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Reply to "Toyota Engine Oil Sludge/Failure"

I took the liberty of posting 2 articles about toyota sludge problem. First one is from 2002 the second is more recent, from 2005. There were some great pictures of Toyota sludged engines but they didn't paste over for some reason. Do a google search for "toyota sludge" You will find plenty more reading.
As for myself, I'm buying a Honda , They are number 1!

You've entered the Sludge Zone.
Toyota reverses position on sludge, read the news release dated 2/8/02.
Read the whole article.

Automotive News article 4/3/02 & 2/8/02

Did Toyota do the right thing.

This page and section started off somewhere in Jan. 01 when I was seeing and getting an increasing number of engines that had severe sludge build up internally. At that time all the blame was being placed on the owner with the reasoning that they were not taking care of the engine as Toyota suggested. I felt that with the shear number of vehicles affected that something else was at the root cause. In February 02 Toyota finally acknowledged the condition, without taking real blame for any engineering problems, and started to correct the affected engines. They had some conditions that had to be met but their Special Policy Adjustment was a good start. Now this week, April 3, 02, they finally showed their true corporate stance on the unfortunate problem. They have broadened the scope of the coverage, within the years and models affected, and they are due a well earned thumbs up for this effort to stand behind what I still believe is the best product on the market.

This seems affect mostly Avalon, Camry, Sienna, Highlander, Celica and most Lexus 300/RX series models with the model years after 1997 thru 2001. Toyota made a change in the engine design that actually attributed to the problem.

My biggest question is do I qualify? Here are the guidelines Toyota is using to establish the engines that are prone to having the sludge (gel) condition:

Camry 4 cyl. Produced 8/96 - 7/01

Camry 6 cyl. Produced 8/96 - 8/02

Solara 4 cyl. Produced 6/98 - 5/01

Solara 6 cyl. Produced 6/98 - 8/02

Sienna 6 cyl. Produced 7/97 - 6/02

Avalon 6 cyl. Produced 7/96 - 6/02

Celica 4 cyl. Produced 8/96 - 4/99

Highlander 6 cyl. Produced 11/00 - 8/02

If you look at the vehicle identification label on the left door or left door post you can find the date of manufacutre. It normally is one of the first things you can see on the upper left of the label (example 7/98 means it was made July, 1998).

The actual cause of the problem is an inability of the engine's crankcase ventilation system (PCV) to move the normal gases from the engine. When these gases stay longer in an hot engine it allows deposits to form on the metal parts of the engine. When enough deposits are present "Sludge" is formed. In my opinion the reduced flow of the PCV is related to the vehicle emissions. This presents a problem since to correct it may require Toyota to recertify the engines, come up with a solution acceptable to the EPA and then they still have to repair or assist in repairing the affected engines. The costs would be staggering but ignoring the problem, in so many of their best selling vehicles, may be worse in the long run. In the various articles I've listed below, if you want, you will learn more about the cause an effect.

The following topics are links to gather more information about what causes the condition. At this point this is for information only, if you have the condition please contact your local Toyota dealer.

I must again inform you that this site is in no way associated with Toyota Motor Company and any opinions are based on my 30 years of experience and knowledge.

Article from the
The Engine Oil Bible

My opinion.

Links to others with the problems (caution some of the statements are really unreasonable it's kind of like "have keyboard will travel")

How to prevent sludge.

I have a sludged engine, what can I do now.

Can the Engine be Cleaned?

Join the Sludge Club

Oil Sludge: an expensive but preventable disaster
Every year, more of my customers suffer through unnecessary and very expensive engine re-builds due to oil sludge. The causes are complex but sludge damage can be prevented.

The oil sludge problem is reaching epidemic proportions on many 1997 and newer cars, with the following cars greatly affected:

Audi - 1997-2004
Chrysler - 1998-2002
Dodge - 1998-2002
Hyundai - 1998-2004
Lexus - 1997-2003
Toyota - 1997-2003
SAAB - 1999-2003
Volkswagen - 1997-2004

What is oil sludge?
Oil sludge is the breakdown product of over-stressed oil in your engine.

Oil that is stressed by contaminants and oxidation-or has to work thousands of miles longer than it was designed to-will break down into a gel that sticks to your engine parts. As the sludge sticks, there is less good oil to circulate and do its protective job. This coating of gel also stores heat instead of releasing it which stresses the radiator and cooling system.

Although at first the motor oil level may appear OK, a sludgy engine is being damaged with EVERY stroke. Your engine may lose oil pressure, get terrible gas mileage, and other components might mysteriously fail such as timing belts, idle speed controls, and gaskets.

Sludge begins to appear in the oil pan and valve covers. Oil filler cap inspection as an indicator of sludge build-up is not conclusive, as normal engines can have a small amount of sludge and condensation present at this 'high point' of the crankcase.

Why is oil sludge affecting more cars?
My research and experience concludes that both environmental and financial pressures have combined to affect your oiling system. Here's how:

Environmental pressures:

In the struggle to pass tougher federal emissions specifications, car manufacturers have raised engine operating temperatures and increased exhaust gas recirculation (EGR). In 1996, tighter federal emissions standards were enacted. Fuel mixtures have to run leaner, and leaner mixtures cause higher combustion temperatures. When nitrogen in the air is raised to higher temperatures it is converted into new contaminant cocktails. By 1997, sludge is appearing as a major problem.
New "long-life" antifreeze was introduced in 1995 to reduce the amount of chemical pollution in our environment. But longer 100,000-mile radiator service intervals often leads drivers to neglect their cooling systems. Worn-out coolant takes on an electrical charge that chemically acts like acid on engine parts. Depleted coolant also results in higher engine temperatures.
Federal pressures for more fuel economy in cars and trucks led car manufacturers to design engines for lower viscosity motor oils. Lighter oils tend to break down faster under urban driving conditions.
Financial pressures:

Some manufacturers recommend oil change intervals longer than 3,000 miles to market their cars' quality or to appeal to buyers on a budget. Consumers, already paying on auto loans, are reluctant to spend money for maintenance and embrace these extended intervals.
Quick lube shops competing for your business cave into pressure for bargain oil changes. To cut costs, they might buy single weight oil in bulk or use recycled oil. They use cheaper, less durable oil filters. Low-wage, inexperienced technicians sometimes make servicing mistakes when trying to work faster.
A very short history of oil change intervals
With oil prices so high in the early 1970s, and with engine designs evolving, Mobil introduced the Mobil 1 synthetic oil for gasoline engines. At the time, Mobil was promoting 20- or 25,000-mile oil changes with synthetic products, but they soon backed down from this.

In the 1980s, Toyota came out with a 10,000-mile oil change policy, in part to brag about the quality of their cars but mostly to market low maintenance costs. After receiving thousands of warranty claims for engine repairs from angry customers worldwide, they backed off of this absurd recommendation and went back to 3,000 mile intervals.

Improvements in motor oil chemistry in the 1990s encouraged many car makers to promote long oil change intervals. The long intervals actually worked OK until 1996, with very few sludge-related engine failures reported and many happy customers driving up to 10,000 miles between changes. After 1996, tighter emissions standards added pressure to the oiling system, and problems appeared.

Now in the 2000s, oil sludge buildup and sludge-related engine failure is a costly and frustrating nightmare for many. What's going on?

Your car's oiling system is its lifeblood
The oiling system in an engine is similar to the vascular system in a human body. It must absorb and release toxins, transfer heat, and suspend harmful particles until they can be filtered out. Unlike the blood in your body, though, engine oil is not self-renewing and has a limit to how much stress it can safely handle before it needs to be removed and refreshed.

As your car is driven, oil is pumped under pressure from the oil pan up through the oil pump. The oil pump sends oil to the crankshaft and camshaft, and is squeezed into the tiny channels of the motor. The moving parts also splash oil onto other components in the crankcase, and finally it falls under gravity back into the oil pan. Meanwhile, about 20% of the oil flow is diverted to the oil filter for cleaning. On some engines, an external oil cooler is used to dissipate heat from the engine.

Motor oil has a complex chemical job to do (see below). While lubricating your engine's moving parts at high temperatures, motor oil carries combustion by-products, collects airborne contaminants from the air-intake system, and absorbs and releases small amounts of water from engine heating and cooling. Circulating motor oil also suspends acids that are formed by chemical reactions in the crankcase. Sometimes tiny leaks allow some fuel or coolant to creep into the oiling system.

How oil does its job
Motor oil is a refined base stock with chemical additives. These additives work to suspend contaminants, inhibit corrosion, coat metal parts, keep viscosity stable, and slow oxidation.

As you drive, the combustion process allows small amounts of unburned fuel to escape into the oiling system which causes oil contamination. Contaminants are handled by:

oil additives, which suspend and contain the contaminants to prevent damage to metal engine parts
the oil filter, which captures large particles that are suspended by the additives
the PCV system (positive crankcase ventilation) uses a vapor separator to capture the lighter, gaseous contaminants and recirculate them back to the combustion process while the heavier contaminants drain down into the oil pan. So not only is the PCV system an important emissions device, but it's also crucial to keeping your motor oil clean.
As contaminants build up, the oil base itself starts to oxidize and turns the familiar red-brown color of worn-out oil. If not changed promptly, your engine is irreversibly damaged by chemical reactions, heat, and friction.

What makes synthetic oil superior to conventional oil?
I recommend synthetic motor oil to all my customers to prevent sludge. Why?

Synthetic motor oil is made from a blend of mineral oil, natural gas, and special additives. Because this blend is extremely pure from the beginning, it can withstand more torture in your vehicle's engine.

Synthetic lubricants cost just slightly more than conventional oils, but offer the best engine protection because:

synthetics remain stable at high temperatures (conventional oils break down faster at today's higher engine temps)
synthetics remain fluid at very low temperatures (conventional oils thicken)
additive packages are formulated with special chemicals for top cleaning and anti-oxidant protection
Remember, you can switch to synthetics on any car regardless of age or previous motor oil. If your vehicle has been acting up, have your technician check for sludge.

So why don't all cars suffer from sludge?
Some car makers stay with the standard 3-month/3,000 mile oil change interval. Others, such as BMW's longer interval, rarely cause any problems. Why? Their new engine designs call for a 7 or 8 quart capacity, almost twice that of the average car—and they specify full synthetic motor oil.

In addition, some drivers protect their cars by ignoring the recommended longer interval and changing their motor oil every 3,000 miles. These drivers ask for high-quality oil and filters, and keep up with other maintenance schedules.

Remember—any car can suffer an oil sludge problem, and some manufacturers more than others due to various design differences. It's to your advantage to get a technician's advice on what interval your engine and driving habits REALLY requires, and take matters into your own hands!

Legal issues about sludge
Information is slow to emerge about why sludge damage is so widespread, probably due to automotive complexity and large liability issues involved. Reports are circulating that dealerships are reluctant to admit to similar problems with other customers.

Manufacturer warranties might refuse to cover oil sludge damage by blaming you, the customer, for poor maintenance habits or neglect—even if you can prove you changed the oil every 3,000 miles. Without warranty protection, engine replacements are $5,000-$10,000. SAAB, Toyota, VW, and a few other manufacturers have some limited coverage for sludge damage.

Make sure your oil change receipt has the mileage, VIN, and parts listed, and organize all maintenance documentation in a notebook.

Stay updated on your vehicle
Make sure that the manufacturers' corporate Customer Service office has your current address in case recall letters or service bulletins are released. Look in your owner's manual for the 800 number, or contact a dealership or mechanic.

NHTSA (National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration) has a free web site and 800-number for "safety-related" or "crucial" bulletins and recalls on all vehicles. Look for the federal government to get involved with oil sludge in the future if and/or when this problem gets worse.

Ask your mechanic to check for updated parts or repair procedures that are related to the oiling, cooling or PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) system. For instance: Toyota has a little-known, updated valve cover replacement part for the V-6 engine ($520) to increase PCV system efficiency.

The bottom line on sludge damage
Modern cars are very complicated machines, and a huge financial investment. Research your car make and model BEFORE you buy or lease. Remember--as manufacturers struggle to balance environmental and cost pressures, they make changes that work FOR THEM but call for closer attention from YOU.

Even small changes can make a difference:

Change your oil every 3,000 miles regardless of how many days it has been. Insist that the shop write down the mileage and VIN on the receipt.
Make sure the shop that services your car uses the highest quality oil (brand name, full synthetic). Synthetic oil adds only $16.00 to $30.00 to an oil change. Read why synthetic prevents sludge build-up>
Ask for a high-quality oil filter. The cost difference is less than $2.00.
Replace the PCV valve (if equipped) every 30,000 miles.
Maintain the cooling system with fresh anti-freeze mixed 50/50 with distilled water only every 2-3 years or 20,000 to 30,000 miles.
If you're on a budget
Your car is an important asset that can last longer with good maintenance:

Avoid buying car models that have very unusual oil sludge problems.
Change the oil every 3,000 miles.
On any vehicle, if you can't afford synthetic oil, check your owner's manual and insist on the correct weight of quality oil.
Buy high-quality oil filters on sale and bring them to your oil change.
You can change the PCV valve yourself, or have it changed with the 30,000-mile coolant service. But remember, coolant is best changed by a technician so they can dispose of the fluid properly.
Keep receipts for all your maintenance, even self-maintenance.
Find out more
Feel free to email Norris if you have any questions about oil sludge and your car.

Read a letter about oil sludge research from a reader in Canberra, Australia >>

Online sources about motor oil and oil sludge
NOTE: Second Opinion does not endorse or co-sponsor any of these sites. These links are for consumer information only.

Center for Auto Safety - Oil Sludge
EPA website on oil and oil recycling
NHTSA Clearinghouse
Dodge Durango sludge
Volkswagen sludge
Lexus sludge
Hyundai sludge
Toyota sludge

Posted 25 September 2005
© by Norris Schleeter and Melanie McCalmont

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