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Does the blue smoke mean there's a boat payment in Dora's future?

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Dear Tom and Ray:



I have a 2001 Toyota Avalon that I bought in January 2006 with 88,000 miles. Within the first week of owning the car, it started blowing blue smoke. By the time I brought it back to where I'd bought it, they said they couldn't find anything wrong with it. By this time, the warranty was up. I took it to another garage, and they told me that they had talked to a Toyota dealer about the problem, and Toyota told the garage that with a six-cylinder car, the rings are "gold plated," and when the car hits 100,000 miles, the rings will seal themselves and will stop blowing the blue smoke. Well, guess what? I hit 100,000 miles a couple of weeks ago and it's STILL blowing blue smoke. The garage told me that if I wanted the rings changed, it would cost me $4,000! No thanks. And yes, it IS losing oil, but I don't notice anything on the ground. Can you help me with what I might be able to do? -- Dora

RAY: I love the "gold-plated rings" story. I'm going to incorporate that into my routine immediately.

TOM: I think what they meant to say was that the rings will "seize" at 100,000 miles and stop blowing blue smoke. Because once they seize, they won't be doing anything.

RAY: I think you have a sludged engine, Dora. Yes, even mighty Toyota screws up sometimes. And this was an engine they had problems with.

TOM: Apparently the oil-return holes were barely big enough, and if they got sludged up at all, too much oil would get stuck at the top of the engine, starving the bottom of the engine for oil. And that led to stuck rings and, sometimes, complete engine failure. This was a problem with the V-6 engines Toyota sold in Camrys, Avalons and Lexuses between 1997 and 2002.

RAY: Toyota claims that the problem occurred when customers didn't change their oil frequently enough. And it's certainly possible that the car you bought had not been properly maintained. But there were also Toyota customers who insisted that they had done their maintenance right on time and their engines were still damaged.

TOM: At this point, your best bet would be to go to a Toyota dealer. They'll take off the front valve cover, and they'll be able to see immediately whether the engine is full of sludge. For a while, they were replacing or rebuilding sludged engines free of charge. But with 100,000 miles on your car, they might not feel so generous.

RAY: But try begging for mercy, Dora. Maybe they'll at least give you a break on the price of the ring job (they'll have to replace the valve guide seals, too). Or maybe they'll give you a deal on a trade-in. Let us know what happens.

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