Camry Blue Smoke

I own a 2003 Toyota Camry 4 cylinder which I purchased new, and which now has 63,000 miles on it. Until the end of 2014, I did all the routine maintenance on the car myself. In fact, I “over-maintained” it by changing the oil and filter every 3 months; if you do the math, the average mileage between oil/filter changes was a little over 1,000 miles, and the most between changes was about 2,500 miles. During this entire period, I used Quaker State (non-synthetic) premium motor oil (of the viscosity recommended by Toyota), and Toyota filters. Sounds excessive, and I agree, but I never had any form of engine problem, never had to add oil, and everything was fine. Then, in October 2014, I turned 83 years of age and found I had no problem getting down on the creeper, but could hardly get up. So, in December 2014, I brought the car into the Toyota dealer we have done business with for years. I asked them to change the oil and filter, and replace the battery. When I got home, being the fanatic I am, I first checked the battery and found three cells low on electrolyte. Next, I checked the oil dipstick and found they had installed much more than the four quarts required; I would estimate they had added between one and two quarts more than required. I returned to the dealer, spoke to the service manager, and had the oil drained down to the proper level; I had added the necessary distilled water to the battery myself. Not very long after their service, I noticed something that had never occurred before - when starting the engine, I would get a large cloud of blue smoke from the exhaust pipe. If the car had been idle for a few days, there was even more blue smoke. Researching probable causes, I concluded the valve stem seals (probably all of them considering the amount of smoke) had failed. Two Toyota service managers agreed with this diagnosis, with one confirming this with Toyota engineers. The repair bill about $1,500.

Now, while I can’t prove that the person who performed the service (whom I would rate incompetent) caused the problem, neither I do I believe in coincidences. My only thought on what he might have done to ruin the valve stem seals, is to add synthetic motor oil instead of regular motor oil. I would welcome your comments.
Thank you,
Don McG

The over fill should not have ruined the valve stem seals. What happens if you over fill it is the oil can foam by getting beat by the crankshaft. This will give you a lack of oil for the crankshaft and the rings. I don’t think you had enough of an overfill to damage the engine unless you drove it for extened period of time. Valve stems seal do go bad and if you replace them it will fix your problem. Here is where I ask if you have checked a for a local mechanic in the Mechanics Files link above and called them for an estimate. I think you can get a better price than that.

Replacing valve guide seals on this engine is not an easy task.

Both cam shafts,shims, and lifters have to be removed to gain access to the valve guide seals.

What I would try first is try a high mileage motor oil such as Valvoline Max Life motor oil at the next oil change. These oils have additives that slightly swell the engine seals to reduce/stop oil leakage.

If doing this stops the smoking at start-up you then know the valve guide seals are the problem. You can then decide to live with it and keep using the high mileage oil, or pay the money to have the seals replaced.


Oil seals are rubber add they go bad with age. They may eve go bad faster in a vehicle that is not drive very much as they can dry out more between drive cycles. If this is just a momentary cloud, I would leave it alone, it wot use enough oil for you to notice or even measure.

There is a small possibility that the problem isn’t the valve stem seals but a plugged up oil drain back allowing more oil to be retained in the head. The valve cover will have to come off so the drains can be inspected and cleaned.

Did replacing the valve stem seals solve the blue smoke problem at start up?

I find it a little disappointing that valve stem seals are apparently/possibly already bad on this car

It’s not THAT old, after all

We have quite a few vehicles in our fleet that are older, and with FAR LESS miles than OP’s car, and they don’t have bad valve stem seals

Thank you all for your suggestions. One question no one responded to was the possibility that the use of synthetic oil after 63,000 miles of using regular oil, could have caused the problem. I think I will try Tester’s suggestion of using Valvoline Max Life oil and see what happens. As someone suggested, the oil consumption, even with this problem, is negligible and I may just live with the problem. Meanwhile, I will use the Mechanics link and see if there is a local with a better price.

Seal problems as a result of using synthetic oil is more of a historic problem than a current one. The “first-gen” esters employed had the tendency to attack seals an cause leaks. They’ve since got this problem licked…but memories fade slowly when it comes to oil. (For example, there’s still folks who shy away from Pennzoil due to–alleged–higher wax concentrations in PA crude…when PZ hasn’t even used PA crude since sometime in the 80’s!)

The valve stem seals are 13 years old and while not normally a problem it’s certainly possible for one or more to leak at that age. Your valve stem seals were not sabotaged or damaged by an oil service.

There’s also the possibility that the oil overfill caused oil to get burped into the exhaust system and it’s burning off the catalytic converters.
If the latter is the case maybe a more lengthy highway drive would clear the problem up.

Oil changes are also time dependent and based on the sparse driving habits there’s the possibility that oil sludging is present in the valve train area and oil is pooling around the valve guide bosses. When this happens oil can ooze past valve stem seals that are good.
It’s also possible this smoke problem may have existed a bit before and you became more attuned to looking for a problem after the oil overfill incident.

Just all food for thought.

If your car has a PCV valve, it would probably make sense to ask your shop to test it. Unlikely to be the cause, but most of them are easy enough to test, a 5 minute job.

A 12 year old car with only 63,000 miles? That’s what, 5,250 miles a year?
That suggests to me a city car. 63,000 miles in any major city probably has the same amount of operating hours as a rural car with 150,000 miles. Maybe more.

Stem seals would not seem a great surprise to me.

12 year old valve stem seals may just have deteriorated with age. The car was probably made a year or two before the purchase date and who knows how long before that the rubber seals were made. Add to that the extreme heat where they “live” and you can imagine a rubber seal or two going bad. Just think of having rubber wiper blades on your vehicle for 12 years. Anyway, I’m with Keith on this, leave it alone and check your oil more often if you like. Rocketman

Hey DonMcG (OP) I will agree with Tester 99% of the time, he’s proved to be a great contributor on this board and seems to be a really good mechanic. But on this area of high mileage oil I have to chime in. I read an article (I’ll look for it and post it) about all of the other rubber and non-metallic things in an engine which deteriorate when a high mileage oil is used. It seems logical that if an additive will cause rubber parts to swell and lose their original shape that something might go wrong with other parts, at least it’s logical to me. Good luck, happy motoring! Rocketman