Toyota VVT issue and longevity

This is for my 2005 Toyota Camry with the 4 cylinder 2AZ-FE engine. It has 140+miles on it, well maintained, including ~3K mile oil changes and no sludge issues.

Since it has gotten a bit cold around here (we are talking a balmy 40-50F Southern CA in a garaged car), if the car sits for more than 8 hours, I hear a gear noise for 1 second on start-up. It is not the valves and the oil filter on this car is upside down. I initially thought it is one of the bearings, since I was due for a new serpentine belt (80K miles!), I proceeded to change the belt and checked all the pulleys and could not hear any noise, albeit, they were not under load.

Doing some online research, seems like this is the VVT gear pin getting stuck due to the oil draining overnight and it is a relatively common problem with Toyota and Lexus. It also seems like the fix almost involves a timing chain job, so the cost might be prohibitive for my car based on age/miles.

I do not have a check engine light and no codes stored.

My questions is, is there any way to verify my diagnosis. More importantly, what is the damage done due to this, is the chain going to eventually snap when this pin gets stuck for good.

What type of oil and filter are you using?
Some cheap aftermarket filters can exacerbate drain-back issues.
I’m pretty sure this engine originally called for 5w-30 oil but was “back-spec’d” to 0w-20.
I’d stick with 5w-30, especially with the high mileage.
The pin in the cam actuator locks in the cam timing for proper starting when there’s no oil pressure.
If it gets fully stuck it will throw off the cam timing and trigger the check engine light, but it won’t hurt the chain.
You problem could be a clogged VVT oil filter screen.
It’s a fairly easy DIY job to remove it and inspect/clean. I’d check this first.
Do a search and you find instructions and maybe a video.

If I remember correctly the filter should be mounted in an upright position (Hole at the top) just like my 02, oil drain back should not be a problem.

Thanks for the replies;
@circuitsmith As posted by @PvtPublic the oil filter on this car is upside down so it is not a drain-back issue.
I have used 5W-30 as that is what the manual calls for. Usually Purolator filters. Last oil change I tried a synthetic just for giggles and not even a placebo effect (was thinking would have better flow).

So the VVT oil filter screen; Is that part of the solenoid? I see a part online and I can locate it on the back side of the engine above the timing chain area. It has wiring attached. The part online has an O ring and based on some online posts, it is not that easy to yank out. If I start man handling it, should I just but the part (~$50) and change it?

I believe the vvt oil screen is behind a what looks like a bolt lower on the block than the actuator. I know I have taken the actuator out of mine and there was no screen there. A couple guys on Say it is below the actuator, but I have never personally looked.

Is this the actuator (listed as solenoid)?

I can find the above part on the back of the cylinder head, passenger side, but can not see any bolts underneath that would have a screen in it. I have looked at a lot of places including toyotanation but still haven’t figured it.

You might could narrow down the location of the noise using a mechanics stethoscope. I’m not sure how much it would help, but the stethoscope tool is inexpensive and it’s a quick procedure to do.

These links might offer some insight, so I thought Id post them.

I’m not familiar with any special filter, but I haven’t mess with these systems a lot.

I screwed up trying to add these, so I’ll try a supplemental post.

@the same mountainbike; Thanks for posting those pics. The first one is the part I am finding on the engine or at least looks like it. I might just take it out and clean it and see what happens.

Because the oil pickup in the sump is below the filter oil can be siphoned out, even with the filter pointing up.
The VVT filter screen is located behind a bolt near the solenoid.
It’s about the same diameter and half the length as a pinkie finger.

Thanks, circuit. That one will get saved in my files.

Thanks for the pic. Either I am blind or mine is different than the pic posted.

On my engine, I see the solenoid on the back side/intake side toward the passenger side. There is nothing immediately under it. I read somewhere that it might be lower, next to the power steering pulley, but my view from above wouldn’t get me there. I don’t want to take random bolts out of the block.

If there is something this easy to get to…and has its own filter screen…it is MORE than a worthy attempt at cleaning or replacing that little guy. I love Toyota’s their Engineering is fantastic…as always.


So I had time to jack the car up and look. The oil screen is on the lower back side of the engine, has a hex 6 mm bolt. You can’t get it out unless you move the power steering pulley and pump out of the way. So it is a bit involved esp since I do not have a lift. We will see if I will ever get around to this.

For 1azfe and 2azfe jack up the vehicle and use stands.

Remove the wheel and any plastic covers .

Remove the lower power steering pump bolt. It is behind the pulley and can be removed through the pulley once aligned.

Use a pry bar or similar to push bottom of PS pump away from block.

Remove the VVT oil filter cover with an 8mm hex head/ allen key.

Now the fun starts…

Think about how you are going to grab hold of a small plastic lug inside a hole the size of your finger. I ended up mutilating the first half of the filter and then fabricated a thin piece of rod with a small right angle hook at the end to pull out the rest. This is by far the worst part of the job if the engine has been neglected and is stuck in there.

Have fun!

Putting it all back together is the easy part.

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It is easy to not notice the date when first using this forum. But to let you know; the OP is from five years ago, by now it has either been fixed or junked.

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Well, yes, the car was sold 3.5 yrs ago. The VVT was probably fine when I sold it. Mileage was over 185K miles when sold. I think it is a common Toyota problem. Hopefully the instructions will help someone else.