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I have got a 95 Toyota Camry with about 48,000 miles on it. I have been losing a fair amount of coolant and the coolant in the radiator and coolant overflow tank (which has developed small holes in the top) looks rusty. But the engine has never actually overheated; the temp. gauge only gets up to about the middle. I've had the cooling system flushed or drained and refilled several times in the last few years (and I only drive about 3500 miles/yr.). The thermostat was replaced about 2 years ago; I just replaced a bad radiator cap. Given the rust in the coolant and the loss of coolant, I took the car to several repair shops and was told different things: 1)replace the radiator and at least one hose, along with the plastic coolant overflow tank, 2) flush and refill the coolant and use an additive but only replace the coolant overflow tank, not the radiator, or 3) speed up my plans to buy a new car next year and buy it sooner, since if rust is circulating in the engine, that will lead to engine damage. I want to make sure the car is safe to drive in the meanwhile and safe to sell. What would you advise? TIA for replies.

Answers from the Automotive Experts

Amanda J. Pierce, MBA Marilyn, Because it is operating in a hot, hostile environment, coolant will break down over time. Most importantly, the coolant*s rust inhibitors get used up, leaving the small cooling passages in your engine and radiator vulnerable to corrosion. Even with these rust inhibitors, some corrosion will inevitably take place, contaminating the coolant with debris. If the rust inhibitors stop working, the cooling system will rust from the inside out. The biggest source of rust in a car*s cooling system is the engine block. In time, these bits of rust will also clog the tiny passages within the radiator and heater, causing your engine to overheat.

Bogi Lateiner, Owner and Technician at 180 Degrees Automotive Hi Marilyn - My first concern would be to address why you are loosing coolant. If it is a hose or from the reservoir bottle, than that is where i would start. What ever shop you take it to should pressure test the system to locate the leak if it is not readily apparent. After that is resolved, unless the radiator is clogged or extremely rusty - i don*t believe replacing that should be necessary... though it is tough to say with out seeing it. Rusty coolant happens. And sometimes not putting a lot of mileage on a car is actually harder on it than driving it a lot. If you have never overheated, the rusty coolant alone does warrant getting rid of the vehicle. Without know what else my or may not be going on with your car, I*d say - fix the leak, get a good flush with an additive and be on your way. Hope that helps! Bogi Lateiner 180 Degrees Automotive

Judy Curry, Co-Founder and Vice President of Marketing at Currys Auto Service The first thing that needs to happen is to locate the source of the leak. There really isn't much point to doing anything else until the system can be pressurized and hold coolant. After repairing the leak I would recommend flushing the entire system including the overflow tank. Once the system is clean and full, you should have it checked twice a year or more to ensure that it is okay. Typically rust forms in the cooling system of vehicles that have not had the coolant changed properly. With today's coolants that would be every two years.

Laurie Sarno, Co-Owner at Super Girls Auto In itself*the rust is not harmful. Rust in the coolant generally means that the cooling system has not had the antifreeze replaced when necessary at least once in the vehicles history. As a result, the anti-corrosive additives have broken down and are no longer effective, allowing rust to occur. In many instances, flushing will not remove all the rust deposits which tend to accumulate at the bottom of the engine block water jacket. If you are not the original owner, the previous owner may have neglected this, as you appear to have had it done several times. I would have the radiator thoroughly inspected for leaks (Especially at the tank seams), replaced if necessary, and definitely replace the overflow bottle. Engine coolant may also be lost through the exhaust system in cases of head gasket failure. A competent technician will be able to determine the cause of the coolant loss. Hope this helps. Super Girls Auto

Suzanne Grego, Technician at City of Philadelphia Fleet Management Marilyn, Losing coolant like this is not only bad for the vehicle, it's also bad for the environment. I suggest that you either repair the vehicle now or, if you are going to sell it 'as is', make sure the new owner is made aware of the problem and that it needs to be repaired. It's really a personal choice which one you decide to do. Take a look at your finances and weigh your options. Good luck with your decision. Suzanne

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