After some supreme cooling for your hard-driven pride and joy? Let’s take a look at some of the best car radiators on the market.
A cool engine is a happy engine, and if you’re not sure why, check out the science in our article – Radiators and Intercoolers Explained. For now we can all agree that, if you’re running any sort of performance car and you’re not adverse to spanking its botty from time to time, an uprated radiator is one of the all-time great engine safeguards.
The real-world problem with alloy radiators though isn’t so much about how they perform, traditionally at least, it’s always been getting your hands on an upgrade in a timely manner.
You see, in the old days, there was no such thing as a commercially available, off-the-shelf ally rad. To stand any sort of a chance of getting race car levels of cooling you’d have to go and see a local fabricator for a custom job… and then prepare yourself for an extreme wallet transplant. All this made performance alloy radiators the reserve of motorsport aficionados and the tuning elite for many, many years.
But that dear reader, is why it’s such a great time to be alive. Because nowadays, high-performance off-the-shelf items are just about everywhere. But then again, it does beg the ultimate question; with all this choice what ones are best here in 2023?
Well, have a little look at our guide and we’ll bestow you with some of the best car radiator picks out there.
The most famous alloy radiators of all? It’s very likely. In fact, many have credited GReddy, along with a few other Japanese uber brands like HKS and Spoon, with kicking off the global market for uprated, direct-fit products in the first place.
You see, tuners in Japan caught on extremely early to the fact that there was a need for off-the-shelf cooling upgrades. So, when we got an influx of Japanese imports into Europe and the US during the nineties, it brought with it the ‘overnight parts from Japan’ era. Pretty soon the home-grown manufacturers decided to get in on the action for other vehicles, and a whole new segment of the modifying industry was born. We can’t say if that’s strictly true of course, but it’s a nice story though.
Anyway, back to GReddy, and there’s no denying that, in the eyes of many, these are still the daddy for just about any Japanese car. This could also have something to do with the fact that the legendary HKS don’t actually make alloy radiators these days, just branded radiator caps. What many don’t know though, is that many of the parts supplied by GReddy – which is itself owned by the Japanese mega corporation, Trust – are developed by their US distributor in California. Although the parts are still officially made in Japan.
Again, these puppies aren’t what you call cheap but that’s kind of the point of having all the big kudos gear stuffed under the bonnet of your high-end tuner car, right? The GReddy name is easily as iconic as any GT-R, STi or Type R badge, and that’s why you’ll find them right at the top of our list of the best radiators for 2023.
AIRTEC Motorsport (Auto Specialists)
This legendary British fabrication firm cut their teeth as Auto Specialists in the ‘90s fast Ford market and nowadays are perhaps best known for their FMIC upgrades. But let’s not forget that, in terms of manufacturing skill at least, there’s not a huge difference between top quality intercoolers and ally rads. So, it makes sense that they have developed some pretty special radiators under their AIRTEC Motorsport brand over the years, too.
It’s true that these guys may not have the most extensive range of radiators out there, but they’ve successfully expanded their fitment list and (while the Auto Specialists name continues, making performance and classic Fords something of a speciality) there’s a few popular BMW and VAG motors that can benefit from their 30-something years of experience in motorsport.
From their home base in Essex, what these guys do extremely well is offer uber quality for the segment of the market that wants the best hand-made parts available. They also tend to concentrate on high-end and classic fitments that you simply won’t find anywhere else. To this day they still take on small-volume and bespoke fabrication work, and they’re easily some of the best when it comes to craftmanship and old skool engineering.
Ultra reliable, well-made, decent prices, what’s not to love?
One of the biggest names out there, with perhaps the biggest fitment range of aftermarket radiators on the planet, it’s hard to believe that Mishimoto has only been around since 2005, because (even to us older guys) it seems like they’ve been on the tuning scene forever. It’s also a common misconception that Mishimoto hail from Asia, when in fact they’re one of the premium all-American brands. They manufacture and develop their products in-house at their massive, state-of-the-art facility in New Castle, Delaware.
When you think about it, what Mishimoto have achieved over the last couple of decades is staggering. They’re one of those brands that don’t just make high-quality, well-fitting alloy radiators that perform at the highest level, but they make radiators that actually look cool. That’s not an easy trick to pull off with such a functional part, and it’s earned them plenty of fans all around the world. And rightly so.
There’s plenty of kudos from those in the know here, and they’re no stranger to the finer details like flashy radiator caps and other optional extras like high performance cooling fans and fitment-specific shrouds. But, what we like most is the sort of build quality that’s not usually associated with high-volume off-the-shelf parts. All their radiators come with a lifetime warranty, which is pretty unusual, too.
So, with over 200 popular applications not only is it highly likely they’ll have a radiator for your car, but you know it’s going to be one of the best.
If you’ve got a Japanese motor, and you happen to live in the UK, Ireland or Europe, Japspeed is probably your first port of call when it comes to finding an alloy radiator. In fact, if you’ve just bought your car, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if you’ve already got one, they’re that popular.
The original, and much imitated, one-stop-shop for Japanese cars here in the UK, these guys have been developing their own products in-house for decades now and, along with their exhausts, downpipes, intercoolers, they’ve built up quite the extensive range of lightweight performance radiators for a whole host of core cars. Many of these have been developed and tested to the extreme on their own collection of race and drift cars, so the results in terms of performance and durability speak for themselves.
Offering great quality, well-performing units is one thing though, but there’s no denying that the prices help to make them one of the most popular out there. Even we’re not sure how they keep them down to such a level where they almost become an impulse purchase. Their radiators start at as little as 160-quid, which pushes them well into the reach of us mere mortals. What these guys also do very well is offer the parts that aren’t available elsewhere, adding to their infinite popularity.
Basically speaking, without Japspeed, there would be a lot of street and race cars still running bog standard cooling systems. And, just for that, we can’t help but love them.
If you haven’t got a Honda, you might as well scroll on for a bit. If, however you’re rocking the mighty H badge, and you’re looking for the maximum possible tuner points, a Spoon Sports part or two is probably right at the top of your shopping list.
And no, it’s not just because – spoiler alert – “Hector is going to be running three Honda Civics with Spoon engines.” (And on top of that, he just went into Harry’s and ordered 3 T66 turbos, with NOS… and a Motec system exhaust). It’s because Ichishima-san and his crew are the guys that many believe put Honda on the map in motorsport as well as in the street-racing fraternity. And they would be correct.
To say that Spoon is legendary in the tuning community is putting it mildly. They’re a premium, uber-quality manufacturer for sure and, at this level, who’s looking at the price tag anyway? But, although they’ve been absolutely killing it with all sorts of performance parts since the early ‘80s, what about their alloy radiators?
Well, the answer is simple – if you can afford to drop 1500-smackers or so, there’s a lot to love. It goes without saying that they’re all pant-wetting quality and have the track-tested, high-performance credentials to match. In fact, in the majority of Honda tests we’ve seen (and carried out ourselves) over the years, Spoon have been right at the top of the game – just check out our Best Radiator For the Honda Civic Type R Guide for starters!
If you’re looking for out-and-out kudos, there’s no need to search any further.
This massive American corporation dates back to the mid 1940s when it started as small family business specializing in radiator repairs. Nowadays though – four generations of the same family later – they sell over 650,000 radiators every year. That’s around 35 million radiators to date. So, let’s just say they know a thing or two about automotive cooling.
Aside from their massive client list of OEM manufacturers – not to mention some of the toughest applications out there (you can pretty much guarantee any Caterpillar, JCB, John Deer or Mercedes HGV will be rocking CSF hardware) they also have a truly massive racing and performance division. It’s here that you’ll find the famous all-aluminum aftermarket radiators we know and love.
Now obviously, they take the business rather seriously. Their quality control is nothing short of legendary, every radiator they build is tested individually before it leaves the factory. You can’t fault the engineering and design involved, either. Among other things, these guys test vibration cycles, burst pressure and thermal cycles. They also spray the whole lot with salt to look at the impact of corrosion and whack them in their wind tunnel to make sure they perform at the highest level. They go so far as to test their packaging to the extreme, too. Dropping the boxes from a 10-foot high rig, just to make sure everything is top notch for the worldwide shipping. Bonkers!
What with all this you’d think that the prices would be a bit on the silly side, right? But no, they’re actually pretty reasonable. CSF even make a whole host private label radiators – the items sold by other aftermarket brands such as VF Engineering, Mountune, Honda Racing and many, many more.
With solid credentials in motorsport, not to mention one of the best reputations in the retro car market, Radtec is one of those firms whispered about by those in the know. Arguably these have become the go-to for the more decerning motoring connoisseur. Speak to any old skool engineer or experienced classic car enthusiast here in the UK and it’s likely they’ll point you straight in their direction.
It’s all with good reason though, there’s a distinct no-nonsense approach to what they do. It’s all pretty simple; they make impeccably engineered alloy radiators, manufactured to the best possible standard, which do everything exactly as they should. Many claim that their race-proven products are absolutely bulletproof, which always counts for a lot.
What’s always a good sign is that Radtec seem to list a whole host of weird and wonderful applications that we wouldn’t have even thought of. Loads of the niche stuff as well as all the popular performance fitments you’d expect.
Basically then, what we’re talking about is British engineering at its finest. Radtec is always a well-educated choice.
What we’ve always loved about the guys at Direnza is that, ever since they started a decade or so ago, they’ve always used the most up-to-date tech to develop their products, in-house, right here in the UK.
These European car specialists are a rare and beautiful thing in the modified car world, because their gear seems to be so reasonably priced, it’s easy to be fooled into the notion that the products themselves aren’t top notch. In reality, nothing can be further from the truth. They’re up there with the very best.
We’ve witnessed first-hand all the laser scanning and 3D printing they go through in the prototyping stages. We’ve also seen them using CAD design to ensure perfect fitment and the extensive road and track performance testing. So, we’re not at all surprised that they’ve become one of the most popular modifying brands in the UK. Sometimes it’s not just about price, is it? It’s about getting the best balance. And we think that Direnza have got it spot on in that respect. You could even call them the Euro modifying brand of the people.
Anyway, when it comes to their alloy radiator line up (including their thoroughly understated Black Series items) they offer a wide range of fitments for performance models from the likes of Fiat, VW, Ford, BMW and Audi. We have to say, too, the build-quality is just as good as the value for money. In fact, if you want something that works without costing the Earth, we just can’t fault ‘em.
Old skool Japanese craftsmanship is the name of the game here, along with all the modifying community kudos that comes with that concept. Koyorad has been making aftermarket radiators since the 1950s and are world renowned in terms of quality and performance. So, with that sort of top-end reputation, you’d think they were one of those low volume manufacturers focusing on the arts and crafts tradition that Japan is so famous for. But, while they do the traditional bit very well, the actual company is enormous.
When it comes to their alloy racing radiators, they have a surprisingly large fitment list. But what’s most important is that it actually covers a whole host of non JDM cars, something which doesn’t happen very often in Japan. A most honorable pursuit, we’re sure. The even better news is that they’re not quite as expensive you’d think, either. Oh, and they’re actually available from a ton of official distributors all around the world.
Most of all though, Koyorad racing radiators (or just Koyo radiators as they’re sometimes known) are one of those rare and magical products in the car world that look substantially more expensive than they actually are. And, for that reason alone, they deserve a place in our best radiators for 2023 line up.