Your car's radiator is one of the most vulnerable components. From its perch in the front of the engine, it's the first target for any flying debris on the road that can get past the grille. The fins inside the radiator are vulnerable to wear and corrosion, particularly from under-maintained coolant. If you're seeing leaks from the radiator area or your car seems to be running warm and you can see damage in the radiator, you'll need to replace it. If you have some basic mechanical aptitude and an understanding of your car's engine compartment, you can do the job on your own. Here's what you need to know to replace your radiator yourself.

Start with the Right Supplies

You'll want to be sure that you have the right tools on hand before you get started. You'll need fresh coolant, some bottled, distilled water, a set of wrenches, screwdrivers, a large drain container to catch the old coolant, and a set of sockets with a ratchet. You'll also want to install new coolant hoses and hose clamps with the new radiator.

Removing the Old Radiator

Place the bucket or drain container underneath the drain plug on your radiator. Loosen the drain plug and let the coolant drain completely into the container. It's important to catch it all in a container. Antifreeze can be hazardous to animals, so you don't want any puddles of it on the ground. If you can't find the drain plug, you can achieve the same effect by disconnecting the lower radiator hose.

Disconnect all of the hoses from the radiator. You may have to disconnect the fan shroud to get to the radiator. Most of them simply secure with plastic clips, so you can pull up along the edge of it to free it. Set it aside. Remove the mounting bolts or screws holding the radiator in place along the top of the engine compartment using either your ratchet and socket set or a screwdriver. Plug the drain hole or the lower radiator hose connection to prevent coolant leakage when you're removing the old radiator, then lift the radiator straight up out of the engine compartment. Set it somewhere on newspaper or in a large plastic tub until you can take it to an auto parts specialist for recycling.

Installing the New Radiator

Slide the new radiator in place by lining it up in the same spot as the one you just removed. Secure it with the mounting bolts or screws that you removed from the old one. Replace the fan shroud by pushing the plastic clips back into the holes that secured them. Connect the new coolant hoses to the radiator and to each of their destinations according to the existing hoses. Tighten the hose clamps so that they are secure, but not overtightened. If they're too tight, they can actually damage the hose and cause coolant leaks.

Create the mixture of anti-freeze and distilled water according to the proportions that fit your climate. Most blends are equal parts water and anti-freeze, but if you live in an area that's particularly cold, you may need less water. Fill the radiator and the overflow container. Check the fill line on the overflow container to be sure that you don't overfill it. An overfull container may lead to excess pressure in the coolant lines.

Run the engine to cycle the coolant through the system. While the engine's running, open the bleed valve on the coolant line with a small wrench. Then, watch for the bubbles to stop. When there are no more bubbles in the coolant, you can close the bleeder valve.

If you follow the steps presented here, you can replace your car's radiator to restore its proper cooling function. Since every engine has its unique features and designs, check your owner's manual to be sure that there's nothing additional you may need to remove to gain access to the radiator. If you have any questions about the process, a mechanic, like those at A&L Auto Recyclers, can provide you with support.