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Do I REALLY Need a New Engine?

I have a 1999 Toyota Camry. Great car. Runs fine. The other day I realized it had been a looong time since I changed or even checked the oil. (Long story, don’t ask.) I checked the oil and got a very low reading. And there was oil gunk on the dipstick. I immediately got some oil and it took 3 quarts to bring it to full. BTW, the oil light never came on.

Probably as a result of this, I was listening very carefully to my engine the next day and I noticed a very light “flitting” sound coming from the right side of the car. The flitting noise sounds like a baseball card in a bicycle wheel–you mechanics who grew up in the 70’s know what I mean. The sound increased in its frequency as the rpm’s increased. As my automatic transmission shifted from first to second, the flitting noise decreased as the rpms were reduced, then increase as the gear kicked in and rpms went up. There are no other symptoms. The car runs fine.

So here’s the deal: I told all this to the mechanic. He’s not my usual guy. He’s standing in for the guy who’s ill. He told me over the phone before I brought it in that he suspected it might mean big trouble. He called me after having the car for a morning and said I need a new engine because two of the four control arms are worn or broken. (Can’t remember which he said–I was picking myself up off the floor).

When I asked him what he based this on, he was evasive. Said it was based on 20 years of experience. I asked him what diagnostics he had run to determine I needed a new engine and he said he did “the usual”. He mentioned an oil pressure test but didn’t tell me any results. He didn’t name any other tests and fell back on the 20 years experience and listening. He did mention he had done about $80 worth of diagnostics on the car–whatever that means.

When I told him I needed my car back and I needed to think about replacing the engine, he said he wouldn’t drive this car. He suggested I rent one until he replaced the engine, warning me that it could throw a rod and leave me stranded on the highway.

Are there some basic tests he should have done to reach his conclusion that I should ask him about? I’m trying to figure out if this is something that is cut and dried or if there are some other things he should check out before reaching this diagnosis? I can’t help but wonder if this is a case where he took my story about the lack of oil and rolled it into a “done deal.” And why wouldn’t my oil light come on if I needed 3 quarts of oil?

oil light just means lack of oil pressure, you really screwed up big here, not changing your oil till it gets turned into sludge is unbelieveably bad for your engine, if you do get it running right, change your oil every 5000 miles, no exceptions!

First, I think the mechanic is likely full of it. If the car still runs fine, then get a second opinion from another independant mechanic, without telling the second anything the first guy said.
Also, the oil light is not an oil level light, but an oil pressure light. Chances are, you had just enough oil pressure to keep the light from coming on. Which means there was always enough pressure, even though the oil was low.

By the way, the ‘flitting’ as you call it is likely the sounds of valves tapping. This can happen because the oil was quite low, but should not require the replacement of the engine. The engine can continue to run for years with such a tapping.

Again, get a second opinion, or even a third before you do anything. The fact the first guy didn’t give you any specific information is throwing up quite a red flag. Oh, and was the check engine light on at all? If so, get the codes scanned for free at any Advance Auto Parts, and post the actual code here, if there is any.

Oh, also, that noise you’re hearing could very well have been there all along, but you just didn’t notice it until now.

oh yeah, and try to get tons of sludge removal products, youve got alot of work to do!

Not necessarily, there hasn’t been any diagnosis made yet, at least it doesn’t seem to have been made yet from the OP, that there is engine sludge.

To the OP, don’t overreact, like TJScott is. From what you’ve said, it seems your car is probably perfectly fine, just in need of an oil change. But, I would still take it to a second or third mechanic for another opinion regarding engine replacement. I think you’ll find that it is not necessary.

About the only tests that can be done other than an audible/experience one is to perform an oil pressure test and a leakdown test.
The former will check crank/cam bearing fit and the latter could determine any piston ring/cylinder wall damage since the latter is lubricated by splash.

In your case these tests may be real iffy since your car was not completely out of oil.
It is possible to have an engine low on oil such as yours and the oil light will not come on. The reason for this is that most oil pressure senders only require a few pounds of pressure to open the circuit and kill the light. Even oil that is being frothed could do this.

JMHO, but at 3 quarts low I think you have engine damage. Yes, it’s possible for the engine to run fine and it may run fine for years; it’s an unknown.
Three quarts low means no pool of oil to draw from in the pan and this means frothed, or aerated, oil.
Low oil pressure means the cylinder pressures are slamming rods onto the crank journals, etc. and causing some undue wear.

Without hearing this noise I can’t be too exact here. If it were my car I would just drive it for a while and see if the noise and/or oil pressure gets worse. It’ll let you know when it gets bad enough by becoming noisier or the oil light starting to flash on at an idle when the engine is hot.

First, let's get that oil and filter changed right now.  

Second relax, at least a little. It does not sound like you really damaged the car, but you did run into a mechanic with a big boat payment due. Also as noted the sounds you are now hearing were likely there all the time, but you are hyper sensitive right now. 

Now step three.  You can try one of two ideas or maybe someone else will have a few others.  I would plan on a second oil and filter change after about 1,000 miles and I would use a good synthetic oil even if you don't normally or you might go for some sort of engine cleaning.  That might be a can of something (I would suggest Seafoam) or a commercial engine flush.  

Before deciding on stop three be sure to read the other replies and pay special attention for someone who can tell you if your’s is one of the Toyota’s subject to sludge problems.

I believe the sludge problems are limited to V6s made from 98 to 2003… not entirely sure of the timeline, but as far as I can recall, it is only limited to V6s. Of course, the OP didn’t mention if he has a V6 or a 4 cyl…

The engine is running fine other than the noise so there’s no way I’d replace the engine until it failed outright. Keep the oil topped off and run it into the ground. Chances are it will keep running a long time. But check the oil more often now, it may burn more than it did before the neglect.

BTW- the noise could be an exhaust manifold leak just as easily as it could be engine internals.

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“and said I need a new engine because two of the four control arms are worn or broken.”

Engines don’t have “control arms”…Find a decent shop.

There are engine flush products that will help de-sludge your engine. Use one now, change your oil again at 1000 miles. Your noise sounds more like the valves need adjusting. Again, find a REAL mechanic.

well of course theres engine sludge, and you cant blame tj, id rather eat cow crap (literally) than go too long without changing oil in my 67 c10 454 truck

Any engine can become a sludge machine if neglected this way. It sounds like this one did.

I’m guessing the tappets are gummed up. The valves are probably a sight to behold also. I liked the suggestion to flush the engine as best possible and then start taking better care of the engine.

Like others, I’d keep driving it. Especially if it’s going to continue to be neglected.

He probably said connecting rods and the owner got confused, it’s not a biggie. Here’s what I think: '99 Camry, probably has a bunch of miles, sounds like it has not really been “babied” much in life… [i]RUN 'ER 'TILL SHE BLOWS.[/i]

As was said, you need to do an oil and filter change, but honestly, except for keeping it full of oil, coolant, and gasoline, I would just drive, drive, drive this car until it up and dies. So it breaks down along side the road at some point, you have it towed back to a shop, let them do the $3000 engine job then, when you know she’s good and dead, rather than now when it’s all just hearsay.

I’m pretty much with everyone else here. Take it to another shop and have the oil changed. Casually ask about the noise without any explanation of having let the oil get low. See what they say, but plan to just keep driving and CHECK YOUR OIL from now on. If it’s truly a trashed engine you won’t get far, but you may just keep going for years. Only way to know is to keep driving it.

If it was my car I’d change the oil more often for a few changes . . . like every 500 miles for 4 changes, then go to 2000 mile changes for awhile, then back to normal. You could use an engine “cleaner” like Risilone (SP?) but this may let too much gunk loose at once and clog up small oil passages. My suggestion of changing more often is an attempt to clean out the sludge gradually, allowing the filter to pick up the junk and having nice clean oil flushing through the motor cleaning up the sludge. One more thing . . . when you change the oil, let the old oil drain out for a long time . . . the sludge usually finds its way to the bottom of the oil pan by gravity.

Yes, definitely, a second opinion is indicated…DEFINITELY

did you ever see the tv ad pay me now or pay me later. about oil changes . you have bad rod bearing and they make a hell of a noise. what I don,t understand is his wording conecting rods as control arms I though he was speaking about suspension parts. as for $ 80.00 this wrong all he did was turn on engine and after hearing the noise turned it off it is all in the ear. yes you need an engine. buy one from advance auto find another place to install it and for gods sake change the oil. you get 2 years warr also.

@Ed133 - that car’s probably not around 11 years later…