2003 Camry heater core leaked

I have a 2003 Camry XLE 4cly, my first Camry that I purchased used at 46k miles certified and I really like it but the heater core just leaked and coolant is all over the driver?s carpet all the way to the back floor. Car now has 62k miles but two months ago at 60k miles I took it to a non-Toyota local shop to get the coolant flushed. I didn?t put two and two together at the time but after that service I noticed a ?running water? sound under the driver?s side dash after starting. It would eventually go away. I now know from other posts and forums that the noise was probably air in the heater core. I?m not sure it caused the leak or if it was the green antifreeze they used instead of Toyota red, but when I called for estimates, two local Toyota dealers said that it was very unusual for a Camry with just 62k miles to have this problem. The non-Toyota shop I eventually had the car towed to, which is different then the one who did the flush service, said they had not seen it at that low of mileage either. So the question is did the shop that did the flush cause the problem by leaving air in the lines or by using green antifreeze? This is going to set me back $1,000 and if that?s not bad enough, I?m hoping the carpet can be cleaned enough to not smell antifreeze.

Definitely unusual for a heater core to leak so soon, even if the coolant was never changed until you had it done.

If the old coolant was completely flushed from the system, the new coolant wouldn’t cause this, nor would air in the system. However, if they over-pressurized the cooling system during the flush…

Agree that overpressure (the old Burst method)could have caused the rupture. Many car firms now recommend against the Power Flush, and instead do the reverse flush through the heater core at normal water hose pressure. I did this for years at home, until the local bylaws forbade running antifreeze down my driveway and into the storm sewres.

I don’t know where you people get your information from.

You CANNOT over-pressurize the cooling system when performing a flush. You know why? Because if the system was over-pressurized, the radiator cap would open up!

And can you show me where ANY auto manufacturer recommends against cooling system flushes? I’ve never heard of this, and I get all the service industry updates on a regular basis!

More misinformation.

I think you were just unlucky to get a faulty heater core out of all the thousands of them installed in these vehicles.


Sorry to hear of your story.

IMHO the shop that did the flush was the cause. I’m wondering what they flushed it with. And if they flushed out the flush. Flushing chemicals can be aggressive. Personally I only use fresh hosewater. No chemicals. Or Powerflushing.

I hope everything works out okay.

I get my information from Bazooka gum wrappers. Pretty cool, huh?

Seriously, relax. I’m one who always worrys about the nature of flush chemicals. And most systems are set by the radiator cap at about 16PSI, not very much. Although a system should be able to handle much more, overpressuring it with the addition of a caustic could cause a weak area to fail. Heater inlet-to-core junctions are particularly mechanically weak because they’re perpendicular to the core and of small diameter. The junction is often just a rolled and soldered connection. Lateral forces on the injet caused by forcing high pressure fluid through at high velocity could cause such a seam to fail. Or at least that’s what the Bazooka wrapper says.

The bottom line is that we don’t know what the shop did. But heater core failure at that low mileage immediately after the flushing was done is…how do you say…highly suspicious?

SEE! Again you don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t use any flushing chemicals when performing a standard flush. There’s no reason to. The flush is intended to remove the old coolant with its depleted additive package and replace it with new coolant.

The only time a chemical is included with the flush is if it’s found that the cooling system is highly corroded or sludged up.


Tester, we don’t know what the shop did. My bet is that they used chemicals.

So, am I to understnd that you consider that heater core failure to be unlikely to be related to the flush that was performed immediately preceding it? You’d consider it a normal “infant mortality”? Interesting.

I disagree.


Before you run out and change the heater core, I’d look hard at the hoses. I don’t know why they would, but maybe they loosened up a hose clamp and didn’t retighten it, or they did use some flush chemicals (a real no no in my book) that caused the rubber to swell up and or leak. Now I know the hose is in the engine compartment, but it could spray through the firewall seals and into the vent compartment that houses the heater core.

A four year old car does not need a cooling system flush of any kind. A simple drain and refill is all that it needed. The shop was wrong to sell you a flush. Your owners manual lists all the required maintenance and the intervals for them. I’ve never seen the word “flush” used for the cooling system, just drain and replace.

They should not have used the green antifreeze, but that is not the problem. They should have used either the Toyota red or any brand yellow extended life coolant. Both are HOAT type coolants, the old green type is not. Note, some of the yellow coolants have a slight greenish tint, more yellow green, these are ok. The coolant should say “mixes with all colors and types” or something like that.

A little residual antifreeze in the carpet can be a good thing. It will keep the carpets from ever molding or rotting.

I can?t say what procedure or chemicals were used to flush the system, but given the low mileage and the fact that Camry?s are arguably one of the more reliable cars on the road, I?m leaning towards shop error. Of course, I could be the unlucky one who got the Friday afternoon version of the heater core installed but given the dealer?s response I don?t think it happens very often.

The flush shop also didn?t give me an option with the green antifreeze. Not that two months and 2k miles using green instead of red would make a difference, but they basically precluded me from making a goodwill appeal to Toyota to possibly go halfers on the cost since we currently own three Toyotas. Once I told the dealer it was green, he said too bad. I?ve also asked the current shop that?s doing the work to save the core so I can inspect it, but my thinking is that I still can?t prove it was shop error. Looks like I?ll have to eat this one.

$1,000 for a heater core? Sounds a bit high to me. Although I’ve never changed one on a Camry, the procedure is easy enough, IF (and that’s a big if) the core is somewhat accessible. Even when it is hard to get at, you’re really only dismantling under the dash stuff (I know it’s tedious) but not rocket science. What’s the current proce of a core for this car anyway? Maybe you got a faulty core from the factory and it just started to leak, maybe they used a corrosive cleaner which caused the leak, but now you’re stuck with it and need to have it replaced. I think you could determine how the core started leaking a whole lot better with it out of the car and in your hands than speculating about it. I replaced a core on my old Dodge pickup in less than an hour (slant six with a ton of room to work), and it was less than $75. JC Whitney has one for a 2003 Camry for $191.00. How much labor could be involved? Get it changed and then look for a reason for failure. Rocketman

In my younger days I would have probably attempted it but don?t currently have the tools or the flexibility to crawl up under the dash. The shop offered me two options on the core, off brand for about $200 and Toyota for $300ish. He said the Toyota?s just fit in better, so I gave the ok for that. So, the rest is labor and new fluid, which I asked that he flush all green out and put Toyota red back in.

just curious:

what is a “non toyota local shop”?
EXACTLY like a chain discount lubquickboysshop. which (in my opinion) sounds like inexperience.

Actually not a chain but a locally owned auto repair shop that came with a few good reviews.

You need to appeal to Toyota’s customer service rep. Find the 1-800 number in your owners manual or warrantee manual. The dealer cannot weasel out on this just because the green stuff was used unless he can prove that it was 100% at fault for the leak. And since the green stuff was used for many years, in older Toyota’s too, without causing problems like this, that would be hard to prove.

Of course he is not obligated to work with you if you are past the warrantee and that is his choice, but Toyota may help, that is their choice.

Even good mechanics make mistakes. Some of the old guys still prefer the green stuff, its like old reliable and they have never had a problem with it. I do think they should re assess the new HOAT antifreezes. They have all the advantages of Dexcol and none of the disadvantages. Some guys just have trouble with new stuff. I left a HOAT antifreeze in one of my vehicles for 7 years and it didn’t do any damage. It still had some corrosion protection left in it when I changed it. If you go back to this shop, let them know the yellow stuff really is better than the green stuff.

I’m kind of going along with Keith here. Have you considered getting another opinion on this leak to verify that it is really the core leaking and not a loose clamp or something?
A leak at the heater core hose clamps could allow coolant to dribble into the car.

If the core is really leaking then I also agree about contacting Toyota’s regional office and ask if they could do a good-will warranty for you since a heater core failure would be unusual on an '03 with low miles. Keep it professional and polite and maybe they will cover this for you entirely or meet you halfway. IF the core is needed.

(Note. Just to keep everything on the up and up, I would advise if you have the core replaced that you ask for your old one back. They should not object to this at all. If for some reason any Toyota warranty is involved then the dealer keeping that old core is an absolute MUST because the Toyota rep is going to want to see it on his next visit. The dealer’s word on this repair will not taken by the rep or Toyota. They’re going to want bad parts and signed paperwork to back it up.)

Perhaps I should have explained my response better. If the heater core was flushed separately and was clogged, it could be over-pressurized. The water coming out of my tap is a least 40 PSI. It’s not a likely scenario, just a remote possibility is all.

I have a comment on the carpet situation. If you really lost enough coolant to soak the carpet to the back footwell, you may have more on your hands than a simple carpet cleaning. I also have an '03 Camry but I haven’t yet had to lift the carpet YET. I did have to do it on another car after my AC drain backed up. On most cars, there is a carpet pad under the carpet. It acts like a sponge. Some carpets have a rubberized backing that won’t allow moisture to evaporate readily through it. If that pad is soaked, it’s going to be that way for a long time unless you lift the carpet and allow some air circulation at a minimum. Breathing antifreeze vapors for extended periods is a health hazard.

If it were mine, I would remove the door trim holding down the carpet edge and have a feel under there to see just how soaked it really is and go from there.

Wonder if there is any chance this is not anti-freeze at all but water from a stopped up evaporator drain hose?
OP, is it known for a fact the wet stuff is coolant?