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Time for a new radiator?

I have a 2002 Toyota Camry XLE 2.4L engine 186k miles that has a small coolant leak. I have identified the location of the leak. It is coming from somewhere around the top of my radiator on the left side (facing the engine) where the plastic shroud meets the metal. All hoses, the reservoir, and the water pump and radiator cap check out without a leak, so this is the only location that I have found.

I want to confirm that the radiator is what is at fault here before I go ahead and buy the radiator. I intend on replacing the radiator, upper and lower hoses (they’re old so they’ll go out sooner rather than later!) and the thermostat.

If I do replace the radiator, a couple of questions

  1. Do I have to worry about changing the transmission fluid since it is routed through the radiator?
  2. Even though I have no issues with heat, do I need to do anything with my heater core hoses?
  3. Good source for torque specs on this job?
  4. Any extra advice on radiator replacement?

Are you sure?


  1. If you buy the concentrated coolant and mix your own, use only distilled water (from any grocery store, about $1/gallon) for the mix and not tap water.
  2. don’t overtighten the radiator hose clamps. Many DIYers tighten them until they start cutting into the hoses. They shouldn’t.

You can get these from the dealer’s parts window guy. A box of doughnuts and a smile help.

The link shows the transmission cooler in the bottom tank of the radiator.

OP: Change of trans fluid not needed for this reason, but might be advisable if not done in the last 30K miles.

You’re right. How could I have missed that? :scream:

Glazed or chocolate? Ha, thanks for the insight!

You must change the radiator because it is too old. You won’t have to change transmission fluid. I think that Honda and Toyota heater hoses last forever but they should be looked at. If you have the money, replace the car. It may run for a long time but it’s past the reliability phase of its lifetime.

You may lose 4 to 8 ounces of transmission fluid while replacing the radiator. I insert two old spark plugs into the transmission hoses so they don’t drip while replacing the radiator, the porcelain end fits well in the hose. Check the transmission fluid level hot, after driving at least 5 miles.

There is not much to torque, the upper radiator support, 10 ft.lbf. The fan assembly, 44 in.lbf.

Buy spring clamp pliers, it will make removing and installing the clamps easier.

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Consider a new radiator cap.
And be prepared for screws, bolts that are hard to remove. Use PB Blaster or something like it and be patient.
Consider recycling the old radiator.

The seal between the plastic tank and the metal radiator, or the plastic tank itself is a common failure point. No point looking any farther. I did replace the plastic tank once to save a radiator but I was warned it was an iffy proposition and prone to failure. Plus its not easy anymore finding the part. So yeah change the radiator. When mine was changed out shortly after having the trans fluid changed, I just swung by the trans shop to have them check the level again. (No dipstick and car has to go up on the rack to check.)

The hard part is getting the radiator out. Once out, replace the whole thing. No need to try to repair it.

In the old days when radiators were all soldered and brazed copper and the materials were more than paper thin, “coring” and repairing radiators was common. Today it isn’t even worth bothering to try.

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My Corolla sprung a leak in its radiator in the same place. At around the same miles. I just replaced it. Didn’t cost much or take much time as a diy’er project. I had to improvise a little on the mounting method as I recall, that’s about it. I did try to fix it temporarily using glue, didn’t work. As part of this job make sure your radiator fan is working correctly, coming on at the correct temp, and off at the correct temp. Suggest to replace the thermostat too if that hasn’t been done in last 10,000 miles already. Drain all the old coolant out and replace with new Toyota approved coolant, bleed the air out, and you should be back in business w/out much trouble.