One of the most neglected upgrades during an engine build is the cooling system; specifically, the radiator and its supporting components. Factory cooling components, like the radiator, were designed to cool a factory engine’s horsepower output. When the output of that engine is increased the amount of heat that is generated follows.

The radiator is just one of many components of the cooling system that will need to be upgraded. We reached out to some heavy hitters in the industry such as C&R RacingLingenfelter Performance, and AFCO to gain some insight on cooling a 4th or 5th-gen LS-powered car.

Every component in a factory cooling system plays a vital role to keeping coolant flowing at operating temperature. Depending on the use of the car and the weather conditions, the temperature can increase at an alarming rate, possibly causing it to overheat. Our goal for this guide is to contribute sources for cooling system components for 4th and 5th-gen LS-powered cars.

C&R Racing also offers LS swap radiators for many applications, including classic musclecars like this ’69 Camaro.

Radiators And More With C&R Racing

Most modern OEM radiators are built as single-core units which are made partially out of plastic. These units do a satisfactory job of cooling a factory LS engine. However, many companies recommend upgrading to a single or even a dual-core aluminum crossflow or downflow radiator that is specific to its application. Aluminum as a material has a 25 to 25 percent more efficient cooling capacity than an OEM plastic-core unit.

We had a lot of questions for Paul Hammond, aftermarket representative for C&R Racing. Hammond educated us regarding 4th and 5th-gen LS-powered cars. He says, “There are many factors to consider when selecting a radiator. We’ve found that most enthusiasts have either supercharged or turbocharged vehicles, and the factory radiator and intercooler unfortunately gets in the way, more than it helps.

“For 5th generation LS-powered cars like the Camaro, we have a direct-fit performance-core radiator for the ’10 to ’12 Camaro SS equipped with a LS3 from the factory. That radiator fits in the stock location, allowing it to bolt-in just like a factory unit. With the performance-core design, you have the ability to retain some factory radiator features as well. It’s a 600 horsepower capable radiator, which is our most popular radiator option.”

Hammond elaborates further saying, “With any LS engine producing above 500 horsepower, the vehicle’s engine oil cooler needs to be addressed. The LS engine design uses more oil to cool the engine than other engine designs. If you review some of the other performance-based cars by GM, such as the Corvette and the SS, they all come from the factory with oil coolers. Enthusiasts should highly consider upgrading this component, especially on a forced induction car. Forced induction creates a higher heat load on the engine oil, causing the circulation pattern to differ from a factory LS engine.

“There are several solutions available for engine oil coolers, including our own. Additionally, a power steering cooler should be considered. It’s very possible to boil the power steering fluid during a track day or at an autocross event. It’s not uncommon that enthusiasts upgrade to larger wheels and tires. That places a demand on your steering components, so it’s recommended to upgrade the power-steering cooler. The power-steering cooler can be mounted into your radiator, which is what we recommend. We use our own coolers on our NASCAR and roadrace applications.”

C&R Racing’s inline power steering cooler (PN 41-50000) features an all aluminum constructed unit, which utilizes 1 1/4-inch outlets for OE-like fitment. The inline power steering cooler can also be mounted inside of the radiator.

Hammond also touched on the importance of a good radiator cap, saying, “Upgrading to a pressurized radiator cap would be ideal. The factory cap is only around 13 to 15 pounds. A 21-pound radiator cap will allow the cooling system to increase the boiling point of the fluid. A higher pressure cap in the range of 20 to 30 pounds is more optimal. Especially during track days.”

Conclusion

We’ve learned that factory components and their performance will begin to decline when forced induction or high horsepower levels are introduced into the mix. Not all radiator modules are engineered for the same purpose or application.

As we mentioned previously, it’s a common misconception that upgrading from a factory radiator to a high-performance unit will be enough when enthusiasts choose a forced induction route. However, after speaking with these three manufacturers it’s quite clear that the cooling system needs to be evaluated as a whole as power increases. When considering the cooling system in its entirety, it’s often the case that components such as the water pump and thermostat should undoubtedly be upgraded at the same time.

Upgrading the cooling system as a whole not only ensures that the engine will perform its best, but it also provides safe haven against the engine overheating, which can cause an extreme amount of damage. It’s also important to note that all three manufacturers agree that the final piece of the puzzle seems to be properly maintaining the cooling system. Using the correct type of coolant, seals, lines, and fittings can go a long way with any high horsepower build and eliminate the possibility of the engine overheating.

Whether you’re in the market for a new radiator or an entire cooling system overhaul the experts at any of the companies we consulted for this article can help enthusiasts get the products they need for the performance they desire.

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