February 2002
Webster's dictionary defines debacle as "A total, often ludicrous failure".   That pretty much sums up my experience with replacing the radiator.  What should have been a really simply task turned into a large pain in the butt.  Not many pictures or clever insights into radiator replacement in this episode, but the adventure is interesting. 

Maych was not overheating, but I had noticed lime deposits around the radiator, so I suspected it had a small leak or two.  That suspicion was confirmed the day I drove Maych to the paint and body shop.  We began removing the grill, hood, etc. right after I drove up and the radiator was still under pressure.  I noticed when we were removing the hood that the radiator was hissing water around the neck by the upper radiator hose.  I knew it was only a matter of time before I got stranded, so I decided this would be a good time to replace he radiator.  

Getting a new radiator turned out to be one of the biggest hassles I've had so far in my restoration efforts.  And, it's mostly my fault for trying to save a few bucks.  The first place I checked for a replacement radiator was at the CarQuest store where I purchased the exhaust system.  Their parts book listed a 2 core and a 4 core replacement but the widths of the radiators didn't seem to match up with what I had.  My current radiator (which I'm pretty sure is the original) is a 2 core but the tank width is 3 1/4".  The 2 core radiator in his book was 2 1/2" wide and the 4 core was 3 1/2" wide.  I told him I better check around a little to see if I could figure out what was going on before I had him order one.   

I posed the question on the The 1967-1972 Chevrolet & GMC Pickups Message Board message board, but the responses I got were not really all that helpful.  In fact, they confused me even more by talking about a 3 core radiator.  One of the posts did make reference to a web site (1-888-Radiator) that sold radiators for these old vehicles and had good prices, so I decided to check it out.

According to their web site they did have a replacement radiator and the price was very good - $139.00.  Plus, they guaranteed the radiator to fit, gave a lifetime warranty, and their next day shipping was only $5.00.  However, there wasn't much of a description of the radiator on their web site.  It didn't say whether it was a 2 or 4 core and it didn't specify the widths.  I decided I had better call them and talk to a sales rep before ordering.   The sales rep recommended I go with the 2 core, if that's what I had now and I wasn't having any problems with overheating.  He said the 2 core should be a straight swap and if I went with the 4 core I would probably have to change out the brackets.  Sounded like good advice, so I ordered one.

Sure enough, the radiator arrived the next day (Friday), just like they said it would.  On Saturday, I took my new radiator and headed down to the paint and body shop to install it.  I'm not sure I've mentioned it before, but the paint and body shop is about 30 miles south of where I live, so I have to make sure I have all the stuff I need before going down.  Getting the old radiator off was fairly uneventful.  I did forget to put a bucket under the transmission line when I disconnected it, so I had to clean up that mess.  But, other than that, I had the old radiator out in about 15 minutes.

Now the fun began.  I went out to my daily driver to get the new radiator and when I picked up the carton it was packed in, I noticed that it seemed about half of the weight of the original radiator.  That seemed kind of strange, but I thought maybe it was because the original still had a lot of antifreeze still in the coils.  After I got the new radiator inside and opened up the carton, I saw immediately that the thickness of the tanks was considerably smaller than my old radiator.  

I knew in my heart that this was never going to work, but I was never one to admit defeat without a fight, so I decided that I would give it a try.  Maybe my brackets would somehow fit the smaller tanks.  I mean, after all, they guaranteed it would fit, didn't they?  Maybe they meant, they guaranteed that you could make it fit.  So, even though I knew it wouldn't work, I proceeded to install the new radiator.  The lower brackets were spaced properly apart, so at least the radiator was the same width, even if the brackets were a little wide (by about an inch).  If the top brackets would hold in tight enough to keep from sliding back and forth in the brackets, maybe it would work.   I installed the top brackets, and sure enough, they snugged the new radiator in fairly good.  This might work after all, I'm thinking.  Note:  Remember, I'm still in my fighting mode, so I'm trying to convince myself I'm winning, even though I know I should holler "uncle" before I get my arse whipped.

Ok, so far so good (yeah, right).  Time now to start hooking up the hoses.   Good thing I decided to hook up the heater hose first.  Otherwise, I would have already had the other hoses installed before I noticed that there was nowhere to hook up the stinking heater hose!  My original radiator had a heater return, the new one did not.  This was the exact moment in the fight when I realized I wasn't going to win.  It was now time to apologize for acting so stupid, and start begging for mercy.

After buying the new radiator a beer, just to say I was sorry, I took it back off.  Now that I wasn't trying to figure out how to land my next punch, I began to look at my opponent with a more critical eye.  What I saw didn't raise my opinion of it's worth. 

The petcock for draining the radiator was made of plastic.  I've seen a lot of radiators, and this is the first one I've ever seen with a plastic petcock.  I also notice that there were two metal straps wrapped around the core.  These were the same type of straps you see on big cardboard cartons, like refrigerators come in.  When I twisted one of the straps to see if it was made of metal or plastic, I notice that the area underneath the straps wasn't even painted.  At least they were made of metal.

I was beginning to be glad that I had lost the fight.  Despite the fact that the radiator came with a lifetime warranty (and maybe it would last that long), but it sure looked "cheesy" to me.  At this point I was sick of looking at it, so I packed it back in the cartoon and loaded in back into the daily driver.  Nothing to do now but drive back home and hope my wife would take pity on me and help dress my wounds.

I had all day Sunday to get over being mad and deciding what my next step would be.  Monday was a holiday (at least for go'ment workers and bankers), so I decided if I could find a replacement radiator locally I could get it installed and I would only be off my original schedule by one day.  Okay, I had a plan.  I slept better Sunday night.

About 8:00 o'clock Monday morning I started calling around to see if any of the local radiator shops had a replacement radiator.  Things were looking up - the first place I called said they had one (and just one) in stock.  I told the guy to hold it, and I would drive right down and get it.  The radiator shop was kind of a cross between a radiator repair shop and a Harley-Davidson shrine.  In the parking lot, there were half a dozen old junkers for sale and the front of the shop was packed with used Harley-Davidson bikes.  The guy behind the counter was definitely an old biker - in his 50's, long hair, tattoos, and a biker leather vest with all the requisite patches and pens.   We chewed the fat a little and I decided he was a decent guy, just stuck in the 60's, and he seemed to be very knowledgeable about radiators.  

I told him about the problems with the other radiator, including the fact that it didn't have a heater return.  He said it was common for replacements to not have the heater return, as most heater returns are hooked directly into the water pump.  I had noticed that my water pump had a plug where you could install a pipe for the heater hose.  But, he said, the place where I bought the radiator should have asked me about the heater return when they sold me the radiator.  He said the radiator he had in stock did not have the return either, but it would only take about 20 minutes to install one.  I told him I better take a look at the radiator before he installed the return.  

He pointed to the new radiator, which was propped up against one of the Harleys, and I immediately noticed that the tanks were too narrow for my brackets, just like the radiator from 1-888-Radiator.  I pointed this out to him and he said that was the standard size tank on all 2 core radiators and that to get the bigger tanks I would need to go to a 4 core radiator.  I figured it would probably be good to have a 4 core anyway - the cooler, the better, right?  So, I told him I'd take the 4 core one.

Unfortunately, he didn't have a 4 core in stock.  He called his supplier and they said they could have one delivered by around 2:00 o'clock that afternoon.  That would still give me plenty of time to get it installed, so I had him order the radiator.  On the drive back home I got to thinking maybe I should go get the original radiator at the paint and body shop so I would have it to compare to the new one before I paid for it.  Besides, the drive down to the shop would help kill some time while I waited for the radiator to arrive.

After picking up the original radiator, I went back home, puttered around a little and was just starting to make myself a sandwich for lunch when the radiator shop called and said my radiator was in - two hours early.  Things were looking up!  When I got to the radiator shop, I grabbed the original radiator out of the back of the daily driver and hauled it in the shop to compare it to the new one.

Yes!  The tanks were exactly the same size!  I think he was surprised to see that my original radiator was indeed a 2 core and had wide tanks.  He said it must have been something they did when the pickup was originally produced, but that they were not making them that way anymore.  I kind of think he thought I was lying or didn't know what I was talking about. 

He suggested they remove the heater return nipple from the original radiator and install on the new one.   I agreed, and he said it would be ready in about 30 minutes.  That was good, because I didn't get a change to make that sandwich for lunch and I could use the time to go get something to eat.

After eating, I picked up the new radiator (this one weighed similar to the original one) and headed to the paint and body shop.  Within an hour I had the new radiator installed, all the hoses on, and the radiator filled with new antifreeze.  I couldn't start the pickup because the battery and other stuff (like ground straps) were still not hooked up.  So, I'll have to top off the antifreeze and transmission fluid after we get it all back together.  But, at least the new radiator is in.  Now I had to return the radiator I purchased from 1-888-Radiator.

Back at home I dug up the invoice that came with the radiator to see if there were any instructions for returns.  Much to my dismay, typed across the top of the invoice were the words:
"No refunds, exchange only".  This can't  be right, I told myself!  I don't remember their web site saying anything about no refunds.  But, before I got on the phone and started bitching, I thought it might be good to check out the web site again, just in case I had missed some "small" print about their return policy.  It took me only a minute to find what I was looking for on their web site.  On their Guarantee page, it plainly states:  "If you are not satisfied with your buying experience, just return the unused part and we'll give you a full refund".  Armed with this information, I gave them a call.

I told the "service representative" that answered the phone that I had a radiator that I needed to return for a refund and I needed to know what procedures to follow.  The "service representative" immediately informed me that the radiator could be returned only for exchange, not refund.  I then proceeded to tell him that their web site clearly stated that if I was not satisfied, I could return the radiator for a full refund.  He exact words were, "Oh, you bought it on the internet"?  I said, "Yes,  I did."  That wasn't exactly true.  I intended to purchase the radiator from their web site, but when I phoned them to get more information they offered to complete the transaction over the phone.  That was their choice, not mine.  Besides, what difference should it make in their return policy whether I ordered over the phone or through the web site?  

After I informed him I had purchased it over the internet, he said just send it back and we will credit your charge card.  I asked him if I needed a return authorization and he said I didn't.  I also asked him where I should return it and he said to return in to the warehouse listed on the invoice.  I wasn't thrilled about sending the radiator back to a warehouse, with no return authorization or anything else to prove that I had authorization to return it, but I didn't have any other choice.

I made a copy of the invoice and crossed through the "No refunds, exchange only" sentence on the original.  I wrote "returned for refund" on the invoice, placed it in the carton and took it to the post office.  I was scared not to insure it, so with the postage and insurance it cost me $25.00 to mail it back.  I guess a lesson wouldn't be valuable if you didn't have to pay for it.  My $139.00 radiator bargain wound up costing me dearly:

  • First radiator.......... $144.00

  • Second radiator.... $202.00

  • Difference................ $  58.00

  • Return Postage....... $  25.00

  • Cost of Lesson......... $  83.00

A couple of weeks after sending the radiator back I called 1-888-Radiator to check on the status of my return.  I told the "service representative" why I was calling and he said he would have to transfer me to another individual.  I told my story to the lady that answered and she said she had no record in my file indicating I was returning the radiator.  She then begin to quiz me on who I had talked to about returning the radiator.  I said I didn't know his name.  She then asked several questions about why I had returned it.  After about 10 minutes of questioning she said she would have to check with the warehouse to see if they had received the radiator and she would call back.  She called back in about an hour and told me that the warehouse had received the radiator and that my charge card would be credited with the amount (minus shipping, of coarse).  That was about 2 weeks ago and to-date my charge card has not been credited.  I think I'll call again!

The next episode (Paint and Body) should be a little more upbeat.  In that episode I'll have lots of photos of Maych's body work and his brand new, shiny paint job.  It has been about 4 months since I drove Maych to the paint and body shop and now that the weather's starting to warm up, I'm getting anxious to get him back home and go cruising! 



Copyright 2001-2006 by Johnny M. Patterson
You can email me at   webmaster@pattson.com
Site Host
Web hosting by ICDSoft