Defective radiator caused a need for expensive transmission flush. Can I recover the cost?

I purchased “SPECTRA PREMIUM CU2952 {#7L2Z8005A, 8L2Z8005A}” from Rock Auto on May 12. On May 23 I installed the radiator in a 2007 Ford Explorer. On initial startup of the engine and flushing of the cooling system we immediately found that transmission oil had infiltrated the cooling system. We immediately drained and flushed numerous times and the oil returned each time. It was clear that the brand new radiator had a defect in the transmission cooler that was causing cooling and transmission fluid to cross-contaminate. We immediately drained the transmission and found significant contamination from the cooling system.

Without running the engine any more we had the vehicle towed to a local repair shop. They confirmed that the transmission was heavily contaminated with cooling system fluid (mostly water at this point). We provided a replacement radiator of the same type purchased from Rock Auto under warranty , had it installed, and then the transmission could be thoroughly flushed. This required hours of labor and 20 quarts of transmission fluid for a total cost of $467

This work was only necessary due to installation of a defective Spectra Premium radiator. According to the mechanics that performed the repair (transmission flush) we were very lucky the transmission was not destroyed by this defective radiator. Had it been the cost would have been over $2000 to R&R an aftermarket radiator and even more for a new OEM radiator.

Spectra Premium refused to pay for the repair required due to their faulty radiator. Their response was “Unfortunately, Spectra Premium Industries doesn’t sell or do any warranty with the general public.
For any warranty claim, please get in touch with the place of purchase.”

I am unable to find any way to contact Rock Auto directly. Their help pages just direct you to getting parts replacement under warranty and no way to email someone that I can find.

Is this something I can get one of these big companies to cover since it was entirely their fault! Do I need to take them to small claims court? Could that be successful?


You truly do not have a car problem, but a legal one. I would advise you to contact a lawyer, and lay out your case just as you did here, and then follow the lawyer’s advice.


Wasn’t hard to find on their website

Email us at

Now you just need to prove it was defective and that you didn’t over tighten the fittings to the transmission cooler and break it while installing.

Go to the bottom the their home page and click on “about us”. Near the bottom of the page on the right is an address and a telephone number.

Most warranties will only cover the replacement of their parts and not include any labor charges or incidental or ancillary damage caused by the failure of the part. So I doubt you will get any relief either from Spectra or Rockauto. That’s just a fact of auto repair. If the shop I work at had installed a defective radiator my supplier might pay a labor claim to replace the radiator again, but I’m pretty sure the shop would be on the hook for flushing and cleaning out the transmission.

There’s a certain cost associated with buying parts online and doing your own repair work, this is an example of that.


FWIW I have never seen a transmission survive water(coolant) contamination regardless who quickly the problem is found or how thoroughly the transmission is flushed. A few drops of water on just a few random clutch friction plates will quickly result in total failure of the transmission in my experience.

Unlikely, the vast majority of the time, they’ll replace the defective part, but won’t accept liability for any collateral damage.

You can try, but your chances probably aren’t that great.

Honestly, your transmission probably isn’t going to come out of this in good shape, I have a feeling that it’s life has been significantly shortened by this episode. The $467 is going to be the least of your worries sooner rather than later.

Any chance the transmission was contaminated by a leak in the old radiator and the new one is getting the blame? Once fluid is in the cooling system it would take a lot of work to clean it all out.

While not definitive, it should not be hard to actually verify the new defective one has a cooler leak. Plug the radiator off, fill it with water, and apply a little air pressure to the fluid cooler. If it bubbles it’s faulty beyond a doubt. That then leads to the question of whether or not Spectra or Rock Auto could claim it was damaged during installation or while connecting the fluid lines.

I do have a few questions though. Why was the original radiator replaced and how does someone come up with 2 grand to R & R a radiator?

There’s no legal leg to stand on.

When you sue somebody, you have to prove that party through intent or negligence intentionally supplied a defective part.

Rock Auto: “Your Honor! We didn’t make the radiator. We only sold it.”

Spectra: “Your Honor! We manufacture millions of radiators per year. And every once and a while, a defective radiator leaves out plant.”


no chance. First thing we did was drain the radiator and it had no oil in it at all. Only after we installed the replacement and turned the engine on and run it to open the thermostat (which we also replaced, and was also destroyed by the oil), did we find the oil in the radiator. We immediately stopped running the engine, never changed gears, and drained the radiator again. It was bad, so we drained the trani. Also bad. We removed the defective radiator and flushed water through the block via the radiator hoses, replaced the radiator with a new one (took a week, same type, but for some reason it cost $18 more), and had it towed to the shop to flush the trani.

I think Spectra should accept that in those few cases where they ship a defective radiator they should pay for damage that it causes. They should do better testing, and stand behind their products. If a defetive radiator leaves the plant they should pay for the results. If they have to do that a lot they will be forced to improve their manufacturing process to lower the incidences, or improve their testing to make sure the part is not defective before leaving the plant.

Work on vehicles over the years.

Then you come to realize how many defective new parts are sold.


Warranty statement from the Rock Auto warranty page;

  • Warranties offer only replacement of the defective part with another part: no cash refunds and no reimbursement of labor costs, shipping costs or other expenses.

Do-it-yourself repairs come with risk, if you had the radiator replaced by a repair shop, they would have likely corrected the problem at no cost to you.


I mentioned using compressed air to test the cooler with the radiator full of water to see if bubbles appear. That removes all doubt although I do not think this gets you anywhere legally. It’s just a matter of wanting to know beyond all doubt. No response.

I asked about 2 grand to R & R a radiator. No response.

I asked why the original radiator was replaced. No response.

All of the other posters have had great responses on various point and I fully agree with them. Just my 2 cents but I’m not certain you are out of the woods yet on the transmission per Rod Knox’s comment about coolant contamination of the clutches in the transmission. “Never changed gears” does not mean anything. Minute the engine starts the front pump in the transmission is circulating ATF/coolant everywhere.

It’s all about proof.
Allegations that can’t be proven are unlikely to help someone to win a lawsuit.

I did not see this uintil now and had no idea someone was waiting for a response.

2 grand would have been to replace the transmission. Many responses here indicate that is still likely as the water in there will significantly decrease it’s life. So far the flush seems to have worked. We were very careful not to run the engine after we discovered the problem and never engaged the transmission in that state. Certainly not complete protection, but it’s the best we could do and so far the car is running properly (after the trani flush)

Filling the radiator with water and forcing air into the trans cooler is a good idea, but

  1. I had to send the radiator back right away to get a replacement
  2. I don’t have the tools to do that

The original radiator was replaced because it had water leaks. As noted in another response, there was no oil in the radiator so there did not appear to be any leaks between the trans cooler and the radiator water.

Knock on wood that things will remain fine. If you want to avoid the possibility of a radiator trans fluid leak you can add an aftermarket trans fluid cooler. Those are cheap (50 to 100 depending on size, etc) easy to install, and will bypass the radiator cooler. They will also remove more heat from the fluid than the radiator coolers.

They can also be easily removed and transferred to the next car you own.

Ah No…Intentional or NOT…Manufacturer is responsible for any damage done by their part.

A typical part warrant.

Each warranty does not cover any labor costs or incidental, indirect, special or consequential damages such as, but not limited to, physical injuries or property damage, loss of time, loss of use of the vehicle, inconvenience, air freight charges, rental vehicle charges, towing charges or accommodations resulting from a defect in or failure of the part.

Try to collect.

Good luck on that one!


The thing about warranties, or anything else that a business writes, is that they aren’t legally binding if they run afoul of actual laws.

The extreme example is that just because a business posts a sign saying that people wearing Hawaiian shirts will be shot on sight, that does not mean that employees of the business are actually allowed to murder festively-dressed people. Putting it on the sign does not create a homicide-law-free zone within the business’ property.

In other words, they can disclaim responsibility for damages all they want, but if the law says they’re responsible, they’re responsible. It’s generally up to specific state law whether or not property damage is covered under strict liability (which is the doctrine that says even if you weren’t negligent, if your product is defective and causes injury, you’re responsible). Some states say “injury” means anything that harms someone in any way, including economically, while others say “injury” covers damage to people but not property.