Posted by Jason Locke on 2/8/2020 to In-Depth Review
Our friends over at Mishimoto have been in the aftermarket performance radiator business for a long time know, and they have the design and manufacture of the things down to a fine art. Their 2011-2014 F150 F150 All-Aluminum Radiator is fairly new to the market, but it has all of the hallmarks of another winner of a radiator from Mishimoto. The welds are gorgeous, the end tanks and core are all made out of aluminum, and it installed without having to make any permanent modifications to the truck or other hardware. The only real downside to this radiator is that if you're installing it, you're likely having some sort of a problem with the stock one, which means a couple of hours of wrenching is likely in your future. That being said, when your labor involves adding what the entire TiG welding industry would call high-art, there's a lot worse you can be doing with your time and tools.
Why Mishimoto's Radiator?While the Mishimoto F150 Radiator is great and all, why would you need it in the first place? Well, there's two principle reasons: 1). Your truck is having overheating issues. 2). Your stock radiator is leaking. We'll tackle overheating first, since it's surprisingly the more common issue. The 2011-2014 F150s do have an overheat issue, especially on the EcoBoost-powered F150s and especially especially on EcoBoost trucks that are towing and hauling pretty heavy. The F150 overheat problems stem from one basic issue: the factory radiator is being asked to do a lot. A lot of folks aren't aware, but the stock radiator also cools your transmission fluid through an inlet and outlet port on the driver's side, even if your truck (like mine) is equipped with the supplemental OEM transmission cooler.
The stock radiator is at least getting heat-soaked by the engine and transmission, and the EcoBoost Trucks also have their turbochargers to worry about. You also have to factor in a loss of efficiency over time, a condenser whose fins get bent over time and lower its efficiency, the fact that you probably don't change your coolant as much as you should, and varying climate and you have the perfect storm of reasons why your 2011-2014 F150 may overheat and drop itself into limp mode at a very bad time. Namely, towing on an incline. Since Mishimoto's radiator is all-aluminum and has a larger core, it's much better able to handle all that heat generation, even if everything else isn't functioning at optimum efficiency due to wear and tear.
The second reason and why I ended up installing the Mishimoto Radiator on our 2011 F150 5.0L XL Project Truck (owned by yours truly), is leakage. After 220,000ish miles of faithful service, the stock radiator on my truck sprung a small, but incredibly annoying, leak from the the seam between the end tank and the radiator core. The stock radiator with its usual OEM plastic end tank/aluminum core design isn't going to last forever, even under the best circumstances. Plastic eventually gets brittle and the different rates of expansion between plastic and aluminum during heat cycles means that something has got to give eventually. Granted, 220,000 miles is nothing to sneeze at, and is actually pretty impressive considering what this truck has been through. Still, it was time to say goodbye. I would've given the stock radiator a Viking funeral, but that's a lot of effort.
Mishimoto Radiator InstallationOur friends over at Mishimoto originally sent over their radiator for photos and an install. The photos, we gladly took, but Mishimoto kinda beat us a to the punch with their install video, which would've made just about anything we could've put together pretty moot. I will state for a fact that you need to go by Mishimotos video and instructions, and DEFINITELY NOT the shop manual. The OEM manual wants you to capture your A/C and remove the condenser along with the radiator, which would make this radiator swap 1000% more obnoxious. Mishimoto's video walks you through the much easier and simpler path (though I personally had an issue or two. More on that later). Per usual, Mishimoto's production quality is top-notch. While my own Mishimoto Radiator install went fairly smooth, there were a few hiccups as compared to Mishimoto's video. One big oversight that they do not show draining the coolant out of the radiator before they start yanking stuff apart. While this is a pretty common sense step, make sure to it. I used some tubing from the drain port down to a container and had to use a set of pliers to turn the drain valve. Not a huge deal, but if you forget, you'll make an even bigger mess than you need to.
My second problem during install had everything to do with my truck having 225,000 miles on it when I did the install. All of the pop-clips holding the radiator shroud onto the truck turned to dust and ash when I yanked them out with a PLASTIC pry tool. In any case, if your truck has a lot of miles on it, you may want to consider keeping some spare push pins around in case this happens to you. I just left the shroud off, since it's one of the only ways you can see the radiator in the first place.
My last issue had to do with the lower radiator hose and the new o-ring Mishimoto put in there. While I didn't have trouble with the O-ring itself, I did have a heck of a time trying to get to the lower radiator fitting properly seated on the radiator's port. I think the O-ring was creating some additional friction, and I just could not get a good angle with enough leverage to pop it on from the top or the wheel well. I finally ended up laying under the truck and forced it on with both arms. If I had to do it again, I'd turn the wheel to the driver's side and probably lube up the fitting to make it a bit easier. Another omission in Mishimoto's video is that you'll need to "burp" the cooling system after installation. Since you'll likely lose more coolant than what's in the radiator, you'll need to make sure you replenish all the coolant you lost. To do this, you'll need to fill your reservoir to it's cold line, close its cap, then run the truck for a while. You'll likely notice the coolant level dropping, but this is normal as the coolant is taken in to replace what was lost. You'll likely have to do this several times before the coolant level stabilizes, and make sure you do at least one cycle where the thermostat opens and the fans come on.