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Does my car need a new radiator?

I have a 97 Toyota Camry with a Japanese serial number. My mechanic (whom I trust) told me six months ago that there are “hairline” cracks in my transmission and I should watch for signs of leaking. I have seen no signs of leaking. Now my mechanic tells me I should replace the radiator so that I don’t risk it going out on me. I have 150K on the engine.

Do I need a new radiator or is my mechanic having a cash flow problem?

If he’s got no justification for a new radiator other than it’s having 150 K miles on it I wouldn’t do it. The whole car has 150 K on it. Why stop at replacing just the radiator? Why not the whole car?

Ask him if he sees a specific problem. If he can’t demonstrate anything specifically wrong, nothing needs replaced.

There are some parts that you would replace by miles or time, like tyres, air cleaner fuel filter etc. but radiators and transmission are not on that list. There is no general reason why a well cared for transmission or radiator could not last another 150,000 miles. There is nothing to stop a replacement from going out in 500 miles.

If his inspection has uncovered some information that we don’t know about, that might indicated a replacement, but so far we have not seen that.

“hairline” cracks in my transmission

Anyone care to comment on this one. I have not heard of it, but then there is a lot I have not heard of.

As long as the radiator/fluid was properly maintained there’s no need to replace the radiator.

Is your radiator aluminum with plastic end-caps?

Plastic radiators get brittle and rot from the inside out, so often, the first indication of a problem is the day that the top radiator hose nipple blows off. This usually happens at an inconvenient time, such as on the freeway on your way to catch a plane.

If you have a plastic radiator, and it is original, your mechanic may know from experience how long the life expectancy is for that type of radiator. The original one in my '91 Volvo lasted 12 years. The original one in my '97 BMW lasted only 7 years.

If the cooling system passes a pressure test, I would leave the radiator alone. If and when it fails, just replace it. Failing radiators give lots of warning.

My '96 ES300 (same mechanicals as the Camry) had the radiator crack at the top fitting last year, because the motor mounts had weakened, allowing the engine to rock back and forth. That might be something to check.

the plastic capped radiators do tend to fracture at certain stress points, like attachment points, and along the seams. They are not repairable and if suddently losing your transport isn’t a problem with you keep going, but if the leak develop slowly and goes unnoticed until other damage is done, you wish you had replaced. These are different than tranny coolers, and quite often if one doesn’t regularly change the fluid, dirt can build around the tranny cooler and actually damage the tranny, Heat being it’s worst enemy. Radiators are relatively cheap

the mechanic may have noticed casting cracks in the case of the tranny. Rarely do they leak but brother of mine did have a casting failure on a different model and it leaked internal and ruined tranny.

Let’s say your mechanic is indeed honest for a moment. Have you ever told him you have a fear of the car failing on a trip and needing a tow? If so, it may explain why he is pointing out potential issues before a complete failure.

On the transmission, is it possible he said he saw hairline cracks on some rubber transmission fluid lines? Or there are cracks in a rubber mount that holds the transmission in place on the car? Rubber parts deteriorate over time and you have a 12 year old car here. He didn’t say you needed a new transmission, he said be on the look out for any leaks under the car.

He should be able to show you some signs of rusting, and/or stains from small fluid leaks on or around the radiator that he can point out and make him suspect of the radiator.

The transmission case is aluminum and is cast in a permanent mold. The release agent in a permanent mold is mud made from a very fine clay and water. You usually get fine lines that form during the casting process that kinda look like cracks and this is probably what your mechanic saw.

As for the radiator. The rubber seal between the plastic cap and the aluminum core will sometimes deteriorate and leak, but the leak will be slow at first so there is not urgency on this. The plastic could crack, but I don’t think this happens very often, the rubber seal deteriorating is far more common. Keeping the coolant changes up according to the maintenance schedule helps to prolong the life of the radiator as well as the rest of the cooling system.