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94 Toyota Camry Check Engine Light "ON" and O/D light flashes

We own a '94 Toyota Camry LE V6 which we originally bought from an elderly couple when we lived in Honolulu, HI and have since shipped it to Portland where we now reside for the past 3 years. Our car has a total of 94K miles with very light use. This is our one and only car. We hope to keep it for many more years. Please help us.



Car problem: Our car check engine light came on and soon after the O/D light flashes. Each time it flash the tachometer would rev up and down while driving. The rev is not excessive but very noticeable and I worry it may cause further damage. We took our car to a local auto shop which was recommended from the Car Talk web page. The mechanic name John diagnosed our engine problem and return two codes, which he say requires the vehicle speed sensor and output shaft sensor to be replace. He also recommended change of transmission fluid, differential fluid, 2 valve cover gaskets, a motor mount and 6 Denso plugs. After we paid a substantial bill, we are still having the same problem. Today will be the third time I'm taking my car back to the same shop to have the problem look into since our initial appointment in the past week for the same problem. I'm quite puzzle at this point and reaching out to you for help. Please, please advice...your help would greatly be appreciated in this tough economy.



Note: I don't know if this would help you diagnosed my problem, but I have engaged the car PWR button (ECT) recently during my driving and the O/D light will not flash while the PWR is set to on. Although, the check engine light is still on.
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Comments

  • edited February 2009

    First of all, you need a new mechanic.

    The flashing O/D light indicates an electronic fault in the transmission controls. If you read your Owner's Manual, it should confirm this. When an electronic fault in the transmission's controls is not fixed promptly, it will result in MUCH more expensive mechanical repairs to the transmission.

    While the car very likely did need to have the transmission fluid changed, that is sort of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic at this point, i.e.--it is a good idea, but it is not going to resolve the electronic fault indicated by the presence of the flashing O/D light.

    The fact that the tachometer shows the revs going up and down while driving indicates that slippage in taking place in the transmission, so damage may already taken place, but I would suggest that you get this car to an independent transmission shop (NOT AAMCO, Lee Myles or Cottman) for an assessment a.s.a.p.

    As to why the CEL is still lit up, it could be that you have not driven the car sufficiently for the trouble codes to be cleared from the computer's memory. Or, it could mean that your mechanic did not resolve all of the problems with this car.

  • edited February 2009
    Go back to this mechanic or find another to rescan for codes. If the VSS replacement did not correct the code related to VSS, there may be a wiring or ECM problem. BTW, how is the speedometer working? When the Engine Control Module senses a loss of the VSS signel, it cannot make a decision on when to commmand the shift of the transmission so it will drop into limp home mode which is usually second gear and torque converter unlocked so your tach will surge.

    The Toyota transmission is a pretty robust unit. Unless you had or have burnt dark fluid, I would not think a rebuild is in your future. More than likely, this is a control problem that will not cost a lot to fix.

    Hope that helps
  • edited February 2009
    The fact that you can cure the transmission problem by locking out the overdrive MEANS THAT'S WHERE THE PROBLEM IS!! Your "mechanic" is just a parts changer. Take the car to a transmission specialist and have an expert look at it.

    The CEL MIGHT be a different, unrelated problem. Have the trouble codes read and post them back here. Many autoparts stores will read the codes for free.
  • edited February 2009
    Greetings All For Your Prompt Response,

    Here is an update: My mechanic just called and informed me that he tested some wiring related to the shift/transmission. Anyhow, it all going to cost me more money because he needs to take the dash apart to get to the wiring necessary to further diagnose what the problem is. He did mentioned that he believe there is a short, just don't know exactly where unless he trace further. I'm disappointed nonetheless, because at this point he is still diagnosing the problem. I have already spend $1385 to date and he estimate that it would cost me another $380. I told him that he needs to talk to the owner since, I have already paid $1385 and the problem still not fix. I'm open to pay another $300 if absolutely necessary but I want the owner and mechanic assurance that if this round of fix does not resolve my problem that they would do what it takes to fix my car CEL and O/D light without additional cost to me. I also stress to my mechanic that the cost is adding up and I need his honest opinion whether to proceed or not caused the cost of the repair may add up to me more than the car is worth. Good gracious...this is getting ridiculous.

    btw... the speedometer was working fine when I experience the fluctuation in the tachometer as the O/D light flashes. If the PWR button is "ON" the car is driving fine without any hesitation while the CEL remain "ON".

    The CEL codes are: P0500 and P720

    I'm trying to give the benefit of the doubt to my mechanic right now since he already spend time trying to fix my problem. I feel like I don't have too much choice at this point since, taking to another shop may end up costing me a lot more and I may end up at the same spot I'm currently in.

    The shop that is fixing my car currently is name Japanese Auto Repair, owner is Denny and mechanic name is John. I have read good reviews from the Car Talk web site about this shop, that's why I picked them to work on my car.

    Again, thank you all for your informative response and suggestion. Please keep them coming.

    Can anyone recommend a respectable and fair transmission specialist in the Portland downtown area?
  • edited February 2009
    Don't get into tearing apart the dashboard without another opinion. At the moment this shop is just chasing the problem but not making any real headway. Doubtful the dash wiring is at fault, the transmission shop is a good suggestion. It sounds like the lock up feature of the torque converter is a part of the problem and the computer control unit for the transmission may be a part of the problem. When most transmissions have problems they trip the check engine light. The codes for the motor that he's reading my have little to nothing to do with the transmission issues. Ask the shop you are using for a referral to a good transmission shop that knows Toyota brand cars. It they don't have a referral, you'll have to do the research yourself. As a last resort you may need to take this to a Toyota dealer and hope they have a good transmission tech.
  • edited February 2009
    Hello,

    The latest. John, Japanese Auto Repair mechanic just called me and claimed he found the source of the problem. He said my ECU is bad and a used replacement part would cost me another $250 plus $320 in labor for an additional total of $570. I informed him that I find this to be troubling to hear because I have already paid $1385 for parts and labor that did not fixed the initial problem and asked him if he was sure is the source of my problem. Anyhow, I asked to speak to the owner to negotiate the cost down to $400 which I think is more than fair. Since, I have already paid for parts and labor that did not address the initial problem. I'm awaiting a response from the owner now...to be continue.
  • edited February 2009
    Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    It's 0730 Tuesday morning, after a sleepless night. I decided to talk to Dennis Lee, the owner of Japanese Automotive Repair (JAR) and want an explanation why am I being charge additional cost for what I believe is a mis-diagnosed issue by John, JAR mechanic. Got to the shop at 0745..too late...John already torn into the dashboard and Denny claimed John tested every wiring that he think may be the root cause of my car problem and ended up with a new diagnoses...he think the problem is the ECU and it would cost $250 for parts and an additional $370 for labor, total an additional $620 on top of the $1385 I have already paid. We had a heated but cordial discussion as to who is responsible for what. It's obvious that Denny stand behind his mechanic works and that he think I should continue to pay for the additional labor! During our heated conversation, Denny did stated, "That John did initially check the ECU on Monday, February 16, 2009 but there could not find an obvious fault reading with the unit, hence, he did not think that the ECU needed to be replace, but after changing the two sensors and it still didn't fix the CEL and O/D light flashing which caused the tachometer to rev intermittently during normal driving and car hesitation. Again, Denny insist that its part of what a mechanic job to track don?t a problem such as this by tracing wiring harness, etc?? The explanation and reasoning for why JAR had to do what they do continue and yet, not addressing my concern, so I stop the conversation and ask for a propose acceptable solution including cost with warranty and a level of assurance from JAR that the problem will be fix properly this time. Denny started with a $500 amount and I counter with $400 amount.

    Anyhow, we ended up agreeing on a final price of $400 including parts and labor. What I get will be a used ECU which they claim will be order from Texas (cost of $250) and will get to Portland no later than Thursday, February 24, 2009. I asked for a warranty on the part and labor and was told that the part cannot be warranty because it is used. I insist on a written warranty for the parts and labor and John (JAR mechanic) agreed. The final agreement is for a written warranty, 1 year on all parts and labor with exception of the ECU which come with a 1 month warranty. Supposedly I will get my car back all fix (hopefully) by eod Thursday. I left JAR shop at 0830.

    Can anyone out there let me know what is reasonable expectation from an auto repair shop when it come to diagnosing a CEL and O/D light flashing problem such as mind?

    Do you think the initial replacement of the speed sensor and shaft sensor was not necessary?
  • edited March 2009
    *** PLEASE READ CAREFULLY BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO USE JAPANESE AUTO REPAIR IN PORTLAND, OR***

    Fact: Japanese Auto Repair (JAR) charges $85/hr and often has a minimum

    Quality of works and fairness: Very Questionable. I firmly believe that JAR misdiagnosed my initial car problem which ended up costing me a lot more than the initial estimate they gave.

    Suggestions: Get a 2nd and 3rd opinion from other shop before you commit to any works.

    Conclusion: I will not recommend JAR to anyone and hope I will never have to take my car back to their shop. Not even for the 1 year warranty on parts and labors that they offer but never provide a hard copy of the details warranty unless you demand for one.

    In the event that my car breaks down for the same problem within the next 6 months, I will report JAR to the Better Business Bureau and take them to small claims court.

    I have a ?94 Toyota Camry LE V6 (93K miles) which was serviced at JAR in Feb. 2009 after reading previous reviews from the Car Talk Mechanics Files. The owner Dennis Lee seem like a nice enough man, and his primary mechanic is John (didn?t see anyone else there) seems like a decent guy. My car Check Engine Light (CEL) came on and while driving the overdrive O/D light would flashes on/off and tachometer would rev each time over the weekend so I took my car to JAR the following Monday. John called me later that morning and informed that my car speed and shaft sensor needs to be replace and that would solve my problem. In addition, John suggested that the following items should be replace: a lower engine mount, transmission oil, differential fluid, and two valve cover gaskets. I want to point out the fact that I did JAR a favor by allowing them to do the additional works on my car on good faith thinking that if they solve my CEL and O/D problem, the additional works can help them out in this tough economy. Unfortunately, my faith in the decency of others was misplaced when it came to JAR. Anyhow, I negotiated the cost of the job and was told it would cost me around $1200. I also asked that my sparks plugs be replace and JAR charged me $20 per plug, that?s $120 (I check with AutoZone and other online auto supply carrier, their most expensive plugs for my car is $8/per) on top of the estimated $1200. I understand that everyone needs to make a profit, but this sort of markup is simply OUTRAGEOUS. The bill came to a total of $1385 went I picked my car up on Monday afternoon. Within 2 miles after leaving the shop, the same problem recurs so I took it back to the JAR immediately and left my car overnight. The next day I picked my car up in the afternoon and was told everything is fine. Needless to say, it was not fine because I end up taking my car back for the 4th time. John from JAR called me and informed me that this might cost me an additional $700-800 to diagnose and replace my ECU (car computer). The frustration was just simply overwhelming. I lost much sleep over my decision to have JAR repair my car, because I felt cheated and couldn?t trust the quality or reliability of the work that was being done on my car by JAR. After the 2nd trip back to JAR during that first week, I posted my car problem on the Car Talk forum asking for inputs and advice and I received many excellent feedbacks from others. In general, everyone suggested that I take my car somewhere else. Unfortunately, I already paid the $1385 for the works done and thought that JAR would stand behind their work and fix my problem without additional cost to me. I was naive to place my trust in JAR and it cost me an additional $400 which total $1785. After my personal experience, it?s obvious that JAR does not stand behind their works and it ended up costing me more money then the actual value of my car. All I got in the end was doubt, a used ECU with a 30 days warranty and an empty promise from JAR.

    I hope that after you read about my misfortune that you heed my warning and take extreme care in your decision to choose a shop and mechanic to work on your own car. Like the saying goes, ?Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice shame on you.?

    ?Money made through dishonest practices will not last long.?

    P.S. From the very beginning I stressed to the owner of JAR that I don?t have much money and that this car is my family only car. Both my wife and I use public transportation to get to and from work. We use our car mostly on the weekend to get grocery and to run errant. I now question how many of the things that JAR recommends to change on my car were really necessary?

    I hope my personal recount of what happens to me will help you in your time of needs.

    A fellow Oregonian.
  • edited March 2009
    I'm sorry to hear all of this. However, I hope you recall that I was quite firm in my first response when I advised that you needed a new mechanic. Others in this thread also warned you that this place did not seem to know what they were doing.

    I know that you wanted to allow them to redeem themselves (and for you to get back some value for what you had already paid them), but the signs were pretty clear that this place was "chasing a problem" (as UncleTurbo stated), and were mindlessly throwing parts at the situation until they randomly found the solution. Unfortunately, that approach is a very expensive one for the customer. Luckily, I am sure that you have learned a lesson from this experience, and will be a much wiser consumer of automotive services in the future.

    With all of that in mind, I have some additional advice that I hope that you will heed, namely, do not waste your time with the BBB. I have been familiar with their shortcomings for several decades, and then several months ago, Smart Money magazine published their investigative report on the BBB, confirming my belief that few consumers are actually helped by this privately held, profit-making "Old Boys Club" for businesses.

    The BBB has no punitive or regulatory power, simply because it is NOT a governmental agency. For some reason that I have never been able to fathom, most people seem to think that the BBB is a governmental agency, and it is absolutely not. In fact, the national organization sells local franchises to people who are interested in making money from this type of business club. If it was truly a non-profit organization that functioned solely for the good of the consumer, there would not be any such thing as sale of local franchises.

    Some local BBBs actually charge a fee to file your complaint, and if you paid them a filing fee, this would truly be a case of "throwing good money after bad". Most of their income is derived from membership fees, which is their motivation for protecting their members, rather than resorting to any significant efforts to force rogue businesses to satisfy complaining consumers. In fact, their business model represents a classic conflict of interests.

    If you want a better chance of a settlement, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs, which could be either a state agency or a county agency, depending upon where you live.

    Good luck!

  • edited March 2009
    Thank you kindly for all your advices. I will definitely not use the BBB then. Lesson learned and I will not let others cheat me this way again. I will be forever vigilance from this experienced. Have a great day everyone!
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