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      10-02-2011, 03:27 PM   #1
Alpina_B3_Lux
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REVIEW: AR Design aluminium radiator

22. REVIEW: AR Design aluminium radiator

This is part of my extended review thread that you can find in its entirety here: 335i E90 LCI - Experiences and review of various modifications (long!) but that I reposted here separately in order to make this part easier to find.

• Why?

If you've read one or more of my reviews so far, you will probably have realised that I track my car regularly on the Nordschleife of the famous Nόrburgring. Now, a 335i isn't really a track car, which is why some efforts are needed to make it at least reliable on a track (from an engine perspective; suspension and other stuff I will let aside here). As a forced induction engine, this means in particular that things need to be done to improve the cooling system of the car. The N54 engine that my 335i is powered with has two cooling systems, one with oil and the other one with water. Both also cool the two turbos that push air into the combustion chambers, which makes it even more critical to maintain reasonable temperatures in both circuits.

The stock oil cooling system of my car, which is in particular inadequate if you increase the power output of the car and/or track it, has already been substantially improved over the past two years, by installing an additional oil cooler from AR Design as well as upgrading the stock oil cooler with a bigger Setrab core. As a consequence, limp modes from too high oil temperatures are excluded.

But what about the water cooling system?

Actually, BMW itself gives you the option of installing an additional water radiator together with the - very mild - BMW Performance tune. That implies that the BMW engineers believe that the stock water cooling circuit needed upgrading in order to cope with a higher power output of the engine which automatically also increases its heat load. Which is certainly true: In the track section of this forum, you can read quite a bit about water temperature induced limp modes (see here: 335i limpmode party at the track), and a friend of mine also experienced one when doing 7 hot laps on the Nordschleife.

• How?

As a result of BMW Performance offering the additional water cooler, my first thought was to source the part for this BMW Performance water cooler and install it in my car. However, a friend of mine had already done this and still reported problems (including limp modes) with his car when tracking it. Therefor I decided not to go down this route, also because I was rather unsure whether the additional radiator would actually fit in the driver's side wheel well of my car, with the STETT cold air intake that already took up quite a bit of space down there.

Then I heard that AR Design was developing an all-aluminium radiator with much bigger capacity than the stock (plastic) radiator. As all AR Design products I've installed so far (two sets of downpipes, oil cooler, oil catch can) were well designed and until today functioned flawlessly, I decided to give that a try.

After some waiting for the final product to be released, there it was (see here: Announcing the ar design all aluminium Performance radiator. Here are some of the features:

• Made from aluminum, including extra thick, heavy duty end tanks
• Plug & Play OEM style connectors for radiator hoses
• Fan shroud designed to re-use OEM computer controlled fan
• 100% TIG-welded
• Individually pressure tested
• Re-uses factory mounting point
• Drain petcock
• Two rows of 1" thick tubes for maximum cooling capacity


That sounded very good and seemed to respond to my needs exactly - a replacement for the stock radiator that fit with the OEM connectors and without having to modify the factory mounting point. I ordered it and got it in the mail after a few weeks - well packaged as usual:

Aluminium radiator - packaging:


Aluminium radiator - mostly unpacked:


Here are some photos - from AR Design - of how it looks unpacked:

Aluminium radiator - front:


Aluminium radiator - back:


Aluminium radiator - side view:


It was actually quite big and heavy! But looked also well made, as far as I could judge that without being an expert for aluminium welding.

I therefor made an appointment with my garage (Daum Motorsport) for its installation.

Unfortunately, here the problems began…!

First problem - bad fitment (1)

A day after having dropped off my car, my garage called me and told me that there was no way to fit the radiator as it interfered with the intercooler tubing. Also, due to its greater height compared to the stock radiator it stuck out a bit over the edge of the engine bay. The latter issue could be ignored, but the former prevented any installation of it in its current state:
There was no way that it could be made to fit, safe removing and redesigning all intercooler tubing which I obviously did not want to do as it would have been even more of a hassle. Also, it would seem that then there would not be any wriggle room at all for the intercooler tubing, and it couldn't compensate for engine movements or largening of the tubes in size at full boost.

I've tried to make some photos to illustrate this point, although because of the extremely tight fitting it's a bit difficult to see:

Radiator interfering with intercooler piping:


Of course, this was contrary to what AR Design claimed - stock mounting point, Plug&Play installation. I wrote of course to Andrew @ AR Design pointing out these design flaws, but aside from stating that they could not test "every single intercooler available with our radiator before shipping" (which was not the point at all as the design interfered with the stock intercooler piping, not any aftermarket piece), nothing more came out of this exchange.

The radiator therefor had to be removed again from the car (some more hours and €€€), and my shop had to cut off the radiator outlet tube on the passenger side that was not correctly designed and weld it on again slightly higher and at a steep upwards angle (more €€€). That eliminated the issue with the intercooler tubing that was in the way and which interfered with the above mentioned outlet tube. Then the radiator itself was re-installed again (more €€€).

Second problem - bad fitment (2)

However, upon installing the radiator, it was discovered that there was another, however minor, issue: On the driver's side one of the struts on the backside of the radiator (basically the fan housing that you can see on the photos hereabove) interfered with the charge pipe tubing on that side (again the stock piping, not any aftermarket one).

On the following photo you can get an idea of what I mean:

Radiator - fitment problem (2):


This one also had to be rewelded and moved slightly in order to be able to properly mount the radiator and not interfere with the charge pipe tubing. Again, more €€€ and time spent to correct that issue…in total I believe that the install, uninstall, re-install and rewelding process has cost me around as much money as the radiator itself - 1000 USD.

Here's a photo comparing the stock radiator and the AR Design one - you can see the difference:



And here's how it looks installed, after all the fitment issues had been resolved:

Aluminium radiator - installed:


AR Design confirmed that they had changed the design of the radiator so that - as opposed to my obviously beta unit - the next units would not have these design flaws.

• Improvements?

Now, after going through all that hassle, was there at least a significant improvement to be felt?

The first major difference I noticed was that the car took much, much longer to reach its operating temperature (judging from the oil temperature gauge). Where before it took around 5 minutes of driving to get to around 100 degrees Celsius, it now took more than 10, in colder weather even 15 minutes before that happened. So, obviously, the radiator did what it was supposed to do - provide more cooling to the engine.

When on the track, I did some datalogging with the BT tool and the water temperatures stayed significantly lower than before. Unfortunately, due to an IT incident these datalogs were lost, otherwise I would be able to provide you with more and more precise data than this.

As the installation was done in September 2010, the tracking season was almost over, so that I didn't have more than one opportunity to actually drive the car with the upgraded radiator on the track. But during that one session I could indeed notice a significant improvement in terms of water temperatures - so it seemed all was as it was supposed to be.

Or not?

• Second problem - leakage

During the winter (beginning of 2011) I suddenly noticed the dash warning telling me that the coolant level was low. As I had never received such a warning before, I left my car at my garage (who had done the install of the radiator) and let them check it out. After removing the undertray they immediately saw that a significant amount of (blue colored) coolant had leaked out of the aluminium radiator. It looked like there were at least two leakage points at the back of the radiator, within the mesh. Due to the constrains in terms of space in the engine bay it was however difficult to make out details.

Here are some photos where you can see a few blue drops on various parts of the engine:

Coolant (blue) leaking out (1):


Coolant (blue) leaking out (2):


My garage removed the radiator and confirmed the two leaks, at the back of the radiator within the mesh that you can see behind the fan housing. Due to the leakage points (within the mesh) it was not possible to repair the radiator, such as by welding (the mesh cannot be welded). I therefor asked the garage to remove the radiator and install the stock radiator again.

• Vendor's reaction?

Of course I contacted AR Design about this (in May 2011). Having dealt with them before on several occasions with different products, I've always had a very good feedback time and response from Andrew and his team (except the aforementioned fitment issues).

Unfortunately, not this time.

First, they ignored my messages for about two weeks. Several reminders didn't change that - only after I posted my experience here on the forum I finally got an answer (end of May 2011), and an offer to replace the faulty radiator.

That would not have compensated me for all the installation €€€ I had to spend again for removing and re-installing it a first time, and then a second time when the replacement arrived. However, I agreed to this.

Which is where we stand now - several months (and reminders) later, no reaction from AR Design and no replacement or compensation.

• Summary

To my regret I therefor have to state that I cannot recommend this radiator to anyone - I have yet to see proof that the design issues have really been remedied, and it seems that there were (maybe still are) problems in the quality control of the manufacturing process.

Also, this experience has left me very doubtful about the attitude of AR Design to its customers and, in relation to the present issue, was greatly disappointing to me.

I will post updates here on whether - or not - any replacement or compensation will ever arrive. Of course I also invite AR Design to explain (maybe even apologise, who knows) this antithesis of customer-minded attitude.

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      10-02-2011, 03:39 PM   #2
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I'm sorry for your problems. However, I think that the water radiator problems were predictable. Do you really think they sold more than one of these ? You were probably their guinea pig.

By the way, do you have the BMW Performance Power Kit installed ? I think it helps somewhat with the heat problems.
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      10-02-2011, 03:40 PM   #3
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sorry to hear that Marcel I hope AR design could help you out with this, I would be pissed out too as the shipping cost tons of $$$ from the US to Europe not to mention the taxes and customs and sure the radiator price, all gone for nothing...
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      10-02-2011, 03:49 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tscdennab View Post
I'm sorry for your problems. However, I think that the water radiator problems were predictable. Do you really think they sold more than one of these ? You were probably their guinea pig.

By the way, do you have the BMW Performance Power Kit installed ? I think it helps somewhat with the heat problems.
Yes, I agree with you that I was probably overly optimistic about this. Still, I had confidence in their ability to pull that off - which was, in retrospective, not justified. Well, afterwards one is always more clever! But if nobody tried anything new, no progress would ever be made either.

And no, I don't have the BMW Performance kit installed. As I wrote, I doubt it would fit on my car, and apparently it's not so efficient anyway.

Should I see during the next track season that I really do have water cooling problems (which I haven't seen so far), then a garage I know very well already has a replacement for the stock radiator ready - this time with the same size as the OEM radiator, but made out of aluminium. They also use this for their own BMW race cars.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Elie335 View Post
sorry to hear that Marcel I hope AR design could help you out with this, I would be pissed out too as the shipping cost tons of $$$ from the US to Europe not to mention the taxes and customs and sure the radiator price, all gone for nothing...
Well, I don't think AR Design will do anything here, but I'm of course more than willing to be surprised positively about that. And yeah, I don't want to add all the expenses together which this adventure cost me, I could probably go on a nice holiday for that...

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      10-02-2011, 04:04 PM   #5
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Thanks for this review. I would have taken the plunge and bought this radiator too a while back if not for your insight. I can't believe AR still has not resolved this issue with you.

By the way, I did a lot of research (i.e. Googling) on the topic of water cooling, and my finding, based on people who track their cars, is that you should upgrade the fan before upgrading the radiator. Bigger radiator improves heat capacity, but the bigger fan improves heat dissipation, which is higher priority. I made a thread regarding whether the bigger 335is/1M 850W fan was a plug-n-play for the 335i, and it is.

Another problem with a bigger radiator is that now you are pushing much more volume than what the electric water pump was intended for. According to AR, their radiator adds 1.5 quarts, which is quite a lot. I'm not sure if that is good for the health of the water pump. The BMW Performance radiator only adds about 0.5 quart, and software update is needed to make the water pump work harder.

Last edited by JunkStory; 10-02-2011 at 04:10 PM.
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      10-02-2011, 04:21 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alpina_B3_Lux View Post
And no, I don't have the BMW Performance kit installed. As I wrote, I doubt it would fit on my car, and apparently it's not so efficient anyway.
I remember reading somewhere that trying to cool the oil is not the right solution for cooling. Trying to cool the coolant is much better.

I think that you should not underestimate the Power Kit's cooling ability (more specifically the powerful fan),especially given the limited selection of good cooling options. It will not fit with the Stett CAI, but there is a Mr. 5 intake modification that fits and it's just as good as the Stett (in fact, I think it's better because you keep the ram effect of the stock intake ducts).
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      10-02-2011, 04:23 PM   #7
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Thanks Marcel for this honest review. I trust your judgement on this and will stay away from this product.

On another note i was at the Ring 3 weeks ago and had a great time again. Thanks for your support and help with the bilstein dampers recently. All the best.
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      10-02-2011, 04:31 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tscdennab View Post
I remember reading somewhere that trying to cool the oil is not the right solution for cooling. Trying to cool the coolant is much better.
+100

air-to-oil cooling is not as effective as water-to-oil cooling.
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      10-02-2011, 04:34 PM   #9
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Sorry to hear about this experience..as I stated in threads months ago..I believe AR has stopped producing these radiators..they are no longer listed on their web page and when I called to ask about buying one a year ago I was told by Andrew that they were on "hold"...for you guys who have dealt w vendors Im sure you can read between the lines..

But Alpina..they did even issue you a partial refund, even store credit??..Wow
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      10-02-2011, 04:40 PM   #10
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That really sucks..so you shipped them your rad after all this and no replacement or compensation back? That'd $2k there, can't believe they didn't contact you yet at all, quite disappointing really
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      10-02-2011, 04:43 PM   #11
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Wow. Really poor from AR Design.
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      10-02-2011, 05:10 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JunkStory View Post
+100

air-to-oil cooling is not as effective as water-to-oil cooling.
Race proven cars like all 911s to the 993, which have made countless hotlaps in very harsh conditions all over the world, seem to do just fine, and they're purely oil cooled. ;-)

So, it's about appropriate application design, rather than one technology vs. the other. In fact, it's important to cool both oil and water in water cooled cars, whereas oil cooled cars have the simplicity of a large dry sump, and no water to be concerned with. ;-)
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      10-02-2011, 06:18 PM   #13
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Sounds like you did some pretty good R&D for AR. Funny thing is they seemed to blame you for the problems and provided no compensation. Big thumbsdown for AR....
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      10-02-2011, 06:25 PM   #14
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Bottom line - I told you I would refund the radiator, and I totally dropped the ball. Just sent that over via PayPal, so it is taken care of. I apologize for spacing it.

However, there are a few points that should probably be made:

- I believe we gave you a tester discount - you did not pay full retail, but I did refund you full retail.
- Your car had a front end collision as I recall, which more than likely impacted the radiator.
- Due to various production issues, and inability to source cost-effective, quality cores, we stopped making the radiators after the initial production run.
- The radiator was never sent back to us as some above have mentioned.

The rest of you and your comments = haters gonna hate. Not much I can do about that, sorry.

Regardless, I am sorry that it did not work out well for you, and wish you all the best.
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      10-02-2011, 07:10 PM   #15
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so 3 hours and 1-2k later.. you must be a satisfied camper Alpina
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      10-02-2011, 07:11 PM   #16
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It takes a post to get customer service...
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      10-02-2011, 07:26 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by onesuperboi View Post
It takes a post to get customer service...
Things slip through the cracks when it comes to having to give a customer they're money BACK as $$ is lost on the item and that's hard to suck up..

But it's really nice to see a vendor actually straight admit it. I applaud AR for his post.
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      10-02-2011, 09:18 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Focus View Post
Things slip through the cracks when it comes to having to give a customer they're money BACK as $$ is lost on the item and that's hard to suck up..

But it's really nice to see a vendor actually straight admit it. I applaud AR for his post.
Wtf? Slip through the cracks you say, are you kidding? Is that code for lousy customer service? Doesnt surprise me that there was a refund issued, obviously that's what shouldve been done with the headaches the OP's dealt with. It shouldn't surprise anyone, people need to raise their expectations of the quality of customer service they receive when they spend their hard earned money somewhere. He probably wouldn't have gotten a refund or even a partial in a reasonable amount of time, if at all, if it wasn't for this post. OP said he let AR know about the problems in MAY.

OP thank you for posting your experience and great review of the product. We need more people to post up extensive reviews like this one, of both the product as well as the vendor.

I can't believe that radiator came from the same shop that produces those beautiful downpipes. I must say that radiator looks like shit.
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      10-02-2011, 09:38 PM   #19
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Quote:
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It takes a post to get customer service...
And a pissy response at that..
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      10-02-2011, 10:13 PM   #20
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Finally this has been resolved. I know that this has been plaguing Alpina_B3_Lux for months now. We can put this to rest now.
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      10-03-2011, 01:06 AM   #21
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like this...
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      10-03-2011, 04:20 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JunkStory View Post
Thanks for this review. I would have taken the plunge and bought this radiator too a while back if not for your insight. I can't believe AR still has not resolved this issue with you.

By the way, I did a lot of research (i.e. Googling) on the topic of water cooling, and my finding, based on people who track their cars, is that you should upgrade the fan before upgrading the radiator. Bigger radiator improves heat capacity, but the bigger fan improves heat dissipation, which is higher priority. I made a thread regarding whether the bigger 335is/1M 850W fan was a plug-n-play for the 335i, and it is.
That's right. Two problems with that:

- The fan is - to my knowledge - controlled by the DME and you would need the relevant software to make it work.

- The bigger fan produces quite a bit more noise than the stock one.
Quote:
Originally Posted by JunkStory View Post
Another problem with a bigger radiator is that now you are pushing much more volume than what the electric water pump was intended for. According to AR, their radiator adds 1.5 quarts, which is quite a lot. I'm not sure if that is good for the health of the water pump. The BMW Performance radiator only adds about 0.5 quart, and software update is needed to make the water pump work harder.
Yes, that is an issue that is similar with the bigger oil coolers as well. However, there are no indications that the oil or water pumps are overheating or breaking down due to the additional volume they have to push. But I think it's certainly a valid point.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tscdennab View Post
I remember reading somewhere that trying to cool the oil is not the right solution for cooling. Trying to cool the coolant is much better.

I think that you should not underestimate the Power Kit's cooling ability (more specifically the powerful fan),especially given the limited selection of good cooling options. It will not fit with the Stett CAI, but there is a Mr. 5 intake modification that fits and it's just as good as the Stett (in fact, I think it's better because you keep the ram effect of the stock intake ducts).
If I were sure that the Power Kit's additional radiator and fan (i) worked and (ii) could be installed on my car, I would certainly consider them seriously. However, as indicated above, I currently have my reservations about that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 645Nm View Post
Thanks Marcel for this honest review. I trust your judgement on this and will stay away from this product.

On another note i was at the Ring 3 weeks ago and had a great time again. Thanks for your support and help with the bilstein dampers recently. All the best.
Great! I really hope you'll let me know next time so that we can do a few laps together.
Quote:
Originally Posted by tibra1 View Post
Sorry to hear about this experience..as I stated in threads months ago..I believe AR has stopped producing these radiators..they are no longer listed on their web page and when I called to ask about buying one a year ago I was told by Andrew that they were on "hold"...for you guys who have dealt w vendors Im sure you can read between the lines..

But Alpina..they did even issue you a partial refund, even store credit??..Wow
They gave me a rebate of 160 USD on an oil cooler I needed to buy from them. I spent around 8-9 times as much for all the installation and rewelding alone...

They did promise me (at the end of June) to send me a replacement of the radiator, but that never happened.
Quote:
Originally Posted by dzenno View Post
That really sucks..so you shipped them your rad after all this and no replacement or compensation back? That'd $2k there, can't believe they didn't contact you yet at all, quite disappointing really
No, I didn't ship them my radiator. That would have cost another 100 USD or so with no certainty that I would get anything back, so that is not something I considered seriously. I asked for a refund, but nothing happened so far.
Quote:
Originally Posted by bimmertt View Post
Sounds like you did some pretty good R&D for AR. Funny thing is they seemed to blame you for the problems and provided no compensation. Big thumbsdown for AR....
Well, fitment problems can happen to anyone - that's not really my problem. It's rather how you deal with it that is important - and here is where AR Design failed (IMO).

I'll reply to their own response in a separate post.

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