your personal vehicle’s model.

As a test, we ran three of the most common cars in the US through the estimator.

For a 2017 Ford Fusion, you can expect to pay:

  • $225 to $368 to replace the coolant thermostat;
  • $131 to $197 to replace the lower radiator hose;
  • $119 to $180 to replace the radiator hose; and
  • $609.03 to $935.79 to replace the radiator completely.

For a 2017 Ford Explorer, you can expect to pay:

  • $212 to $308 to replace the coolant thermostat;
  • $208 to $310 to replace the lower radiator hose;
  • $207 to $315 to replace the radiator hose; and
  • $734 to $1,132 to replace the radiator completely.

For a 2017 Hyundai Elantra, you can expect to pay:

  • $313 to $500 to replace the coolant thermostat;
  • $345 to 539 for a radiator fan replacement;
  • $108 to $154 to replace the lower radiator hose;
  • $78 to $112 to replace the radiator hose; and
  • $595 to $919 to replace the radiator completely.

Labor costs account for about half of each of these estimates.

What does a radiator even do?

Full length shot of man looking under the hood of his broken car
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A radiator is a heat exchanger. It’s designed to cool your engine by transferring the heat it produces from the fluid inside to the air outside.

As your car runs, the engine warms up. Coolant liquids circulate through the engine, but that liquid heats up, too.

That’s where your radiator comes in.

Radiators work by passing those fluids through through thin metal fins, allowing the heat to escape more easily. Some systems also have a cooling fan that blows air across the radiator to help direct heat outwards.

Radiator construction

A mechanic replaces a radiator.
ShutterStock

Most radiators consist of two metal or plastic header tanks. These tanks are connected by a series of narrow passageways, giving the device a high ratio of surface area to volume.

The core is typically made of metal sheet layers soldered together to form a tight connection.

Radiators used to be made of brass or copper cores, but modern construction favors aluminum. Manufacturers also save money and weight by using plastic headers with gaskets. This construction is also less likely to fail and easier to repair than the brass or copper models.

What happens when my radiator isn’t working?

Woman listens to mechanic talking in front of open car
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Your cooling system is essential to your car’s health.

If your radiator isn’t working properly, you risk overheating your engine. This can lead to aluminium parts warping, swelling, expanding and even cracking. Warped cylinder heads can start to separate from the engine block, causing a leak in the head gasket.

A blown head gasket can result in very expensive engine damage.

Should I replace or repair my radiator?

Mechanic with a car radiator out
Nejron Photo / Shutterstock

Whether you should try repairing or replacing the radiator depends on the severity of the damage. Bennett says it’s best to just replace plastic radiators. Metal radiators, on the other hand, are easier to repair, and that route may save you some money.

Bennett recommends having your local auto repair shop inspect the radiator and make a recommendation on whether you should repair or replace.

How to maintain a radiator

Man filling antifreeze fluid in his car
Artur_Nyk / Shutterstock

The best way to keep your radiator running properly and avoid costly repairs is to get a radiator flush approximately every 36,000 miles. You can either do this yourself or bring it into the shop.

Over time, radiator coolant can build up debris and corrosion inside a radiator. A flush can help remove old antifreeze along with the coolant and contaminants, which can cause engine overheating.

Flushes can also help lubricate and lengthen the life of your water pump and prevent future coolant leaking, foaming, corrosion and debris buildup.

This is a fairly simple process:

  • Remove the radiator cap and drain the current antifreeze.
  • Once drained, pour in some cleaning solution until the radiator is full.
  • Start and run your car for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Allow your car to cool for a few minutes.
  • Repeat the process.
  • Pour in your new antifreeze solution.

If you bring your car to the shop, make sure you ask them to do a full inspection, including checking for leaks.

About the Author

Sigrid Forberg

Sigrid Forberg

Staff Writer

Sigrid is a staff writer with MoneyWise. A graduate of Carleton University's journalism program, she spent the better part of the last six years writing about business and retail. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, baking and riding her bicycle.

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