How to Paint a Car Radiator

by William Zane

The radiator in your car is an important part of the cooling system that ensures that the motor receives a constantly recirculated supply of coolant. As radiators age, the paint can become faded and dull from being in the hot, dirty confines of the engine bay. This, in turn, can make your engine bay look worse for the wear. Painting a car radiator is a straightforward process, though doing it properly means that the radiator will need to be removed from the vehicle's engine bay.

Drain the coolant from the radiator. This procedure varies depending on the model of car but usually involves opening a drain located at the bottom of the radiator. Drain the coolant into an appropriate container and either discard it or keep it for reuse.

Remove the radiator from the engine bay. The radiator is bolted into the engine bay, but how it is installed will vary greatly depending on the model. Consult a shop manual for your vehicle or examine how the radiator is installed to determine how to remove it. You will also need to remove any coolant hoses that attach to the radiator.

Scrub the exterior of the radiator with a wire brush and a cleaner like Simple Green. Dry the radiator with a shop rag. Since the radiator is out of the car, this is also a good time to take it to a radiator shop and have it inspected and pressure-tested for leaks. The radiator shop can also fix any bent cooling fins on the radiator if necessary.

Strip the old paint with paint stripper. Apply the paint stripper according to the directions on the container. Let the stripper sit until the paint is bubbling, then wipe or scrub it off. Repeat until all of the paint is removed.

Clean the radiator with mineral spirits and a shop rag until it is free of oil and residue. Apply a light coating of radiator spray paint. Radiator spray paint is specially formulated to block heat from the engine and is black in color. Let the paint dry for a few minutes, then apply three or four solid coats of paint. Allow the paint to dry for at least several hours (or overnight if possible) before reinstalling the radiator in the engine bay.

Reinstall the radiator and reconnect any hoses that were removed. Top off the radiator with coolant, start the motor and check for any leaks.

Items you will need

About the Author

William Zane has been a freelance writer and photographer for over six years and specializes primarily in automotive-related subject matter among many other topics. He has attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, where he studied automotive design, and the University of New Mexico, where he studied journalism.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera front of antique car image by Xavier MARCHANT from Fotolia.com