Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Engine trouble for toyota

I hav a 2000 Avalon XLS with only 71,000 miles on it. (I’m not a grandma but drive like one). A year ago, the check engine light went on. I took it to the dealer who said i had a loose gas cap. They tightened it and the light went off but then I left the dealership and it went back on. The next time i went for service, they said that it needed a coil and spark plugs to get the light off. They put those in, but no change. Then they put a fuel injector. Still no change. they then checked compression and found low pressure in cylinder 3. They said that there was nothing they could do short of a new engine.

I then took it to a reputable local auto shop. They said they wouldn’t open up the engine on a 10 year old car. They put lots of cleaning stuff in. That raised the pressure on cylinder 3 from 75 to 130. But the computer still flags it as a misfire. That won’t allow me to get inspected. The shop says the problem is oil sludge in the engine.they said it was a common problem with toyotas especially ones that weren’t oil changed regularly. But, I changed the pil on mine very 3000-4000 miles. The dealer has the records.

Does this story seem right to you?

Is there anything I can do shot of opening up th eengine to get the car to pass inspection?

Both of those compression readings point to a serious problem. Cleaning stuff (?) won’t raise the compression figures but if the reading of 75 went up to 130 after administration of a small amount of oil this would point to a piston ring problem. Adding oil to test this is referred to as a “wet test” and it’s valid.
Yes, readings that low can trigger a misfire code.

Changing the oil every 3-4k miles is not always the correct thing to do. Time, and even environmental conditions, is also a very important factor and on a car like yours that sees light driving (based on the age and mileage) the oil should be changed about every 3-4 months with mileage not being a factor at all. In some extreme cases oil may need to be changed every 2-3 months.

Odds are the piston rings are stuck in the grooves in the piston due to sludging, or oil coking. (Coking is basically cooked engine oil. Think of a frying pan with grease left on the fire)

Reworking piston rings falls into the category of a complete engine overhaul and that will be very expensive. About your only option is to add a chemical like SeaFoam or Berryman B-12 to the engine oil, drive it, and hope that over time it frees things up, although I assume by the reference to cleaning stuff something similar has been done. It’s a long shot but it’s the only one you have. Hope some of that helps.

Thank you for your clear reply.
Googling around, I have read that some Toyota dealers fixed engine sludge problems for free as it is a known defect with the 6 cylinder engine of that period.
I am wondering if I have a case with my dealership.
All the oil changes were done there and at their recommended schedule.

As far as the test done at the 2nd shop, they said they put cleaning fluid in the valve. They didn’t say anything about oil and a wet test. They said they were encouraged by the reading going up and had hoped the computer wouldn’t flag it anymore. The other pistons read 165.

They did put seafoam in it before I took it yesterday and told me to drive it a lot. i plan to do it this weekend. They said there was a chance it would clear up by doing that, but that “someone up there was watching over me” if it did – doesn’t sound like a great chance.

If it were to clear up, would that mean the problem really has gone away or is the engine fouled up and on its last legs anyway?

If it doesn’t clear up, do you think I have a case with the dealer?

Even 165 is a bit low for an Avalon engine with only 71k miles on it so this could indeed point to sludged or coked piston rings.

It’s possible that Toyota Motor Company could step in and replace this engine under what is called a Good Will Warranty. This would be on TMC not the dealer, who has no legal obligation to do anything.
You could ask the dealer to intervene with TMC on your behalf and try contacting Toyota’s regional office yourself about this issue. Keep it polite and hope for the best. GW warranties are always a roll of the dice and considering Toyota’s recent rash of problems and incurred costs this makes a GW warranty even more iffy.

At this point the dealer has done all they can and I think they’re on the mark with what they’re doing and telling you.
This problem is not your fault. It’s caused by the Marketing Department and it’s also not just a Toyota problem. The marketing people make these ridiculous extended interval maintenance recommendations so the public will think their cars need less than what it actually does. The end result is what you’re going through right now.

Hope some of that helps and good luck. Keep us informed as to what happens.

I think your engine is full of sludge. Mine was…

My 2001 Avalon, at 125000 miles, was throwing a cloud of bluish white smoke from the tail pipe on start up and I was losing a lot of oil and there was a tapping noise fron the top of the engine. My mechanic determined that the oil was leaking from the cam shaft seal(s) and from the rear valve cover. He removed the front valve cover and confirmed that the engine was heavily sludged. His diagnosis was that there was enough sludge in the drains from the top of the engine to the sump that the oil couldnt flow freely back to the sump and that the pcv valve was plugged up with sludge; pressure was building at the top of the engine pushing oil past the valve seals to the combustion chambers (white smoke) and out any ‘weak spot’ in the seals (valve cover and cam shaft). He suggested that I sell the car and the problem immediately (before the engine blew up) that to fix it was more than it was worth. I confirmed that with the local toyoto dealer. Their solution was to pull the engine and take it completely apart, clean everything and put it back together. Assuming that I didnt need too much in the way of new parts they estimated $4000.

Then I read this:

I convinced my mechanic to do what was suggested in that article. He did (with some modifications) and now the car runs like new again.

What he did was to mechaniclly remove any of the sludge he could get to with the valve covers removed using a screwdriver and shop vac, paying particular care to see that the drain holes were open. He then filled the engine to the top) with diesel fuel and let it soak for a day or so to disolve any remaining sludge. Then he removed and cleaned the sump. The valve covers and the oil pump intake and screen were also soaked in solvent and cleaned. He put it all back together, with new camshaft seals, new timing belt water pump and valve cover gaskets and a new pcv valve, new oil and filter

I dont need regular smog inspections in Florida, and I dont have any idea what a computer might say (my check engine light has been on since I got the car at 50000 miles, and is still on) but the engine runs like brand new, no oil leaks, and no smoke.

By the way this cost me $1500 (400 in parts 1100 labor) I think I got a deal

Thank you both for your helpful posts.
I went to a local mechanic for a second opinion. He said he didn’t think the engine was sludged and he recommended a replacement used engine for $3600. He also said I might check with TMC.
I went back to the dealer armed with your posts and the mechanic info and they agreed to open the car up and see what the problem really is and to talk with TMC about it. If it was sludge, they thought they could get TMC to cover at least some of the repair. The took off the valve cover and found no sludge. They opened up the engine and just found a bad ring on cylinder 3. At first, they said it was just a freak failed part. Everything else looked good. Then they said perhaps it was the result of my driving habits, driving only 71000 miles in 10 years – that i didn’t drive it enough. Because I am a “good customer”, they agreed to rebuild the engine for $3600 (instead of their usual price of at least $4500). I agreed.
Any thoughts on this scenario?

I think Toyota should have covered at least part of this. It sounds like the dealer helped you out of goodwill, but Toyota did nothing.

It’s sad that driving a car ‘too little’ can damage an engine. Ironic at least. Your driving habits may also be part of the problem. Engines that are always driven gently don’t get the exercise they need to burn off carbon, wear in properly, and keep the rings from getting stuck. Driving it like you stole it isn’t a solution either, but I’d recommend flooring it at least once a week, and not getting off the gas until you’re going at least 60. (not to be done in your neighborhood or a parking lot) Besides, it’s fun :slight_smile: You might also try using a full-synthetic oil, as a full-synthetic will help keep sludge to a minimum and control ‘coking’ better.

If just 1 set of rings are bad why do you need a whole engine rebuild?
Tell them to replace rings on cyl #3 and put back together.
After they try to talk you out of this ask them what they will do for $3600. Then say you said only rings were bad,what is going on???

Replacing the rings without properly honing the cylinder is folly. They’d never break in properly. And to do only one cylinder rather than all would be doing 98% of the work and spending 98% of the cost but only getting 17% of the benefit.

I’m having difficulty understanding how driving too little can cause the rings in a single cylinder of six to fail prematurely. Besides, 7,100 miles a year should be plenty to meet the engine’s needs. I’m not questioning that there was a failed ring, but I am questioning their theory of the cause. IMHO the blame could only be with the manufacturer and not with the driver. This almost has to be a manufaturing error. Granted, it’s beyond warranty, but it would be nice if TMC did something for the owner. This is a very rare situation.

The oil changes were probably not done at the recommended schedule, because your use of the car falls under the “severe” service schedule, and all the oil change stickers/etc refer to the “normal” service schedule. Believe it or not, driving a car very rarely is harder on it than driving it 10,000 or so miles per year.