Personal Loans

Costs to Repair a Car’s Radiator

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A car’s radiator is what keeps the engine cool. Since it plays such a vital role, radiator problems can leave your car out of commission. In the event of a coolant leak, for example, it’s not advisable to drive the vehicle until the problem has been fixed, otherwise, you risk overheating the engine and causing further damage. A few signs your radiator might be malfunctioning include:

  • A yellowish green, pastel blue or fluorescent orange fluid leaking out
  • Overheating of the vehicle
  • The ‘low coolant’ light coming on
  • Sludge building up in the radiator, turning the fluids a rusty color

Vehicle issues like this often catch people off guard. One AAA survey found that one in three drivers was unprepared to cover unexpected repair costs without taking on debt. And, in general, the costs of owning a car add up fast, especially after warranties and free-maintenance periods have expired, usually hitting around year three of ownership.

While radiator issues themselves aren’t the most common — radiator-related quotes were the 18th most- common quotes requested in 2017 through the mobile auto repair service, YourMechanic — they do happen. So it’s important to know what you’re in for if you’re trying to figure out the best way to move forward.

Cost to repair your car’s radiator

Depending on the specific issue you’re dealing with and how complicated the mechanic believes it will be, the cost may be quoted as a flat rate or an estimate (if so, get it in writing).

For context, the average cost for a vehicle repair bill (of any kind) is between $500 and $600, according to a 2017 survey conducted by AAA. But radiator repair costs can be well above or below that range. Of course your ultimate costs will depend on several factors, not just the kind of work that’s required. Your car’s make and model, for example, will also have an impact on the quotes you get. So it’s important to do research that’s specific to your car to get a more accurate idea of what you’re dealing with and determine your best option going forward. (Those whose repair costs outweigh the vehicle value, for example, may be better off trading it in for a new car than opting for repairs.)

That said, these ranges from YourMechanic can provide a useful estimate guide when figuring out potential costs if your radiator is on the fritz:

Part Cost (low) Cost (high)
Fan motor replacement $109.07 $1,389.57
Cap pressure test $69.99 $79.99
Flush $136.96 $191.95
Hose repair $133.75 $665.13
Total replacement $251.68 $1,163.26

Finding the right mechanic

When it comes to figuring out which auto shop or mechanic is the best for you, recommendations from people you know and trust can go a long way toward boosting your confidence that you’re making the right decision. While you’re researching, be sure to look records from your state’s Attorney General or local consumer protection agency and ask to see licenses (if applicable). That way you’ll be able to make sure their licensing is up-to-date and that serious complaints haven’t been filed against them.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few different places or people, call around for quotes so you can compare costs and pick the best option for your budget. If your warranty hasn’t yet expired, make sure the shop will honor it. If you’re dealing with a larger operation, you may wish to ask if they have technicians who’ve dealt with your car’s make and model in the past. It’s also a good idea to check out certifications (like the Automotive Service Excellence seal) which may be displayed at their station.

Covering repair or replacement costs for a radiator

Once you decide if the cost is worth pursuing, it’s time to figure out how to pay. Assuming your car’s malfunction isn’t due to something like an accident, the costs won’t be covered by auto insurance, therefore the issue of payment will fall to you. Ideally, you’d pay with cash since that would keep you from taking on debt. But if that isn’t an option, here are a few alternatives to consider:

Funding option What it is Who it’s good for
Personal loan Unsecured debt that can be used to fund almost any expense Individuals who have solid credit, stable income and can afford the monthly payments
Credit card A form of revolving debt, often with a higher interest rate than you might find for a loan; or it may be a limited-time 0% APR card Those with a credit-limit high enough to cover the bill and who can pay it off before their payment due date or before the introductory 0% APR period ends
Payment-plan agreement A private agreement with the mechanic or auto shop which establishes a payment timeline and repayment terms People who have a good relationship with their mechanic, often who live in more rural areas or deal with an independent shop

Personal loan

A personal loan is a solid option for those who can’t pay with cash. Since it’s unsecured debt, you get to hold on to your car and approval relies on factors like your credit score, current income and payment history.

In general, the better your credit, the better the terms you’ll be qualified to get. If you decide a personal loan is the right option for you, keep in mind that it will appear on your credit report, and the inquiry will also be factored into your credit score. And, depending on the lender, there may be fees (separate from the interest rate) which will increase your overall costs.

Credit card

Provided your available credit limit is high enough to cover your automotive costs, a credit card can be a useful financial tool. For one thing, you don’t need to rely on the current state of your credit, provided you’re putting the bill on an existing card.

But if you have excellent credit, you may qualify for a credit card with a 0% introductory offer. If you can pay off the car repair before the end of the promotional period, you’ll get to enjoy interest-free financing for a number of months. However, those cards can also feel like a high-interest trap. And unless you’re able to pay off the balance before the end of the promotional period, you may end up with a large amount of debt on a credit card with a high interest rate.

And for credit cards in general, the interest rate can be quite a bit higher than you might find with a personal loan — some can be in the 20% to 25% range (or even higher.) But, again, if you can pay off the balance before your payment due date, you can avoid interest charges altogether and pay less than you would through something like a personal loan.

Payment-plan agreement

An arrangement between yourself and the mechanic or auto shop could provide the best overall terms for your repayment — but it requires the cooperation of those parties to make it happen, so it won’t be available to everyone. Still, it’s worth asking about, especially if you’re unable to take advantage of credit-dependent options, like a personal loan or a new credit card. If successful, be sure to get the agreement in writing to ensure everyone is on the same page about the terms.

If the alternatives outlined above aren’t an option for you, you might want to consider things like selling your stuff (through an app, a site like Craigslist or a pawn shop) or taking public transportation until you can save enough to get the costs covered.

Once you’ve figured out how to handle the current bill, it’s time to consider the future. Taking good care of your car and doing regular automotive check-ups, for example, can help reduce future costs. Ideally, you’d also start saving for potential repair costs — even $50 a month could be enough to help you avoid debt later on. Whatever you decide, the more you can do to plan ahead for future expenses, the better equipped you’ll be to handle the costs of car ownership.


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