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Copper vs Aluminum Radiator – Which is Better?

Your vehicle runs by way of combustion energy. The car does this by burning fuel and using it to power the other components. Due to the high heat generated, a radiator is essential in regulating the temperature of the hot air circulating in the vehicle. This ensures that all engine components are properly cooled and functional. In recent years, there has been some debate on copper vs aluminum radiator and which of the two is most effective in cooling the engine. Knowing their differences can help you choose the right type of radiator for your car.

What is the difference between a copper and aluminum radiator?

The main difference between the two radiator types has to do with the materials used, as well as the size of the tubes and type of fins.

Copper isn’t the only material that you’ll find in a radiator, as it’s oftentimes compounded with other metals and alloys like brass and lead. However, the narrower tubes and fins of a copper radiator are predominantly made of copper. Meanwhile, aluminum radiators have a much wider tubing and are usually combined with steel alloys. 

However, the two types largely differ in heat conductivity, cooling capabilities, durability, weight, and the like. Continue reading to learn more.

Heat Conductivity

Copper is considerably more thermal efficient compared to aluminum. This means that copper radiators are able to conduct heat better than aluminum radiators. With this in mind, copper radiators are better at “collecting” high amounts of heat and then converting it back to cool air as the coolant is transferred to the fins.

Meanwhile, aluminum has poor heat conductivity. Compared to the 92% thermal transfer rate of copper, aluminum falls short at almost half this figure. 

Durability

In choosing a radiator, you want to get the best value-for-money component out there. You certainly wouldn’t want to buy a radiator that requires frequent maintenance and repairs — this situation simply isn’t practical, as you might end up spending more. 

Copper has been used in car radiator manufacturing ever since the 19th century. This is because no other material seemed to have better advantages. Its high melting point of 1,085 °C is more desirable than the 660.3 °C melting point of aluminum. This allows the copper material to better withstand the high temperature environment of your car’s engine without overheating your car engine.

The parts of a copper radiator won’t be damaged even when exposed to high pressure and temperature, unlike what you may find across aluminum radiators. 

For example, if you have an aluminum radiator, its components may be more prone to damage. Buying radiator components such as water pump outlet & inlet, thermostat, cooling fan, tubes, fins, hose, head gaskets, and the like, might be more expensive for you in the long run. 

Weight

Aluminum material has a specific weight of 2.8 grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm3) compared to the 8.93 g/cm3 for copper. This means that aluminum radiators are far more lightweight compared to the average copper radiator.

While your engine may be able to run at a much higher performance with lighter materials, you could still offset the loss in performance in a copper radiator by making a range of changes on your vehicle’s body. 


The downside with aluminum, however, is that it’s significantly more expensive to manufacture. Having custom-built aluminum radiators may cost more compared to copper radiators that can readily-fit your vehicle.

Key Takeaway

In this article, you’ve been introduced to a few of the differences in a copper vs aluminum radiator. While aluminum radiators are lighter, they’re difficult to customize because of the cost of manufacturing. You won’t find the same problem with copper radiators because they have been used across automotives for many decades now.

Another difference is that copper radiators are far better at conducting heat compared to their aluminum counterparts. This provides your engine with overall better heat transfer and cooling capabilities.

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