That power failure might be a classic problem with vintage Toyotas -- carbon buildup on the valves.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1986 Toyota Camry with 74,000 miles on it. It has been well-cared-for
and seems to be in good shape. However, a couple of weeks ago the motor died
out on me while I was driving down the highway. The gas tank was full, and
there was no apparent reason for the failure. Toyota towed it to their shop.
They kept it three days, drove it about 60 miles, and it worked perfectly --
and it's been running perfectly ever since. They said it was probably an
electrical problem, but they were unable to find it.
About a year ago it also lost power going up a hill or two, and I feel this is
part of the same problem. Now that it has died out on me, I don't feel secure
being out with this car (I'm a senior citizen). I had planned to give it to my
grandson this year and buy a new car for myself. But now I wonder if I should
even give it to my grandson. What do you think? -- Evelyn

TOM: Well, no matter what happens, you should definitely give this car to your
grandson. As a young (I presume), able-bodied (I presume) teen-age (I presume)
male (I presume) without a car (I presume), I'm sure he'll see this little
"car-dying" problem as nothing more than an occasional inconvenience. In fact,
if it dies on him when he's on a date, he might even see it as a great added

RAY: But I think I know what's wrong with the car, Evelyn. Toyotas of this
vintage have a problem with carbonized valves. Over time, carbon (a k a soot)
builds up on the valves. And when the valves get hot, the carbon expands and
prevents the valves from closing all the way. And when the valves can't close,
the engine loses power and eventually dies.

TOM: And when are the valves most likely to bind up? When the engine is at its
hottest; like when you're doing sustained highway driving or climbing a hill at
high speed. And that's exactly when you experienced the problem, Evelyn. And by
the way, if you had let the car cool off for a while, it probably would have
run fine again ... for a while.

RAY: So how do you fix it? I'd start by trying a fuel-system cleaner you add to
your gas tank, like Chevron Techron or B&G 44K. If that doesn't fix it, I'd
look for a shop that has a device called a Snap On Motor Vac. That's a
fuel-injector/valve train cleaner that uses a high-pressure, biodegradable soap
to clean off the carbon.

TOM: That machine works great. It'll clean out the intake manifold, the valves
and the fuel injectors. And not only will it solve this problem, but it'll make
the car run so well you might not even want to give it to your grandson. You
might just decide to keep the Camry and buy the little ingrate a 10-speed bike

* * *
TOM: Hey, do you think you're taking good care of your car? Are you sure?

RAY: If you're like many of our customers, you may be ruining your car without
even knowing it. Yes, even you! Find out how. Send for your copy of our
informative pamphlet, "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even
Knowing It!"

TOM: Send $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No.10 envelope to Ruin
No.1, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One