Dried out Camry

Over the last few weeks, I’d been smelling something. Today, I realized it must have been coolant. Today, my 225,000 mile, 2.3L 4cyl 5spd 1990 Camry started billowing smoke. When I parked, and gingerly touched the radiator, it was cool – and empty. When I squeezed the upper hose, it crackled as if very dry. I drove the car about a mile and parked it at home.

When it cooled, I confirmed the radiator is empty – except for a lot of reddish crud. A hint of the same reddish color on other engine parts MAY be from coolant spraying under the hood, but I’m not sure.

I couldn’t tell from spots on the garage floor whether the coolant had leaked out there or not.

How should I proceed from here to address …
a) the leak, and
b) any other damage caused by running the car dry?

Your first step ought to be to fill the cooling system. Tap water will do for now. Run the engine and inspect for leaks as it warms to operating temperature. The usual suspects are the radiator, hoses, and water pump.

When you find the leak you will know how to proceed with repairs. Fix. Then flush out the system and refill with the correct antifreeze mixture.

That may be all. Hopefully there will be no engine damage. You cannot assess this until you first deal with the cooling system.

You have just entered the school of “Blown Head Gasket” territory. The clue was the “smoke” which was actually burning coolant and is more akin to STEAM.

What I would do…in a vehicle of this age and mileage is to treat the engine with BLUE DEVIL…it costs $60 as opposed to a repair price that exceeds the total value of the vehicle. Blue Devil WORKS…I promise you it works. It is actually a money back guarantee.

The product looks like windshield washer fluid…it has no particulate in the solution. It finds the leaks where ever they exist and sort of forms a “Hard Water” mineral stain…It works phenominally well and in your case your car is a prime candidate for this treatment. It MUST be installed correctly so follow the instructions on the bottle.

If you do go this route…PLEASE UPDATE US… I have been suggesting this solution to many people on here and all I usually hear is crickets chirping when I do suggest it. One reason is because you are supposed to handle these issues mechanically…which I certainly know how to do…and DO SO OFTEN…I usually fix my head gaskets mechanically…but there are times when Blue Devil has its place…this is one of them… GO FOR IT and tell us how well it worked… I wish I had some sort of investment in the company…in fact I am going to write them and ask for some advertizing dough… LOL

Give it a shot and tell us how it worked for you…follow the instructions!!!

ENJOY http://www.usasealants.com/products/blue-devil-head-gasket-sealant/

With respect to Mr. Blackbird, I’m going to disagree with him. Blue devil will plug your leak, but it can also plug things it’s not supposed to plug. Here’s a discussion a forum of engine builders had on it:


Long story short: There is no magic elixir that will replace proper repair of an engine. That said, he’s right that the car is going to cost you a lot of money to fix. You could try it as a last ditch effort, but be prepared for it to make things worse and render your car undriveable, requiring you to find another one.

Clearly the engine cooling system needs to be flushed out well and refilled with coolant, and the leak if there is one foudn and repaired. However, at this point there’s a very good chance you have a blown headgasket. And maybe even a warped head. Before making any decisions, before taking any actions, the first thing I’d do is a pressure leakdown test. If in fact you have a blown headgasket, you’ll need to as a minimum remove and inspect the head (for flatness) and replace the headgasket.

Blue Devil seems a product targeted very_narrowly for head gasket repair. I’m not convinced that’s what has happened, in spite of the smoke/steam and antifreeze smell. In any case, before seeing the comments about blown head gaskets, I had already chosen a plan: put enough water in the car to get to a good mechanic.

I took it to the nearest of the three shops listed by Car Talk: Japan Automotive Specialists (JAS). They said a) replacing the blown hose will only get me a few more miles to the next repair, b) nearly all the coolant hoses are old and either leaking or will soon leak, given their dry, rusty condition, c) the level of rust in the coolant suggests the engine lost corrosion protection for a significant part of its life. [Either there was too much water per coolant, or the coolant broke down because it was left in too long.] Given the level of rust in the coolant, he did not suggest replacing all the hoses. He said JAS could keep fixing the car, but that might not be in my best interest.

He also noticed the reddish tints all over the engine, but suggested they were from multiple small coolant leaks around the engine, not just from the hose with the major leak. That seemed to fit better, since the major leak was down low, and the red tinge was all over.

Tangentially …
In Dec’09, I had to replace the catalytic converter to pass smog inspection; it’s due again next month. The mechanic said the loud noise from the rear is an exhaust leak, and the car will likely fail smog again.

Leaving the shop I was thinking:
a) To get more than 225k/21yrs from a car, even a Camry, I needed to be more meticulous about maintenance.
b) It’s probably time for another car.

I was hoping to hold out for a mature plug-in true-serial hybrid, something near 100mpg … but that may be farther out than I’d hoped. I was hoping Aptera, but having given their pre-purchase deposits back, that looks like a real long shot now.

Rethinking recent maintenance, I spent $1700 on an AC compressor with a 3yr warranty, and $900 on a catalytic converter. If things stay at that level, that’s just over $1000/yr. I’m thinking I should ask JAS to do a compression test. IFF that suggests a blown head gasket, replace the car.

  • replace ALL the coolant hoses (as I should have from the start to minimize labor costs)
  • fix the exhaust leak.
    The rust level may be high, but replacing all the hoses, doing a good flush, adding chemicals to slow further rusting, and fixing the exhaust leak could get me another 10000mi/2yrs.

I’d also heard that the oil it’s burning has likely killed the catalytic converter; so fixing the exhaust leak won’t get me through the smog test. Comments?

The smoke/steam/antifreeze I do not believe is a result of a blown headgasket. I believe the original cause of your problems was a coolant leak. I say that because the radiator was still cool when you touched it.

But, having said that, running an engine bone dry until it overheats is almost guarantees a warped head and a blown headgasket. And I think that’s your status right now.

You can find the leak and fix it now, but IMHO you’re wasting your time unless you confirm that the cylinders are still leak free (the headgasket intact). IMHO there’s no sense fixing the coolant leak on a tired old engine with a bad head and headgasket.

Yeah, burning oil can kill a cat converter. Again, you need to decide how much you wish to spend fixing up a 1990 Camry. I think your “it’s probably time for another car” is spot-on.

True…I think that when I personally use the Blue Devil…as a mechanic…I know what the risks are and it is as a last ditch before proper teardown and repair… Being a mechanic I can handle any issues I create with the dealings with the Devil and I took into consideration the age and mileage of this Camry and to be honest…if it works here…just be happy and continue motoring… Theres no other way out of this mess without enough money to make anyone wonder why you spent that much on the vehicle… I say this car would be a PERFECT candidate for the Blue Devil…dont you guys…I mean if it works…hey…

I am going to read into that link about issues with Blue Devil… I am interested bec I have had so much exposure to it over the years… In my book…the only real way to deal with Head gasket failure is the traditional and proper teardown…cut the head…make sure everyone is square…new gasket…the whole shebang… Thats the REAL way…but in this cars case…who the hell would spend that money on this thing? Esp when you have to pay a shop to do all that work…totally not worth it… If I loved this Camry…I’d find an inexpensive used engine and maybe trans and go from there. The last 1990 Camry I had was last year…I bought it with 65K on the clock and purchased it for $125 bucks… Its still out there somewhere running like a top… I did a bunch of maintenance to it… New T-belt…tune up…all the goodies b4 selling it.

*** LOL I just read those complaints about Blue Dev…LOL…Jeez, yeah I though that was something that could happen… Again its all in the selection of the vehicle that you choose to use it in… I still think it has its place as an emergency agent… but thats just me and I am fully equipped to deal with the consequesnces… Oh well