Hardlymoving writes about do-it-yourself automobile maintenance on various makes and models.
Replacing a Radiator
Most radiators in modern automobiles, including the Toyota Camry, are made of aluminum and plastic. Their average lifespan is 7–10 years when properly maintained.
When you detect a leak in your radiator, you should replace your radiator instead of trying to repair it or adding a stop-leak fluid to the cooling system. Hairline cracks in the plastic cannot be repaired and usually indicate that the structure of the plastic has been compromised by the heat and pressure of the coolant. Also, a leak may appear where the plastic is connected to the aluminum. The glue or sealant used to maintain a watertight seal may break down, causing a leak even while the radiator appears perfectly fine.
You can remove the old radiator and install a new one in approximately 1.5 hours with no special tools. In addition, you can do the removal-and-installation process outlined here above the car; that is, you don't need to lift the car up and get under it to remove the splash pan and lower radiator hose.
If the radiator failure was due to contaminated, worn-out coolant, drain any residual coolant from the engine block and consider replacing the thermostat. The upper and lower radiator hoses, in most cases, do not need to be replaced on the Camry.
Choosing a Radiator
Most non-OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) aftermarket radiators can be purchased for approximately $100. If you want the absolute best radiator, perhaps better than the factory original, get Koyo or Denso brand. Koyo and Denso are OEM suppliers for Toyota and Honda. Of course, Koyo is not cheap.
When purchasing a replacement radiator, ensure all the ports on the replacement match those on the original radiator, with new brass fittings for the transmission supply and return lines. Ensure the bracket mounts for the two fan shrouds match as well. Some replacement radiators do not come with a drain port and plug, but the better ones do.
Use Toyota (Pink) Coolant, Not Green Coolant
All the Camry radiators I have seen that failed and had to be replaced had been using at least some green coolant (ordinary non-brand-specific), rather than Toyota-brand pink coolant. Some had some original pink coolant in their coolant reservoir, while the cooling system itself was green with signs of residual pink.
If you have switched from the factory pink to green, flush the system thoroughly with water before introducing a different-colored coolant. Better yet, stick with the Toyota pink coolant. I believe mixing different colored coolants causes a reaction that reduces the anti-corrosion and water-pump-lubricating properties of the factory coolant.
Video of Lexus/Toyota V6 Radiator Replacement
The video below (starting at time 3:29) shows the replacement of the radiator on a '97 Lexus ES 300. The radiator configuration in the ES300 is virtually identical to the Camry V6 and I4 as well as other Toyota vehicles. There are two fan shrouds—on the driver's side for coolant, and the passenger side for the condenser—and two supply and return ATF connection points.
Step-By-Step Instructions for Radiator Replacement
1. Remove the radiator filler cap and detach the radiator reservoir hose.
2. Detach the driver's-side fan and the ECT switch connector. The ECT (Engine Coolant Temperature) sensor measures water temperature.
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3. Detach the passenger-side fan connector.
4. Disconnect the supply and return transmission fluid lines from the transmission.
Note: If your transmission is manual, this step is not necessary.
5. Remove the four 10 mm bolts that secure the two cooling fan shrouds. Then pull the cooling fan shroud up and out to expose the ECT temperature control wire harness strap.
6. Disconnect the ECT wire harness strap from the strap mount. Then disconnect the ECT wire plug from the water temperature sending unit.
7. Drain the coolant. Reach under the driver's side of the radiator and twist off the drain plug. Leaving the drain plug partly inside the radiator will direct the coolant flow through the drain port.
8. Disconnect the upper radiator hose from the radiator and the lower radiator hose from the engine/water pump.
After the upper hose has been disconnected, remove the driver's-side fan shroud by pulling the shroud up.
9. Unbolt the two upper radiator support mounts, remove the mounts, and pull the radiator up from its lower support mount.
10. With the old radiator out, disconnect it from:
- the lower radiator hose
- the supply and return transmission oil lines
- the water temperature sending unit
- the lower radiator support mounts, if detached from their sockets.
11. Transfer items from the old radiator to the new radiator. Screw on the brass fittings for the transmission supply and return connections at the same angle as the original fittings. Do not over-torque. Re-check the tension and check for leaks after the radiator has been installed with the ATF lines. Do the same for the water temperature sending unit. Use plumber's tape or gasket seal on the threads for a leak-free seal.
12. Reverse your steps to re-install items you disconnected.
- Connect ATF lines.
- Connect water temperature sensor plug and wire harness plug.
- Drop in the driver's and passenger's side fan shrouds and bolt them onto the radiator.
- Connect the fan electrical connectors.
- Connect the upper and lower radiator hoses. (See the end of this article for a video discussing why spring clamps are the best for radiator hoses.)
- Make sure the drain plug is installed and pour in the new coolant. Squeeze the upper hose to remove air pockets.
- Start the engine with the drain cap off and add coolant if needed.
- Check for ATF and coolant leaks and ensure all electrical fittings are connected.
Video on Using a Spill-Free Coolant Funnel
This is a wonderful tool to have and use when working on an automotive cooling system. After filling up your radiator with coolant into a cold engine, you can keep the funnel half filled with new coolant, let your engine warm up and push out any trapped air and not worry about coolant overflow and spillage.
And once all the air has been pushed out and by using the supplied funnel plunger/stopper, you can plug up the funnel and transfer the excess coolant back into your coolant container. No fuss, no mess!
Video of Spring (Worm) vs. Spring Clamps
Learn the difference between (worm) hose and spring clamps and why spring clamps are better. Also, I'll show you how to take the spring clamps off with specialty tools.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: My dad replaced the radiator in my brothers 2002 Camry, and now he is having a crank no start issue, whereas before the car was starting fine. What could the problem be, or could you tell me what to troubleshoot to find the problem?
Answer: Check that the AC fan and radiator fan motor electrical fittings are all connected. Also, the temperature sensor on the bottom corner of the radiator should be connected. When you said crank no start, I'm assuming the engine is turning over, but the car will not start.
Question: New radiators brass fittings need to be connected before the installation of the radiator in the car. Should some type of gasket or rtv sealant be used to ensure a tight seal and to prevent leaks of the brass fittings or is just tightening them enough?
Answer: If you're referring to the ATF supply and return fittings on a new replacement radiator, no rtv or gasket is needed. Just make sure the flare nuts are not loose.
Question: I replaced the radiator of my Toyota Camry, and now the account fan is on and the temp gauge is high. Where did I go wrong?
Answer: Check that your fluid levels are okay. After starting the car, air pockets may have filled in with new coolant and dropped the coolant level.
Question: How do you remove the water temperature wire strap?
Answer: Gently pry it off.
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