The overall heat transfer of a cross flow heat exchanger can be enhanced by using the nanofluids as coolant, which finds application in reducing the size and weight of automobile radiator. However, improving the heat transfer using nanofluids can be accompanied by simultaneous variations in the required pumping power. This study experimentally evaluates the thermo-hydraulic performance of three nanofluids—metallic (copper, aluminum) and nonmetallic (multiwalled carbon nanotube (MWCNT))—as coolant for an automobile radiator by utilizing an in-house test rig. An enhancement in overall heat transfer coefficient can be observed with nanocoolants (nanofluid as coolant), compared to the de-ionized water at the same Reynolds number. The maximum enhancement in the overall heat transfer coefficient was observed to be 40, 29, and 25% for MWCNT, copper, and aluminum nanofluids, respectively. The thermal performance of coolants was also compared with the same pumping power criterion. The overall heat transfer coefficient of nanofluids were higher than basefluid at low pumping power range and the trend changes with increase in the pumping power. The present study shows that the heat transfer characteristics at the same Reynolds number as well as at the same pumping power needs to be considered for the selection of appropriate nanocoolant for automobile radiator application. © 2019, © 2019 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.