Hi folks. I could use some help, please. All advice welcome.
2005 Toyota Camry, 122k miles, four cylinder engine.
On paper, my father owns my car. I’m making payments to him. He’s a control freak in general, but he’s always been good with cars. It’s no fun to fight with him when he’s wrong and in this case, he may be. He insists on tackling my (possible) coolant issue in a way that might be better suited to a 1969 Caprice.
Recently, I noticed that my engine was running hot. It turned out that my car was low on coolant. Once my father put more in, the engine temperature returned to normal and has remained there ever since.
However, now, my father checks the coolant about once per week. He opens the radiator cap while the engine is cold. If he can’t see any coolant (and usually he can’t), he adds some, always in the radiator, never in the overflow tank. He does this by pouring in a small amount of one-size-fits-all, undiluted Prestone and then pouring in approximately the same amount of tap water. He repeats this process until the level rises almost to the cap, then he’s satisfied. The overflow tank is at or near the full mark. It might even be a little over. I need to clean the thing so I can read the level properly.
I’ve been reading up on this as best I can and I think I’m seeing a bunch of problems.
In a car with an overflow tank (which mine definitely has), you’re supposed to check the level there, not in the radiator. Yes? Google says my father’s method was standard back in the olden days. However, while the overflow-check may be more convenient or more safe, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily more accurate. No?
My owner’s manual insists that my car needs Toyota coolant, not Prestone or any other aftermarket brand. Of course, manufacturers always say you should use their products. After all, they want more of your money, right? Over the years, I’ve used plenty of after-market parts. But a specification is a specification and I don’t know much about coolant, so I googled. I found a post in a Prius forum where a guy who really seemed to know what he was talking about stated “The bottom line is that there is no after market coolant sold in the USA that is of the same formulation type that Toyota (or any Japanese maker) uses. Get thee to a dealer for the stuff.” You can read the post here: http://priuschat.com/threads/changing-engine-coolant.30813/#post656024 . You’ll have to scroll about halfway down the page to find the post in question.
If I’m using the wrong kind of coolant, what sort of problems might that cause?
Tap water is bad, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we be using distilled water?
If my father is right and the car does need to have coolant added all the time, doesn’t that mean I have a leak or some other problem? Shouldn’t we be looking for the cause?
What happens if he overfills the coolant system? Does the fact that nothing bad has happened yet indicate that he’s right, that the car does need more coolant on a regular basis?
If I have to take this thing to a mechanic, it’s going to be a fight. So before I commit myself to it, I’d like to know as much as possible. Thanks.