Radiators and Hail

Mike Hollingshead




I guess this is a good reason to cover your radiator with something or just not drive in hail. That is about 5 years worth of chasing.
I had my Ford Windstar for about 6 years and I noticed my finns were REALLY damaged. I thought it was vandalized and someone took a stick to it. I got it replaced and loved how new it looked. About 2 weeks later I saw a bunch of dents in it again. I thought there is no way this is from normal driving conditions. Then I thought back a couple days to when I was chasing and drove through some hail. Ugh. There is a pretty good sized hole in the grill of the Windstar. Thinking of putting a screen over it. Will that restrict too much air, does anyone think?

Doug Raflik
Yikes! That'll definetally do it! It's actually the air conditioning condenser (if the car has A/C of course) that's all blasted like that and why your A/C kept stopping when you stopped; high pressure cutoff switch activated.

The best thing to do and something I recently did to my vehicle is purchase some 1/4 inch (1/8 inch is even better but hard to find) hardware cloth at Home Depot and make yourself a grill grate to stop rocks, bugs and hail from damaging the A/C condenser. Window screen is a bit too restrictive in my opinion, especially if your condensor already has many damaged fins and is clogged with bugs and pebbles. It will also fill up with nats and small bugs and stop airflow if you live in a high bug area.

You obviously have a brand new condenser Mike, but for people with the original, I also recommend taking the electric fans and anything else in the way, off the car, and reverse flush the rad and condenser to rid them of bugs and rocks, then use a fin comb or knife to CAREFULLY straighten as many fins out as you can, THEN install the hardware cloth. A/C performance will be better and you'll have less chance of an overheat possibly while out chasing.
Could try something along these lines:

Little sportier look than something homemade! :D

Put something like em on my grandfathers truck. Got his from Lund I believe. Likes to cross fields full of johnson grass and such and was having overheating problems. Solved it with just a 5 minute job. Look pretty good too.

Even though they are plastic...still pretty tough...believe me. That truck has seen some hell and they are still holding on!


EDIT:> Seaching over that Lund site some...found the same thing except stainless steel
Those grille inserts look pretty nice. I've thought of mounting those on my car and truck, but I've just never "gotten around to it".

It seems amazing that most vehicles are designed with no protection for the radiators/condensers at all. They hang right out there in front ready to endure the impacts of rocks, bugs, and everything else flying around on the open highway.

On the other hand, you'd still get all the smaller bugs eventually clogging up the fins.

I've had to replace those components a few times the last few years, and I've concluded that it's nothing more than routine maintenance. If you own a vehicle, just plan on replacing them after every 7 or 8 years or 100,000 miles. Your engine will love you for it, too. It will run cooler, like right off the showroom floor. Don't forget, also, that the inside of the radiator always gets gummed up over time, too, as coolant slowly gels. Even if you reverse-flush and brush and straighten your fins and flush your coolant regularly, there's still no way you're going avoid replacing the radiator eventually. Flushing it won't remove the build-up that eventually chokes it.

You know, you CAN buy fin combs to help straighten out those fins somewhat which is MUCH cheaper than replacing the condenser. They sell them for like residential/commercial AC units, but would work fine for that.
Yeah it is the condensor coil like was mentioned and is why the car was wanting to overheat when it wasn't moving and it was extremely hot out. The condensor coil is stacked infront of the radiator so the areas it is blocked up the radiator will be blocked up from moving air. The fan is on the inside and blows through both. Andrew is right about the ac as well. It would always kick off when I would idle because the pressure was getting too high.

The fin combs really didn't want to work on that. It was even hard to open any areas with a knife. It's a lot better now but still looks pretty bad. My dad had some coil cleaner so we used that on it and WOW did that boil some crap out of there. If you've never done it to your coil/radiator you may want to. It'll be interesting if I can now idle and have my ac keep running or not.

I looked at my parent's coil/radiator on their van since it is older now and seen many gravel roads and it is fine. It is even really low to the ground like mine and has large openings. It's hard to find any dents in it. So I'm thinking 99% of those smashed fins are due to driving in hail.
Hey Mike, I used to have a Mustang and installed an aluminum grill insert that fitted right behind the pony in the front. I did it more for looks than anything, but it was strong and would keep the hail nailing your new grill. It was very easy to install. I think I bought it off of www.mustangworld.com if I remember correctly, but many Ford sites probably sell similar kinds.
wow, now that's a smashed condensor.

The problem with replacing one of those yourself is that you are not *supposed* to release the R134a refrigerant into the atmosphere. BUT lets just say a piece of hail hit it hard enough to rupture it. ;)

I'm glad though that you brought it to our attention, my new (to me) chase vehicle as A/C and a transmission cooler, i'll be replacing it with a larger transmission cooler and using the current cooler for power steering. (yes a power steering cooler, it does wonders on my trail rig). I'll likely add an engine oil cooler as well. itd be a shame to bust these up with hail. i'll definately be looking into somesort of protective grill that wont block airflow too much.

i know all the coolers sound over kill but if you think about it, cop cars have all of those coolers and well, we're pretty tough on our chase cars. excessive heat is the number one enemy to your vehicle.
I'm reviving this old thread. I have a '11 Yukon that has quite a bit of fin damage on the AC coil behind the grill. I'll be trying to find a way to comb out the fins without too much trouble of removing the grill cover and all that entails. (Will need something longer with a handle that can be worked into the grill, from the front and contorted to work through the fins to straighten them out)

I suspect the newer cars, trucks, and SUV's are more prone to this hail ding damage so as a reminder, take a look at your front end behind the grill and see if you may have some issues that need to be addressed before the 100 degree weather arrives.
bent and clogged radiator fins and condenser fins will have a severe impact on engine cooling and air conditioning performance, best thing to do is try to carefully straighten the fins and once a year pressure wash the radiator and condenser from the engine side out, you will be surprised how much better the a/c will work and how much cooler your vehicle will run. be careful not to use too much pressure though.
My AC condenser coil has received significant damage from hail. I wish I had noticed it sooner than I did. Ended up spending about 3 hours straightening out the fins with a dull knife. Had some time that day and didn't have a comb. I wasn't optimistic about a comb working on mine anyway. After I got them somewhat straightened out I cut a piece of quarter inch chicken wire to fit behind my grill. I took some photos and I'll post them if I can find them. It's something everyone should watch out for if their vehicle has large grill openings.
I solved the problem with extensive grill modifications in the form of custom made 1/8" thick perforated aluminum inserts. It's very strong. I can't bent it by hand.

aluminum grill.jpg
Truck looks good David. I used 3/4" expanded carbon steel on the Mazda and plan to do the same to the Explorer. Heavy duty and still allows good air flow.


Just be really careful when covering the front grill. It only takes a very small amount of circulation obstruction to damage the AC and transmission coolers as I once found out. 1/4 inch heavy screen is about the most I would suggest. There has to be some flow when parked.

Some photos of my truck's AC coil with grill removed. First is a view of the damage. Second is after I had somewhat straightened out the fins on one side. Third is showing the wire that I secured with zip ties after I had straightened out the other side.

I have a 2013 Fusion that I just did the first oil change on at 3,841 miles. While lifting the car I noticed my intercooler was already smashed up! Not sure if that's from hail or not (must be) but DAMN! That low of miles and already a concern. Might have to see about getting a new one soon. Not sure about how I'll go on about protecting it since there's a lot of plastic wrapped around that bumper.