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So the heater core in my 1999 Dodge Dakota has a leak.  The heater takes forever to get warm and you can smell antifreeze when you turn it on.  As long as I don't have the heat turned on though, the radiator does not lose fluid and I don't smell antifreeze.  This has lead me to believe that unless you turn the heat on, antifreeze does not actually get pumped through the heater core, although I could be wrong.

 

Anyway, my question is this, is it really necessary to drain all my antifreeze to change the heater core, or can I do it without that step?

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You could just disconnect the heater hoses and try to catch it all, but it'll probably make a mess. Usually it's just as easy to drain. There's usually a plug at the bottom of the radiator and if it's fresh you can just reuse it.

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Just so everybody knows, replacing the heater core in a Dodge is a PAIN.  I've got my entire dash out in the back right now, and you've got to totally remove the HVAC system so you can take the top off and get to the heater core.  I've just started cutting into the front of it with a Dremel and will remove it tomorrow that way because the screws that hold it in are wood screws that go from the inside out, so there's no nut to take off from the engine compartment, and they're in behind the HVAC system so you can't reach them with a ratchet or screw driver.

 

I'm about half tempted to just put it all back in and be cold for the winter, lol.

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if you dont really need a heater, just save yourself the time and hassle and bypass it by joining the two lines that run right near the firewall, if not, get ready to pull out the entire dashboard t get to that thing...

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i changed a heater core in a dodge caravan like 13 years ago. what i remember is it was a bitch to change, as you have to dismantle the entire dash.

 

as for your question about flushing the coolant. no you dont have to flush the whole system(at least the vehicle i worked on), but you should disconnect the two in/out hoses in the engine bay and drain them out,as there is still coolant in those lines. its better than making a mess inside the vehicle.

 

edit:

 

actually i thought of something. i should mention that it can depend where the two heater hoses sit in the engine bay. if they are high, then you should be good,and you may lose a tiny bit of coolant when you disconnect them. if the two hoses are low, then you need to drain enough coolant so the level is below the hoses.

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if you dont really need a heater, just save yourself the time and hassle and bypass it by joining the two lines that run right near the firewall, if not, get ready to pull out the entire dashboard t get to that thing...

That's probably what I'm going to do.  I've got the dash out and sitting in the back, but the heater box itself is one large unit that also contains the A/C unit, there are 4 or 5 screws that I can't seem to find holding it to the firewall.

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Finally got the new heater core in place, just got to actually put it all back together now.  PITA that I hope I never have to do again.

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Well after a couple weeks of piddling around, waiting on replacement parts to arrive and putting it all back together, I FINALLY finished replacing the heater core in my pickup truck.

 

Here's a video I made before putting it all back together to kind of give some pointers to other people working on this issue:

 

And here's a picture of it all put back together:

post-125978-0-55424000-1381802452.jpg

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So this video has become by far my most popular YouTube video, and I get almost daily comments from people thanking me for uploading it and asking for advice.  I really didn't expect it to have much of an impact since it was kind of impromptu and I didn't show most of the process of actually getting to the point I was at in the video.  It was just one of those things where I had it apart and was about to put it all back together and thought, "Ya know what, I should do some kind of video on this, it might help somebody out."  Today I got a message from a guy complaining that his headlights didn't work properly and the back lighting on his dash didn't work after putting everything back together.  If you have this problem, here's my video response to him.  It doesn't offer a definitive answer, but the later half of the video I think is the most likely cause of his problem.  Anyway, just thought I would share this update.

 

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