Mark Gregory

Does 80 year old metal Copper Radiators lose it's ability to cool ?

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I heard if you have an old copper radiator even thought there is not rust or scale inside it . There was an article written about it .

 

The metal loses it's ability to dissipate the heat is this true ? or has any one else heard this ?

 

I own a 1931 Reo Royale with a Honeycomb radiator which was tested for leaks . It is the original radiator and when i ran the motor I had no overheat problems .

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After forty five years in the ho by, having owned more car than anyone should, the lesson learned is any car that’s a keeper should get a new radiator. The odds of a 85 year old radiator not having issues is small, possible but small. I practice what I preach. You can’t enjoy a car if it overheats or pushes water.

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Can only add my personal experience to this problem. Having worked on many antique cars over the years I thought I was a pretty good judge on what was a serviceable part when I finished up my 6 year long restoration of my 1965 Shelby GT350. When I fired up the brand new motor for the first time I expected the overheating to disappear rapidly as the motor broke in but it didn't and I knew it couldn't have anything to do with the radiator as it was a low mileage original with all the correct numbers that I had found in a junkyard on a Mustang wrecked very early in it's life and besides I had taken it to a radiator shop who declared it completely usable after flow and leak testing. After checking hoses and water pump I was stumped until a friend told me to try his radiator shop of choice. Long story short he found that although my radiator appeared and tested as new the years of non use in the junkyard had allowed corrosion to  separate the copper fins from the tubes so very little heat dissipation was actually occurring. Replaced the core and instant success and yet before this experience I never would have believed it possible.

Live and learn.

Howard Dennis

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There are lots of us running original radiators in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club - you need to have your radiator at least back-flushed and flow tested (aka it had better be clean and doing what it is supposed to be doing).   And, those that ignore their issues generally pay for it over time (a lot of Auburn engines have bit the dust due to owner neglect).    My radiator guy is not a big fan of pressure testing a honeycomb - he says they are open systems and never designed for pressure to begin with.   A new honeycomb is an incredibly expensive proposition and a large 1930's car with a modern core is a large expense as well.   I believe the heat dissipation issue is more clogged honeycombs and people "overly painting" the cores. 

 

By the way, years ago, my business partner and I had a 1936 Cadillac 75 Series Town Cabriolet "Open Front Town Car" restored  - the shop doing the car somehow "forgot" to send the radiator out  and it just ended painted with shiny black enamel and stuck into the car - we found the issue as we collapsed several piston via overheating.  The radiator probably weighed 3 times what it should - what a boat anchor.   And nothing better than shredding a 100 point car to deal with stupid issues that should never have happened to begin with (nerve-racking to work around perfect paint and as an additional sidenote  quite an expensive problem).  

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When I bought my 1930 Packard 733 at auction in 2016 I immediately sent the car to a friends shop to have things tested and replaced. The car took an AACA 1st place in 1981 and the was basically kept in a heated garage and taken out to a show only on rare occasions so it would not see its restoration/condition "suffer".  Car ran great, but  I had all hoses , belts replaced and the radiator taken out and boiled out to make sure it was clean. A lot of other stuff was done too to make sure all was well even though it "looked ok" and ran well without anything being done.

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" A new honeycomb is an incredibly expensive proposition"........     This is very true. I'll throw this out there - One of my previous Full Classics had recently had a modern core installed when I purchased it. Not wanting to spend the money for a honeycomb core, or create problems, but wanting it to appear more original, I did the following: I purchased a sheet of aluminum honeycomb. It is available on ebay in various cell sizes. After carefully cutting it to fit the engine side of the radiator core, it was painted radiator black. It was then secured in place using several small pieces of aircraft safety wire located at places difficult to see. A thin bead of black sealant was applied around the outside perimeter of the honeycomb, giving the look of a thin painted bead of solder. The result looked very authentic. Would it work at Pebble? I don't know... it was never caught in CCCA or AACA judging to their senior level. The average judge walked up to the engine compartment looking for a honeycomb core, and that's what he "saw." The car had a stone guard in the front and radiator shutters that closed as it cooled. No one ever tried to look at the front side of the core.

Some will take this as I'm bragging about gaming the system. Please don't. It's not all about the judging. I believe there are owners that are living with honeycomb cores that should have been replaced long ago, but they are caught between the high cost of a new honeycomb core and the desire to maintain the original look. ( whether they are into judging or not) Perhaps this ( a modern core with the honeycomb covering ) is an acceptable solution for some.

Edited by Penske PC-7 (see edit history)
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45 minutes ago, hddennis said:

Long story short he found that although my radiator appeared and tested as new the years of non-use in the junkyard had allowed corrosion to separate the copper fins from the tubes so very little heat dissipation was actually occurring. Replaced the core and instant success and yet before this experience, I never would have believed it possible.

 

 

This is not common but I have also seen this same exact situation a few times.

I worked as parts manager for a two-location specialist auto repair shop for a decade and we had more than one instance of cars with overheating problems that nothing short of a radiator replacement resolved. When the composite radiators came into use, we never saw this problem recur, so I believe it is an issue only with copper/brass rads.

Didn't seem to be a common issue at all, so I would guess other underlying environmental or manufacturing factors were the cause when it did occur.

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2 hours ago, Mark Gregory said:

The metal loses it's ability to dissipate the heat is this true ? 

Remember the original question.  Mr. Gregory is not asking about mechanical damage to a radiator or thoughts about proactive replacement of cooling components. He simply wants to know if metal through aging loses the ability to dissipate (transfer) heat.

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Copper metal should not lose its ability to conduct heat as it ages.  Now, in the real world, and before the common use of antifreeze, mineral contaminants would become deposited on the copper, causing corrosion.  Corroded metal loses much of its ability to conduct heat, and that coupled with the layer of mineral deposits, would significantly reduce the capability of copper metal to conduct heat.  Areas with high mineral content in drinking water (again, the "old" days) were known for tuberculated municipal water system piping, caused by the deposit of minerals within the piping.  If the copper metal of a radiator is clean and bright as new, it should work just fine.

 

Well, anyway, that's my recollection of what I learned 50+ years ago in school, so if I misspeak, please feel free to correct me.

 

Cheers,

Grog

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I had to replace the honeycomb rad in my Pontiac in 1962.  The drain in the original was two tubes up from the bottom of the cross flow rad so when I Grandfather put the car away in the fall the rad didn't completely drain and the bottom was burst.  The replacement radiator had the drain right at the bottom.  Fifty six years and 400,000 miles later it still works as new.  It has always had 50/50 antifreeze in it and I have never had to add coolant between changes (usually every two or two and a half years.  I would say from my experience that the rad has the same ability to transfer heat no matter it's age.

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Reguardless of how expensive a correct radiator core is, it’s much cheaper and lots more fun to have a car that runs, drives, and doesn’t tear itself apart because of the cost of a radiator. I like to drive cars ten times more than look at them. We just did a new radiator on a Springfield Phantom 1 that was the original, car was running cool, had no leaks, but tested bad at the shop in flow and heat transfer. Why risk a high dollar engine? I bet most pre war cars out on the road today have radiators that are only fifty percent function left from the factory, but it’s also probably enough cooling not to cause a problem.

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Companies like Griffin will build you a new aluminium radiator. Just send them your original, they build it just like your original, just with modern cores/tanks. Also with any hose configuration and correct mounting brackets/tabs. Tell them you want the original back. Keep it to sell with the car, a new owner can put it back in the car if they wish. This Packard is a street rod, but you can see the fit of the radiator. Lots of options, a lot of radiators are reproduced for your common cars. That fit right in your stock grill shell. For just a driver, a good way to go, having your car judged is a different story.  http://www.griffinrad.com/

last packard pictures 001.JPG

packard finished 041.JPG

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Original question, quote "The metal loses it's ability to dissipate the heat is this true ? or has any one else heard this ?"

No. Copper is copper. Brass is brass. Whether it is new, or a hundred years old, they transfer heat in mathematically predictable ways.

HOWEVER! There are surrounding conditions that can and do affect the transfer of heat. Mineral scale, and/or corrosion (and paint) may slow the transfer of heat into or away from the copper or brass (an insulating effect). As mentioned above, mineral scale can form inside radiators., preventing the heat from getting from the coolant (water?) into the copper (and/or brass). Honeycomb type radiators are particularly prone to this type of failure. They have so many nooks and crannies inside that scale can hang onto and bridge across blocking heat transfer into the radiating materials (copper or brass usually). Similar corrosion  outside, or too much paint,  can insulate the copper or brass surfaces from transferring heat into the passing air.

 

Another type of radiator common on earlier cars (including fifteen million T model Fords), are tube and fin style, The problem very common to these is the fact the tubes and fins were pressed together when they were new. Friction held the tubes and fins in place to each other. Heat transferred from water into tube, tube onto fin, and fin into the passing air. This worked great on most radiators for more than half a century, and on some radiators, even at a hundred years age, they still work fine. Other radiators however? The breakdown due to corrosion is between the tube and the fin. Age has relaxed the contact, and years of exposure to the weather has put a layer of insulating corrosion between the tubes and fins, This has also created an insulating effect resulting in a radiator that will not cool well enough.

 

But, the copper and/or brass is still okay.

 

On the model T Ford forum I spend WAY too much time on, we often discuss this issue. I sometimes like to tell of the radiator I had for many years. Beat up, ugly, slightly twisted. Had two spots about three inches in diameter that the fins were chewed up and some missing, a few tubes were smashed. The thing looked terrible.  I used it on at least four different restorations as the radiator I first ran the car with. It may have been ugly, but it sure cooled okay. I ran that thing on at least four Endurance Runs (three different cars!). Mountain roads, summer heat, and two hundred miles of mostly hard push. Never boiled over. It also didn't leak. After the car was debugged, and had proven itself, I would get a better looking radiator and hope it would work okay.

You can't always tell by looking.

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Automotive radiators loose heat by forced convection. A little is lost by conduction (it heats up the front of the car by conduction away from the shell) and very little by radiation (it doesn't glow). As long as the metal the air is flowing past is in contact with the coolant, they will cool. As has been said, if the fins become disconnected from the tubes, there is less cooling because there is less surface area for the rushing air to take heat away from. The surface colour has pretty much nothing to do with heat loss through forced convection. A tarnished surface probably doesn't do much either. I don't recall reading anything about surface texture affecting the efficiency of heat loss by forced convection but I expect it does have an effect. Blockage will reduce heat loss because there is a smaller hot surface area. The main effect of scale is to restrict the flow of water from the top tank into the top of the tubes, hence it is really a blockage. I haven't found anything about paint affecting heat loss by forced convection either; gloss and colour probably do affect radiation.

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14 hours ago, wayne sheldon said:

Original question, quote "The metal loses it's ability to dissipate the heat is this true ? or has any one else heard this ?"

No. Copper is copper. Brass is brass. Whether it is new, or a hundred years old, they transfer heat in mathematically predictable ways.

 

Agree with the above.

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