Lube shop installed small filter, now my engine burns coolant and oil like nobody's business

I took my relatively well maintained '98 Camry to Texaco Xpress Lube and they changed my oil and air filter. I then embarked on a 400mile trip to Miami. The next morning when I went to start the car, I fogged the entire neighborhood with a thick low-lying white vapor/smoke. It was ridiculous. So, I opened the hood and noticed my coolant reservoir was nearly empty and my oil dipstick was bone dry. Thinking this was awfully strange, I went to inspect the air filter and noticed that they installed a filter that was short by about 1.5" in one dimension and I could see sand, leaves, and twigs in the bottom of the air box. The shop basically put a square filter in a rectangular air box. After some preliminary research, I’ve concluded that my engine is now completely ruined because of this. From what I gather, the sand in the airbox enterred the combustion chamber and proceeded to grind the internal components to smithereens. Is this a reasonable conclusion considering my engine has never had these problems before. Also, how would I even start to get some rectification?
Thanks all!

How did you get so much junk in your airbox overnight and driving interstate (I assume) 400 miles? Sand? Leaves? Twigs? Did you check the coolant level before you left on this trip? I think that you have a gripe with Xpress Lube on the air filter and oil level, but so far as your engine being toast, you have yet to do any real tests to make that determination. I’d be pissed-off too, but don’t go back half-cocked, get some tests done before you go back to Xpress. Even if I ever went to a quicky lube place, I’d check what they did in the parking lot while they watched. My advice is to get a few engine tests done before you jump to conclusions. Rocketman

UGH…Weeel… The issue you now describe is either ruined piston rings (not likely and in reference to the air filter)…or simply a blown head gasket.

I am leaning HEAVILY twd a blown head gasket…and this would be NO ONES fault.

The other issue with regard to the air filter being too short…Unless you were racing in the Baja 1000 behind other vehicles on a dusty road the air filter didn’t grind your internals to bits on a 400 mile highway trip on a normal road. The junk in your airbox was there before the filter swap and probably accumulated over many many years,…You are supposed to blow out the airbox when swapping filters…I highly doubt you picked up all that crap in one shot or a 400 mile Highway trip…sorry.

I think you just blew one or both of your head gaskets


First you need to contact the shop that did the work. Hopefully they will accept responsibility and you and they can come to an agreement. If not then it is time to see your attorney. Save all the paper work and document everything.

I don't know Texaco Express Lube, but it sounds like it is just another quick lube place buying their products from Texaco.  However Texaco may be able to help you out.  

If I am right about it being a quick lube place, I hope you have learned to totally avoid any quick lube place.  Don't even ask for directions from them.  

We are not able to see your car or make a good estimate about repair cost.  

Don't do anything that might let them off the hook like driving your car like this.  

Good Luck

On your receipt for the oil change and service, there should be a phone number…Call it…

But your basic problem sounds like a blown head gasket and the installation of the wrong air filter did not cause that…How much sand and dust was drawn into your engine is pure conjecture at this point and it could be a serious problem or not a problem at all…As a note, when replacing an air filter, it is standard procedure to clean out the air filter housing…

The employee turn-over rate at most of these quick-lube places results in horror stories like yours with predictable regularity…

The sand, twigs, leaves etc have accumulated in the air box over the life of the car, not just on the trip. The express lube did not clean out the box when they replaced the filter. But this may not be the root cause of the problem. Shoddy workmanship in one area indicates shoddy workmanship over all.

Other things they could have done wrong, loose oil filter, didn’t put in enough oil, loose/crossthreaded drain plug. etc.

Thanks all. Yes, the debris in the airbox was most certainly from years of driving, I just wonder how much my engine consumed after the path of least resistance became 40,000 microns, not 5. Can a blown head gasket also lead to severe oil loss? I’m talking a quart every 1-2hundred miles.

i checked the oil filter and drain plug and they both look good. no leaking happening there.

As a couple of others have mentioned, what you describe sounds mostly like a blown head gasket which will have nothing to do with the air filter.

Did the car do anything odd on its 400 miles trip?

"Can a blown head gasket also lead to severe oil loss? I’m talking a quart every 1-2hundred miles.? "


nothing odd. The engine sounds fine and runs smooth, just burning a ton of coolant and losing oil.

k, so it starting to sound like the head gasket breaking is a coincidence and that I should only ask for my money back and not try to get them to replace my engine :stuck_out_tongue:

I concur with the theory that this is the result of a blown head gasket–which is totally unrelated to the installation of the wrong air filter. Even though the air filter was too small, unless you drove through a Sahara-like sandstorm in those 400 miles, not enough grit got into the engine to cause significant damage.

Also–by your own admission, this 14 year old car has not been maintained exactly as it should have been. Given that Toyota engines of that vintage are subject to severe, damaging oil sludge if the oil is not changed as often as it should be, it is very possible that this engine was already in a state of high oil consumption, as a result of oil sludge.

They may not have filled your crankcase to capacity. Or they may have filled it properly, but not tightened the oil drain plug sufficiently. Or, they may have “double-gasketed” the oil filter, thus leading to a leak. Somehow, the oil was depleted so rapidly that the engine was surely damaged by lack of lubrication.

How often do you normally check the dipstick? Has it ever previously been run low on oil?
How often do you normally change the oil–in terms of both odometer mileage and elapsed time? Have you been in the habit of going for long periods of time before changing the oil?
Is the car normally used for a lot of short-trip local driving? (All of these factors will contribute to the sludging process)

From afar (which is rarely totally correct), I see this situation as a combination of factors:

The reality that head gaskets can become breached–especially on an older car
Lax maintenance on a 14 year old car (of unknown odometer mileage)
Poor workmanship by the kids at Express Lube

There is nothing that you can do about the first factor above. These things do happen, and are beyond your control.

However, the second and third factors above are under your control. Get into the habit of maintaining your cars at least as well as the mfr specifies. Check all fluids as soon as possible after leaving a service facility, and frequently thereafter. And, avoid ALL quick lube places, no matter what the brand-name on their sign might be.

but first, I’ll try to find a mechanic and have them inspect it

I think that’s it bro…in my original post I said what basically everyone else has repeated. I think that while the lubey dubey place sucks they were not the cause of what you see happening now, its just a coincidence. The stuff in the airbox was over a long time to accumulate there…then something happened while you were driving and you blew one or BOTH of your head gaskets. Thats about it…

Since your engine is now needing a head gasket replacement on BOTH heads…maybe its time to try my old friend Blue Devil…you have nothing to lose at this point. Its $60 a bottle and can stop most any if not all head gasket issues…

IF you are going to re-work the engine…skip the Blue Devil. If you are considering the motor a throw away…try it you might be very surprised.

LOL…VDC driver said almost the same thing about the air filter and the Baja 1000 or a Sahara like sandstorm… Great minds…great minds… Thought that was funny

Check downstream from the air filter…If air-box debris was drawn into the engine, there will be evidence of this on the MAF and throttle valve. But as Blackbird said, a badly blown head gasket will allow oil to pour into the engine…A simple compression test will tell the story…

He doesn’t need a comp test…his symptoms tell us about the head gaskets… I dont think I ever noticed a difference in compression even with blown gaskets…Have you Caddy?

NOW A LEAKDOWN…THAT would be valuable…as Tester points out… I’m a mind reader…I posted this BEFORE Testers comment… Wha…How…what the? Just kidding (edit obviously) LOL

That’s why you do a leakdown test for a blown head gasket. Not a compression test. A compression test is a dynamic test where it occurs so fast in the cylinder that it can’t detect a leaking head gasket. A leak down test is a static test where a constant pressure is applied to the cylinder and even the smallest head gasket leak can be detected.


Offhand, I might think this place screwed up and they owe you but a few details might help clear things up.
You state that you went to embark upon a 400 mile trip and the next morning the car was fogging up the neighborhood with both coolant resevoir and oil sump dry.

Are you saying that you made the 400 mile trip with no problem, no oil light on, no temperature gauge pegged on HOT, no noises, and so on?

Does any receipt you have show any service related to engine coolant or anything other than an oil change and air filter?