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Oil Gelling or Not Oil Gelling & Can Dealers Really Be This Bad?

Between 37,490 and 42,611 miles my 2002 Toyota Highlander with a 1ME-FZ 3.0L engine suddenly lost 3 quarts of oil which I discovered when oil light briefly flickered. I had done all maintenance on schedule at dealer. My trusted local mechanic in October of 2008 pulled valve cover & said he didn?t think car had oil gelling problem. Car continued to lose massive amounts of oil on trips of around 200 miles. Otherwise I do short trips only. I saw blue smoke occasionally only between February and April when I do a daily 30 mile commute to work tax season. Local mechanic encouraged me to have Toyota diagnose for oil gelling. Took car to dealer on 5/27/09 for oil gelling diagnosis. Dealer claimed car did not have gelling issue but needed either valve stem seal job ($1,600) or ring job ($3,800). Strangely dealer, while pulling cover did not notice or remove very large rat?s nest in right back quadrant of engine (which I noticed and removed, having insisted that dealer check oil in my presence to be sure I had enough to get home.)

Took car in for work. First dealer claimed stem seals were the problem. Next day dealer said rings would have to be done. Paid $3,800 and started home. Car died completely within 8 miles of dealership. Had to be towed back. Dealer claimed valve had broken, probably because of hairline fracture, likely manufacturer?s defect. Dealer repaired car on warranty. Have driven 800 miles and car has lost a quart of oil.

My cousin the mechanic says dealer should have done oil compression diagnostic before doing any work, given mileage was only 45,462. My cousin also thinks this car probably has the gelling problem, and after valve breakage, recommends I demand a new engine from Toyota for dealer negligence and/or file a claim for oil gelling under the class action suit.

Besides junking this car, what would you advise in this situation?

I think once you had the ring job done any previous concern or claim vanished. Now your claim is with the broken valve issue,they fixed it under warranty. Now the issue is oil consumption after a ring job (keep these issues simple and seperate).

Your going to have to let more time pass on the new rings and do a Dealer accepted oil consumption test and go from there. Have you presented a claim of excessive oil consumption on the ring job? what was the reaction.

One thing that bothers me is when a valve breaks the damage is usually massive (also breaks a piston) how was the damage from the broken valve dealt with?

Have not yet presented any claim on oil consumption post ring job. Just discovered loss yesterday. Per local mechanic who replaced oil, to lose 1 qt. in first 1-2,000 miles not unusual as rings “seat”. Invoice for warranty work after valve break lists gaskets cylinder 2, gaskets intake ma 2, gasket air surge, camshaft sub-assy,lock valve sprin, valve intake, pulley camshaft, retainer valve, spring compressi, seal valve stem but no mention of piston. Also says “replaced damaged cams, broken valve, keepers, retainers and buckets under parts warranty”. If you like I can type out their full description of what they found and what they say they did. You’ve probably figured out that I am a female and don’t really have a clue to what they actually did. Thank you for your input on this.

Actually your gender never came to mind at all. Your post was very well constructed (except for the “blending” of issues). There was no “I can tell a woman is writing” at all. I have read and tried to deciper posts from men that had less than 1% of the clarity of yours.

All that being said what I am now most concerned with is at times when a piston is struck by a valve (and they will be if the valve stem breaks, the ring land (it is the grove the ring sits in) can be squished and any chance for effective oil control is lost.

I really don’t think your engine has sustained this damage as the oil use would be even greater. I do suggest you make contact with the Dealer and tell them about your oil usuage concerns and ask them when should a oil consumption test be scheduled. Post back and let us know how many miles they want to put on the engine before the test.

Another job for you is to check the oil frequently (double up your pace on checking)as it could happen that usage accelerates without warning. You are doing just fine in this situation. I probably don’t have to tell you about keeping records about who you talk to and when because women do that so well,OH I just blew it that was a prohibited statement :slight_smile:

Thank you for your kind words! I intend to call the dealer Monday to report the oil loss and will take your advice to get date for oil consumption test. I was originally planning to put 200 miles on to see how consumption went. I will also call Toyota Inc. and ask them to keep my case open as I called them when the valve broke. I am currently checking oil every couple days and logging oil level and mileage. I also have a log of everything that has gone on on this. (We women love to do that stuff!) I also have all maintenance records. I “blended the issues” because given the rat’s nest thing I questioned whether the dealer even pulled the cover to look for the oil gelling or just immediately sold me the ring job. You are probably right that the ring job has negated the gel claim. But the big question through all this is: how reliable is this car going to be over time and how safe is it going to be if all sorts of metal bits are floating through the engine after the valve break? I can’t really afford to replace it except in the direst of circumstances (i.e. lack of safety). And if this dealership doesn’t have the sense to at least say “Hey lady, did you know there’s some varmint living in your engine?”, can I have any faith in anything they have done or will do? Don’t really expect you to answer those questions but that is my dilemma. So thank you very much for the input and I will report on when an oil consumption test is scheduled. Thank you again!

Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake. Are you telling me the ring job should have cured the oil gelling if there had been a problem or at least cured the effects of it? I promise no more emails after this until I have a oil consumption date to report. Thank you again!

I guess we’re past the question of oil jelling. Oil consumption is the worst part of warranty work. Manufacturer’s specifications for problem oil consumption are off the scale of stupidity. Some say that it isn’t a problem until three quarts are lost in 1,000 miles. I must have a cousin somewhere, but I wouldn’t take his recommendation of demanding a new engine. Not seriously anyway, unless he was a successful lawyer/mechanic. Dealers and car makers can be that bad. If there is a class action suit against Toyota, don’t sue on your own or you might be ineligible for the class action. I recommend NOT hiring a lawyer to sue Toyota or the dealer. It could cost a lot more than the engine.

Now I am going to have to claim ignorance on the Toyota oil gelling issue. I don’t know what engines it was a problem on and what the cause was and what Toyota did to fix it.

So if your engine was one of those affected some action should have been done to your engine to remedy the situation.

Now if another Forum member could post some info on the gelling situation we can get to the bottom of your question “Is my engine still a potential “gelling” engine and what was the Toyota fix”?

I just don’t know enough about the gelling situation or the lawsuit to advise.

On the issue of whether putting new rings should solve the gelling issue I must say no. $3800.00 for a ring job sounds like a price for a complete overhaul which would have ment the block was hot tanked and any gel concentration would have been removed. At least with this engine (even though it is the same block) you are likely (I say likely because I don’t really know what they did for the $3800.00 ring job)to be starting out fresh. That price or just a little more should have bought you a new engine.

If you have anymore details on the ring job post them back. In the meantime I will “google” the gel situation.

Not to hard to finf info. Your vehicle being a 2002 Highlander falls outside the range,it only goes to the 2001 model year.

Toyota says there is no design flaw,the problem is caused by poor maintiance. This means your block did not miss a critical “anti-gelling” update during the ring job.

Why don’t you “google” around and verify the cut-off date?

Pls see for the settlement documents of the class action suit against Toyota for the oil gelling problem. Pls also see for eligible vehicles which includes the Highlander 6 cylinder 2001 and 2002 models. (The 1ME-FZ 3.0L engine is particularly susceptible.) Under settlement Toyota agreed to fix at no charge and reimburse costs associated with this oil gelling problem. There are challenges to Toyota defense claims that problem arises from poor maintenance and arguments for design flaw such as tilt of engine. All that said, the problem is a Toyota dealer needs to confirm that you have a gelling problem before you can submit a claim under the class action. The cut off date for claims for my car is 1/11/2010, thus my concern. So this is the problem: this dealer claims I don’t have this problem but how can I trust his decision when I’m not even sure he opened the hood? The invoice for the ring job reads :“valves/valve Bushing, Guest requests tear down and inspection of valve stem seals per previous recommendations. Tear down motor found piston rings also going bad, installed new piston rings, and valve guide seals. Installed new timing belt while apart, reinstalled everything. Test drove everything operational at this time.” Parts included 2 seal valve stem, ring set piston, gasket kit engin, belt timing, nut lock and antifreeze/coolant. Clearly they did not test drive as valve broke within 8 miles. And doesn’t sound like they tanked the block or anything like that. So unfortunately everything is rather interrelated on this thing. Sorry to put you to all this trouble and thanks.

Thank you for your input. As someone who used to work in litigation I’m not eager to sue anyone, nor do I want to make wild demands on Toyota for new engines. I am, however, trying to figure out if I belong in this oil gelling class action settlement and whether my dealer’s actions have precluded that claim and/or left me with an engine that is potentially unsafe. I appreciate your input but must say I find it incredibly depressing to think that dealers can be either as devious or as incompetent as mine seems to be. Again, thank you for your comments.

I don’t think your main problem is with Toyota, it’s with the dealer. An engine with 43k miles does not need rings or valve stems unless there is another problem.

The gelling problem makes the valve stem seals appear to be bad when they are not. Oil backs up under the valve covers because it can’t drain back into the pan fast enough. When the oil level rises above the valve stem seals, they will draw a little oil past them, no matter how good they are.

There is no way to determine how much the rings have worn without removing the piston, and once you do that, the rings have to be replaced. A tear-down for inspection of valve stem seals would not reveal any information about the rings. The dealer may have made that assumption based on the oil light coming on. An oil light for a few seconds shouldn’t cause any serious damage to the rings.

As for the rats nest, rats will chew just about anything, and they could have chewed through something that caused a major oil leak. If the nest was near the oil pressure sending unit, they could have chewed the top off of it. I believe the sending unit is low on the engine near the front (of the engine, not necessarily the front of the vehicle).

Why the dealer would prefer to charge you for an engine overhaul instead of repairing the gelling problem under warrantee is simply profit. They make a lot more money charging you and they have less paperwork to do.

You’ve kept good records, that will work in you favor. I wouldn’t recommend suing Toyota, but you could sue the dealer. That should keep you eligible for any class action settlement you might get from Toyota, but I am not a lawyer. You should keep in touch with Toyota’s customer service, they may put some pressure on the dealer.

Another option is to talk with the general manager or owner of the dealership instead of the service department. You might get some help there. A local television investigative reporter might be interested too, but you might want to make that the last resort.

Thank you very much for your comments. Your analysis supports what I’m beginning to conclude which is that the original problem was very probably caused by the oil gelling issue even though the engine did not show the expected sludge buildup when the valve cover was pulled. I would attribute the absence of sludge to proper maintenance and the low mileage on the car. Just to clarify on the rat’s nest, that nest was in there for less than a few days as I had been regularly checking oil and all oil losses had occurred prior to that discovery. I raised that issue just to question how the dealer could supposedly pull a valve cover and look for oil gelling without disturbing that nest and/or removing it or at least mentioning it to me. I will indeed keep in touch with Toyota and your suggestion of speaking to the GM or owner at the dealership is a good one. Again, I don’t particularly want to sue anyone but I do want to feel like I have a car that is safe to drive. And we have an excellent TV investigative reporter here but agree that that would be a last resort. Thank you again for your very valuable input.

You have not provided a lot of details about the car or the problem.
Buy the car brand new (as in 5 miles, etc.) or was it a used one?
Any overheating episodes IF you bought it new?

You state you “had all maintenance on schedule at the dealer”. Many times the recommended schedule may not be good enough depending on environmental conditions and driving habits. In some severe cases an oil change every 2k miles or 3 months might be in order.
It’s entirely possible for a low miles engine to sludge up (oil control ring seizure) due to not performing oil changes on a regular enough basis.

From your opening statement I gather that you never raised the hood, ever, to check the oil level? This negligence falls back on you.

As to lack of details about the problem, sure there’s not a misinterpretation problem? A “hairline fracture in a valve”? Likely not.
As to oil loss problems, there is no test for valve seals. That’s a replace and pray scenario.
Even performing a compression or leakdown test is a guarantee of determining if a ring problem exists or not. It is quite possible to have 190 PSI of cylinder pressure on every one and still lose oil like the Exxon Valdez due to frozen oil wiper rings.

Just my opinion and comments to either help you or tick you off at me.

I fully agree “hairline fracture” absolutely not. I am a big fan of the simplest answer being the most likely. The simplest answer as to why the valve “dropped” is that the valve train was no correctly reassembled. This justifibly calls into question the skills of the mechanic that replaced the rings. Strike one

Number one on the lists of things you dont want to happen to your engine is for a valve to drop.For your engine to have made it through a valve dropping incident withou total destruction makes it one of the luckiest engines on the planet.Strike two.

Then there is the price. It sounds like all they did was a in car ring replacement job with some level of valve train work. No bearings,no block hot tanking and most important we don’t know what type of cylinder measurements or honing process was done to this in car block. I really don’t get it how the call to do rings was made before the rings were inspected and to inspect the rings you have to pull the piston unless you see some damage to the cylinder wall then you must measure and take the action required. $3800.00 for a in-car ring job. Strike three.

I do read “tear down motor” but I don’t see any charge for bearings and if you really tear down the motor you put in new bearings espically if it is customer pay even if they are perfect just to cover yourself.

Thank you for your comments and no, I’m not ticked off by them. The car was purchased new on 1/11/02 with 18 miles on it. No overheating episodes or any other problem with car. I agree that dealer oil change schedule was too long. Believe I was told something like 7,500 miles or 6 months and this was a selling point of the car, i.e. less maintenance. However, I generally follow the due date for oil changes rather than mileage as I don’t put on a lot of miles. First service after purchase was in May. From invoice dates oil was changed every 3 to 4 months after that. Weather here is very temperate, lowest temperatures only occasionally around 28-30 degrees in winter, summer rarely over 75. Until last summer I bought “Full Serve” gas and oil was regularly checked with fillups. Have to admit after I started pumping my own gas, did not check as I should have. (Hey, I find pumping gas difficult! Learning to check oil has been a major challenge for me!) After initial oil loss, obviously have been checking every 3 or 4 days. As to misinterpretation, nope, the Service Team Lead distinctly told me they found a hairline fracture in the valve which was probably a manufacturer’s defect or could have been caused by something else and this was cause of engine failure immediately after ring job. That was when I called Toyota Inc. because even I thought the “coincidence” of a valve breaking from a manufacturer’s defect 10 minutes after they had disassembled and reassembled the engine was a bit much to swallow. Did you mean to say that a compression test is NO guarantee of determining a ring problem? That’s how I read it. I appreciate your comments and you’ve given me some additional insights into this problem. Thank you for posting.

I completely agree with your conclusions. Ockam’s (sp?) Razor says the simplest answer is usually the right one. They didn’t put the engine back together right. Even the dealer was amazed that the engine hadn’t completely blown after the valve dropped. (But do I know for sure that it didn’t?) They told me that the rings had to be done because after the mechanic did the seals he decided he “missed something”. That’s all I know on that one. And yes, I think they did the least work possible to put the thing back together. I suspect their “technicians” are either incompetent or so overworked they don’t have time to do things right. On the mornings I was there, there were constant lines of 6 or 8 cars coming in hourly for service. I would have thought that oil changes every 4 months at mileage under 3,000 would have been sufficient even for a car subject to a lot of short trip driving. That it apparently wasn’t again makes me wonder if it has the gelling problem. I am also beginning to think that the dealer a) didn’t do due diligence to determine if there was a gelling problem, b) did minimal work on repairing seals and rings and failed to reassemble engine properly and c) did minimal work on engine to repair valve breakage. Your comments have been incredibly helpful and I so appreciate all the time you have taken. I will chart my oil consumption for another 200 miles or whatever dealer recommends and then, especially if I’m still losing oil, think it’s time to have a serious talk with Toyota and the owner of the dealership. Thank you so much for all your good information.