Times are changing in the radiator business, but Nick White has adapted.
There was a time when every market town in the land had a couple of independent radiator reconditioners, or at least a branch of a national chain such as Serck Marston. However, time moves on. “Reconditioning of car radiators is a dying industry” said Nick White, proprietor of Leeds- based Northern Radiators. “Radiators used to be copper and brass so you either went to the main dealer for a new one, or came to us to recondition it. Now the tanks are plastic, there is not the need”.
“The factories can just stamp out the plastic tanks and that’s what they do in China”. White adds that because some of these companies supply the public directly through auction sites, trying to import and compete in this sector is a waste of effort. “There’s more profit in selling the radiator cap on eBay than there is selling the whole unit” he remarked glibly.
However, where there’s brass, there’s more brass (as the old Yorkshire saying almost goes) and Northern Radiators has cut out a niche for itself in remanufacturing heavy duty and specialist rads that do still have heavy metal construction. “We do both corporate and private accounts, from councils and airports to people with classic cars” White explains, and to demonstrate the fact we went and had a look at the workshop’s ‘in tray’. Straight away we noticed some familiar-looking classic references, apparently from a Ford Cortina and a Triumph Vitesse, while another customer dropped off a radiator from his Rolls-Royce as we were speaking.
Alongside these rads sat some more heavy-duty ones, apparently from fork-lift trucks, while another couple of huge and ancient-looking units waited, which had apparently come from backup generators in the basement of a building somewhere. Apart from cooling system radiators, the firm can also supply and recondition oil coolers, intercoolers and heater matrixes. It also offers a service to repair fuel tanks and sump pans.
Despite White’s earlier dismissal of new replacement rads, the firm does stock a number of quality performance parts from suppliers Mishimoto and Koyo, mainly as upgrades over OE for vehicles such as Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Evo. These high-end parts are bought by enthusiasts and command a reasonable margin.
While the firm has been at its current 3000 sq ft location for a few years, it dates back much further. In fact, the business was started in 1920. After the second world war, Nick White’s father Paul started his own radiator company following demobilisation. He acquired Northern Radiators in 1948. Now 94 years old and retired he still takes an active interest in the company. Northern Radiators was set up as a company in 1920. My father had come out of the army and started is own radiator company after the war and acquired Northern Radiators in 1948. He’s name is Paul White and he is 94 and still alive” said White.
Another traditional aspect of the business is the way in which radiators are recored which could make a fascinating article of its own, but in short involves quite a lot of hydrochloric acid and radiators tested under pressure. “The principal remains exactly the same” agrees White. “With modern health and safety we are a bit more switched on than a traditional operation, but radiators are very similar”.
And according to White, it will continue to be radiators at the ‘core’ of the business for a while yet. “We’ve tried various other things but we always keep coming back to radiators. At the moment we are very busy on radiators, just seven people. We are lean and mean and it is manageable” he concluded.