Picking your radiator core: 2 row, 3 row, or 4 row?

Does your car need increased cooling capacity?

Are you looking to replace a radiator but unsure what cooling your car needs? Well look no further because we have created an extensive guide for picking the ideal radiator choice for you!

We know choosing a radiator replacement can be tricky, especially if it’s your first time replacing a cooling system part. You might encounter terms like 2, 3 or 4 row radiator cores. How does all this work and how do you choose which core configuration is best for your car?

That’s what we’re here for and today, we’re going to focus on the optimal amount of rows in a radiator core for your car’s cooling requirements.

Natrad offers a nationwide 3-year warranty on radiators, so if you’re looking for a replacement, talk to a cooling specialist technician at one of our stores across Australia.

Picking a core, 2, 3 or 4 row?

The core is the part of the radiator between the tanks. It is made up of tubes that carry the coolant and fins that transfer heat from the tubes to the air passing through the core. Rows are number of lines of tubes from one face of the core to the other (front to back). 3 lines of tubes are found in a 3 row radiator. More rows mean more tubes which means more cooling. So how do you know which core is best for you?

copper core radiators

Well things get a lot more simple when you account for the following things:

  • Engine power (horsepower)
  • Vehicle usage
  • Climate
  • Fitment

Depending on how much horsepower your engine can generate, it will produce a respective amount of heat. This needs to be cooled in order to prevent overheating and to allow your car to perform at it’s best. It’s possible to cool the engine too much so it does not reach optimum operating temperature – resulting in decreased fuel efficiency and exhaust emissions.

If you use your vehicle for city driving versus frequent on-track racing or track meets, your cooling needs are going to be drastically different. Racing requires high cooling capacity and minimal weight – so you’re going to need an efficient radiator. Whereas a city or passenger car is likely to fit a stock standard replacement or similar.

Climate also plays a big part. Australia is a generally hot place during the summer, but certain states like Queensland or Northern Territory deal with humidity or heat a lot more than the rest. It can be difficult for a vehicle to dissipate excess heat in these conditions – this is where you might benefit from a larger radiator with more rows.

Summary: as a general guide, 3+ radiator rows stands to benefit a high performance or heavy duty vehicle. 1-2 is usually stock standard but can be highly efficient for more strenuous uses depending on other core specs.

Core specs to account for

Whether you select a 2, 3, or 4 row radiator it’s important to consider other core specs. Sometimes high performance cooling can still be achieved by adapting these factors, especially for vehicles that cannot fit a thicker radiator with more rows. See below;

  1. Tubes
  2. Fins
  3. Cores
  4. Materials

Tube size and surface are important as this is what the coolant is going to flow through. The more surface contact, the more heat dissipation. For instance, a wider tube or dimpled tube surface increases contact surface area leading to more efficient cooling. Cooling performance can also be increased by fitting more tubes within the same core size.

Fins are placed between the tubes to increase contact surface area where they are doing the bulk of heat dissipation work. Increased contact between the tube and fin improves heat transfer to more efficiently remove heat from coolant passing through the tubes. Heat dissipation can be adjusted with changes to FPI (number of fins per inch) and also fin type.

Cores are made up of fins and tubes. A 1 row core is a common configuration for an everyday modern road car. Some other factors that can increase cooling include FPI, fin type, core and header material as well as tube pitch (distance between tubes), size and surface.

Radiators 1



  • Copper brass radiators are generally found in older cars. During the 70’s the car industry began moving towards aluminium radiators. Copper brass is heavier but works well in endurance environments such as trucks and on-highway applications. It is also easier to repair as it can be disassembled.
  • Aluminium is the most popular option and most new road cars will be fitted with an aluminium radiator with plastic tanks. They often last the life time of the vehicle but certain environmental factors or crash damage can effect this. They are efficient and light but generally need to be replaced when damaged as the cores cannot be repaired.
  • Performance alloy often comes custom made for specific applications. They are light, highly efficient and are frequently designed to fit restrictive engine bay fitment requirements, which means they may not be typical radiator dimensions. Fitment is important as a vehicle may not have clearance available for a thicker radiator core.

What are your needs?

Let’s summarise. You can use the following check list to pin-point the best option for you.

  1. Engine power. Higher horsepower = more heat, which needs more cooling. Is this your car? Or have you recently modified your car?
  2. Vehicle usage. Do you do frequent off-roading, carry loads or towing? Or are you more likely to hit the freeway or drive to work daily?
  3. Climate. A hot climate will make it harder for the engine to be cooled, particularly in the warmer months. If you use your vehicle for racing or other strenuous driving such as off-roading, this factor is even more important.
  4. Vehicle type. Is your car old or new? A lot of older cars tend to have outdated radiator designs in materials such as copper-brass. If you’re looking for an exact replacement, this may be hard to find.
  5. Materials. This one is a mix of all the above. Factor in your vehicle type, usage and climate to determine which material is best for you.
  6. Fitment. Depending on what will fit in your engine bay, if you need extra cooling you can then decide what amount of rows will suit you.

Generally, this will keep you on the right track:

  • 1-2 row is ideal for stock standard vehicles and exact replacement requirements.
  • 3-4 rows are best for high horsepower, performance or off-roading vehicles as well as trucks.

Frequently asked questions

How much does a car radiator weigh?

The average car radiator weighs 10-15kg without any coolant fluid.

The weight of a radiator will depend on the materials used to manufacture the core, tank and fittings.

How do I measure my car radiator’s size so I can replace it?

The best way to ensure your replacement radiator will fit in place of your old radiator is to ensure their dimensions match.

You’ll need to measure your radiators’ height, width and thickness.

  • The height measurement of a radiator runs parallel to the fins. This may seem counterintuitive; depending on the design of the radiator, the height may be shorter than the width.
  • The width measurement of the radiator should be taken from side plate to side plate.
  • The core thickness measurement should indicate the thickness of the central fan component. You may find that the end plates add a little thickness, but it shouldn’t be substantial.

For help sizing up your radiator, or for selecting a replacement, feel free to get in touch with us. We’ll help you discern what model of radiator you currently have so we can find accurate measurements.

Is there a rule of thumb for what size a car radiator should be?

Every engine has an estimated heat rejection value, which estimates how much heat the engine lets off at its normal operating temperature.

As a rule of thumb, you should select a radiator that’s capable of handling 15% more heat than your engine’s heat rejection value. That will give you a buffer if you find you have to push your engine harder than normal, on a hot day or during a long road trip, for example.

If you have more questions, speak to a cooling specialist at Natrad. There are 50 Natrad workshops nationwide who can provide detailed advice on the best options suited to you.