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Low Miles 2007 Toyota Matrix Needed Major Engine Repairs - Was the Wife Right & What Next?

Let me first open this discussion with the Man’s Prayer: I’m a man, and I can change, if I have to, I guess.

We have a low miles (<46,000) Toyota Matrix 2007/4DR WGN XR AT and it is our only car. We have carefully followed the entire Toyota maintenance schedule and all work was done by the Toyota dealer where we bought it new in November 2006.

In the spring of this year (2012) our dealer offered us $50 to test drive a Prius. The wife went for the drive and infomercial & came back effusive. She wanted us to trade in our car and get the Prius.

I was steadfast in saying no. I said: the car we have is a Toyota! This car has hardly any miles on it! We will get 150,000 - 200,000 miles on it - without major repairs - because Toyota has the highest reliability of all of the car manufacturers! I had a friend who would buy used Toyotas with 120,000 miles on them, and then put on another 100,000 miles without incurring major repairs!

But I’m now sorry to say that my arguments won the day.

About a month ago we were getting ready to go on a long trip (~2,000 miles) to visit friends. In preparation, we visited the Toyota dealer to have the scheduled oil change & inspection and put new tires on it. However the mechanic noticed some oil leakage on the engine - even though we didn’t have oil spots on our garage floor. They told us we urgently needed an oil leak-clean and dye diagnostic test ($75). We got the car and were told to drive it at least 200 miles for the test & then bring it back.

We put 220 miles on the car and brought it back to the dealer a week before our trip. They found that the head gasket was leaking externally, and valves were burnt on the number 1 & number 4 cylinders. They removed the cylinder head to replace the gasket, inspected the cylinder head and valves and found that the exhaust valves were burned. They sent out the damaged engine parts to another shop for cylinder head resurfacing and valve seat refinishing. They also found that the timing chain & related parts needed replacement (but apparently this wasn’t a problem 3 weeks earlier - as it wasn’t noted when the car was in the shop at that time).

The people at our dealership are very nice. When we asked them - why did this happen - they said ‘it wasn’t anything that you did’. I was incredulous - I gave them the same Toyota rap that I gave the wife (see above).

Perhaps because of this or maybe out of embarrassment, as a goodwill gesture, Toyota paid for the parts & we paid for the labor. But the bill still came to $1571.95. The car was in the shop 9 days and we cancelled our road trip.

So now I’m feeling burned on at least two levels here.

It’s looking like the wife was right (woman’s intuition?). We should have gotten rid of the Matrix earlier this year & I should have listened to my wife (ouch!).

And I was wrong about the quality and greatness of Toyota. At least in our experience, you can expect major, costly power train failures even when the vehicle is still at a relatively youthful age with low wear and tear.

So what should we do now?

  1. Should we get rid of the car as soon as possible? Our dealer is eager to work with us to get us into a new Prius. They say they will consider all of the recent work done and this will hopefully give us an advantageous appraisal. But right now the Hyundai 10 year/100,000 mile power train warranty is looking like a much better deal. Would you trust Toyota after this experience? Or do we chalk this up to it being a vehicle produced during the time when Toyota grew too fast and as a result, quality slipped (and so this might be a good reason to get rid of it now).

  2. Should we keep the car for another 12 months (the repairs made are guaranteed for 12 months) - and then trade? This way we get the use of the brand new tires and the engine repair investments.

  3. Or is this the last of our ‘bad luck’ - and now the car will get that 150,000 miles without additional major system failures. So should we just hang on to it?

I am looking forward to your help and replies because “I’m a man, and I can change, if I have to, I guess”.

In spite of the perception, you have discovered that Toyotas break like all of the rest.

Burned valves are caused by valve lash that is too tight. This should be inspected and adjusted as necessary every 30k miles but is seldom ever done. (And yes, I’m fully aware that car makers who provide mechanical lifter engines do not recommend that.)

Worn timing chain components point to an oil change regimen that is simply not regular enough.
(Again, I’m familiar with car maker oil change recommendations and those often fall into the same category as valve lash inspections.)

Your car has low miles for the year model and this points to limited driving; as in short hop and random use. This is the worst type of driving habit that can be inflicted upon a car and meets a severe service standard. In your case, it could be that oil changes should be every 3k miles/ or 3/4 months; whichever comes first.

Overheating episodes can also contribute to exhaust valve burning and oil quality problems and I’m assuming that this has not been a problem.

Offhand, I’d say keep the car assuming the work was done correctly.

Being married myself, I can relate to your wife struggles 100%.

However, regardless of the badge name on the car, this is not something you could have seen coming. If you had not taken the Prius for a test drive and this engine trouble still ocurred, would this wife thing even be an issue? Methinks you have a wife lusting after a new vehicle, and the Matrix engine trouble was just a coincidental push closer to the edge.

Having said that… if the Matrix meets your needs and is in otherwise sound mechanical condition, I’d keep it. Tomorrow brings no guarntees, and you could total either a new Prius or this Matrix next week. Good luck with the car and the wife.

This Space Left Blank, Intentionally

"They found that the head gasket was leaking externally"
I’d be less than honest of I didn’t say I have serious reservations about the entire story. If what he’d suggested was accurate, it’d have to be a breech from the oil return paths to the outside world vis that portion of the headgasket, without a breech from the cylinder…a scnerio that IMHO is beyond unlikely. A breech from the cylinder would have created other problems.

Even if you had seepage of that nature, the oil in the return passages is onl;y minimally [pressurized by the vapors coming back through from the crankcase, and unless that engine had enormous bypass, which if it did you’d definitely know it, there’s not going to be enough seepage to significantly affect anything.

My bottom line is that if you had a badheadgasket you’d know it for other reasons, and if you weren’t using excessive oil than you had no significant seepage…which you could have controlled by monitoring the oil level.

I don’t believe the head ever needed to come off. I don;t believe the dye test was ever justified. I honestly think you got taken for a very expensive ride. It is also possible that you were “marked” earlier on and the initial “test” was to convince you to trade the car in for the Prius. It isn’t your fault, and it isn’t youtr wife’s. But I would never set foot in that dealership again.

Others may disagree here, but if you had the serious issues you’re describing you would have known something was wrong.

I’m sorry. But those are my feelings. You had a vehicle that was running great, not using any excess oil (I assume), you brought it in for an oil change and they convinced you to pay $75 for a test you didn;t need and used it to do an enormous amount of unjustified work.

The good news is that the engine should give you another 150,000 trouble free miles. Just don;t llet anyone do any major work to it unless (1) it truely is broken, or (2) you get a second opinion.

I think somebody needs to make a boat payment.

A little oil seepage is nothing to worry about, especially if it’s not dripping or leading to have to add oil…
This is a common ploy to drum up business.
A little oil on the outside of the engine and they sound the alarms.
Oil seeping from the timing chain tensioner is a common problem and inexpensive to fix

If the engine was running smoothly I really doubt the valves were burned.
Did they do a compression test?
This engine has cams directly over the valves and no adjustment needed for 60K miles.
With regular oil changes the timing chain is good for at least 150K miles and gets noisy to let you know it’s worn.

The one time I took my 2006 Matrix to the Toyota dealer was for a recall (engine computer) and they tried to rip me off.
They said my transmission oil was very dirty. I told them I had changed 2200 miles ago.
Then the service manager told me my manual transmission needed a flush!
He also said my power steering system needed a flush too, but I drain and refill the reservoir once a year!

The 1zzfe engine in your Matrix has had a good reputation for durability.
I honestly think you’d still be driving it trouble free if you hadn’t been snagged by the stealership.

"The people at our dealership are very nice"

So are con artists and you got conned, big time. Did you see your car with the head off? If not, then you need to find a trusted independent mechanic and ask them to look at the engine and see if it looks like the head was ever removed, there should be evidence if it was, but I would not be surprised if they never did a thing to this engine but give it the “fresh air and sunshine treatment”.

If the independent mechanic thinks the head has not been removed, then go straight to a lawyer, this dealer needs to be punished and exposed.

No matter. I would keep the car for many years. It is fixed now and won’t have the same problems any time soon. BTW, I found many years ago that the secret to trouble free driving is to have maintenance done anywhere but the dealer. As soon as I stopped having the dealer maintain my cars, the problems stopped.

As to the people at the dealership being nice, that’s part of the job. You walk into a sparkling clean dealership, note white shirted service writers along with a low key bustle going on in the shop and have no idea how much carp (sic), politics, and friction is going on behind the scenes. The operative word might be “facade”.

As to that 1500 dollars that you paid as a good will gesture, that amount more than likely covered the entire process due to the “real world” cost of factory OEM parts, warranty labor rates and labor times, etc.; and that’s assuming the procedure was actually done as keith inferred.

Think of a commercial on TV with a furniture store advertising a sofa at 50% off. It’s all a shell game and that sofa was never double what they’re advertising it for anyway.

For what it’s worth, burned valves have symptoms which may include any or all; rough idle, lack of performance, bucking, MPG drop, CEL illuminated, etc, etc).

If those valves were really burnt then they should have been fully prepared to tell you WHY they were burnt.

Hmmm, not to burst the Toyota bubble but the Pontiac Vibe is the same car. It was a joint venture with GM. Something sounds fishy to me too.

You’re still ahead financially here. It’s cheaper to maintain an older car than to buy a new car (until the older car truly starts falling apart). If you bought the Prius, it would have depreciated far more than $1571.95 already.

You have a low mileage trade that they want. I think they have been doing everything in their power to try to get that Matrix on their lot and a new Prius in your driveway. I think that’s why they told you that you had an oil leak that urgently needed addressed. They wanted you to avoid the expense of repairing your oil leak by trading it in on the spot and buying their Prius. When that didn’t get you to trade it in, they generated an outrageous repair estimate to try to get you to trade it in. Now that that hasn’t exactly worked (they still got your money but didn’t move their Prius), they are still eager to put you in that new Prius and are saying they “will take into account the work you have just had done” when you trade it in. Unless there is more to this story, particularly symptoms leading up to the bad head gasket, timing chain, and burnt valves “diagnosis”, I’m having a very hard time believing such a late model, low mileage anything needs that kind of engine work. Was it running poorly, spotting your driveway (I know you already said it wasn’t, but if it was as urgent as they said, it should have been), flashing the check engine light at you, burning through fuel or oil, anything like that?