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new radiator install

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new radiator install

Post by Jim on Fri Jul 10, 2015 8:32 pm

I think I have a leak in the radiator on my 2001 Jeep TJ. It showed up as a small antifreeze puddle on the garage floor, and the Wal-Mart parking lot, and the Best Buy parking lot, and ... well you get the picture. First I tried seeing if I could find a leak in the hoses. Nope! No leak in the hoses. I looked at the coil through the front grill and it looked fine. Duh! That's the A/C coil! I was baffled for a while. Antifreeze was visible around the top of the radiator, so I figured it must be squirting up there from a hose somehow. Again, I checked all the hoses. Even the heater hoses looked good. I figured it had to be a leak in the radiator coil that I just couldn't see.

I just moved to this area and have no idea where a good radiator repair facility might be, so I gave a shout out on AZ Krawlers Jeep Club web site. Within ten minutes I had a referral and several members offering their garage, tools, and time to help me out. I was flabbergasted. These guys don’t even know me. All they know is that I drive a Jeep. For most jeepers, just owning a Jeep is testament to a person’s good character. It’s a Jeep Thing.

So anyway, I’m new here and renting a house while I try to find one to purchase. My Jeep barely fits in the garage between boxes of Christmas decorations, nick-knacks, my motorcycle, a small utility trailer, and somewhere in that mess, my tools. I really don’t like the idea of anyone else working under the hood of my Jeep. When I’ve taken in other vehicles to have work done, they come back with wires rerouted, support clips missing, even rags and sometimes tools, left behind in strange nooks and crannies. I can’t have that happen with my Jeep. If some rerouted wire shorts out against a hot exhaust manifold and wipes out my electrical system, it’s likely I won’t be on a road where passers-by can help me out. It’s more likely I’ll be in the middle of a desert wilderness, and may not even have cell phone service.

At this stage of the game, I figure I am better off replacing the radiator myself. I just don’t want to be worried about mechanical issues when my cell phone service goes to zero bars. So it’s time to search the internet. I find a guy that replaces a radiator and posts a video about it. He uses the F bomb like a World War Two Kamikaze pilot. He’s using blocks of wood and pry bars to get at an area where a bolt needs to be removed. This ain’t very promising. I check a few more homemade video’s and notice there are holes in the radiator frame to allow access to the bolts with a socket wrench. Everything looks fairly easy actually. I know approximately where my socket set is and maybe I can do this!

I start checking prices on the cost for a replacement radiator. I have a manual transmission and don’t need the transmission cooler ports on the bottom of the replacement radiators, but it seems they include them anyways. It’s suggested in some Jeep Forums, that you buy plugs for them if you don’t need them. The fan shroud screws in the original radiator are also threaded into the radiator frame. The new radiators don’t have threaded holes for the shroud bolts. Buying some new bolts, washers and nuts are recommended. I’m getting a lot of good info as I do my search. After checking O’Reilley’s, Autozone, JC Whitney, and NAPA, I chose NAPA. Their price is $20 less before taxes, and includes mounting hardware. If I order one before 9:30am, I can have it by 11:30am. Sounds good to me!

So I locate my socket set and my channel lock pliers, and slip a five gallon bucket under the drain spout. For me, this is the test of how this whole project is going proceed. If I have trouble opening that drain plug, or antifreeze pours out onto a hose or rod, or any other obstruction and splatters all over the place, I’ll know I’m doomed! First I remove the radiator cap to allow for a smooth burp less flow. Then I try turning the plastic drain valve lever by hand. It moves. I continue turning it, and as it opens, the flow increases and the antifreeze flows beautifully into the five gallon bucket without incident. Awesome! I’m now filled with confidence that I can handle this.

Now, with that confidence, I can grab my channel lock pliers and slide the top and bottom hose clamps back and give the hoses a slight twist to break them free from their thirteen year old grip on the radiator. Then I can tuck them back out of my way. Now I need to remove the overflow reservoir. That little rubber hose slides off easily. The plastic tank should just lift straight up and out. And it does, as soon as I notice the little plastic button between the slide tabs, and push it in with my finger. Then I drain that into my five gallon bucket and clean it up and set it aside. It was kind of tricky draining it out. It has some kind of anti-splash or overflow setup inside. I found that draining it out through the rubber tube worked best.

The fan shroud was next. The screws seemed unnecessarily long, and a tad snug, but came out with no loss of knuckle skin. Some of them required a short socket extension, and some were easier to get to from under the jeep. That was determined by my fat stubby arms and fingers, and my Jeep’s 4 inch lift. Your preferences may vary. All in all they came out with relative ease. By sliding the separated fan shroud back against the engine block, you now have plenty of room to get at the six radiator mounting bolts. If you have an extension rod with a magnet, it works great for getting the bolt out of the bucket of antifreeze when it slips from your grasp and goes airborne on you. Just saying…

Once again, as was the case with the fan shroud, attacking some of the bolts from above and some from below made the process quite painless. There are holes to insert your socket extension through, and with a little help from a flashlight, it’s easy to see them. It can be a little tricky to see them though, when the dried mud from your last river crossing starts to fall into your eyes as you slide under your Jeep; so by wearing safety goggles you can save some of the time otherwise spent flushing dirt out of your cranium orifices. Another neat tid-bit that some clever Jeep engineer came up with, is the slots on the bottom bolts location. You don’t need to remove the bottom bolts, just loosen them up. The bolts will hold the radiator in position while you crawl out from under the Jeep, then raise the radiator up and out of the vehicle. Having slots instead of holes for the bolts was pure genius. It also was very handy for setting the new radiator in place.

With the old leaker out of the Jeep, it’s time to drive over to NAPA and pick up the new non-leaker. On second thought, maybe it’s time to have a burrito first.

Installing the new radiator is pretty much the same, but in reverse order. There are a few exceptions though. Opening the drain plug won’t refill the system with antifreeze, for instance. There is also that little matter about the non-threaded holes for the fan shroud, and the automatic transmission cooler ports you need to plug if you have a manual transmission. Here’s what I did.

I set the radiator on the bottom bolts and went ahead and inserted the other bolts and tightened them all up. I’m a little shocked that I’m still not bleeding from any arms or fingers, and haven’t even tipped over the five gallon bucket of old antifreeze. Everything is going into place perfectly. Next the fan shroud needs to be screwed to the radiator frame. Although the holes are no longer threaded, and the old shroud screws just fall out, remember the mounting hardware that was included? It has four fat shiny screws that tighten themselves right into those old holes. They even have the option of using a Phillips head screwdriver instead of an 11mm socket. (Or was it the 12mm socket) ? Whatever.

After working the first screw into place that was on top and easy to get too, I did the other top screw. Then when I crawled under the jeep to get the bottom screws, it got a little more difficult. I couldn’t get those suckers to thread in so easily. I finally loosened the top screws so I had some slop and movement in the shroud. You see, you need to first get that screw to make its way through the plastic shroud hole, and then it needs to self-tap itself into the non-threaded hole in the radiator frame. That’s best accomplished if you’ve got some finagle room.

With that done, I connect the top and bottom hoses and slide the hose clamps back into the same indentations they were in for the last thirteen years. One of the video’s I watched suggested I do that. No big deal. I Might as well. Then the reservoir tank drops right back in place with a little pop as the plastic button finds its securing hole. Then that tube gets slid back on to the overflow spout. All that remains is what to do with those transmission cooler ports on the bottom. By the way, I thought it would be easier to install the tubing connectors before sliding the radiator into place, but they got hung up on the fan shroud and I decided to remove them until everything was all installed. Now it’s time to deal with that issue. The installation hardware came with two different hose line connectors. One set was for rubber tubing and the other for copper tubing… I presume. My research suggested plugging these holes with some 5/8” brass plugs from the hardware store if you didn’t need them. They supposedly can be left open without any concern, but I thought I’d do something a little different. I decided to use the rubber tube fittings. I wrapped the threads with a little Teflon tape and snugged them into place. Then I took an eighteen inch length of fuel line hose and attached one end to one fitting, and the other end to the other fitting. I secured both ends with small hose clamps. Now I have a fuel line hose clamped from one fitting to the other. That will keep dust and dirt out of the openings, as well as supply me with a couple of small hose clamps and a foot and a half of fuel line if I ever need it in any emergency situation. I’m sure the Jeep engineer that came up with the slots for the bottom radiator bolts, would have done the same thing.

All that’s left is to fill the system back up and check for leaks. Before I begin that process I want to turn the heater on full blast before I forget. I want the antifreeze that’s trapped in the heater core to get flushed out, and replaced with the new stuff. Some of the internet info suggested pouring the removed antifreeze back into the radiator. Yah, right! You can do that in your Volvo if you want to, but it ain’t happening in my Jeep!

I poured a gallon and a half of distilled water into my radiator, left the radiator cap off, and started the engine. It fired right up like it was so happy I finally gave it a new radiator, and got rid of that nasty old antifreeze. Seriously! I swear it knew.

Now I watch the water through the open cap tube and see the color turn a little green as the heater core antifreeze mixes in with the distilled water. I squeeze the upper radiator hose a little too kind of burp the system. Air bubbles are surfacing and I burp it several times while I wait for the thermostat to open and the flow to increase. I understand there is a plug or bolt you can loosen on the thermostat housing that will bleed the air out. Someone even mentioned loosening the temp sensor to let the air escape. I think about it for a second and look into the thermostat location. It’s about two inches from that fan blade that’s rotating at the speed of an old Cessna airplane prop. So I ask myself, “Do you feel lucky punk?” and like so many Clint Eastwood fans would agree, it’s better to keep squeezing the hose.

The thermostat opens and the water flows nicely. It looks like all the air bubbles have dissipated. I tug on the throttle cable a few times to watch it flow faster and of course because, like any guy within reach of a throttle cable, you have to rev that sucker a few times. That Magna Flow cat back exhaust is music to my ears.

I can’t just leave water in there now can I? This is the desert! It’s over a hundred degrees out there as I sit here now. After waiting for that water to reach 190 degrees and open the thermostat, I wasn’t about to splash that hot water into my five gallon bucket. I let that H2O cool all night. As soon as I get my last cup of coffee down, and finish this novel, I’m going to go drain out that nasty water and add brand new antifreeze and mix it to a proper 50 percent solution with fresh distilled water.

So I ain’t done yet. Yesterday went incredibly smooth. I’m kind of old and a little plump. My wife says that over the years I’ve gone from buff to puff. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do climbing under the Jeep over and over. I can still walk this morning though. I guess I did all right. I need to go hear the Fat Lady sing now… oh god no, I don’t mean my wife, she’s slim and gorgeous. I mean it ain’t over until, …well you know. I still have to drain out the water I used to flush it, and add new antifreeze without tripping over the five gallon bucket. I still haven’t used any of the Band-Aid’s I bought prior to the job either. I’ve taken my last sip of coffee, and it ain’t getting any cooler outside. Wish me luck! Final phase coming up.
… A short time later…

Oh Crap!
PS: Wrap a rag around the radiator fill spout and use a funnel when pouring that full gallon of new antifreeze into the radiator. Wear some safety goggles too! … Just saying.

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Jim L Phillips
Surprise, AZ
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