The stock cooling system has probably been doing a good job for a very long time. However, over time, some inefficiencies are bound to develop and you may notice the temperature gauge climb a little higher than it used to. The fix is to address each cooling component one by one, and determine whether or not it needs an upgrade.
There are 4 main components to the cooling system; the radiator, water pump, thermostat and fan. We’ll start by discussing the largest of the group, the radiator.
The stock radiator is a 2-row copper design housed in a louvered-fin core. Stock dimensions are 24.5” W x 17.8” H x 1.14” D, with a capacity of 14.1 quarts. Fins per inch ranged from a minimum of 9 to a maximum of 14, depending on the year and trim. Again, it does a good job of keeping a stock engine cool, but over the years, wear and tear will take its toll. Bent and broken fins and calcium build-up will both lay waste to a stock radiator.
The concept of choosing a new radiator isn’t very complicated. However, in reality, it isn’t so simple. Luckily, the purpose of this guide is to help demystify this process!
There are tons of different radiators to choose from, and there is a huge price range as well. One piece of advice, don’t pick a radiator just because it is the cheapest one! Picking a radiator is a bit of an art. You have to weed out the bad ones from the good ones, because trust me, there are bad ones! A bad one will be leaking the moment you install it. For this reason, I advise you to stick with a name brand radiator - in particular, AFCO or Mishimoto. Both companies are hugely known and respected names in the radiator world. They make quality pieces, in a variety of options (standard, heavy duty, performance etc. We’ll get to that later) and are top-notch manufacturers.
If your pony is still stock and you intend to keep it that way for the foreseeable future, then an OEM replacement radiator will do the trick. If the stock radiator was able to do it up until now, a replacement OEM unit ought to be able to continue the job, no problem. If you have done some modifications or plan to later down the road, go with a performance radiator. It is generally accepted that with aftermarket modifications that the 5.0L engine will run hotter.
Aftermarket performance radiators are usually made of aluminum, which dispels heat much better than the stock construction. Furthermore, they usually are bigger and beefier, with larger cores providing more surface area to draw in more air, thus better controlling temperatures. The stock piece is a 2 core design whereas quality aluminum performance radiator usually has a minimum of 3 rows, again better to dispel heat throughout coolant circulation.
One other thing to take into account when purchasing a radiator is transmission type. A radiator intended for a manual transmission usually differs slightly from that intended for an automatic car because of the extra transmission cooler needed for the automatic transmission. Some radiators are universal, but not all, so just keep that in mind.
Now, one drawback to aluminum is that it can be somewhat brittle. Road vibration and bumps can stress the radiator and cause it to crack and then leak. This is why it is very important to purchase a quality radiator with quality welds. A poorly made radiator will let you know sooner rather than later, sometimes leaking right out of the factory!
When upgrading the radiator, there are a few other related (and cheap, luckily enough!) parts you are going to want to consider. Be sure to check that the upper and lower radiator hoses are in good shape and are not cracked or leaking. Give them a good visual inspection and squeeze. To be sure, shine a flashlight and look down the inside. A little known secret when it comes to hoses and tubes is that most of them rot from the inside! What may look like a perfectly good hose on the outside may have severe cracks on the inside; waiting for the moment you are farthest from home before rupturing (Murphy’s Law). Another easy replacement is the radiator cap. Believe it or not, if it is not sealing and pressurizing properly, that could be the cooling problem you’ve been chasing for weeks.
There are also coolant additives that increase flow and reduce tension between the coolant and your cooling system that will lower engine temperatures. If you’ve replaced your radiator already but are still concerned about high engine temperatures, a coolant additive could be the solution you’re looking for.
You keep cool in the hot months by blasting the AC or running through the sprinkler but your Mustang stays cool by properly circulating the coolant through the radiator. At the end of the day, skimping on the radiator (or any cooling related part) is not something you want to do. The ‘cool’ factor has to be as close to perfect as possible. Otherwise you’re wasting gas or risking engine damage!
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