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Plastic vs. Copper Radiators

What are the differences between plastic and copper radiators?

  1. Price
  2. Weight
  3. Wear and Tear
  4. Durability

A radiator is a heat exchanger used to combustion engines in cars. It works by circulating a liquid within the engine where it is heated. Afterward, the liquid goes through the radiator where it is cooled down and then it returns to the engine in a cycle. There has been an argument about which one to use: plastic vs. copper radiators. What sets the two apart and what is the better material to choose? That is what this article aims to answer. Continue reading to learn more. 

Close up photo of a man holding a radiator cap

The main reason why some people prefer plastic radiators is because they are incredibly affordable. Nowadays, many people have become more conscious of how they deal with their money. With that in mind, they choose plastic radiators, the less expensive choice.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that copper radiators are expensive. In fact, there are top-of-the-line automotive copper radiators being sold today at very affordable prices.


A car mechanic fixing a car radiator

Compared to the weight of copper, the plastic used for radiators is very lightweight. In very niche circumstances, people want that light radiator to make sure that the vehicle’s overall weight is as light as possible. However, this compromises a lot of things that radiators need. It greatly reduces the quality of the whole engine system and the vehicle in general.

Wear and Tear

A car under repair

Plastic radiators would be advisable only in a situation where the car with it is not used very often as the material falters its lastingness. Plastic radiators can break easily because of the continuous exposure to high temperatures. This can make the plastic radiator split and melt in some situations. It’s even possible for the plastic radiator to form holes, particularly around the delta neck because that is where the cooling liquid gets in contact with the plastic. 

Copper radiators last far longer than plastic radiators. Radiators with a copper core are more efficient with their heat transfer. Yes, it may incur damage such as dents and bends, but it is easier to repair, unlike plastic that can easily crack beyond repairs. Repairing metal radiators is generally easier, while plastic ones need to be replaced.

Another thing that should be taken note of is that in copper radiators, the tubes are usually narrow. They get clogged more than aluminum tubes. That being said, copper radiators, unlike its plastic alternative, are easier to repair. 


The ideal radiator should be made from highly conductive metals with big tubes and fins that touch the tubes to the millimeter. This ensures that air will efficiently pass through with barely any restriction. When made with copper, in particular, the whole thing would heat considerably better than any alternative. Copper radiators have superior thermal conductivity, corrosion resistance, and the strength to remain as close to their shape — even after a long period. 

Key Takeaway

One typical debate individuals have is choosing between plastic vs. copper radiators.

Based on their properties, copper radiators take the win. They are way more efficient in what it does. As mentioned above, copper radiators have superior thermal conductivity, corrosion resistance, and sturdiness. If you’re after the quality of the radiator, copper radiators will be the best choice. Not only will they last longer, but it also has a few extra properties that make it a more efficient radiator even though it does have some issues with its tubes.

However, if you are specifically looking for an inexpensive and light option, then plastic radiators should be your choice. 

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