Best Aluminum Radiator Upgrade for Wrangler

    Replacing Wrangler factory radiator

    I have 1994 Jeep YJ with a 4.0L HO straight six engine and three-speed automatic transmission. The automatic has its own cooler and fan on the wheelwell, and I am running an electric fan on the radiator. I did not have any overheating problems with the stock radiator, but the old radiator has sprung several leaks and I am looking to buy a new or rebuilt one. Any recommendations for the best radiator for the money for my application would be greatly appreciated. Are the aluminum ones really worth the extra money?

    Jason C.
    Via email

    We've never been a huge fan of the plastic tank/aluminum core radiators that seem to be in all newer vehicles these days, and this is likely the same type of radiator that's under the hood of your Wrangler. They often spring leaks where the tanks meet the aluminum core, and what's worse, you can't just solder one back together should you punch a hole in it like you can a more traditional brass radiator. The trouble is, you really aren't going to be able to upgrade over what you have using stock replacement parts. A quality aluminum radiator will last quite a bit longer than a stock replacement, but as you point out, they are quite a bit more expensive.

    If your Jeep's radiator is leaking around the tanks or even has a cracked tank, there's a chance you can have it repaired at a local radiator shop cheaper than buying a new stock replacement. You mentioned that the Jeep wasn't overheating before, so that indicates the core is probably in good shape, and a radiator shop can even repair one or two leaks in the core itself. A good radiator shop will tell you if they can repair what you have and for how much up front, so you can weigh their prices against buying a new one. But if you plan on keeping your Jeep for a long time, we would recommend investing in a quality all-aluminum replacement. Fortunately for you, there are several direct bolt-in radiator options for your YJ from companies like Flex-A-Lite (flex-a-lite.com) and Quadratec (quadratec.com). Though more expensive, you will upgrade the cooling capacity of your Jeep significantly and should get years of trouble-free use. Though we hesitate to mention it, we've also heard people have had pretty good luck with imported aluminum radiators that are sold online. While it's definitely a buyer-beware sort of scenario, being able to get into an aluminum radiator for the cost of a stock replacement is pretty attractive. Still, we think going with no-name brand stuff is kind of a crap shoot, and it would suck to find out going cheap was not a good decision when you're 50 miles from the closest pavement. Regardless of the route you take, make sure you use good-quality coolant to avoid any issues with electrolysis, and remember to throw a new thermostat in when you do the swap.

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