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Buy older low-mi Sienna with little maintenance?

I’m considering buying a Toyota Sienna minivan, 2004 with 28000 miles. It’s owned by an older farmer and his wife who lives about 120 miles from the big city. They’ve mainly used it for the longer road trips, and apparently not that many considering the mileage. The farmer said they’ve had oil changes every 3000 miles, but no other maintenance. What should I be concerned about?

A normal vehicle with under 30K should not have needed much maintenance, but what about this one that is 7 years old? I’m not sure I can have a mechanic check it out before I buy it, since I’m in the city 2 hours away and he’s in a very small town. It’s a great deal or I wouldn’t consider it. Should I just go drive it and buy it if it seems ok? If so, what should I have done after the purchase?

The mileage is pretty low, and IMO, other than changing the transmission filter/fluid and replacing the timing belt, should serve you well for quite a while. The mileage doesn’t require these yet, but I think the age does.


The 2004 to 2006 Sienna has a timing belt change interval of 7yr/90k, so it is due based on time. As Chaissos mentioned, a trans filter and fluid change isn’t a bad idea either. My wife and I have been happy with her 2006 Sienna. Check the tires, I replaced the tires on the 06 at 25k miles.

Ed B.

Flush the brake fluid as soon as you get it. That goes bad with time. There is also some question about tires going bad solely with age. If you change your mind, let us know. Heh, heh.

Belt, trans & brake fluid, possibly tires. Excellent, thanks for the info all!

Do not over pay. It still is 7 years old.

Engine sludge would be the first thing I would check followed by a compression test.
The vehicle is an '04 that was likely manufactured and sold in '03. This means it’s going on 8 years old and only has a measly 28k miles on it.

That’s averaging somewhat over 3k miles a year. Use like this can be very conducive to engine sludging and this could turn out to be a very expensive headache if sludge exists.

They said the oil was changed every 3k miles but time also plays a part in this. If the oil was only changed once a year (again, the 3k miles a year average) and the majority of driving was comparatively short hops engine sludge can exist 3k mile oil changes or not.

Hmm… the engine sludge sounds worrisome. I read a little online, and sounds like you can’t just flush it out. The van is $15500, which doesn’t sound cheap but is actually $2000+ less than anything comparable. Even if I put $3-400 maintenance in I’m coming out way ahead.

If you can’t have a mechanic check it before you buy it, don’t buy it. There are plenty of vehicles for sale, and you should choose one in a location where you can get it checked out.

Remove the oil filler cap, and have a look, and sniff, inside. Use a flashlight if you have to and see as far as you can (which isn’t far). If everything looks like it has a nice oil sheen to it, there’s probably little to no sludge. If, on the other hand, it’s very black, then further investigation should be done.

If it’s black, stick your finger in it and see how it feels if you slide your fingers around. It should be slick and smooth. If you feel ANY grittiness…run. Any grit in there indicates the oil has begun to sludge up, or already is.

You should be able to stick your finger into the oil filler, and reach inside up under the valve cover to feel in there, too.

I’ve heard you can use some of those additives (can’t remember what it’s called), to pour into your motor right before you change the oil, and it’ll help clear that stuff out. You run the engine for no more than 5 minutes, and it thins everything out. I’ve never tried it, and I don’t know any decent mechanics who have…but it does exist. Maybe someone else out here has an opinion on it. My guess is that it’s probably not worth trying.

Oil smells differently when it’s burned or very old (I can pick it out, anyway). Before you make the trip out, hit a local mechanics shop, and ask him if he can show you some used oil, and some abused oil. Most likely, he’s got an old piece of a motor sitting someplace that was abused.

Good luck…

Nobody has mentioned the coolant, that would be second from the top on my list, brake fluid would be the top item.

Since Toyota uses a long life coolant, I would just have it drained from both the block and the radiator and refill. I would not flush.

I would flush the brakes.

I would get on the timing belt ASAP so that it doesn’t damage the engine if it breaks. Its made of rubber and rubber rots with time, not miles.

I would NOT worry about sludge or the transmission fluid. Because the low miles were put on the van via long trips, there is little stress on the oil or transmission fluid. I would change the transmission fluid somewhere between 30 to 40k miles, just a drain and refill, no flush here either.

As for the sludge. Sludge is caused by oil breaking down when subjected to excess heat. While the engine is running, the oil gets hot, but not to hot as it is constantly flowing. It gets some time to cool down when it returns to the pan. The damage occurs when the engine is shut down from hot, like at the end of a trip.

When shut down, most of the oil drains back to the pan. Some stays in the oil passages and oil filter, but a film of oil clings to surfaces like the top of the head under the valve cover. This film of oil has to absorb all the heat of the engine as it cools down. This is where most of the damage occurs.

This film is flushed away the next time the engine is started, but it contaminates the oil, making it darker and thicker. After awhile, the oil must be replaced to prevent damage to the engine. If it gets too thick, it begins to form sludge that blocks the free flow of oil back to the oil pan. Thats when real damage occurs.

Sometimes with low mileage vehicles, the miles were from a lot of short trips, which means a lot of shut downs and a lot of damage to the oil. Since you vehicle has a few long trips, the oil should not get damaged that much. The owner did do oil changes that in my opinion could have been done on longer intervals. In other words, he did more than necessary in that department.

For what it’s worth the additive was called Marvel Mystery Oil, and what it was, it was a highly distilled motor oil. Or the like.
You would never use anything like this product in a modern car, and in fact I never added anything like this on my old cars. I just don’t trust any liquid solutions unless I just need another week out of a car. Your best bet is use the recommended oil and fluids at the correct intervals, keep the gas tank mostly full and follow the maintenance schedule.

If you’re referring to the additive I was talking about, no that wasn’t it. It actually came in a can, like the old style oil cans. I’m sure it’s in a different container now, though. I’m familiar with marvel mystery oil. This was more like a solvent.

Chase, Rislone ? It’s Been Around A Long Time And Came In A Can At One Time.

I’m not endorsing any engine sludge cleaner, just jogging your memory.

Could be. Doesn’t sound quite right in the usage. this stuff does, though. For engines:

Add 16 oz. bottle of AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush to engine oil fill port. Idle the engine for 10-15 minutes, then immediately drain the oil. Ensure enough time for the system to completely drain. Remove and replace the engine oil filter. Refill engine with new engine oil in the viscosity grade recommended by the manufacturer.

I’m not endorsing it, either. Having said that, a buddy used it, and I didn’t see anything bad happen to his car for the next xouple of years until he sold it.