The Saturn's Radiator "Exploded"

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Here's the story... Sometime last weekend, my mom walked into the garage in the morning and found coolant all over the ground. So, my dad took the Saturn to my mechanic (the same goofball who keeps messing up the van's A/C) and he replaced the radiator and refilled it with Dex-Cool for $250. Without any further details, I called my mechanic and he told me that the radiator had basically "exploded." Maybe it was missing a few chunks or something, but I'm not sure what he means by "exploded." It was definitely a rapid leak, as it was fine the day before and a major leak developed over the course of the night. The Saturn is 13.5 years old and has 127,000 miles on it. It has had three coolant changes over this period of time. Is this a normal life for a plastic tanked radiator? The only thing they may have caused this radiator failure to occur sooner (rather than later) was that I installed a new radiator cap recently. Also, my mechanic wasn't sure what brand of radiator he used. He told me that he got it from Factory Motor Parts (FMP). I called FMP and the rep wasn't sure what a Saturn was, but finally came back and said that they stocked "Midwestern" branded radiators. I called a different FMP location and was told that most of their radiators were SPI branded. But FMP's website doesn't show that they carry SPI branded radiators, so who knows what radiator was used. Anyway, are there any major differences in quality between these aftermarket radiators? Are they all about the same? Will the radiator brand be stamped somewhere on the radiator? Is there any easy way for me to tell what brand the radiator is? Thanks!
 

The Critic

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 Originally Posted By: saaber1
What caused you to install a new radiator cap? was the old one leaking?
For some reason, when I removed the cap on the pressurized surge tank, I would not hear any hiss. Plus I was getting a small amount of coolant loss that was unexplained. I had the system pressure tested and was unable to find any leaks. So, I thought the cap must not be holding pressure so I replaced it with a new one from NAPA.
 
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I would guess the plastic core just cracked or split along a seam. This wouldn't be unheard of at 12 years/125k+ miles.
 
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So the new cap held pressure really good, 12-old plastic finally gave up--internal pressure was too much. Sounds very plausible to me.
 
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 Originally Posted By: The Critic
Here's the story... Sometime last weekend, my mom walked into the garage in the morning and found coolant all over the ground. So, my dad took the Saturn to my mechanic (the same goofball who keeps messing up the van's A/C) and he replaced the radiator and refilled it with Dex-Cool for $250. Also, my mechanic wasn't sure what brand of radiator he used. He told me that he got it from Factory Motor Parts (FMP). Thanks!
Is this your mechanic or your parents mechanic? If he is a goofball, why do you take your cars to him?
 

The Critic

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 Originally Posted By: Johnny
 Originally Posted By: The Critic
Here's the story... Sometime last weekend, my mom walked into the garage in the morning and found coolant all over the ground. So, my dad took the Saturn to my mechanic (the same goofball who keeps messing up the van's A/C) and he replaced the radiator and refilled it with Dex-Cool for $250. Also, my mechanic wasn't sure what brand of radiator he used. He told me that he got it from Factory Motor Parts (FMP). Thanks!
Is this your mechanic or your parents mechanic? If he is a goofball, why do you take your cars to him?
Both, it's our family's mechanic for stuff that I don't feel like doing. I've only used him for A/C work, which was a big mistake as he keeps screwing it up. We took the van to him for A/C work since someone recommended him. And his labor rate is only $50/hr, which is half as much as anywhere else. So I think my dad went to him because he's cheap, but you get what you pay for.
 
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 Originally Posted By: The Critic
Anyway, are there any major differences in quality between these aftermarket radiators? Are they all about the same?
Is the new one plastic or metal?
 

The Critic

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 Originally Posted By: Kruse
 Originally Posted By: The Critic
Anyway, are there any major differences in quality between these aftermarket radiators? Are they all about the same?
Is the new one plastic or metal?
Probably plastic.
 
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I'd say that is a pretty typical lifespan. They almost always develop a bulge in the driver's side plastic side tank that cracks the reinforcement webbing at first, then eventually ruptures if not replaced in time. The aftermarket replacements all seem to be built pretty much like the OE Delphi, just usually made in China and sometimes with a different design drain valve.
 
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 Originally Posted By: moklock
usually made in China ...
That's probably what you have.
 
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 Originally Posted By: The Critic
 Originally Posted By: saaber1
What caused you to install a new radiator cap? was the old one leaking?
For some reason, when I removed the cap on the pressurized surge tank, I would not hear any hiss. Plus I was getting a small amount of coolant loss that was unexplained. I had the system pressure tested and was unable to find any leaks. So, I thought the cap must not be holding pressure so I replaced it with a new one from NAPA.
hey critic, didn't you have a plastic straw go into the intake by accident? I had some dexcool coolant go down some in the coolant reservoir in my 96 sunfire a couple of months ago. but I just topped it off with dexcool. It's been fine ever since. the coolant reservoir is still full. I just thought the water part of the antifreeze just evaporated. lately, sounds like you are doing more harm than good? ;\)
 
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JHZR2

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Japanese plastic radiators in my experience are horrible. European plastic radiators are fine. I have originals on an 81, 83, 85, and 96 MB, all but one have over 200k miles on them, and on a 91 BMW, with 116k. All original. I dont know about domestics. My mother's plymouth has about that mileage, and she hasnt had any cooling issues, but she might be in the time frame and devellop one any day - who knows? The radiator on my truck is fine... but it is only 11 years old and 55k miles.
 

The Critic

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 Originally Posted By: Cutehumor
hey critic, didn't you have a plastic straw go into the intake by accident? I had some dexcool coolant go down some in the coolant reservoir in my 96 sunfire a couple of months ago. but I just topped it off with dexcool. It's been fine ever since. the coolant reservoir is still full. I just thought the water part of the antifreeze just evaporated. lately, sounds like you are doing more harm than good? ;\)
No, the radiator cap, hoses and thermostat were all replaced in January. The straw incident happened in March. There has not been any coolant loss ever since the cooling system was partially overhauled in January.
 
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125k on a plastic tank radiator is on the low end of acceptable, Acura ones die at about the same time too, most likely due to the higher than average cap pressure. Quality of after market radiators are about the same, unless you go to a different material like brass/copper or aluminum. At least you don't have to worry about the brass copper one having low quality construction like the CSF ones I had. If I were you I would double check if the new radiator cap is the correct pressure. A higher pressure cap can build up more pressure and therefore wear out the plastic tank faster.
 
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 Originally Posted By: Johnny
Just be glad it did not let go while your Mom was driving it down the road.
That happened to us on one of our cars. Ended up frying the engine. lol...
 
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 Originally Posted By: Kruse
Is the new one plastic or metal?
Copper and Brass radiators are getting hard to find. They are now making PTR's for older cars and trucks instead of Copper and Brass. If you do find a Copper and brass radiator the price is very high($400+) and the Chinese girl that put it together needs more practice.
 
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