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2001 Jeep Wrangler TJ Radiator Install - Two-Hour Cool Down

Easy Wrangler radiator swap

Pete TrasborgPhotographer, Writer

A lot of us have problems with our Jeeps overheating when we really work them. Whether it’s off-road or on long grades on the highway, the problem persists. This is often due to no fault of the Jeep’s cooling system itself. When our Jeeps rolled off the assembly line, there was a ton of money and research in them to make sure the cooling system would keep the vehicle cool. And in a stock Jeep 10 or 20 years ago, the stock cooling systems worked great. But add on the years, the mileage, the bigger tires, heavy accessories, and the neglect that our off-road Jeeps often see and pretty soon the entire developmental budget in the world can’t make the Jeep keep its cool.

So, we modify the cooling systems in our Jeeps to deal with what we are dishing out by adding aftermarket radiators, water pumps, hoses, and more. The problem is that so often these modifications mean we need to modify other parts to work with them. Pretty soon one simple thing hits a downward spiral, and we end up chasing mods around the cooling system until we say “the heck with it” or we’ve busted out another thousand to buy parts to work with our new parts.

When our old 2001 TJ started having cooling issues, we knew the coolant had been in it for a long time. So we flushed it, but that didn’t fix the issue. The Jeep also still had the factory radiator in it, so we blew dirt out of the fins with compressed air, but that didn’t cut it either. The water pump was a more recent addition, and it was pumping so we let it be. We pulled the thermostat housing, and it was dirty but not critically so. However, we went ahead and put a new quality thermostat in it for good measure. Still no dice, and the radiator cap was fine, so what to do?

We never did like the crimped plastic tanks of the factory radiator, and some further inspection revealed one of the tanks had been leaking at some point in the past (we could see the water marks in the dirt on the tank), but it didn’t seem

to be leaking now. However, we did have some squished fins in the face of the radiator. Plus, somewhere over the past 14 years and 155,000 miles, we seem to have a faint memory of filling the system with swamp water after we lost a lower radiator hose (at least once) and topping it off with water from a stream one particularly hot summer day. In fact, the stream water might have been what we flushed out of it.

So we decided the time was nigh to say goodbye to our old radiator and put something else in. However, we didn’t want to get too fancy; we wanted something fully-welded, and we needed all the factory stuff to bolt back on with the factory hardware. We were at Jeeps R Us down in Laguna Beach, California, one day last year while they installed an all-aluminum radiator in a TJ and remembered the price of the radiator was $275, which is a great deal. So we called them up, made sure it would work with all our factory stuff, and ordered one up.

Since we were in Southern California, and so is Jeeps R Us, the radiator showed up the next day, ready to go. Including getting tools out of the box, soup-to-nuts, the install was done in less than two hours. As advertised, all our factory stuff interfaces with the radiator, and our temperature gauge once again reads less than 210 degrees pretty much no matter how hard we whip the Jeep. Finally, a bolt-in part that actually bolted in. Who’da thunk it?

If you do have an automatic-equipped Jeep, it is easy to reuse your factory lines as shown here. Even that bolts right up with no issues.

After that, we flushed the system of old coolant by tapping into the heater core hoses. Our coolant had some oil in it. That usually indicates a head gasket issue, but we know that the coolant that came out of this Jeep was in there for at least eight years so we weren’t too concerned.

The new radiator from Jeeps R Us is PN CC2101 and is a fully-welded three-core aluminum radiator. The company has them both with and without built-in automatic transmission coolers.

Many radiators don’t come with new radiator caps, but this one did. And while it is a little taller than the factory radiator, it still clears the hood with no problems.

Even though our Jeep was a manual-transmission Jeep, we opted for the automatic transmission radiator because we are thinking we’ll use the built-in cooler for either engine oil or power steering fluid down the line. The fittings arrive loose, so we Teflon taped them and tightened them down.

Once we had the radiator in place, we filled the system with Be Coolant from Be Cool. It has a higher boiling point than regular coolant and offers built-in protection for aluminum radiators. If you use regular coolant with an aluminum radiator, you should use an additive or a cathode to keep it from corroding.

To save some time, we left the fan on the engine, and the fan shroud just dangling from the fan. But if you do that, it’s a good idea to use two people to take the old radiator out and especially to put the new one in so that you don’t munch fins.