Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

2003 Toyota Matrix w/ just 35k, babied but using oil

My 2003 Toyota Matrix has, sine I bought it 2 years ago, used a quart of oil about every 1000 miles. Where is i going? It run well, there is no smoke, good oil pressure, etc. The car had belonged to “snowbirds” since new: an older couple that only drove it6 months of th year.

Anybody have any ideas?

If It’s Not Leaking Then It’s Burning.

Not driving a vehicle for 6 months every year for 5 or 6 years is not always good for the car, depending on how the vehicle was stored, how frequently the oil was changed, etcetera.

I have a vehicle that sits for 6 months each year (for over 10 years now). It uses no oil, but it always sits with fresh oil and it never runs unless the engine is brought to full operating temperature for a time before it sits. To do otherwise could load some water into the combustion chambers and the next thing thing you know the cylinder walls and rings are scored.

Who knows what these snowbirds did to it or did for it ?


Quite a large number of Toyota Corolla, Toyota Matrix, and Chevy Prism cars that all used the 1.8 4 cylinder engine had a design defect with the pistons that would allow the oil control rings to get carboned up, stop working properly, and then lead to excessive oil burning over time.

Your engine falls into that time range (1997 through 2004).
The only cure is to attempt to clean off the carbon with high detergent engine oil and chemical treatments, or with that failing, replace the pistons and rings with the redesigned units, and re-hone the cylinder bores.

A compression test and a leak down test are the best way to determine if this is the issue with your engine.

Another source of oil loss was the oil seal for the cam chain tensioner.
It is located on the back of the cylinder head, facing the car’s firewall, next to the serpentine belt tensioner assembly. If that seal leaks, and they usually do, its hard to see the leak.


Another possibility is that this car was “babied” too much by those snowbirds during the initial break-in phase. Unless an engine gets a few “brisk” acceleration runs in its early life, the piston rings may not seat properly. This will lead to chronically high oil consumption. Elderly people who never take the engine above…let’s say…3,000 RPMs are not doing their engine any favors.

Additionally, the low mileage suggests that it may have been used essentially for local, short-trip driving. When driven like that, oil sludge is likely to form unless the oil is changed according to the “severe service” maintenance schedule. Even though lots of short-trip local driving fits the definition of “severe service”, most folks do not maintain their car according to that schedule, and use the typical 5,000 mile oil change schedule. In reality, that type of driving calls for oil changes at least every 3 months.

Based on the age of the car and the odometer mileage, it is almost definite that the car was driven less than 5k miles a year by them, and likely had the oil changed–at best–once a year. More than likely, you are now seeing the result of that type of use and that type of maintenance.

VCD makes a couple of good points. I only want to add that you should run the vehicle hard at least a few times. Its most important to put as much pressure as possible on the rings at a low RPM. With a manual transmission, it is easy to do, just get up to about 30 mph, put it into the highest gear and floor it. A few runs from 30 to 50 in this fashion will usually seat the rings.

With an automatic, you need to accelerate gently until the vehicle shifts into the highest gear, then slow down a little and then push the pedal down as far as you can without the transmission downshifting. If you have a fairly steep hill nearby, do this going uphill. Again, you are trying to get as close to the 30-50 run in high gear as you can. It may not be possible to duplicate this exactly, just get as close as you can.

You may want to have the valve cover removed and check for sludge build up, especially around the oil return holes (drains). When sludge builds up under here, it can cause the oil level under the valve cover to rise up high enough to cover the valve stem seals.

If you have this condition, have as much sludge removed mechanically as you can, make sure the drain holes are clear, then plan on several back to back oil changes. After the second back to back oil change (1000 miles apart), try using a synthetic, they seem to remove more sludge.

More than likely a gunked up piston ring problem caused by a combination of short hop driving with the engine seldom reaching full operating temperature and irregular oil changes.

This is not a rare problem and an 8 year old Toyota with a measly 35k miles can actually be expected to have a problem like this.

You might consider having a compression and or leakdown test performed. These are not always 100% definitive with piston ring problems but it’s the only option short of tearing into the engine.

You could try adding something like Sea Foam or Berryman B-12 to the engine oil and this may, or may not, free up any potentially stuck piston rings.

A lot of good points have been made in this thread. To be honest, if it were me I’d just follow OK4450’s advice about trying an additive and of it didn’t change anything just keep driving it. A quart every 1.000 miles with this particular set of circumstances does not indicate a serious internal problem and, frankly, there’s no way I’d start tearing into a good running engine for this. Heck, most manufacturers would call a quart every 1000 miles acceptable even in a brand new car.

I too would try OK4450’s advice on trying an additive. Mixing in a quart of kerosene to your oil (and driving for 200 miles) has also been successfully used to clean junked-up oil control rings.

If you have sludge in your engine, then after using an oil flush, make sure you drop the oil pan to clean the sludge pieces that are now clogging your oil pickup screen.

New vs old piston design for Matrix engine Toyota 1zzfe:

They added some more drain back holes.

The piston on my 1981 Accord had wide slots right behind the oil ringset in addition to holes below.