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Kia Sedona - Sludge, is it too late?

I have a 2003 Kia Sedona EX with 103k miles on it. It is currently in the shop (KIA Dealership) and I’m being told that I have metal flakes in my oil and excessive sludge in my oil passages. This is causing my oil pressure to come in at 15 PSI instead of the specified 93 PSI. My mechanic has recommended a new engine.

I have only had the vehicle for 9 months and have done regular oil changes in that time. After researching this issue I wanted to see what you suggest.

Is there any hope of cleaning out the sludge? If yes, what do you recommend?
Can I do successive short-mile oil changes?
Can I use SeaFoam or some other product to clear it?
Did I just happen to buy a car that hadn’t been taken care of very well and now I really do need a new engine?


UPDATE: I posted below to answer questions. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions.

Update 2: I’ve already replaced in the last 6 months of the 9 months I’ve had it:
Tires (Less than 10k miles on them)
Front & Rear brakes (whole thing)
Water Pump/Timing Belt/Serpentine/etc
Catalytic Converters - both fronts and the rear (just last week!!!)

Update 3: You can read all the details in my post at the bottom, but long story short I got a 2nd opinion from an independent mechanic who told me he can’t find any metal flakes in the oil or all this sludge in the engine.

Metal particulate in the oil is not good and usually means engine damage.

There’s nothing that can be added to the engine to remove the sludge. The engine has to be disassemble so the sludge can be removed with harsh solvents such as in this case.


The engine is more than likely toast and the damage was probably done before you bought the vehicle.

In today’s world many people do not maintain their cars as they should and that even includes raising the hood to check the oil ever so often.
Many can’t be bothered with the expense of maintenance, have no desire to spend their money maintaining a leased car they are going to turn back in, etc, etc, so down the road someone ends up with their neglected castoff. This is not a rare thing unfortunately.

Did you send an oil sample to a lab for evaluation, or is this an “eyes and fingers” test? If your mechanic can see metal in the oil with a naked eye then the engine is done. Don’t spend another dime on trying to fix this one. If it’s that sludged up, the damage started many years ago.

Sounds like it’s time for an engine transplant using a known good used engine. Be sure to have a timing belt and water pump installed on that used engine before installation.

-Is the 15 PSI oil pressure what is being measured at idle while the engine is hot? If so, this could be normal. If you’re getting only 15 PSI at higher RPMs than that, not good.

-Is the 93 PSI that the mechanic says the engine should have, an accurate number? It sounds awfully high for a passenger car engine.

-Has the oil been changed regularly?

-How was the sludge determination made?

-Finally, what made you suspect internal engine problems? Does the engine make mechanical noise or clatter? Is the oil light coming on? Does it lack power?

“Has the oil been changed regularly?”

The OP already told us that, “I have only had the vehicle for 9 months and have done regular oil changes in that time.”

Even if he/she has changed the oil on schedule during those 9 months, recent on-time oil changes could not undo the damage done by 7 years of lax maintenance by the previous owner(s). Seven years worth of sludge could effectively block most of the oil screen and fill many of the oil galleries in the engine, thus leading to bearing damage. Bearing damage=metal particles in the oil.

Assuming that the OP’s mechanic is honest, competent, and reliable, it does sound like this engine is toast.

How does 'sludge" occur? Also what led you to have the issue looked into?

Thank you for the comments. The vehicle is currently at the Kia dealership as the mechanic I had it at previously installed 3 new catalytic converters and told me that the noise on start-up was possibly the oil pump and to take it to the dealership. In my previous mechanic’s test drive the oil light started coming on.

I took it to the dealership and they have recommended a new engine. I have an extended warranty through a 3rd party that covers engine/transmission once parts fail… however to get in and find out what has failed (as evidenced by the metal flakes in the oil) is something the dealership thinks would be a waste of time. They’ve told me that the labor to find the failing parts would lead to an engine re-build and that the engine would still be clogged with sludge so those parts would just break-down in a month or so.

TESTER - I saw that link yesterday. If the dealership could open the engine to identify the broken parts is it worth having them take the time/labor costs to do that to the engine vs just getting a new engine?

ASEMASTER - I just put a new timing belt, kit, and water pump on the current engine less than 4 months ago. Can I use that one on a new engine, or would I need another new one?

OBLIVION - I don’t know how the oil PSI measurements were taken. The 93 number is what the dealership told me is the specification.

My biggest problem is do I just walk away from a car I bought 9 months ago and still owe just over $5k on, or do I try to get a new engine and fix it, or any other option? The dealership is in touch with the warranty company today… so I’ll know if they will cover it or not.

I appreciate all the feedback. Any other ideas are welcome.


I can almost guarantee that the 3rd party warranty that you shouldn’t have bought is not going to cover you. Sludge is caused by owner negligence, and the warranty company isn’t going to care that it was the previous owner’s negligence and not yours.

That is alot to owe and walk away from. I bought a 2002 model back last Aug and only paid 3495 for it, so kinda wonder if you might have overpaid a bit. Have you investiaged the warrenty you spoke of and what it will or won’t cover?

DN4192 - From what I’ve read, sludge occurs from a lack of oil changes (or changing on-time, not necessarily every 3k, but just not doing them) or driving while low on oil (I’ve read, even driving 1 Qt low for an extended period can increase sludge even faster).

I started hearing on noise on start-up that would go away, and when my last mechanic had the car in he heard it and had heard it before in relation to the oil pump. On their test drive the oil pump light came on as well and they suggested I take it to the dealership as they were not equipped to fix an oil pump (on the Kia Sedona it involves taking the engine out).

As far as the price, it was good in my area, and under Blue Book. I bought it from a dealership not a private party, but yeah after what I’ve put into it in the last 9 months I would agree with you that I probably overpaid. I honestly shouldn’t have trusted the dealer and gotten it checked out by an independent mechanic first.

Shadowfax - You are probably right that it will not cover it. They pay for failed parts not maintenance. As far as shouldn’t have bought, I have used it twice already so it has paid for itself… it’s not something I usually get, but with this car I’m really in that 1% of people who cost them money instead of never using it.

On the noise you heard, did it just occur on start up and then after driving a while will go away? If so mine does the same thing and I was told by the local Kia dealership that it is a flaw in the belts system and that it’s non fixable and as I have seen goes away after a few minutes of driving.

dn4192 - Yes, the sound is on start up, kind of a clicking, and then goes away after the engine is revved or driving for a few. Unfortunately the engine oil light comes on as well… which has led to my current predicament.

Why are you revving or driving the car when the oil light is on?

Sludge builds up mostly on top of the heads, visible under the valve covers. The passageways that clog are the oil drain holes that allow the oil to return to the pan. All of this can be cleaned out without major disassembly, but it is a lot of work.

Unfortunately, some of the sludge will end up in the oil pan where it could clog the oil pump screen, in fact this may be happening now. The low oil pressure after driving for awhile could be due to the oil return passages being clogged up and the oil pan going dry, but if reving the engine makes the light go out, then that is not it.

If you had someone pull the valve covers and oil pan and clean all the sludge out, you might get lucky and have a useable engine for a couple more years, but honestly, this could cost you $400-500 in labor and the odds are against you. If you have metal flakes in your oil, your engine has suffered oil starvation for too long.

Given the evidence of low oil pressure and metal flakes, I’d guess that your main and rod bearings are shot. The bearings are made from a soft metal and lack of oil will cause them to start flaking very quickly. Your piston rings could also contribute some flakes as well.

I think you got ripped on this deal. This vehicle had more than just bad maintenance, it was driven for a significant period of time without any oil pressure, that is probably why it was traded in.

You might be able to enforce your warrantee. I’m not a lawyer, and you probably have to hire one to do it, but if the warrantee was sold to you at time of purchase, then all preexisting conditions should be covered. To void the warrantee, they would have to prove that you caused the issue.

If you press the dealer that sold you the warrantee (that you should never have bought), you might get a full refund for this cost without going to court.

I would recommend that you consider a remanufactured long block. It won’t be cheap, but in the long run, it could be your most economical alternative. It should be good for another 100k miles. Be sure to get the transmission checked out first though, if that is good and can be serviced (that is the fluid is not black at this time), then the reman engine should be worth it.

The oil light wasn’t on at the time. It’s only come on this week.

Shadowfax - I understand now how the warranty company covers “engine parts”… by making you open the engine up and pay for HUGE diagnostic costs in order to find the part to “fix” through the warranty. Doesn’t look like I’ll be going that route. Seriously doubt, even having used my warranty that I’ll be buying another one.

In your opinion should I just trade it in and get a new used car? The other option is to replace the engine. Are replacement engines worth it? Any recommendations on who is legit selling engines out there?


Thanks for the write-up. I just saw it after I typed my response to Shadowfax. Do you have any recommendations on where to shop for a re-manufactured long block engine? Obviously the dealer has offered to find one, but should I be able to find one myself a lot cheaper?

If the t-belt/water pump setup is only 4 months old I’d reuse it.

You might consider checking with some local salvage yards about a used engine. Some yards will even install what they sell for a nominal labor fee which is often much cheaper than a regular shop or dealer.

I would have a hard time justifying the likely very high expense of a new or reman engine on a 8 year old vehicle with a 100k miles of dubious history and I agree that you can reuse the water pump and timing kit due to it being on 4 months old.

If it were mine . . . I’d try to clean the sludge off the heads and valve covers . . . which couldn’t cost all that much . . . labor and maybe valve cover gaskets and solvent, and then change the oil after running it until it was up to temp. See if the oil pressure comes up . . then change the oil after 500-1000 miles, evaluate it again. The pictures Tester posted indicate that this might only (sludge) be a problem “up top”, the bottom end staying relatively OK. Having said that, I acknowledge that there probably has been some engine damage, probably will cause more sludge to break loose, and maybe cause the oil pressure to bottom-out again. But so what? How much could this cleaning and two or three oil changes cost? Whenever I change a valve cover gasket I ALWAYS clean the valve cover and anything that I can reach or touch with a parts brush and solvent on the head, never once had a problem with that. Hope things work out for you! Rocketman