ONE OF the many things we keep in stock at the workshop is a very traditional-looking Australian-made radiator for cars such as a Holden or Ford V8. And they’re not necessarily something you throw away after lots of use. I’ve got one at the moment that looks tired, but once it’s taken apart and cleaned out – refurbished – it will literally last a life time. We always buy good quality, from a ‘name’ maker!

One of the horror stories we have sitting in the shop at the moment is a recentlymade aluminium Chinese radiator of unknown brand, which was in a Mustang. The gentleman has bought it brand new, put it in the car, and the Ford has overheated almost instantly. The reason was the old Mustang 289 had a bit of scale in the block and, because the tubes in the radiator were so small, it managed to stop the flow in a couple of days. Basically he cooked his engine.

Now there should be nothing wrong with a good quality aluminium radiator on older cars. They just have to be designed right. One make we use a lot is Aussie Desert Coolers, which can be custom-made to spec or ordered off the shelf. Norm and his company are based in Melbourne and the product is available nationwide. It’s a brand we use exclusively in our bigger horsepower cars.

So the general message is, don’t try too hard to save money on the radiator – get a good one, as it will be cheaper in the long run.

When it comes to replacing the radiator, or just changing the coolant, it’s a job you can tackle at home on an older car, as it’s fairly straight-forward. New hoses could be a good investment while you’re on the job – certainly check the old ones carefully.

You drain from the bottom hose and then refit. What you do then is either remove the top hose or one of the heater hoses (switch on the heater), start the engine and let it run as you introduce clean water. What you’re looking for is clear water coming back – so you’re effectively flushing the system. Then switch it off.

Now the next stage, after you’ve drained the water and refilled with coolant, is to ‘burp’ the car or get rid of any potential airlock. Start your engine with the cabin heater turned on and top it up as it runs for a couple of minutes. The easiest way to reduce air in the system is to park the car with the rear wheels in the gutter and the nose facing up the driveway, so your radiator is now at the highest point in relation to the engine.

Air will head for the top. When it comes to burping the engine, we have specialist tools for modern cars that can be worth hundreds of dollars. However for older cars the best tool is – and it sounds silly – an old Powerade bottle with the bottom cut off, and some insulation tape rapped around the neck for a snug fit in the radiator filler.

You put a small amount of water in the bottle, then start the car and let it get warm enough to open the thermostat. What happens is the water in the bottle will rise a little, then suddenly drop as the thermostat opens. You’ve just burped the car! What you then do is have a little hot water on hand to add as needed. (Don’t use cold, as it may close the thermostat.) Increase the rpm a little to around 1500 and then the water pump will take over and pull in what it needs.

Once you’ve popped the cap back in and taken the car for a road test, park it in the shed and let it cool down. Remove the radiator cap once it’s cold and leave it open overnight. Any stray air will likely find its way out while you’re sleeping.

Don’t forget to replace then cap next day, and double check all those hoses are on tight!

Note: Mick runs Glenlyon Motors in Brunswick, Vic. Tel (03) 9380 5082.