Suppose the number of complaints is five times the roughly 3,000
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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,
When auto technicians were asked what typically kills a car with high
mileage, the most common answers were: running low on engine oil or
Now we'll learn how to check both of these in less than five minutes
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
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
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
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.