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Radiators and cold weather

I live in Seattle and I recently bought a vehicle for the first time in my adult life. It’s a 1996 Camry and I don’t use it on a daily basis. (I’m a cyclist, year round.) That said, it’s recently gotten cold here and it’s about to get a heck of a lot colder. It hadn’t occurred to me until tonight that I might need to be concerned about the radiator. I have no idea whether or not there’s antifreeze in the radiator and I’m not sure how concerned I should be. I’m not planning to drive it in the near future. What’s the best plan of action? It’s been around freezing here for ~24 hours and it’s going to get down into the teens for the next couple of days…

I Would Say That You Probably Have Nothing To Worry About

However, be concerned and check it. People generally just don’t run cars on water in the cooling system. Should this car have water instead of coolant then I would question all sorts of things about it. Can you see the coolant in the reservoir (translucent plastic tank)? Not the windshield washer reservoir, but the one that has marks for “hot” and “cold” coolant levels. The liquid in there should be red, orange, or green, not clear water. That just tells you that you have coolant. See your owner’s manual. This is also a chance to get familiar with checking other fluids. You can check oil, transmission(automatic), power steering, and brake fluids.

It takes literally seconds to check. You can buy an inexpensive tester (less than $10?) that will tell you the freeze level that your coolant is set for as well as boiling temperature. Some big auto parts chain stores may check your’s for free. Give them a call. You will need a mechanic and service shop sooner or later. This would be a good way to find a friendly helpful place. Call a few shops and see if they would step outside and check it for you, free of charge.

Regardless of the temperature question, it sounds like you don’t have a record of when the coolant was last changed. Since it does need to be changed on a regular basis to keep the cooling system from corroding, maybe you should bite the bullet and do it now. (Other fluids may need to be changed now as well, especially the oil.)

Thanks you two.

I do know that the car had its oil changed and fluids “serviced” just before I purchased it (I bought this from my friend’s sister-in-law, whom I trust).

I’ll check the color of the fluids. (Brilliant idea! Wish it was mine!)

Thanks for taking the time to help me out.

The advice the others gave you is good, I’ll just mention that if you didn’t have anti-freeze you would have noticed it by now, because most cars these days will boil over with straight water. It’s never a bad idea to check how old your antifreeze is, though.

I would like to add that old coolant can be very, very costly. Replacing a heater core can run into several hundreds of dollars because of labor costs. Radiators usually cost less. New coolant is relatively cheap.

I remember a cold spell with ice/snow around 1965 when I was stationed at Ft. Lewis. On the Interstate running toward Tacoma, cars frozen up and abandoned every so often. It was 10 degrees back in the Midwest when I swapped the motor for a rebuilt one before driving back to the Fort, so my car would start without the choke working. But, I pushed a lot of cars to start them.

Okay, I checked the radiator and it is full of anti-freeze! Yay! (It also started right up when I turned the key. Double-yay!)

Things are good in chilly Seattle.

Thanks again!

It does not get COLD in Seattle. Now a few miles east … Well that can get cold.

BTW a modern car using water instead of coolant (it is no longer called antifreeze with good reason) would have some serious problems summer as well as winter.