Replacing the Factory Radiator
on a '95 Jeep Wrangler (YJ)
During the winter after my '95 YJ turned 7 years old and hit 50K miles, I started noticing some droplets of coolant around the front right portion of my engine bay now and then. Eventually, I started noticing steam rising from the right side radiator support when I turned the engine off after a short (10 minute) trip. There were no leaks on longer highway trips, though. I took it to a local radiator shop (Dean's Radiator & Driveshaft) for diagnosis. He said that the stock radiator on newer Jeeps (and many other newer vehicles) has plastic tanks clamped to metal cores. Those clamps separate over time, and that today's radiators are not expected to last the full life of the vehicle. My leak was minor enough that on long highway trips, the radiator got hot enough to expand and close the leaks. On shorter trips, it got hot enough to build up pressure, but not so hot that it closed the leaks. That's why my radiator only leaked after short trips. Dean said it's not worth trying to repair these radiators, and that it should be replaced. I thanked him for his opinion, but decided to replace it myself rather than paying him for labor.
I decided that rather than replacing my single-row, plastic radiator with another stock style one, I'd get an aftermarket, 3-row, all-brass replacement instead. These run about $200, compared to $130-ish for a stock replacement. The factory 1-row radiator always cooled the 2.5L just fine (never got above 200 degrees with a 195 thermostat). However, adding a winch in front of the grille will significantly reduce air flow through the radiator, so the new 3-row radiator may come in handy down the road.
There are countless radiator retailers online. One of them (Radiator.Com) is advertised at the bottom of this web page, but they didn't have any 3-row radiators for a '95 YJ. RadiatorExpress.Com was back ordered on the radiator I wanted. I checked RadiatorBarn.Com. They had good prices and free ground shipping, but their online order form didn't work, so I kept looking. In retrospect, I really wish I'd ordered from them. Instead, I bought one made by CSF (an Indonesian import brand) from CarRadiator.Com (aka Car Radiator Outlet). It initially cost $195 + $10 overnight shipping. That would get it to me in time to install it the following weekend (or so I thought).
Then the fun began.
My radiator showed up the next day (Thursday) via FedEx. The box was kinda beat up, but my wife signed for it anyway and I didn't see any obvious problems with the radiator. On Friday, another radiator showed up. Same invoice number, same everything. Turns out CarRadiator.Com had gotten confused and sent one from two different warehouses. I refused delivery, the called them to confirm that I had only been charged once (I had). On Saturday, I removed my old radiator, but upon further inspection of the new radiator, I found that it had apparently been dropped on the auto tranny hose nipples, and the radiator tank around the nipples was badly dented -- enough so that I didn't want to put it under lots of pressure for fear it would leak eventually.
I called CRC, but they couldn't do anything about it until Monday. On Monday, they took my credit card number and agreed to cross ship me a new radiator overnight. Tuesday evening, I still had no radiator (well, not a good one, anyway). I called and got a tracking number, and found that CRC had actually shipped it 3-day, not overnight. I was less than pleased, and informed them of this. The service manager called me back the next morning, and agreed to credit me $20 for my trouble, since I wasn't going to receive a working radiator until a full week after I was supposed to. The fault was most likely with FedEx both times, so I suppose it was nice of CRC to give me the credit themselves. I really wished I'd just kept the second radiator that was double-shipped to me the previous Friday. CRC didn't even realize they'd sent it to me.
The moral of this story is that I'll never again willingly use FedEx for anything. We ship & receive lots of stuff at work. We've never had a single problem with UPS, but every now and then FedEx will screw up. FedEx's online package tracking system is also occasionally several hours out of date, while UPS' online tracking system is updated almost instantly when a package is scanned. FedEx is also more expensive than UPS, and has a lighter weight limit on large packages.
The radiator eventually showed up Wednesday, a week after I'd ordered it "overnight."
...but enough whining. You probably want to read about how to actually replace the radiator once you've got it.
Once all the parts are collected, this is about a 2-hour process. Start by draining as much coolant as you can from the old radiator. I got almost 2 full gallons from my 1-row 2.5L engine. My coolant was clean, so I collected it into milk jugs and re-used it. An empty 2.5L takes 9 quarts of coolant, assuming you're able to get all of it out and need to replace it.
While the coolant is draining, start unbolting things. I made the mistake of trying to remove the fan shroud first. I yanked the fan (using four 1/2" nuts that connect it to the water pump. The problem came when I tried to disconnect the rubber mud flap from the bottom of the shroud. It's held on with three plastic push rivets that did not want to come loose. After battling them for a little while, I finally dug out the factory service manual. (If all else fails, read the directions.) Turns out you don't need to remove the fan or shroud at all. Just unscrew the shroud from the radiator (three 7/16" screws, two of which also hold the P/S pump reservoir in place) and leave it sitting in the vehicle.
Once the coolant is done draining, disconnect the overflow hose from the radiator cap mouth, then disconnect the upper and lower radiator hoses from their respective ports. The lower one will likely leak some coolant when it's disconnected, so beware. My hoses were in good shape, but if yours are at all suspect, you should definitely replace them while you've got the radiator out. The factory clamp that holds the lower hose to the water pump is a real bear to remove, so I recommend replacing it with a standard hose clamp when you replace the hose. The other three clamps aren't that hard to get to.
The radiator itself is held to the grille with six 7/16" bolts that thread into little clips. All six of my clips had broken at the bend, so they were basically just flimsy nuts by that point. This can make it hard to unscrew the bolt, since the "nut" portion will spin once it has broken. New clips only cost about $.30 each at a hardware store, so I recommend replacing all six now while it's convenient. Once unbolted, the radiator just lifts straight up between the grille and the fan shroud. On my new radiator (have to check the original one), the lowest bolt hole on each side is open on the bottom. This allows you to leave the lowest bolt partially threaded into the support brackets (assuming your clips haven't broken) so the radiator has something to rest on while you're unscrewing the last couple bolts. Quite convenient if your Jeep is tall enough to make inserting the new radiator with one hand difficult.
While I had the radiator out of the way, I decided to properly repair the cracked fan shroud that I broke on this trip 4.5 years earlier. At the time, I had sewed it back together with a few zip ties, once of which held it directly to the radiator. I repaired it by sandwiching the crack between two strips of metal and then screwing them together. I did this in two spots, and it seems to hold it quite securely.
The replacement radiator will work with either an auto or manual transmission, which means it comes with the built-in tranny cooler and associated hose nipples whether you need them or not (that's what caused my original shipping problems). I decided to remove the hose nipples and plug the holes before installing the radiator. The problem I found is that the threaded holes are sized for 3/8" compression fittings, not for MPT fittings (which are a hair larger). I had to buy two compression plugs and grind 1/8" of brass off the end in order to get enough thread contact. Simple enough, but more trouble than I initially expected.
I think that covers all the installation gotchas. The new radiator worked great on the way into work the next morning. Time will tell how well it holds up.
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last updated 14 Mar 2003 Obi-Wan (email@example.com)