Aftermarket Radiators: What to Know

Aftermarket Radiators: What to Know

Understanding Replacement Vehicle and Equipment Radiators

Engine-driven commercial vehicles and industrial equipment work hard, and over the course of their functional lives, will naturally require replacement parts of some sort.  Cooling components such as radiators, charge air coolers, oil coolers, and similar heat exchangers are especially vulnerable to the aggressive demands of industrial environments, making them common candidates for replacement.  Not always driven by failure though, cooling components are equally often replaced with upgraded versions in the pursuit of enhanced performance or features.  Either way, equipment owners have an important decision to make when replacing cooling components:  will we use an OEM component or an aftermarket component?  To make this decision, owners must weigh multiple factors from price to technical design, arriving at a selection that best fits their immediate, individual needs.  While there is no universal right answer to the question, this article will help owners understand their options, what details to dig into further, and where each option clearly shines. 

Let's begin with making a distinction between OEM and aftermarket parts:

  • OEM Components - original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts are those sold under the equipment brand's name, which embodies the brand's responsibility over the fit and function of each part.  OEM parts are sold only through limited distribution to authorized dealerships and resellers.

  • Aftermarket Components - third-party manufacturers that produce parts competing against OEM products are referred to as aftermarket manufacturers.  These aftermarket suppliers offer alternatives to factory-direct components based on strategic market incentives, such as price or performance.  

Radiators and other cooling components are particularly good candidates for aftermarket replacement, as most of the ongoing technological development in the mechanical cooling arena is driven by third-party manufacturers seeking competitive advantage and customer attention.  As OEMs drift more towards standardized production to cut costs, in the right applications, there are increasing opportunities for equipment owners to reap the benefits of aftermarket alternatives. 

Comparing OEM and Aftermarket Cooling Solutions

For most component purchases, the distinction between OEM and aftermarket options generally comes down to price.  Sometimes that's the only real difference, and other times price is just one of many important distinctions.  Buyers must carefully weigh the benefits of each option to make sure that they're not leaving any value on the table while still obtaining the performance and reliability required.  To do so, buyers should compare OEM and aftermarket radiators on the below factors:

  • Price - on average, aftermarket cooling components cost less than OEM components, on account of higher total markup added by more resellers in the part's supply chain.  While lower pricing is typically favorable, there are times where OEM pricing is justified, such as for proprietary components.

  • Materials and Fabrication Techniques - OEM vehicle and equipment specifications become "locked in time" once the model reaches maturity, restricting updates to components such that the OEM can stop spending engineering money on legacy products.  Aftermarket parts do not have this restriction, and often incorporate the latest designs, material selections and manufacturing techniques as a matter of competitive advantage. 

  • Manufacturing Location - interestingly enough, many aftermarket parts are produced in the exact same manufacturing facility as their OEM variant.  Especially for engineered parts such as radiators and heat exchangers, there are only so many factories with the right tooling and personnel to fabricate these parts.  As such, it's worth checking to see if a part's point of origin is identical to an OEM part.  What this conveys is that there may be little to no difference in quality or performance between parts, though check this to ensure that designs are “like for like”.

  • Quality Assurance - OEM parts are generally fabricated at a high enough integrity level that they will work reliably across the widest possible range of applications, and the quality assurance practices in play guarantee as much.  In part, the higher cost of OEM parts affords this level of quality control, whereas aftermarket manufactures may focus their QA efforts on specific applications or forego substantial QA altogether.  

  • Selection - when it comes to examining options between OEM and aftermarket cooling parts, there is most often a wider variety of aftermarket components to select from.  In addition, aftermarket parts are generally easier to obtain, with greater stock availability on account of having more players and distributors serving aftermarket supply chains.  Large OEMs have long past consolidated their inventories, keeping fewer parts at fewer central distribution nodes that may take longer to reach you. 

  • Obsolescence - when OEM parts are discontinued, the only options are usually to obtain used or reconditioned original parts, or turn to aftermarket options still being produced.  In some cases, certain radiators are no longer being mass manufactured at all, which is where custom manufacturers can reverse-engineer and produce one-off components. 

  • Simplicity - when it comes to OEM parts, there is an inherent simplicity in selecting replacement components.  In most cases, a call to an OEM dealership will result in identifying a single part number and price.  Aftermarket options on the other hand can be plentiful, and difficult to navigate across manufacturers and their part variations.  Working with a knowledgeable aftermarket manufacturer can vastly level this playing field and deliver much greater pricing value, even though it may take a little more effort up front.

The Value Proposition of Aftermarket Radiators

Choosing between OEM and aftermarket cooling components needn't be a binary decision, as both serve different purposes and offer different benefits.  OEM parts are the default selection for cases such as warranty replacements and proprietary component designs.  But aside from such cases, aftermarket alternatives largely offer enhanced features and a higher total value of ownership that all owners should consider, including these benefits:

  • Updated Technology and Manufacturing Expertise 
  • Dedicated Support and Service (especially when purchased from a local third-party manufacturer)
  • Customization 
  • Wide Pricing Options (from “OEM identical” to “highly customized” variations)
  • Enhanced Performance 
  • Extended Warranty Coverage 

Overall, under the right conditions, aftermarket cooling components can provide owners with much greater total value than with OEM components.  There are certainly cases where the use of OEM parts is preferable, such as when required to maintain overall warranty, when replaced at no cost under such warranty, or when OEM quality and performance are provably superior to aftermarket alternatives.  For most other cases, aftermarket cooling components (radiators in particular) are very viable alternatives with lower costs, unique customization, higher performance, and lower lifecycle costs.    

Mission-critical vehicles and equipment in over a dozen infrastructure sectors rely on heat transfer components manufactured by Cincinnati Radiator. CR works directly with Original Equipment Manufacturers and Aftermarket service channels to supply premium-grade, long life radiators, coolers, and full cooling packages into extreme applications all over the world.  With our expanding inventory and fabrication space at our Fairfield, Ohio facility, we pride ourselves on having a personal touch, ultra-fast lead times, and one-off custom design capabilities.  

For your next vehicle or heavy equipment heat transfer project, call us at (513) 874-5555, email us at, or visit our website at

Request For Quote

Please provide as much information below to assist us in designing a new cooling package or re-manufacturing existing and obsolete products.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.