The heater core is the most essential part of your vehicle’s heating system. Unfortunately, most only last 5-15 years.
Because this is often less than the lifespan of a car, you’ll have to replace your heater core once or more during its lifespan.
Of course, if you keep the coolant system full and maintained, your heater core is unlikely to fail early.
The average cost of replacing a heater core is $1,000, with a range of $350-$1500. That works out to $50-$450 for most heater cores. The rest is labor. That’s important, because it can take 5-9 hours to replace a heater core. Therefore, depending on the hourly rate charged by your mechanic, costs can vary significantly. In every case, you’ll want to look at flushing or cleaning your heater core first to see if it’s an option. If not, you’re probably looking at $500-$800 in expenses to replace your heater core.
The table below shows a quick price comparison of heater core replacement cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
|YourMechanic||Parts & Labor||$450-$1240|
|Midas||Parts & Labor||$570-$920|
|Mr. Tire||Parts & Labor||$571-$1213|
|Pep Boys||Parts & Labor||$445-$1078|
How Much Does Heater Core Replacement Cost?*
Replacing a heater core is expensive. In many cases, if you replace the heater core, you’ll also have to replace other parts of the cooling system like the lines and the valve.
But that depends on why the heater core has gone bad and how you take the heater core out. However, the largest factors in heater core replacement costs are always the make and model of the vehicle and labor costs.
For example, the following estimates in the table below include the cost of parts and labor for several popular car models. Importantly, the lower range parts are aftermarket or remanufactured parts.
On the other hand, the higher end parts are OEM purchased through a mechanic. Importantly, while you can always get a cheaper rate by purchasing parts yourself, not all mechanics will install parts you buy yourself.
|Vehicle||Heater Core Cost||Labor Cost|
|Jeep Grand Cherokee||$69.99-570||$519-$689|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (February 2022). Cost estimate may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
Replacement Heater Core Price Factors
The most important pricing factor for any heater core is the make and model. Luxury cars always cost more than budget cars. That holds true with parts as well.
In addition, you’ll have to consider the condition of the part. And, if you want to save money, there are sometimes aftermarket or alternative brand options to choose from.
Finally, labor is the largest cost consideration when installing a heater core.
Make and Model
The vehicle make and model always impact the cost of the heater core. Here, you have to consider the vehicle’s age, how common it is, and what the brand charges for OEM parts.
For example, if you have an older car or if there aren’t that many of your car on the road, parts are harder to get. That makes them more expensive.
It also means the mechanic might have less experience installing cores for your specific vehicle, which might mean that it takes longer and therefore costs more. In addition, some brands make it easier to remove the heater core than others.
In most cases, you’re still looking at 4-8 hours of work. But, if you’re paying a mechanic’s hourly rate, that is a big difference in fees.
Essentially the make and model can impact the cost in quite a few ways.
It’s often possible to purchase aftermarket parts instead of Original Equipment Manufacturer. On the other hand, it might not be.
In general, if aftermarket parts are available, they will cost much less. However, availability tends to depend on factors such as how popular your vehicle is, how often the heater core fails for that model, etc.
You can often save money on heater cores by choosing a remanufactured or refurbished option. This is less likely to have a full-length warranty on it. However, if your vehicle is already older, that’s also less likely to be an issue.
Remanufactured parts are normally refurbished or factory refurbished and then given a guarantee by the company doing the work. This offers you a cheaper way to source your parts – but you lose the guarantee of the new part.
Eventually, your choice shouldn’t affect the quality of the part very much. In most cases, refurbished and remanufactured parts are guaranteed.
If you want to maximize lifespan as much as possible, e.g., you think your vehicle might run another 10-15 years, you probably want to choose a new heater core. Otherwise, a refurbished one should be good enough.
Installation costs are often the most expensive part of replacing your heater core. That’s often because the old heater core must be cut out of the engine.
Replacing a heater core can take upwards of 8 hours. And, with average mechanic rates running at $60 ($15-$210 nationwide), that can get quite expensive. This also means you can save a lot of money by doing the work yourself.
However, replacing a heater core requires removing the entire dash. So, you shouldn’t attempt to do it if you don’t budget out the time as part of the process.
You’ll also want to have plenty of time available, safety equipment, etc., which means that replacing the part yourself can also be expensive.
In some cases, you’ll have to replace the pump, the lines, and even the coolant pump.
Why? If your heater core is clogged, rusted, or leaking, it might cause problems in other parts of the heating/cooling system.
Therefore, you should always have the problem checked by a mechanic or run a diagnostic check on the vehicle before replacing just one part.
3 Symptoms of a Bad Heater Core
If your heater core isn’t working, you’re probably experiencing very noticeable symptoms.
What those will be likely dependent on whether it’s winter or summer.
1. No Heating
If you’re traveling in the cold, your heater core allows the coolant system to exchange heat from the car engine with that of the air in the car.
This cools the engine while heating the car. If this system is faulty or completely broken, your car’s heating won’t work. That won’t be noticeable unless it’s cold enough to turn on or use the heating.
Unfortunately, that means you can fail to notice heater core issues as quickly if it’s warm. This, in turn, means the problem can get worse – e.g., rust can build up and cause a leak.
2. Intermittent Heating
In some cases, your car might offer enough heating if it’s only moderately cold. Then, when it’s very cold, it simply won’t heat enough. This is often a problem related to a clogged or leaking heater core.
In some cases, you can solve the problem by simply flushing the system out. If so, you can save a lot of time and money. However, if you do have a leak, you’re going to have to replace the heater core.
3. Overheating Car
If your heater core is damaged, it reduces the efficiency of your cars cooling system. If other parts of the system are damaged as well, such as the pump, or if you have clogged lines, your car might actually start to overheat.
However, this problem might also relate to other issues. Therefore, it’s important to check the problem thoroughly before assuming a solution.
Changing a Heater Core: Step by Step
Changing a heater core is not a simple process. In most cases, you will need tools that change based on your car, and you’ll have to buy those upfront.
In addition, it involves taking the dashboard out, which is time and labor intensive. If you don’t have a full day or multiple days, you may want to ensure your vehicle is in a garage for the night.
- Park your vehicle on a flat and level space, set the parking brake, and make sure the wheels are aligned straight ahead. Set the parking break.
- If you have a radio security code, make sure you have it. Then disconnect the battery.
- Disconnect the battery from the negative cable.
- Then, drain the radiator. You can do so by placing a pan under the radiator drain plug, which is also called a petcock.
- Check your manufacturer’s instructions to see which side of the dashboard the heater core is in. In most cases, you’ll have to remove the steering wheel, the instrument panel, and the air compressor unit. In other cases, you’ll only have to remove the glove box.
- If applicable: Take the steering wheel out. This process depends on the make and model of your vehicle. However, you can normally unbolt it from the sides of the steering wheel and lift it out.
- Remove the glove box. Here, screws might be hidden under panels. You might also need to use a flat screwdriver to pry pieces out. In some cases, there are also small release levers on either side of the panels, which you can depress with a flat screwdriver.
- If applicable: Remove the control panel. This varies per vehicle model. However, you can normally find a release for the radio faceplate. You can then use a screwdriver to unfasten the radio bracket.
- From there, you can unscrew all screws from the top section of the dashboard. These are located on the top and bottom of the dash.
- Slide the dashboard forward.
- Detach the wiring attached to the dashboard. You’ll also have hot air hoses to detach. If necessary, attach tape to label these parts so you know where they go back when you replace everything.
- Remove the air compressor unit if applicable.
- Detach the hoses from the heater core. You might also have to detach the ventilation box mounts to create enough room to actually remove the heater core.
- Put the new heater core in place, taking extra care not to damage the fins. Re-attach the hoses. Attach the screws.
- Replace the ventilation mounts.
- Re-attach everything you pulled out.
Importantly, some people prefer to replace the heater core by cutting into the firewall box around the core. This is not a good idea.
Why? The firewall is a protective box designed to keep heat inside the box. If you cut it open, you increase the risk of your car becoming a fire hazard. For example, if debris or lint becomes trapped in the box, it could ignite.
In addition, tools will depend on your vehicle. Check your car to see what you need.
A good set of screwdrivers, a ratchet set, and a wrench set are needed at the minimum. You’ll also want pans and protective gear for the radiator fluid.
If you still have questions about replacing your heater core, these answers might help.
Can you drive with a bad heater core?
Normally, you can drive with a bad heater core. However, the cabin of your vehicle will not be heated when it gets cold.
In addition, if it’s very hot or if other parts of the coolant system fail, your vehicle could start to overheat.
Can you replace a heater core yourself?
You can replace a heater core yourself. However, there are risks.
For example, it is easy to crack the dashboard elements. That could cost you thousands of dollars if you damage control panel.
It’s important to practice caution when removing any parts of the dashboard. That’s also true of the steering wheel, because you can damage the steering wheel as well as the steering column.
How long does it take to replace a heater core?
In most cases, you should expect to spend 4 to 8+ hours on replacing a heater core if you know what you’re doing.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, it might take even longer.
Can you unclog a heater core?
Yes. Flush pumps and flush systems should be the first line of repairing a heater core.
If you have a clog and not a leak or damaged parts, flushing the system can prevent you from having to replace the core.
Changing a heater core on your vehicle requires a lot of labor because you often have to remove the entire dash. That means most of the cost of the repair will be labor.
However, heater cores are not always cheap. Instead, they range from around $50 for an aftermarket or refurbished version to well over $500.
You can also expect to pay $300 to over $1000 in labor costs if you have the work completed at a garage.