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Heater Core Repair

What is the heater core?

The heater core is part of the vehicle climate control system, providing heat for the air that passes through the vents. Similar to the vehicle’s radiator, the heater core uses tubes and fins to spread out the heat from the engine coolant. Heat is transferred from these fins to the moving air from the blower motor. This air blends with non-heated air to provide the temperature commanded by the climate control unit.

What are the symptoms of a faulty heater core?

No heat. Or very little. The heater core either clogs up so there is no circulation of hot coolant through the unit, or the core leaks coolant. A clog forms from the deposits left behind by old coolant eventually sealing up the tubes in the core where no coolant will pass through. Flushing the coolant system every once in a while will help prevent this clogging. A leaking core may still provide some heat depending upon the size of the hole. A leaking core may be noticed by the wet patches on the passenger rug or the smell of coolant coming out of the vents. Remember that coolant is toxic, and breathing it in may make you ill over a period of time.

What is the severity of a faulty heater core?

Significant. Ignoring this repair will not leave you stranded by the side of the road, but it could make the winter very uncomfortable. Surviving without heat with frosted windows does not make for suitable driving, so get it repaired. Take your time (unless it’s winter), find a good mechanic one who has experience in climate control issues and make an appointment. This repair make take some time, so plan on leaving the car for several days, maybe more.

What is the typical heater core replacement cost?

  • Estimated part(s) cost = $50-$100
  • Estimated labor cost = $300-$800 (depending on vehicle type)
  • Estimated total cost = $350-$900

Across all makes and models, a heater is a relatively inexpensive part. The price will range somewhere between $50 and $100. However, the labor portion of the bill will be quite hefty. The heater core unit sits deep inside the dash, consequently much of the dash if not all of it must be removed. On the other side the hoses that bring coolant into and out of the core must be disconnected, which can be a chore. So prices for the installation of a new core will range in the $300 to $800 dollar range depending on the make and model.

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Service article written by an ASE Master Technician

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