If your radiator has more holes than a slab of Swiss cheese and you left it high and dry, then it’s time to replace it. If you’re on a tight budget, you might be considering a used radiator or an aftermarket radiator, but which is a better option?

Obviously, buying used can have a huge cost benefit. Unless you have a rare or high-end sports or luxury car, a salvage yard special will run $25-$50. Not bad compared to the cost of a new cooling system from your local dealer.

The problem with buying used is that you have no idea what condition the unit is in. Appearance is not a good indicator and there is no way to pressure test it. Then what do you do?

If you must buy a used one, be sure to do a thorough visual inspection. That means you have to look inside and out. Inspect for internal corrosion and damage to cooling fins and hose connections.

To get a good look inside, you’ll need a flashlight, so be sure to bring one to the junkyard. Look for excessive flaking and corrosion. If it doesn’t look clean, then it wasn’t well maintained.

Check the binding, too. Look where the cooling coil connects to the tanks. If you find a buildup of sludge or mineral deposits due to external corrosion, this is a good indicator of poor condition.

Look for repairs. If you see large drops of “cold weld” cement like JB WELD, the unit has been patched and should be avoided.

If it is an aluminum system, check for corrosion and epoxy around the tank joints. Aluminum radiators need a special coolant. If left unused they will quickly corrode and start to leak at the pins. Also, a common fault with aluminum cores is separation from the plastic tank. The common repair is epoxy cement. Stay away if you see these obvious repairs.

Before searching the junk yards, consider the aftermarket. For just a little more money, you can get a high-quality aftermarket replacement unit with a warranty. The average price of an aftermarket radiator in 2011 is $120 shipped.

Most aftermarket components are exact original equipment (OE) specifications. In many cases, the manufacturers provide the parts to the automaker. In other cases, the components are “multi-fit” meaning it has the correct capacity and size for your vehicle, but will have mounting hardware or attachment points for a variety of adjustments.

CSF, Inc. is one of the world’s largest manufacturers specializing in multi-fit radiators. According to CSF, they provide the best overall value. All of their products meet or exceed original equipment engineering specifications. Its manufacturing plants meet ISO 9000 standards and provide parts to original equipment manufacturers. They manufacture over 1,000 different models to fit 2,001 vehicle assembly applications. If that wasn’t enough, they offer an industry leading warranty. Simply put, you cannot buy a used radiator with the same quality or performance guarantee.

If using is your only option, be sure to inspect thoroughly. For complete confidence, invest in a quality aftermarket radiator.

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