Q&A / Tech

Mailbag: Aluminum vs. Copper-Brass Radiators

Got questions?

We’ve got the answers—the Summit Racing tech department tackles your automotive-related conundrums. This week, we’re talking about examining aftermarket radiator options.

V.R. Fort Wayne, IN

Q: I have a 1967 Impala SS with a V8 engine and the original radiator. I ran it recently and the water temperature went up to 185 degrees F. I’m thinking it shouldn’t go past 160 degrees. I’m going to replace the radiator and want to know if I should go with a 4-row copper and brass radiator, or a 2-row aluminum radiator. It seems like like four rows would be better than two.

A: A water temperature of 185 degrees F is nothing to worry about. In fact, a cooling system running at 185-190 degrees reduces water condensation in motor oil and increases parasitic power loss. Efficient cooling is all about surface area and conductivity. Copper-brass is a good heat conductor, but aluminum is stronger and allows radiator manufacturers to use larger tubes. These larger tubes mean more tube-to-fin contact surface area (up to 20 percent over copper/brass), which provides better overall heat dissipation. Also, fewer rows of tubes means less restriction through the core, allowing your fan to aid in the cooling process more efficiently. 

In general, a 2-row aluminum radiator will have larger tubes and just as much (or more) surface area than a 4-row copper-brass unit with the same thickness. And it will weigh a whole lot less. You can find more valuable tips for choosing a radiator by reading our How to Choose an Aftermarket Radiator post. 

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