Heater only works well in warmer temperatures

I live in the frozen state of MN. I can drive my 1996 Toyota Camry for half an hour but my heater works only part-time for some reason. The colder it is outside, the less it will work. If it gets above 25-30ºF outside the heat will be good enough, though not ideal. There is an option to have intake air come in from outside or recirculate within the car. However, switching between these two doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in the amount of heat generated.

Something that may be related: over the last few months, I’ve noticed that when I first start driving, I can hear the sound of liquid splashing around somewhere in the dashboard. It sounds like it’s about to pour out somewhere, but there are no leaks anywhere I can see, and I don’t smell any engine coolant. Does running low on engine coolant affect the heater? Does a lack of coolant mean I’ll hear it splashing around somewhere?

I believe you have air in the coolant system and it needs to be bled. also add coolant to proper level.


I’m curious about your comment on the low coolant. Has your car recently run low on coolant?

I agree with likely having an air bubble in the system, or perhaps a blockage. Being a '96 model, there’s a whole list of possible issues simply due to age.


The cooling system is 2 to 3 quarts low, you need to add coolant.


I’d also have the cooling system tested to find out if you have a leak. My '96 V6 cracked the radiator tank, causing a leak, as a result of worn engine mounts allowing the engine to rock back and forth, stressing the tank.

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No, it’s never run low that I can remember. I purchased it used about 10 years ago and never added any coolant to it myself.

I’m going to give that a try first.
I heard that you need to purchase the same color of engine coolant as what’s in the vehicle already to avoid problems. Is there any truth to this?

Yes to both questions.

Color is not an adequate guide to coolant spec. See your owners manual - although after this many years, who knows what coolant is in there? I would drain it, run it with water for a few miles, drain it again then fill up with any good coolant at a 50-50 mix.

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I would personally just drain and fill, but if @J_Newstedt does run it with water for a few miles, I would recommend using distilled water only, not tap water

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Whatever you’re comfortable with. I doubt a half hour of tap water is going to do any damage to this or any car.

I wonder if the OP knows how to drain the engine block of water before filling with the 50/50 mix of coolant?


If not, any shop can do it. Or will they refuse, and do a “flush and fill” with their expensive machine?

If any would, it would be mine…Our water is extremely hard (ton of limestone bedrock and quarries in the area) and due to the large number of farms we get a ton of Nitrates in our water too from the runoff. There’s also measurable amounts of barium as well as a high mineral count. Again, I wouldn’t use my tap water in a radiator…

I found this step-by-step approach to it. Does this sound about right to most of you?

They didn’t drain the block of water.

That means there can be 1/2-1 gallon of water left in block.

So, they didn’t end up with a 50/50 mix of coolant.


He addressed that just after the 4:00 mark. He turned the engine on to insure all the water came out.

Thanks all!

That doesn’t remove any water from the engine block.

That’s why they have drain plugs.


I’d get a bottle of 50/50, top it off, then get it to a shop to have the cooling system tested, drained, and filled. If you’ve lost enough coolant to cause this problem, you need to find and fix the leak.

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Agree with others that the coolant, as much of it as is possible, needs to be replaced. It’s at least ten years old and is possibly 25 years old! To change “as much as is possible” requires a system flush, by removing the thermostat, reinstalling the thermostat housing (without the thermostat in it), and removing the engine coolant drain plug so that you can push clean water through the system and expel any accumulated corrosion products that might be blocking the heater core. Sometimes flushing in the reverse direction will better clear the heater core.

Take a look at the Camry subforum for your model year on Toyotanation.com, I bet there is a DIY sticky about how to do it for your car if you want to try tackling it yourself. It can be difficult to contain the used coolant.

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