History of Car and Truck Radiators

First Generation (1900s - 1970s)

Copper/Brass 100%
From the birth of the earliest automobiles to the early 1970s, radiators made from copper and brass were in 100% of cars and trucks. There was no good reason to use anything else because nothing else could compete with the metal's many advantages.

Second Generation (1970 - 1990s)

Aluminum Gains, Copper/Brass Still Leads Market
In the 1970s, the radiator environment changed. Early in the decade, Volkswagen decided to go from an air-cooled engine to a water-cooled engine. A few years later, in the wake of the world oil crisis and urgent calls for ways to reduce fuel consumption, major automobile manufacturers in Europe and the U.S. began making cars and trucks with lighter materials.

For radiators, this translated to aluminum, which is one third the density of copper/brass and can handle heat fairly well despite its many shortcomings. In its raw state (although not as radiator strip), aluminum is also less expensive. These qualities - along with dire, albeit unrealized, predictions of commodity analysts that copper/brass would be in short supply in the 1980s - created a wave of enthusiasm for something new.

As a result, over the past 20 years, aluminum has taken first place as the metal for radiators in new cars (56% - 44%), even though copper/brass still holds a two-thirds majority of the overall radiator market. In the aftermarket copper/brass reigns supreme with 89%.

Third Generation (1990s - 2000s)

Technology Takes Copper/Brass Further
While aluminum was growing in use in new cars and trucks, the copper/brass industry began looking at ways to improve the traditional copper/brass radiator with the goal of competing aggressively against aluminum which began to manifest several disadvantages as a metal for radiators.

When corroded or damaged, for example, aluminum radiators are far more costly to repair than copper/brass radiators. Moreover, aluminum radiators are particularly prone to coolant-side, pin-hole corrosion. When this occurs, the radiator is irreparable.

Although the research took time to develop, by the early 1990s the copper/brass industry had identified several new technologies that would make the difference in producing a lighter, stronger, more durable copper/brass radiator. Among them are laser welding, no-flux (no lead) brazing and electrophoretic coating.

Using these technologies, the copper/brass industry, in cooperation with major automobile and radiator manufacturers in the U.S., Europe and Japan, has designed an advanced radiator that is lighter, more compact and more durable than anything currently in use worldwide. Now in the first stages of field testing, it could be available in cars as early as 1995.

Future Generations

Optimized Copper/Brass Becomes the Measure
Radiators will continue to improve in quality and design in the future, but for the years immediately ahead the advanced copper/brass radiator is the next best step in the evolution of an essential technology for motor vehicles. Taking advantage of copper's inherent strengths, it may soon recapture market shares for new car and truck radiators that have shifted toward aluminum.