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2000 Camry - Steam from Radiator, noise from exhaust

I own a 2000 year Camry (bought second hand in 2003 from Dealer) and I live in north east. I have very minimal car experience, worse, have a bad back, so difficult to do any work.
My car was earlier - a 15 days/month or so earlier - was giving kind of a rrrrrr noise from the exhaust side. I got the oil changed and the mechanic told me to change the a/c filter (since it was dirty), nothing more. I had to pass it at that time.
Over the last few days, I see smoke pouring out under the hood - could smell faintly a rubber smell, and I found the following: 1) coolant tank was empty. 2) steam was coming out from a hole in the Radiator.
I bought Prestone Coolant and filled the tank (to the level indicated). When I drove for almost 2/3 miles, Check engine light came on, the Engine Temperature went to HOT (all the way top). After 6 miles, I stopped. Now smoke was pouring under the bonnet. I was told that the check engine might be ignored, so long no smoke is coming out and was encouraged to try driving again.
The next day when I drove again, the same thing happened. After returning back (a total of 12 miles today), I found that the Coolant liquid tank was completely empty.
The local mechanic says it might cost anywhere between $500 to $2000 to repair. Toyota earlier said that the car is not worth more than $2000.
At this point, I can neither afford a new car, nor undertake an expensive repair.
Need some help, advice and pointers to identify a good mechanic, so I that won’t get ripped off.

Thank you everyone,
Appreciate your time and help,

You drove your car with a hole in the radiator. That emptied out not only the coolant tank but the radiator and engine. When you filled the tank and drove 2/3 mile enough coolant got into the engine or radiator to make your gauge read. You may or may not have destroyed your engine. If it is not destroyed, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Please don’t take this the wrong way . . .

You are your own worst enemy

You admitted to seeing a hole in your radiator, yet you decided to keep driving 6 more miles

You admitted you even drove it the next day, without fixing it

" . . . so that I won’t get ripped off"

Please . . . no mechanic can rip you off worse than you’re ripping yourself off

Continuing to drive the car with steam coming out of the radiator is the automotive equivalent of ignoring arterial bleeding on a person. Just as a person can–literally–be bled dry and die as a result of arterial bleeding, the OP allowed his engine to die as a result of insufficient coolant.

When an engine is severely overheated–as this one apparently was–the engine almost always suffers severe damage. How much damage is there? We can’t tell from here, so the OP’s options are as follows:

Ask locally for recommendations on a very good, honest mechanic, and have him assess the condition of your engine. The repairs to the radiator and the engine could range anywhere up to several times the value of the car, but you will only know the true extent of the damage by paying a mechanic to do the assessment. This assessment will probably cost a couple of hundred $$.
Simply junk the car and start fresh with another vehicle that–hopefully–the OP will not abuse.

For future reference, if you see either the oil pressure warning light or the temperature gauge reading HOT, that is your signal to pull over immediately, shut down the engine, and have the car towed. Continuing to drive under either circumstance will inevitably cause extremely expensive damage to the engine…which is exactly what the OP did.

Thanks to all those responded.
I was advised by one local mechanic to do so, otherwise I wouldn’t have. When I saw steam coming out, I took pictures and showed it to a local mechanic and he asked me to first check the coolant and I did. Now, I think I should have taken to reputed place. Hence the question about determining good mechanic.

I agree with VDCDriver…I need to learn how to maintain the car myself, kept talking myself out of it, due the back pain (missed the pain - truly, I would love to miss it)…which does not prevent me from doing minor maintenance tasks.
I will start with AAA and see where it goes.

“I need to learn how to maintain the car myself, kept talking myself out of it, due the back”

I can give you some advice regarding how to gain some valuable knowledge about the workings of your car. Almost all vocational schools and some adult education programs will periodically run an evening course with a title such as “How to Maintain Your Car”, or perhaps “Basic Automotive Maintenance”.

Even if you don’t want to do the maintenance yourself, or are unable to do it because of your back, these courses will give you a good orientation to the engine compartment, and will allow you to view the underside of a car on a lift, in order to learn about all of the mechanical parts, how they work & interact, and how to maintain them.

So, the next time that you get a booklet in the mail listing evening classes at the local high school or the local vocational school, take a look to see if they are running a course such as this. Even if this type of course is not listed for the next semester, there is a decent chance that it will be listed for the following semester. Typically, these courses run one night a week for…perhaps…2 or 3 months, and the cost tends to be very reasonable.

Thanks again VDCDriver, as well as db4690, oldtimer11. All of your comments were educative.
I realize that this IS an expensive mistake ( relaying on someone else to take care of your old car ), especially, since I was hoping to use the car for a loooong time. On the positive side, it has made me, all the more determined, to take up classes as well as research on BBB boards like this and keep myself abreast on car maintenance.


I’m going to be blunt here . . .

You can’t place all the blame on that mechanic’s bad advice

Your owner’s manual clearly states what you must do when the car is overheating and physically leaking coolant

It also clearly states that you must NOT continue driving with an overheated engine

Reading the owner’s manual, understanding it, and following the instructions/advice is one of the best things any owner can do

Okay guys, enough already. The OP knows he made a mistake, and I’m sure he won’t make it again.

If it were me, I’d do a compression leakdown test to find out if there actually is any damage to the head gasket. That should provide a basis to determine if the engine is actually totally shot.

If the cylinders hold pressure and the engine turns over, I’d fix the leak (replace the radiator if needed), give it a fresh oil change, and try driving it. It is possible that if you monitor your fluid levels the engine will give you more years of service. Not as much as you might have gotten if you hadn’t driven it to overheating, but still some years.

Have a friend join you, buy a repair manual, shop for a discount radiator, get the tools and fluids referenced in the manual, and try changing the radiator yourself. It’ll save you hundreds and you might just enjoy the adventure.

We all assume that driving an engine overheated destroys the engine. It clearly does no good, but if my funds were low I wouldn’t make that assumption. I’d pick up a leakdown test kit at the local parts or tools store and test it. The kit is perhaps $40 or so.


I’m done lecturing

Here’s what I would do

Get a cheap radiator at a local mom and pop shop, along with a gallon or so of generic coolant
Get a thermostat and radiator cap from the local Toyota dealer

I suggest the cheap radiator because it’s nice to support those small independent businesses, and those radiators are usually the cheapest. Not to mention they’ll almost certainly have it in stock

I suggest the genuine Toyota thermostat, because aftermarket thermostats seem to have various problem . . . wrong temperature rating, don’t seem to duplicate the original part, don’t look anything like the original part, don’t fit well, just don’t work, etc.

In my opinion, it’s possible the engine didn’t sustain any damage

You didn’t check the coolant. You checked the overflow or reserve tank. To check the coolant you have to let the car cool down, for at least a couple of hours and remove the radiator cap and see if there is coolant in the radiator.
If you see steam or coolant coming from the radiator just have the car towed to a mechanic.
You should probably join AAA.