In the early 1900's, the mass produced automobile changed forever how people and goods moved from one place to another. In addition to bringing the benefits of affordable and efficient transportation to society, the automobile expanded individual freedom to move about the world. It created new industries, boosted global commerce and created jobs for millions of people worldwide. Cars and trucks helped people to increase the quality of life.

Global industries to engineer, manufacture, distribute and to repair the parts and technologies of the self-propelled vehicle emerged where there had been none.

At the heart of it all lies the internal combustion engine engineered by Nikolaus Otto in the 1860's. Otto is credited as the person who made the internal combustion engine practical. He was able to develop an internal combustion engine that efficiently burned fuel in a piston chamber.

The internal combustion engine converts the chemical energy in fuel to mechanical energy that creates the torque that results in the motion of a vehicle. However, not all of the energy or power created in a vehicle’s engine can be used. Roughly about 30 percent of the energy released is used to create work or motion. The rest of it is wasted.

When the energy is created, engine heat is also created. Most of that heat needs to be controlled. Some of it goes through the exhaust system and some of it goes through the cooling system.

The heat is transferred to the engine walls and parts in the combustion chamber. Passages in the engine block carry oil and coolant to take that heat away by the cooling system. Another source of waste heat is the heat that is generated in the gases from the combustion process. These gases are controlled through the exhaust system.

Whether the fuel is gasoline or diesel, the energy conversion results in the generation of heat that needs to be controlled with the cooling system and the exhaust system.

Since the introduction of the mass manufacturing of automobiles, trucks and machinery with internal combustion engines, water-to-air radiators were used in the majority of applications. The design, construction of radiators, and the use of copper, brass, and lead dominated early radiators and heaters.

Early on smithy’s known for their metal work primarily for coaches, wagons and horses got the first nods for the repair of the copper and brass radiators that were found in the majority of the early trucks and cars. The radiator repair industry is rooted in the black smiths and tin smiths of old who added radiators as another group of metal item that needed their experience with metal cleaning and joining. Brazing of the tubes, tanks and headers provided a quick and reliable solution to breaks in solder seams, holes from corrosion and erosion, or punctures from stones and other road debris.

As car and truck ownership increased, specialized industries for the repair of vehicles grew. Car dealerships sold cars and repaired them. Soon others outside of the dealers were opening shops that relied solely on fixing cars and trucks.

Factories were created to make replacement parts including radiators, tanks, cores, heater cores, side rails and supports. Warehouses were established to store these parts. Repair shops began to specialize in specific parts and systems of the vehicle. From smithies, metal working and fabrication shops, and auto and truck repair specialized businesses grew that did one thing and one thing only – they fixed and remanufactured radiators and heater cores.

Special tooling was invented and adapted to make radiators. Tube mills, fin machines, stackers, presses, ovens and solder pots were enlisted to make cores for the aftermarket and complete radiators for the original equipment market (OEM). General Motors had its own captive Harrison Radiator Division. Ford Motor Company built its own radiators. Others used specialized suppliers for products.

Radiator repair shops were an intricate part of the auto and truck parts and service aftermarket. The original construction of a radiator at the time was very robust and many of the parts of the completed radiator could be restored and re-used.

At that time, radiators and heaters were constructed of heavy gauge copper, brass and steel. Basic components of radiators then consisted of two tanks, typically a top tank and bottom tank that were secured onto a core. The core was a series of tubes that were held together at the top and bottom by header or header plates and the solder that bound them to its fins. The header also functioned to keep the water or later the coolant contained in the structure. Steel supports were brazed to the sides of the radiators and they held the radiator in place in the front of the engine compartment.

Back then, radiator repair shops for the most part were bench operations or mini-factories that specialized in cleaning, dis-assembling and re-assembling radiators using as many of the older parts as possible. Entire cores would be replaced in recores. If new tanks were needed, they could be hammered and rolled out of sheets of brass.

At the time, the specialized channel of distribution grew. Throughout the 1930's and 1940's, small radiator core manufacturers employing hundreds of people grew up in major metropolitan areas in the USA and Canada. Core makers could be found in cities like Oakland and Los Angeles, CA; Houston and Dallas, TX; St. Louis, MO; Cleveland, OH; Boston, MA; Montreal, Que; Toronto, Ont; and Vancouver, B.C.

Among the ranks of regional core makers, one would find: Beacon Auto Radiator Mfg. Co., The G&O Mfg. Co., Lake Auto Radiator Manufacturing Co.; Eskimo Radiator Mfg. Co.; Heatex; Daniel Radiator, Mangum Mfg. Co., Chromalloy, and U.S. Auto Radiator.

Customers and suppliers were typically very loyal as the businesses were often based on personal friendship and family relations as well. The primary issues driving the industry in those early days were commercial – labor and parts. Shops needed cores. Core makers needed shops. They both needed skilled labor.

NARSA (National Automotive Radiator Service Association) was founded in 1954 in the state of Michigan by a group of forward thinking radiator repair shop owners. The charter was for education and communication. Annual meetings supplemented meetings of independent local and state radiator associations. NARSA provided the first national educational and commercial forum for radiator repair shop owners and industry suppliers with the NARSA annual convention and trade show. The convention was designed to travel throughout the country to integrate the smaller, regional membership organizations into a more powerful national group. In 2007, it changed its name to better reflect a global membership and expanded product categories. The name now is NARSA – The International Heat Exchange Association.


Founded in 1954 in the state of Michigan. Charter was for education and communication. 

Articles of Incorporation: The purposes of NARSA (re-affirmed in 1984)

  1. To promote, encourage, and establish uniformity of customs and merchandising principles in the manufacture, sale and/or repair and construction of radiators for automobiles, trucks and machinery which may be beneficial to the general public and the best interests of the industry.
  2. To engage in the mechanical and chemical engineering research for the improvement of the industry.
  3. To make recommendations and suggestions to members for the stabilization of the general business practices in the industry.
  4. To lend aid to projects mutually beneficial to the members and to the general public.
  5. To promote a high level of business ethics for those engaged in the manufacture, sale and/or repair and construction of radiators for automobiles, trucks, machinery.
  6. To encourage and promote a spirit of cooperation among automotive repair shop owners so that the interests of all shop owners and the general public may be served.
  7. To conduct such investigations, studies and research as may be necessary and advisable to compile factual data and gather information, the knowledge of which would be useful and valuable to the Association.
  8. To publish and disseminate trade publications as the Board of Directors may authorize.
  9. To promote, sponsor, conduct, manage and direct seminars and trade shows for the benefit of Association members and the general public.

By 1958 the organization was meeting annually with a national convention and the magazine “Automotive Cooling Journal” was established. Today it has been renamed “The Cooling Journal” to better reflect its coverage of markets and heat exchange technology to go beyond automobiles to heavy truck and equipment to industry and energy.


The first NASRA Gold Label Warranty Program established.  Annual trade show and convention held in Dallas, TX.

GM introduces its first production, aluminum radiator in its Corvette. NARSA established a college scholarship program. Harrison Radiator Division of GM produced its 2 millionth a/c system in 1962. NARSA developed a uniform chart of accounts for the industry as well as a Six Step Service Procedure as a retail marketing tool for automotive cooling systems.


NARSA and DuPont sponsored research program to find causes of radiator plugging.  Tri State (NJ/NY/PA) Chapter voted to join NARSA and began regionalization.

Houston did same for Southwest. Fabric and coolant use put a squeeze on coolant supply as ethylene glycol used in the manufacture of both products. Coolant recovery systems made their appearance as standard equipment on GM and Chrysler products. NARSA developed a popular and comprehensive repair order form as well as a common numbering system for radiator cores.

In 1977 a NARSA Heavy Duty Division created and map of Canada was included in logo to reflect the growth of the organization in that nation


In the 1980's, changes in technology for heat transfer products and in manufacturing processes made it possible to produce radiators, condensers and heaters made of aluminum. Aluminum was a lighter weight metal that provided advantages to vehicle designers looking to reduce the weight of the vehicles in order to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy standards.

Prestone bolstered coolant sales with a one-year radiator repair warranty program with NARSA shops enlisted to provide warranty repairs. NARSA premiered its first service shop television commercial. In 1989 with the prospect of government mandated coolant recycling NARSA led the way and formed The Antifreeze Coalition, a broad based industry group with the task of working with government on a number of different issues including disposal and recycling.


1990 Congress approved aggressive tax on R12 as part of a package to control and eliminate use and venting. NARSA opened dialogue with EPA to discuss use of lead in radiator industry. NARSA provided free blood lead tests at convention and created a credible data base that would become extremely valuable in future actions with regulators. Tests showed that lead problem was under control and diminishing compared to early studies.

NARSA worked with Cal Dept of Health to produce a manual to reduce health risks in the work place. NARSA developed a training video on recommended handling of radiators.

A 1994 NARSA survey indicated that antifreeze replacement topped charts of most frequent cooling system service performed. NARSA poll showed that 85% agreed that there was a need for technician certification. NARSA HD Committee created standard nomenclature to describe repair work and established a recommended bid format for fleet use.

In 1996 the association planned and implemented strategic PR program to increase public awareness of the values and expertise of its members. In 1998 the first NARSA website was unveiled. Two charities were supported by fund raising at the convention and they were the St. Vincent’s Dining Room and Committee to Aid Abused Women. History of making donations in cities hosting the convention had been a NARSA activity since 1979. NARSA began assisting 14 members listed as PRPs (potentially responsible parties) by the EPA in a Superfund cleanup of an abandoned lead smelter in Detroit.

By 1990, copper and brass was no longer the dominant metal used in passenger car radiators. Aluminum was and still is. Also during the 1990's, the production of radiators increased outside of the USA. Today that trend continues with the majority of global production of automotive and truck heat exchangers coming from China, Southeast Asia, and Mexico.


NARSA created its first HD certification program that set standards for shop and technician certification. In 2005, the NARSA convention joins with AAPEX and established the NARSA Heat Exchange and Mobile A/C Pavilion. The majority of NARSA members indicated in an industry survey that they have high interest in HD trends and technology and 80 percent had been in business for 20 years or more.

In 2007 the organization change its name to NARSA – The International Heat Exchange Association. The move was made to align the name of the organization with a growing global membership and with their expanded markets for heat exchange products and services beyond radiators.

Newer factories, coupled with lower costs for labor and materials provided a competitive edge for manufacturing outside of the USA and Canada. Tougher environmental laws in the USA also contributed to the construction of more parts plants outside of the USA.

Radiators and heaters that were once exclusive to radiator shops became more important to hard parts distributors. National hard parts chains such as NAPA, CARQUEST, Advance Auto and Canadian Tire began to sell radiators to general auto repair shops as well as consumers. Over the past 10 years, radiators, heaters and condensers became a part of the overall hard parts and collision industry channels of distribution.

Today similar advances in manufacturing and design of aluminum heat exchangers have also impacted the market for heavy truck radiators and charge air coolers. Large multi-national companies are able to manufacture replacement units that can now compete with recores and repairs. NARSA serves a niche industry that specializes in heat exchange products and services for applications in global core industries including transportation, agriculture, construction, energy development and manufacturing.

NARSA members are active in a number of key industries today. They have evolved as technology and markets have evolved.  There are three key areas that the membership serve and they are automotive, heavy duty truck and mobile equipment, and industrial heat exchangers. Some businesses serve all three markets through a wide array of products, knowledge and services. Others may focus on one key market such as automotive and light truck. All are bound by a common dominator – heat exchange. NARSA members have and will continue to evolve in order to better serve society with much needed services and products for transportation and industry.