Vanagon – radiator replacement

Last week I swapped  new radiator into my friend Simon’s 91 syncro westy. What forced this swap was the failure of the threaded insert where the fan thermoswitch goes. We were trying to install a new switch (old switch was not working properly) and the insert just gave up the ghost.

So Simon left the van at my house and came back a few days later with a new rad and I had the pleasure of doing the install. A bit of background on this van’s radiator, about a year and a half ago we did the thermoswitch replacement, the story is told here. I think I should have nagged Simon a bit more to get a new rad back then, that eroded switch could not have been a good sign.

Removing the rad is a pretty straightforward, if messy, job.

– drop spare and remove clamshell

– clamp off coolant lines

– disconnect wires to rad fan

– remove upper and lower grills

– disconnect thermoswitch (obviously I did not need to do that!)

– remove the (probably rotten) cardboard wind deflectors from around the rad

– I found that removing the passenger side “L” bracket ( 2 X 13mm bolts)  first allows you to get access to the spring clamps on the coolant lines, leave the driver’s side bracket untouched for time being to hold the rad in place. Passenger side bracket removed:

Note: see the rubber washer on the plastic”tit” between the coolant hoses? There is a tit on each corner of the rad, the upper ones fit into holes in the van body, the lower ones into holes in the “L”  brackets. Don’t lose the rubber washers. Well, go ahead, lose them. Garden hose washers would probably make an ok substitute.

Driver’s side bracket still in place (pic taken before I removed the lower cardboard wind deflector):

– cut or undo any cable ties holding up the coolant hoses or the fan wiring so that the radiator will not hang up when it comes down.

– remove the driver’s side “L” bracket. Careful, the rad will drop down.

– drag the bugger out from under the van and swap the fan and shroud ( 10 mm self tapping screws) over to the new radiator.

Installation is harder than removal as you have to fight gravity and get those upper tits into the holes while lying on your back below the van. A helper at this point would be, well, helpful. Don’t forget that the driver’s side “L” bracket interferes with the spring clamps on the coolant hoses, and don’t forget to push up on the “L” brackets as you tighten the bolts to make sure the rad is seated tightly.

Now the fun part, Sawz-All plus Simon meets the old rad. He cut it in half then cut the plastic end caps off. We found the remains of the threaded insert and a whole lot of gunk at the bottom of the rad. Remember it is a 2-pass rad, hot comes in and directed by end cap up to upper half of rad, then it goes across from passenger to driver’s side and down the other end cap, then back across lower half. The junk was found in the lower, passenger side, ie just before the exit and just below where the thermoswitch (rad fan) is installed.

Note: I drained all the coolant and flushed the system on this van, then recharged with fresh coolant. I found bleeding the Vanagon and Subie EJ25 combo to be much more of a chore than stock or my old inline four in my ’82 westy.


  1. #1 by Old Fussbudget on November 21, 2011 - 9:58 am

    Maybe used too high a nitric acid concentration in the original coolant? 😉

    My unqualified opinion based on having those rubber washers out a year ago, I don’t think garden hose washers would suffice very well. But you were just in there looking at them.

    • #2 by albell on November 21, 2011 - 10:18 am

      well, to be honest that suggestion was a guess, not a trial fit. I bet they would work, in a pinch (no pun intended)


    • #3 by Michael South on December 12, 2012 - 8:45 pm

      I found some 3/8 x 1 1/2 x 1/8 rubber washers, laid the old ones on the new ones, and cut around them to roughly match the size of the original.. Seems to have worked pretty well.

      • #4 by albell on December 12, 2012 - 10:00 pm

        That beats searching in the gravel on your hands and knees like I did when I dropped one of the washers 🙂


  2. #5 by Old Fussbudget on November 21, 2011 - 10:00 am

    IIRC Vinyl siding makes pretty good air deflectors.

    • #6 by albell on November 21, 2011 - 10:02 am

      as do old election signs 🙂


  3. #7 by kev on February 19, 2012 - 7:14 am

    you got the radiator flow wrong it starts at the bottom first

    • #8 by albell on February 19, 2012 - 7:55 am

      You sure? Sure feel like it starts at top, makes one pass across then makes return pass at lower half.

      rad, '86

  4. #9 by Ed Zebrowski on October 7, 2013 - 2:45 pm

    Replaced one this weekend. I found that a 6′ tie down (not even ratcheted) used to hold the radiator in position while I set the brackets was invaluable. I also used a piece of wood, cocked on an angle, to push up and hold the brackets while I tightened them.

    • #10 by albell on October 7, 2013 - 5:17 pm


      Good tips. One thing I wished I had at the time was a pair of hose clamp pliers. I’ve since bought a kit with the various tips to deal with the different kinds of spring clamps. On the rad I found it awkward getting at the clamps with regular pliers.

      Another thing useful on hone rad job is a supply of band aides. I skinned my knuckles pretty bad.



  5. #11 by Mike on August 24, 2014 - 3:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I will be doing this sometime in the next 2-3 weeks, and this info. is pretty helpful.

    • #12 by albell on September 8, 2014 - 5:12 pm

      good luck Mike, and sorry for my tardy reply.


  6. #13 by madskonstabel on October 8, 2014 - 3:40 pm

    Hey thanks for the tips i just finished replacing my radiator using this guide, you forgot to mention how to remove the reserve tire blocking the way up to the radiator but i found a way.
    I lost two of the rubber washers but are they really so important i just reassembled whiteout the ones on the top, do you think it will be a problem???

    • #14 by albell on October 8, 2014 - 9:47 pm


      Hey I’m happy my sketchy description helped you replace the rad. I didn’t think I needed to explain how to remove the spare tire 🙂

      The rubber washers are there to eliminate the rad rattling in the mounts. You might get away without the upper ones i place. But maybe look in the plumbing department of the local hardware shop for some substitutes. I don’t think you need to do more than undo the bracket bolts and lower the rad a few millimetres to get the upper washers installed.



  7. #15 by CHARLIE BURKS on March 8, 2016 - 12:37 pm


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