'89 Toyota leaking inside from above and onto brake pedal?

I have an '89 Corolla with a very odd leak. There is what seems to be engine fluid dripping on to the brake pedal. My oil level is good- no apparent drop in levels and it’s clean- coolant is good, brake fluid is good. The leak smells a bit like engine oil, is dark gray/ black and slippery.

Local mechanic says it sounds like a bad heater core. (The heat is working great however.)

I recently replaced the distributor cap and wires/ air filter as it was misfireing like nobody’s business. Running fine now

This is a second car I bought a year ago to leave on the east coast for summers. it’s been really reliable- ice cold AC, great heat, great gas mileage/. Did start to over heat once this summer, but not bad.

Thoughts? Ideas?

One other thing- I get a check engine light after the engines warms up. There was a bad sensor I had replaced last June.

Can you feel and smell the fluid to identify what it really is? If it is indeed oil, then I’m at a loss, too. Brake fluid first comes to mind, since it’s at the brake pedal, and a failing seal will surely leak. Coolant (is it the color/smell of coolant?) is a possibility, leaking from the heater core. It could even be old water (rain or wash water) that has found its way in through the windshield or through the firewall.

Lots of things to look at, but first, you need to figure out what it actually is.



It’s slippery/ greasy and dark gray black. Smells like engine oil. Doesn’t seem to be coolant (wrong color and smell.) It’s a slow drip

It’s rather confusing- and I don’t want to spend $500 for a heater core replacement just yet. (And, $500 seems a bit high for that job)

If your windshield isn’t fogging up when you run the defroster and the coolant isn’t going down, I don’t think your problem is the heater core. Does your car have a manual transmission? It almost sounds like the oil that is used in a manual transmission. I don’t know when Toyota went to an electronic speedometer, but I have heard of transmission fluid working its way up the speedometer cable on a mechanical speedometer from the transmission. It doesn’t sound like automatic transmission fluid, and I don’t know if the speedometer on your Toyota is driven from the transmission, so this is just a guess.

Do you happen to have an oil pressure gauge in the vehicle? Speedo cable lube coming out?


Defroster/ heater works great- very warm and no fogging and coolant level is good. (AC is ice cold in summer too) It’s an automatic transmission.

No oil pressure gauge- just an idiot light.

Thanks for the speedo ideas- hadn’t thought of that.

It’s a really odd problem and I don’t want to spend a lot of cash on replacing things that don’t need to be replaced. Usually my mechanic is good, but he’s already made one bad call on this car so I’m being extra cautious. ALso, it’s a part time car for me, so I’m not in a huge hurry to get it done. Won’t be back to the east coast for a month or two.

Thanks again

I would look at the valve cover gaskets for a leak. I assume your analysis of engine oil is correct, so it has to come from somewhere. Valve cover gaskets would be the first hope.

Chaiss is right, it a leak in your master-cyl seal. It’s the only thing that makes any sence. It has got to be that. Ohh ps the heater core is on the pass side of the car so that is way out.

You sound like your brake power booster which runs off vacuum is drawing in engine oil. I heard of this happening before. Do not remember the solution I would google the problem.

Had the same car, it is the differential oil working its way up the speedo cable-as suggested. (that generation corolla’s have a separate diff casing in the transmission casing)

Sit on the driver side floor and reach up behind the speedo and you will feel the liquid. It is probably getting a bit darker by the time it is making its way down on the floor. Open the hood, driver side and look down on the transmission casing and you will see the speedo cable there. You will have to fix the leak from there with an O ring or maybe even only tightening it.

Now you have to go to the side of the transmission and check the differential fluid level-otherwise your diff would go out soon. It is a large nut and you open it and fill the oil from there until it starts to seep out.

I also agree. Speedo cable leak. No VSS in a 89 Corolla.


Thanks. Differential oil working its way up the speedo cable sounds more likely than heater core, seeing that there’s no fogging up when I run the defroster and the actual fluid dripping isn’t even close to coolant/ antifreeze. It seems to be too far away from the engine to be alve cover gaskets, and the engine has no visible leaks, at all. (It’s remarkable clean and dry for a car that old.)

Thanks again

We’ve all seen that before…which is why it was mentioned early on…sounds funny though doesn’t it? We get it…but to tell it sounds strange huh? Stranger things are afoot in the automotive world let me tell you…LOL


Does the car have a manual transmission. If so could be the clutch master cylinder.

My mechanic just left a message- it’s the speedo cable. But, he’s not sure how to fix and wants to send me to a transmission shop.

Rod Knox: It’s a manual trans.

Honda Blackbird: I also drive an '86 Jaguar, trust me I know that there are stranger things afoot, as well as more annoying things LOL.

For god’s sake-- Don’t know what I was thinking-- it’s an automatic trans.

Will be heading back to the east coast where the car. Hope get it fixed soon.

Ideas on possible pricing?

The speedo cable usually leaks when the O-ring where the cable connects to the transaxle fails. Remove the speedo cable from the transaxle and replace the O-ring and you’re done.


I am copying my instructions again;

“Open the hood, on driver side, look down on the transmission casing and you will see the speedo cable there. You will have to fix the leak from there with an O ring or maybe even only tightening it.”