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Valve stem seal

I have a 2002 Saturn with 72,000 miles. It has been using oil, perhaps 1/2 qt per 2,000 miles. The shop i use doesn’t do large repairs and suggested bringing it to the dealer which I did. They said it needed valve stem seals, would cost $1,200+ and take 3 days to complete. This is a lot of money and time and nknowing very little about cars, I don’t know if they are being truthful of robbing me. Anyone have any ideas?.

1/2 quart every 2,000 miles?

These guys are crooks. That amount of oil usage, 1 quart every 4,000 miles, is a sign of a healthy engine. Just make checking the level a part of your routine (which you should do anyway) and keep up the good maintenance.

Seriously? Up until this summer, I never had to put oil in the car. I also have the oil changed every 3,000 miles. Thank you for your comment, I was waiting for the engine to seize the way they talked!

Make this another vote for a healthy car with a sleazy mechanic. Many people would envy you for having a car with 72,000 miles that only uses 1/2 qt. of oil every 2,000 miles.

I suggest that you do the following:

Check your oil dipstick on a regular basis (weekly is good), just in case the rate of oil consumption increases.

When you see that the oil level has dropped by 1/2 qt., add that amount right away. Don’t wait for it to drop by 1 qt.

Find a new mechanic. This guy is preying on an unsuspecting woman and is clearly dishonest.

That’s exactly how I felt, that he knew he could say anything. Partly my fault for not be more knowledgable about the car but oh well, can’t know everything. What is the best way to check the oil, while the engine is warm, cool or cold?

Just an FYI here but how in the world do they determine for sure the valve seals are the problem?
There is no way of testing for this problem and it would not even be visually detectable unless the valve cover was removed and it could be seen that the valve seals were flat coming off of the valve guide bosses.

A valve seal diagnosis is pretty much an educated guess; or half-educated in some cases.

A leakdown test could be performed and this could possibly show a piston ring problem but considering the 1/2 per 2000 miles I wouldn’t even mess with it at this point.
(Another FYI. If your car has ever suffered some overheating in the past then this could be the cause of oil consumption as overheating can remove the temper (think of springiness) of the rings or can cause the rings to seize in the piston grooves they’re mounted in.)

I suggest that you check it when the engine is cold, before it has been driven. Refer to the Owner’s Manual for the location of the dipstick and for the type of oil that the car calls for.

Pull out the dipstick, wipe it off thoroughly with a paper towel, reinsert it, pull it out again, and read the level. Generally speaking, the distance between the “full” mark and the “add” mark is 1 qt., but you shouldn’t let it fall to the “add” mark before you add sufficient oil to bring it up to the full mark.

Add oil a little bit at a time, wait a few minutes for it to settle, and check it again. If necessary, add more, a little bit at a time.

Really the only symptom (that I’m aware of) of bad valve stem seal(s) is if your car blows some blue smoke on start-up …plus you can kinda smell the burning oil when you idle for a while (result of engine vacuum sucking oil into the cylinder).

My ol’ Mitsubishi Starion had this issue recently, but I bypassed the professional mechanics and did the job myself- via the ol’ compressed-air-into-cylinders method (not recommended for novices, as it’s a somewhat risky procedure). Problem solved.
…but then again, my car was burning nearly a full quart every 2k miles. Plus, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my baby.

For your typical get-around car, I wouldn’t be that worried about oil consumption of 1/2 qt per 2k consumption. Just be sure and add as needed.

That thought occured to me and I did ask at the dealer - how did they know this was the problem since like you said there was no testing. Some jibber-jabber for an answer which caused me to distrust. I am going to do as is being suggested and watch it for a while, see if there is any change. What is the worst that can happen with this method?

What is the risk? If a valve drops you just pull the head anyway. You can also stuff rope into the cylinder through the spark plug hole.

Considering the low oil use I would still not worry about it at this point. When it gets to a quart per 1000 miles then you might consider going further.

On the offchance the problem is related to a stuck ring(s) there are several additives available that may help a gummed up ring or leaking valve seal problem.
These additives are available at any car parts house, are generally pretty cheap, and it’s worth trying.

I would advise staying away from high priced ones (30 bucks a can, etc.)that promise the moon. A less expensive one will work just as well if it’s going to work at all.
You might even consider a can of SeaFoam; 6 bucks at Wal Mart and it’s real good stuff. Simply add to the engine oil and see what happens over time.

I would really like to know the technique the dealer’s mechanics used to determine valve stem leakage. They may be correct; but, HOW did they determine it (if it wasn’t just a guess)? Their conclusion may be based on experience with this engine, at this mileage.
When there is a leak on your car, to the dealer, there is only ONE response, “Fix it!”. A dealer will rarely say, “Monitor it!” I hate to say it; but, in a way, I don’t blame them. How many people will “monitor it”? Then, the engine loses an excessive amount of oil, over a few months period, the customer comes in and berates the dealer with, “You told me it wasn’t leaking bad enough to fix!!” (Notice the part where the customer “forgets” to add: “You told me to monitor it.” Talk about being on horns!

1/2 quart per 2000 miles?? That’s NOTHING, drive on and bank the $1200…If and when your oil consumption gets to a quart every 800 miles THEN consider having an independent shop install new valve seals. Chances are, that will never happen.

Does $1200 and 3 days work sound right for this job?

Everyone has said that the price is excessive. An independent shop would charge much less, and do the repair quicker. Also, everyone says that the repair isn’t needed. Being possible doesn’t mean it’s necessary.


Assuming your problem really is the valve seals, this IS going to be an expensive job if you want to have it done.
They essentially have to remove the whole top half of the engine. You have to disconnect the air-intake and exhaust and other accessories from the head, remove the valve cover, valve train, and the head itself from the engine. And if they really want to do the job right, they’ll also replace the head gasket, and have the head checked for warps, and machined true if there are warps. Then they have to reassemble everything- using very specific torque specs.

^^ALL of that has to be done to change the valve seals- which are, essentially very cheap little pieces of rubber. and That’s really not worth it considering the only problem you’re having is a little oil loss.

As mentioned in my (and Beadandbeads’) previous post, it is possible to do this job a lot quicker and a lot cheaper and without removing the head- by using compressed air or rope to keep the valve from falling into the cylinder chamber. However its been my experience that most legitimate mechanics won’t agree to do the job via this method because of the liability involved. If they agreed to do it this cheap way- and then something goes wrong (loss of air compression, or not quite enough rope) and the valve DOES drop into the cylinder, then they’re stuck having to remove the head anyway, and of course the customer will be pissed and not want to pay for it.

Either way, your oil consumption really isn’t worth worrying about too much. And if you DO insist on worrying about it, start with smaller, cheaper ideas first:

  1. replace the PCV valve
  2. maybe try the Seafoam thing that ok4450 mentioned.

Re diagnosis of leaky valve seals. An accumulation of burned oil under the spark plug ground electrode has been a good indicator of leaking valve seals. It is doubtful that a loss of 1 quart/4,000 miles would be detectable even if the total loss were from one cylinder. That loss is actually less than normally expected from even a small engine.

It’s no wonder that mechanics are so poorly thought of. Such a shame.

If you are only using 1/2 quart every 2000 miles, you have nothing to be concerned about. My first car used a quart about every 250 miles(the car cost me $75 and it made the 350 mile trip to the university where I went to graduate school). Sometimes, the brand of oil may make a difference in oil consumption. On a Ford Maverick I once owned, I switched from Sunoco oil to Valvoline and my oil consumption improved from 1200 miles/quart to 1500 miles/quart.

If you are maintaining your car by servicing it according to the owner’s manual and keeping track of the safety items (steering, brakes, lights, etc), don’t worry about slight consumption of oil. Just keep checking the oil and add oil if necessary.

All of this information has been helpful and puts my mind at ease. I had the oil changed so have a starting point and will monitor the oil consumption weekly. Today I got two recommendations for ‘reliable’ mechanics that I will talk with for possible future work. Thank you all for your help. What a great website!