Quantification of heat exchanger performance in its operative environment is in many engineering applications an essential task, and the air flow rate through the heat exchanger core is an important optimizing parameter. This paper explores an alternative method for quantifying the air flow rate through compact heat exchangers positioned in the underhood of a passenger car. Unlike conventional methods, typically relying on measurements of direct flow characteristics at discrete probe locations, the proposed method is based on the use of load-cells for direct measurement of the total force acting on the heat exchanger. The air flow rate is then calculated from the force measurement. A direct comparison with a conventional pressure based method is presented as both methods are applied on a passenger car’s radiator tested in a full scale wind tunnel using six different grill configurations. The measured air flow rates are presented and discussed over a wide range of test velocities. The advantages and draw backs of both approaches are compared and discussed in detail. The proposed method is non-intrusive, leaving the heat exchanger core intact, with no need for integration of measurement points over the core region. Due to the measuring principle, the load-cell method will inherently over-predict the air-flow rate. This error is quantified and an empirical correction function is investigated. This paper shows that the corrected force based method determines the air flow rate through a heat exchanger with an accuracy similar to that of traditional pressure/velocity methods while offering a considerable number of advantages.