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Problems with my 1994 Toyota Camry Coupe after I did a head gasket change

I played mechanic with my 1994 toyota camry 2.2L. I figured it would be easy to just put a gasket in and it would all be better. So I had a blown head gasket confirmed by my local mechanic who wanted 750 to fix it. I dont have that. I got the head gasket back in and the timing right. but when my car starts it vibrates very atrosiously and spits exhaust out the engine. its white so i know its just the water, but i know thats bad. I now to my cams out again and I have the problem of keeping the clearence from the lobes to the lifters in the right position. the cams are just too tight on the head and they wont spin unless forced by the pulleys when the car is started.

I am worried that my cams will break and I dont know why the clearance goes away when I torque down my bearing caps.

Its a 2.2L Incline 4-cylinder

Bite the bullet and take it to the mechanic. $750 is pretty reasonable for a HG repair…I just DIY’d a HG in a straight 6 and my machine shop and gasket fees alone were $340. (You DID get the head machined/checked for cracks, right?)

Yes, came back without any issues. and wasnt warped

If you removed the cams, shims, and lifters, did you keep them in order so they went back into their proper positions?


I think it is great you are giving this job a go yourself. Sure it’s easier to take it to a mechanic, but not as much fun. Whether you save money doing it yourself, who knows? Time will tell. If you were working on a 2014 Porsche 911, probably not a good idea. But on a 1994 Camry I think a DIY job is worth the risk.

Anyway, liquid coming out the exhaust can be normal when the engine is cold, but not always. It’s possible the head gasket was the wrong one, installed w/the wrong orientation, needed to have some tab or another removed, or is otherwise not working, and leaking coolant into one of the cylinders. So double check what’s coming out is just plain water. Coolant has more of a slick greasy feel to it than plain water. Did you torque the head bolts in the correct cylinder sequence, with the correct steps of increasing amount of torque? You say you are having problems with the camshaft timing and clearance? I don’t see how provided everything is put back together correctly, but if so, it’s possible then you some damaged valves when they hit the pistons. Cross you fingers it’s not that. Here’s some other things to double check:

  • Read the procedure in the factory service manual again. Maybe there’s something you forgot to do.

  • Read the DTC’s.

  • Vacuum connections are correct.

  • Make sure EGR only activates when it should, and isn’t sticking open.

  • Valve timing. Make sure the timing marks on the cam sprockets and crank sprocket are still correctly aligned.

  • Idle rpm (I presume you already have verified the ignition timing.)

  • Test for leaky intake manifold or throttle body gaskets. Spray starter fluid near the gaskets, see if it makes a difference. (Make sure to have a big fire extinguisher nearby.)

  • Test for exhaust gasses in coolant using a chemical test kit.

  • Valve clearance.

  • Compression test.

  • Leak-down test.

My timing is correct. Car starts, but like I have said its just my cams that seem to sit far too tight. How would I go about adjusting the clearance?

Also, I believe the white smoke is just the water that got into the engine. I don’t have any coolant going through my car yet. I don’t wanna waste it. I worked on the engine while it was raining heavily and I assume that there is still condensation inside the cylinders when the head was off.

All I’m looking for is to fix the clearance on my camshafts lobes to the lifters.

when I turn my car on its runs the cams and they spin but it looks like they aren’t spinning properly. Like they just don’t have clearance. I cannot turn them with my hand like I should be able to.

Why do you think you should be able to turn the cams by hand with the engine in running condition?

You didn’t answer my question.

When you removed the lifters and shims, did you make sure that they went back into their orginal positions when they were reinstalled?


I’m with George on this one

Take it like a man . . . swallow your pride and bring the car to a good shop to be diagnosed and repaired

There’s no shame in this

As @Tester is saying, this engine adjusts the valves using shims. Without a special shim tool and a micrometer, you won’t get the valves adjusted right. I just checked, and they have the correct procedure. You will need to log in to get to the repair help section.

Was the camshaft removed? If so, what was the motivation? I’ve never tried it, but I’d guess it is difficult to impossible to turn the camshaft by hand. ( I assume when you did this, the head was off, right? Otherwise the problem it would be hard to turn is b/c to turn the camshaft you have to turn the crankshaft too, as they are connected via the timing chain/belt.) Anyway, even with the head off the engine, the valve springs excert a strong opposing force and it might be very difficult to turn the cam sprocket by hand. Don’t know for sure, never tried it.

To reinstall the camshaft properly, with the right tightening sequence, and correct torque, and measure the valve clearance you have to follow a specific procedure. But this procedure varies from car to car. To accomplish this successfully you need the documentation for your make/model/year/engine in other words. All this info will be found in the factory service manual, but if you don’t have that, your local library will probably have what mechanics use, “Motor” manuals (a concise version of the FSM procedures), or a computer database service which has FSM information for most cars, like AllData. If all else fails I think you can purchase a subscription to AllData yourself for a small fee that will cover one make/model/year. Then you could look the info up on your computer using the internet.

And like DB says, there’s no reason to do this all on your own. Seeking out some pro help to finish the job may be in your own financial interest. Best of luck.

I kind of go along with Tester about wondering if the shims were put back into the same positions they came from. On a simple head gasket replacement then why even remove all of that stuff.

Regarding the difficulty in cam rotation (assuming the above) then maybe that’s due to one or more lifters ending up too tight due to an excessively thick shim, or shims.
That could then lead to valve spring coil binding.

Even with the head off you cant turn the cams by hand unless the valve springs are removed, There is no cam position where all the valves are closed so you will always have valve spring pressure on the cam.
Your post and not replying to Tester’s question make me wonder if you understand enough to do the job.


When you bring Toyota head into a machine shop for service, and don’t remove the cams, shims, and lifters, they charge you extra labor to disassemble the head before its serviced, and reassembly after it’s serviced.


@Tester, yes I’m aware of that but it doesn’t have to be disassembled to check head flatness or valve seating. The OP said it was returned with no issues found and my assumption was that the head was handed over to the shop as is with no disassembly.

Your question still stands about whether it was disassembled and more importantly, if it was disassembled was any reassembly done in the proper order.

My point about the spring coil crush is just a theory based on a fuzzy complaint about a cam being difficult to turn and the possibility that shims had been mixed up