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2002 Corolla, burning oil... LOTS of oil

Three weeks ago, I bought a used Corolla from a dealership. It had 92,000 miles on the odometer, and was sold “as is”. However, it appeared to be in good shape and seemed to perform well during my test drive, and the price was reasonable.



Three weeks and 1400 miles later, I have discovered the car is burning a quart of oil every 400 miles. I don’t see any oil on my garage floor, and I don’t see any smoke when the engine is idling, but when I rev it it shoots smoke out of the tailpipe. The smoke is black as it emerges from the tailpipe, but once it gets a few feet behind the car and expands, it’s blue. Other than the smoke and oil loss, the car drives well; reasonable power and very little noise for the number of miles.



The dealership is debating whether to do anything for me, but I’m not hopeful. My local mechanic, without actually looking at the car, opined that the repair might range from $1500 (piston rings) to $3000 (new engine).



My question: can anyone offer me a second opinion? Is there any possibility I can get out of this without bankrupting myself?

The first thing that should be done is perform a compression and/or a leakdown test. This will help to some extent by verifying if a piston ring problem exists or not.

Oil consumption could be due to valve seals, piston rings, or oil sludging.
An overheating engine or allowing the rings to sludge up due to extended oil change intervals can ruin all 3 of those things I mentioned.

I’d get the mechanic to run the test. If it shows a ring problem then that could get pricy to repair. If the test is performed you might post the results back here for discussion as it seems that some mechanics are a bit misinformed about what constitutes a “good” compression reading. The reading can vary a bit based on a number of factors but should be in the 180 PSI or so range.

When a dealer sells anything “as is” that should tell you that this vehicle has serious problems. The dealer already knows this, and would normally sell such a car at the auction, where a mechanic would buy it for very little and put a used engine in. This is indeed very unususal behavior for a Toyota dealer; normally all their used cars have at least a 90 day warranty.

Corollas are tough cars and the previous owner must have abused it or never changed the oil.

I can make almost any car “seem to perform well” during a test drive. There are many ways of temporarily doctoring up an engine. I’m just surprised a Toyota dealer would do such a thing.

I would go back to the dealer and try to get an adjustment; used car dealers used to go "50/50 on the price of a rebuild.

If you can’t get any action, I would complain to Toyota’s local zone office and explain the kind of practices one of there dealers is engaged in. Neither is guaranteed to bring results, however.

By now you will have learned that you should take a knowledegeable person with you and NEVER buy a car “as is” unless you get it for a fraction of the normal selling price.

It was actually a Honda dealership. But still… one very expensive lesson now learned.

Try replacing the PCV valve. It may be leaking and allowing oil to be sucked into the engine. See if the air filter has signs of oil on it. If so, then the valve is your trouble most likely.

I just ran out and checked the air filter. I had looked at the air filter a few days after buying the car, and at that time it looked brand new. It’s now pretty dirty - lots of black on the underside, the side facing the intake. But it’s more of a dry, dirty black than an oily black. The side facing the engine is a light grey color. Does that mean anything?

While I was at it, I did another test I saw recommended in another discussion here - I started the engine and then removed the oil cap to see if there was any blowby. I saw a small amount of oil droplets but no major geyser of oil and no smoke. I was not, however, able to rev the engine because I was alone.

sI’m going to defend the dealer a bit here. Dealers take cars in trade, buy them at auction, and even follow the local newspaper ads day to day when purchasing cars.

Most dealers do not go to the expense of performing full diagnostics either before or after the purchase.
Since many of the people in sales are not as mechanically astute as a mechanic might be they may give the car a good visual lookover, drive it, and if it runs and drives out well will buy it. They will then send it to the detail bay where it is cleaned and put up for sale.

The fact a used car has problems does not mean the dealer knew about them at all.
And believe me, the general public will foist doctored cars off on dealers every day of the week. Sometimes the dealers may catch the doctoring; sometimes they don’t.

Example. Some years back a guy traded in a showroom clean Chevy Caprice to a dealer I worked for. (car only had something like 3 or 4k miles on it and was immaculate).
This car resold very quicky and when a few electrical glitches surfaced a couple of weeks later the buyers brought the car back to get it looked at. It was sold AS IS but the boss was going to cover this.

A look at the electrical problems required that the kick panel and carpet on the drivers side be removed. When this was done we discovered this car was a splice job. It was the front end of one welded to the rear end of another and was a pretty professional job, but still.
(Welded all the way across right at the firewall)

The boss felt so bad over this he bought the car back from them on the spot and resold it later. The next buyers were informed of the problem and were willing to assume any risks involved since the car did run and drive great. The boss lost a chunk of money on this one though.

If oil is being deposited on the air filter it means either the PCV valve/line is not working properly, or it is overtaxed because of piston blowby forcing oil into the hose leading to the air filter. If you are very lucky, it will be a defective PSV valve, but my guess is excessive engine wear with blowby due to lack of maintenance and/or abuse by the previous owner.

It looks like you need to have a mechanic perform a compression test and a cooling system pressuyre test.

Blowby is not too visible at idle speed, but someone will need to rev up the engine for you. I’m sure there will be lots of stuff coming out of the crankcase.

Okay, I did the blowby test once I got home. I had someone else rev the engine and I put a paper towel over the oil fill port. I did get a little oil - after a few seconds, the paper towel had oil spots on it. But I did not get a gusher of oil, as I was led to expect if I had significant blowby.

If you had a gusher of oil, you would burn the engine out in 20 miles. Even a few drops of oil on a paper towel can indicate a serious problem.

As we said, have a good independent mechanic fist check out what is wrong; then you can decide on a course of action.

Please let us know what you found.

Good luck!

All right, will do. Darn, I was happy there for a minute…

Okay, I just got back from my mechanic. He inspected the PCV valve and found that it was the original, and was pretty well clogged. However, he also did a compression test. The results were (by cylinder) 125, 125, 75, 175. The spark plug on cylinder #4 is fouled with oil. He concluded that there was indeed engine damage, but couldn’t tell whether the problem was rings or valves. He also said that he could tell the oil pan had been taken off the car at some point, which made him suspicious.

He added a quart of Lucas oil stabilizer, just to see if it would do any good, and recommended I start using a slightly thicker oil, so I’m going to start using 10W-40 instead of 5W-30. He suggested I drive the car for another 50 miles and see if things improve. However, he thought that right now the car probably wouldn’t pass emissions.

Note that my mechanic doesn’t do engine work, so he has no vested interest in this particular repair. he did say that he thought a reputable engine shop would probably be able to do the repair for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1500, but that the exact price depends on what they find once they open it up.

Does anybody have any suggestions? What would you do? Drive it or fix it?

You mentioned the car was “reasonable”. Was it $1500 less than the typical going price? If yes I would get it fixed. What other choice do you have, you cannot lie and sell this to another buyer.

There is nothing wrong with as-is cars. There is some hit or miss involved. However futurewise you can really help yourself by simply paying your mechanic for a check over BEFORE final purchase. The price ranges but expect to pay at least $100 and typically includes a compression test.

The previous owner likely was served well for their 7 years doing minimal maintenance (eg oil changes).

A 7 year car irrelevant of brand has risks involved. The dealer likely should have auctioned off but again they sold it AS-IS and hopefully cleared that to the buyer.

The compression readings are supposed to be within 15% for a sound engine. The 3 low cylinders should have been 175x.85=148.75 minimum each. The fact that #4 spark plug was coated with oil, and the reading was only 75#, indicates that you have a serious ring problem on that cylinder, problably a broken oil control ring and very worn compression rings. The other 2 bad ones could be due to valve problems, as well as worn compression rings.

Using heavier oil will not bring that bad cyinder up to 175 or anywhere near it. You could have the compression retested with a leakdown test, but I doubt if the results will be singificantly better. I am concluding that this car was abused by having had little or no maintenance, and even a Corolla can’t take that for very long.

If this was my car, I would look for a good used engine from a low mileage wreck. Overhauling your present engine will be very expensive. if you keep driving it with high oil consumption, you will wreck the catalytic converter as well.

The price the dealer charged me for this car was $6600 before fees. It has minor body damage. Kelley Blue Book on this vehicle in excellent condition is $7100. So the dealer did not charge me $1500 less than the typical price.

There’s no way I would lie to a potential buyer about the car - I’m not considering selling it. I’m just asking whether I should drive the car until the engine dies, making sure to maintain the oil level, whether I should have a ring and valve job done as my mechanic suggested, or whether I should put a rebuilt engine in it.

My mechanic estimated $1400-1600 for a ring job, and $2900 for a rebuilt engine installed ($2000 parts, $900 labor). Do these numbers sound wrong to you? How much should I expect to pay for an engine from a wreck?

Also, the mechanic seemed to think that the two cylinders that tested at 125 were okay and that the bad cylinders were the high one (175) and the low one (75). Is that correct?

The high one might have been a little high, but readings are normally compared to factory figures which are the high ones. 125 is definitely low for a modern car, we had those on very old cars with low compression ratios. As mentioned you should have a proper leak down test done. The engine definitely needs internal work, the question is how much?

You will likely also need a valve job and other work, so repairing the engine will likely cost as much as a rebuilt when all is said & done.

Installing a good used engine will be less; about $500 for the engine and the $600 for labor and supplies, that’s my best guess. You would only do this if you can totally trust the shop you are dealing with; there is considerable risk attached!

If the rest of the car is in great shape, I would go for the rebuilt from a very competent shop. That at least has a warranty with it!.

Okay, I got a friend of mine who runs a garage to replace the engine. He found a used engine with 90k on it for $1200, and charged me $1300 for labor an parts, which was $1000 lower than the next lowest quote I got.

My question now: I have a 90-day warranty on the engine. I’ve driven it 600 miles and it does not seem to be burning oil. It’s not whisper-quiet, but I don’t know if it should be. What tests should I do on this engine to make sure it’s good before my warranty runs out? Is it worth it to take it to a garage and have a compression test or other tests done on it, like I should have on the original engine? Are there things I could do myself, at home, to give me an idea of the state of the engine?

Hi, I bought a 2001 Corolla about a year ago. After driving the car for the last few months, I noticed oil was burning alot- pretty much the same scenario you are in. We’ve changed and fixed much with the car including many o rings, ceals, and timing chain cover, thinking the problem would be solved. Still after much money invested in fixing it, the problem continues. As of today, I began searching online for people who have the same problem with these similar models of the Corolla. After looking on many sites, I remembered about Car Talk and how funny and informative it was. So, I’m here, lucky enough I found someone with the same problem. So, after reading all the questions and responses on this page, I have gained much useful information. At this point, I am debating whether I should get compression checked, have the head gasket rebuilt, check the PCV valve, fix the piston ring, put in a new engine, or just drive it til it dies. After reading every forum and car website about this oil burning problem, I’m not sure what I need, should, and want to do. If anyone happens to read this, be great if you can respond back. Thanks. Phillip.