Dear Charlene Blake, (long) Re: Sludge

Re: Sludge
Suppose the number of complaints is five times the roughly 3,000 figure. Even at 15,000 as a percentage of Camrys spanning the questionable
engine years worldwide, could be statistically insignificant - except to the individuals with that problem. While it may be too late for those whose engines are beyond repair, here's the "Sludge Owner's Handbook" designed to prevent others concerned about this problem from suffering "gelation." Perhaps you could help in selecting the title. We could offer the booklet on your site on a donation basis, for a nominal amount through Pay Pal to help save future engines, or even give it away free of charge as a public service.
Everything you always wanted to know about Sludge, but were afraid to ask. How to keep your Camry alive. Sludge for Dummies Sludge Secrets Revealed How to save $60,000 - 80,000 on the cost of new cars Sludge - free at last What you need to know about Sludge
Sludge secrets revealed.
I purchased some fresh cut pineapple slices, Ready Pak, with an "best enjoyed by" date of 10/17/04. When I first tasted some, they seemed a little on the tangy side, even though they had been refrigerated immediately at home in a newer refrigerator in excellent operating condition. On the sixteenth of October, the day before the recommended use date, I noticed small white spots on the surface of the pineapple, so I decided not to eat any more of those slices. It appeared that mold was growing on the surface. I had never seen this before, but it seemed prudent not to use that pineapple because it had "spoiled." The same thing can happen to fluids in your automobile. They can go bad. The good news is that this is one hundred percent preventable if you know the secret. In the long ago days of "service stations" filling the tank with gas usually meant the attendant would also wash the windows for you, and offer to check the engine oil and tire air pressure at no additional charge. Just as it is the automobile owner's responsibility to monitor the fuel level and refill with gasoline when necessary, there are some other basic automotive maintenance checks that everyone should perform who wishes to maximize the life and condition of what is often their most expensive asset next to a home. The first thing you need to learn is how to find and operate the hood release mechanism. Funny thing is, some people never learn this basic step. Even though I've been doing mechanical work on my own automobiles for around forty years, when I purchased my present Camry, the nice lady selling had never opened the hood, and even referring to the Owner's manual in the glove box, it took me nearly fifteen minutes to open the hood. I later discovered, that prior mechanics had been using the secondary hood release as a handle for closing the hood, bending the latch slightly in the process and causing it to "hang" or stick when trying to release it. Generally though, opening the hood will be easy enough for everyone to learn, and we're going to explain the simple mysteries lurking there, so you need have no fear in doing so. There should be a lever or latch near the driver, under the dash with a symbol of a hood opening that you will pull to release. Then near the center of the hood in front of the car is a secondary release designed as an extra safety measure to prevent the hood from flying open while underway. You will typically pull up on the secondary lever once you find it. You may find shining a flashlight helps locate it, or your local mechanic can aid you in operating the hood release for the first time. That's it. You've accomplished your first automotive task which has the potential to save many thousands of dollars for you. Recognize that you have an investment in your vehicle, and determine to set aside one morning each week to spend a few minutes checking vital fluids just to insure you have no "spoiled pineapples in there prior to the expiration date." Personally, I use Saturday morning, as one of those regular weekend chores. While there are a number of things you could check, we're going to focus on sludge prevention to keep things simple. With the engine "cold" after not having been driven overnight, open the hood. Next locate the engine oil dipstick. On my Camry it is orange color, and the Owner's manual that comes with the car should help you locate it with a diagram. If it is not nice and clean, you can scrub it with soap and water in the kitchen sink to make future handling easier, just be sure to dry it completely so no water remains. You will also need a clean rag or towel to wipe the oil from the engine oil dipstick. Let me pause here, to tell you a little true story I observed myself not long ago. You may be thinking, "I'm not going to work on my own car, that's why I pay for regular servicing and maintenance and have a professional mechanic do that." We're not going to teach you to be your own mechanic here, but see if you can find the moral in this true story: I was leaving the local Home Improvement store one day, when I saw a nicely dressed business man wearing suit and tie leaning over the opened hood of his obviously nearly new full size luxury sedan. The car wouldn't start and he was stranded in the parking lot, quickly becoming late for an appointment. The cause readily became apparent to both of us. There was a white crusty mold growing around his battery terminals. "I guess I never should have trusted the dealer service department to care for my car. I never even looked under the hood as I used to on my other cars, because I trusted them to do all the servicing as required when I took it in." The lesson here, is that even if you do none of your own work on the car, by learning a few simple procedures, you can instruct your mechanic to perform needed services, before expensive or disabling problems develop. Once you've got the engine oil dipstick clean enough to easily handle on a regular basis, go ahead and carefully re insert it into the small hole in the tube from which it was removed. You will be checking the oil for two primary characteristics: oil level, and oil condition. Oil has been called the "life blood" of the engine, and it is true that without engine oil, your motor won't live very long. Changing the engine oil and engine oil filter regularly has been called "cheap insurance" and this is also true. In fact, regularly checking your engine oil level and condition is one of the best things you can do to keep your car running for a long, long time. When auto technicians were asked what typically kills a car with high mileage, the most common answers were: running low on engine oil or engine coolant. Now we'll learn how to check both of these in less than five minutes per week. You may find that every time you check, everything is fine. That is how it should be. You're simply guaranteeing that your individual automobile will continue to perform for you over time. Now remove the engine oil dipstick, hold it at a downward angle so the oil clinging to it doesn't run uphill, and observe what you see. How is the oil level? It should be between the lower and upper marks. These vary between manufacturers, but are explained in the Owner's manual and are fairly self explanatory. You should never allow the oil to fall below the lower mark or go above the upper mark. It is also best to use the same brand of oil when adding. Many oil change places will add oil at no charge if they had changed it for you the last time, to "top up the oil" if you simply ask. Or you can learn to add your own oil with a funnel. Just go slowly and carefully if you wish to learn this extra step. There is generally a filler cap somewhere near the top of the engine. Be sure to re fasten it snugly when done. All modern engine oil has a package of "additives" that perform various functions, so when you add new motor oil, you are also replenishing some of these additives which are used up over time. Some of these additives are called "dispersants" which hold contaminants in suspension. All gasoline engines create contaminants that need to be held in suspension until they are evaporated during use or drained and removed. These contaminants include water, unburned gasoline and carbon, among others. In addition to observing the engine oil level, we are also going to note the condition of the engine oil. When oil is new it is a golden honey color, but as the engine operates and the additives do their job, the oil gradually darkens. This is normal. However, clean oil is better than dirty oil and you never want your engine oil to turn a horrid dark black color. If you check the engine oil when the engine has not been driven overnight, you should see a gradient on the bottom of the oil dipstick, where the oil is a darker color at the bottom and a lighter color at the top. If your oil is dark all the way to the top, it is a good idea to have the engine oil and oil filter changed, regardless of mileage, if you want to keep your car in top operating condition. Surprisingly, driving your car for many miles on the highway is actually easier on the oil than driving for short distances, or letting the car idle often. Also humid climates and cold weather can introduce additional contaminants. Sludge or gelation is a well understood phenomenon. It occurs when the oil is contaminated with foreign substances such as engine coolant, or too much water that normally forms in the engine, but has not been evaporated off, and the contaminants cause the engine oil to "break down." Once the contaminants settle out of suspension, having overcome the detergency abilities of the engine oil, problems can accumulate quickly. The manufacturer recommendations for oil change intervals work well for most people, but unless you are doing almost all highway driving, you should use the "severe use" schedule, and always check your own oil regularly to insure you stop problems before they begin. Here's another true story. When I used to be a Real Estate Broker for over fifteen years, I had some buyers who had been renting. They had the mind set that everything should be done for them, just like when any problem developed, they would call their landlord. They were insisting that as a condition of their home purchase the twenty thousand gallon swimming pool be emptied and filled with new water. They didn't want to be swimming in someone else's water. The moral is: it is fine to have someone else to do everything for you, but it is still a great idea to check for yourself to insure your automobile is protected. By the way, we solved the problem by explaining swimming pool water is filtered and conditioned with chemicals and had a local pool supply house verify good water condition. While you're checking under the hood, also look at the "coolant recovery reservoir". It has a translucent plastic shell so you can see the fluid level just by looking. Toyota coolant is pink or red, so if your coolant is green or dark color, it should be changed. A useful secret is to insist only distilled water is used in your engine coolant to prevent the normal minerals in drinking water to settle out over time and begin to clog engine and radiator passages. Keeping the cooling system of your car operating correctly is one of the best things you can do for it, because if the engine overheats even once, expensive engine damage can result. By checking the level in the coolant recovery reservoir weekly, you can notice any changes and have them corrected promptly. These steps will prevent engine sludge formation for you. If you want to go just a bit further, you can look at the brake fluid master cylinder near the "firewall" and observe the fluid color. When new, it is amber, or light honey color. The chemical nature of brake fluid absorbs moisture from the atmosphere which darkens the color of the fluid and can cause rust inside the fluid components of the brake system, so by having the brake fluid "flushed" when needed, your brake hydraulic system will last even longer. This is separate from checking brake pad wear, which should be done by your mechanic. Finally, you may wish to use your new found skills in checking the fluid in the automatic transmission. There is a dipstick like the engine oil dipstick, but it will be a different color. Transmission fluid is bright red when new. If your transmission fluid is darkening, you can have it drained and replaced, or they can "flush" all the old fluid and replace with new. Draining the automatic transmission fluid only replaces a portion of it, but that is all Toyota recommends, so if you stay current with checking the fluid conditions, you should be fine. How can you save money on buying new cars? Some people, by simply keeping the fluids clean, and having the spark plugs and wires changed regularly in addition to keeping up on all other required maintenance have seen over 600,000 miles from their Toyotas. If you've been buying a new $20,000 Toyota at 80,000 miles or so, and learn to insure basic maintenance is always perfect, you might just save buying the next three or four new cars if your present car is still running great. Many people have already done this.
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Daniel M. Dreifus wrote:

(Snip very nicely written primer on car maintenance)
Well done, Daniel. That was informative, accurate and very readable.
--Winston
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