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Several oil leaks on a car with 170k : is repair worth it?

This is Toyota Camry 98 with V6 3.0 engine.
After smelling burnt oil while driving (mostly during stops, to be more precise), I took the car to Toyota service mechanics. They found leaks in both valve cover gaskets, and a leak from behind the timing belt cover. The leaks from valve covers were dripping onto exhaust, causing the burning smell.

The total repair cost is quoted at around $2k ($700 for valve covers and $1300 for what is behind the timing belt assembly).

Is it worth doing ? My worry is that, since 3 separate seals are failing, it is likely that other seals will start failing soon.
Should the whole engine be rebuilt instead ?

Thank you in advance for advice.

Get a second opinion before spending that much money. Take it to an independent shop for an estimate. Tell them the symptoms, but do not tell them what the dealer shop told you. Let us know what you find out.

These leaks are common on this engine, I had mine repaired. Did you take it to a dealer? No need for that, find a good independent mechanic (use ‘Mechanics Files’ at the top of the page, and ask around).

When was the timing belt last replaced? It may be time for that, these repairs can be done at the same time somewhat reducing total cost.

Oh, and don’t think about rebuilding the whole engine, absolutely no need for that.

Is the rest of the car in decent shape? Do you want to keep it for a few years?

Yes, timing belt/water pump/cam seal/crank seal/idler bearing are already
part of the $1300 portion of the repair.
And Yes, I will perhaps take it to an independent place for the second look.

But I meant to ask about it from a different angle. Suppose I repair these
particular leak issues.
Should I expect a similar leak from some other engine gasket in half a
year, that would cost me similar
amount of money again ? Or is there some argument to be made that other
gaskets are somehow
more damage-resistant ?

My worry is that, whatever material was used on these 3 gaskets, it is
clearly at end of life now.
So, if there are more gaskets in the engine that are made of the same
stuff, and if they see similar
pressure-temperature conditions, they could start failing very soon as well.

the valve cover is an easy DYI project and you can save $700 (less $15-20 for the gasket). $1300 for the timing belt cover or what’s behind it seems a little high. Can get the timing chain replaced for less and probably takes care of any leaks (maybe water pump?) at the same time.

I would get it fixed if otherwise the car is in good driving condition.

As for car condition, it runs great, oil smell was the only reason to do
the check-up.

I originally planned to keep it for a while as a back-up car, it is handy
when relatives
pay a visit for extended time like 1 month. But, with these problems, I am
considering a sale now.
Perhaps some good mechanic can fix the car himself and enjoy driving it for
several years.

Here’s an idea . . .

Get the valve cover gaskets replaced . . . BTW, the cost is high because the plenum needs to be removed to access one of the valve covers

Then the smoking problem will be fixed, and you’ll have time to consider your next move, and/or save money for the other repairs, as needed

The 2 repairs are exclusive of each other. The timing belt job does not involve touching the valve covers

So there will be no savings, if you do both at once

There was also the ‘leak from behind the timing belt cover’, that would include some savings.

Me, given the ‘back-up car’ use, would sell it now, save all the trouble and cost. But only the OP can know the value of the car for the visitors.

I would really low-ball anybody trying to sell me a car that had profound oil leaks and was smoking

I’d probably offer “$500 take it or leave it”

That’s if I was even interested in the car

The car is approaching 20 years old and wouldn’t be worth a lot, even in prime condition

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The leaks are common in an old engine. The price they quoted is IMHO not. Go to an independent shop for a reasonable quote. Post back.

The gaskets in question are rubber, and they hold the oil back via compression between the covers and the corresponding parts. Over time, rubber “cold flows”, a term meaning it actually changes shape to comply with the cavity it’s in. It then loses compression and the oil, pressurized slightly by blowby in the engine, gets pushed past the gaskets.

No, that will probably fix the oil leak problem for a number of years at least. But a 98 Camry – although an excellent and reliable make & model – is still a 98 vintage. All the parts, metal, rubber, and plastic are all nearly 20 years old. And have 170,000 miles on them. So you pretty much have to expect more frequent and more costly repairs will be necessary as the car ages even further. the automatic transmission in particular. If this $2000 invoice is very troubling to you, give some serious thought as to whether you want to keep it. Buying a new Camry – given what you say – is probably a better choice, if you can swing it. It will be less costly to maintain and repair and more reliable than your 98.

That all said, the repairs you’ve mentioned above are completely expected. I’ve replace the valve cover gaskets on my Corolla of slightly older vintage three times now. And the timing belt stuff as well. I treat is as just routine maintenance and budget for it. I do most of the actual labor myself, in the driveway. To address the reliability problem, I keep another vehicle – even older than the Corolla – so I can get where I need to go when the Corolla is being repaired.

Thank you George, the point about this car being old is very clear.

Independent mechanic gave me quote that is about 30% cheaper than
dealership ($500 on the valve cap gaskets instead of $700). I will follow
the wise advice and proceed with that portion to get rid of the smell, then
reevaluate the second issue.

My mechanical aptitude stops at changing break disks. For this repair, I
watched YouTube guide, and replacing rare valve cap gasket is a bit beyond
my comfort level.

here’s some “good” news . . .

You have a non-interference engine

Should the timing belt happen to break . . . because you’ve delayed the repair, for example . . . there should be no engine damage

I’m not recommending you wait until the belt breaks, because that might strand you in a bad location, or at a bad time

I have the same mileage on my 99 V6 Camry. I replaced the valve cover gaskets and had the timing belt, seals and water pump replaced. It’s to good of a car to not fix. My son still drives it everyday to work.

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I tend to agree

Those older Camrys were solidly built, IMO

There’s still a LOT of them on the road, where I live

I had my valve cover gaskets changed 18 months 6000 mikes ago and am smelling burning oil again… any help here without changing the covers again? 2000 Solara 3.0. Thanks from Kauai!

robert rosen also has a 98 camary v6? who knew

hmmm. not sure what you mean…but I would love to know if there is an alternative as I don’t want to spend that much $ for 18 months 6000 mi of use

Inspect the engine for leaks, the leak could be the rear main seal with the oil dripping on to the exhaust pipe. The valve cover gaskets shouldn’t be leaking, they normally last 10 years.

I’ll check, thanks…just assumed it was the same sitch…though I probably don[t want to know what a rear main seal would cost to replace…! I did switch over to synthetic so I wouldn’t have to change oil often…wonder if that has anything to do with it?