31st Jan 2003, 00:27

First let me say that I work for a Toyota dealer, so my information should be the most current. When Toyota introduced this Special Policy Adjustment (SPA, similar to 1990-95 4Runner's head gasket problem) on every model mentioned in the above comment, they were strict about the specifications through which vehicles would be eligible. However, I had a customer last month that had 98000 miles on her Avalon, and could only produce 3 service records in the past few years. Toyota not only took care of every repair related to the oil gelling (it ended up needing a block- Toyota took care of everything, including rental and towing), but the owner did not have to produce much evidence to get this approved. Not every owner received a notice of this SPA (notice, not "campaign") because not every vehicle will be affected. In fact, we estimate that fewer than 1% will actually have sludge. My suggestion to frustrated Toyota owners is this- first of all, keep up on maintenance. Have at least one oil change every 7500 miles. Also, have at least one service done at a dealer every 15000 miles, so that it looks like you are making an effort. Save every record- if you service the car yourself, but Toyota oil filters and save the receipts. If you think you have gelling (a master mechanic at any dealer can inspect the substance and tell), and the dealer you typically deal with has been no help, patronize another dealer. If that doesn't work, talk to the service manager and have them set up an appt. with the regional service director. Typically, they have authority to make decisions that individual dealers cannot. Do not give up- Toyota is the best quality vehicle made, as long as one services the it correctly.

3rd Feb 2003, 11:19

Toyota claimed that they mailed their letter on the special policy to ALL owners of 1997 through 2002 Toyota Sienna, Avalon, Camry, Celica, Solara, Highlander and Lexus RX300 and ES300 because these vehicles have the same engine and all can succumb to sludge. It is obvious that they are back-tracking now. But Toyota reps said in several news releases, articles and message boards that ALL of these owners, 3.3 million of them, would get those letters.

Most people think that the real problem is the maintenance schedule presented in the owners manual. The manual states that the oil needs to be changed every 7500 miles unless the owner PRIMARILY drives on dusty roads, PRIMARILY tows heavy loads or PRIMARILY drives with frequent stops and starts in below freezing temperatures. If you meet these conditions, then you are to change your oil at the severe service interval of 5000 miles. Most experts claim that the way to avoid sludge in these engines is to change the oil every 3000 miles or, in some cases and as recommended by the Automotive Engine Rebuilders Association, changes may need to be much more frequently such as every 1,000 miles. Apparently these engines are very sensitive to developing sludge.

25th Feb 2003, 13:12

I'm so depressed. I LOVE (d) my Sienna. But now we've gotten into this "engine sludge" problem. The car is 1 year old, has 13,000 miles, had oil changes at 6,000 & 13,000 miles - yet our mechanic (not a Toyota dealership) says he's never seen this kind of sludge in a vehicle with this many miles. Took it to the Toyota dealership (because the repair should be under warranty) and have gotten denial/run-around/blame at every turn. It wasn't until our mechanic spoke with a buddy mechanic at another Toyota dealership that we discovered there was an acknowledged "engine sludge problem" with this vehicle.

We never received the letter that was supposedly sent out in Feb 2002 (we bought our new Sienna 12/26/01) to owners of affected vehicles. I've contacted the customer assistance number Toyota set up for this problem and have been assigned a "case number" and even got a call from a "caseworker". That was a month ago. We have left repeated messages on the answering machine of the number the "caseworker" gave us, but have not been contacted since. Meanwhile, we aren't driving the Sienna and are hesitant to have the repairs done (is this problem going to recur constantly?) until Toyota tells us what they are going to do about the problem.

I've tried twice to get Toyota to send me a copy of the letter that was sent out last February, and they always say they will - but haven't received it yet.

Anyone have any suggestions? I've owned a Toyota since 1975 (a Toyota minivan since 1991), and I've loved them, but this may be my last one.

4th Mar 2003, 11:32

I feel your frustration! I went through the same on my 2000 Sienna at around 15000 miles. I was denied warranty coverage and paid for repairs myself, but was later reimbursed by Toyota.

There were actually two sludge policies. The first came out in Feb. 2002 and was a limited free repair from one year of the date of the letter announcing the policy. It was called the Special Policy Adjustment, or SPA. The letter was to be mailed to every owner of 1997 - 2001 Toyota Camry, Celica, Avalon, Highlander, Solara, and Sienna and Lexus RX-300 and ES-300. Because of the limits on the policy, owners were not happy and Toyota came back out with a new policy sometime around April 2002, called the Customer Support Program (or Policy, not sure which). This new policy extended the program to 2002 vehicles, so you are covered), extended the time to 8 years from original purchase of the vehicle and also provided reimbursement for other incidental expenses such as rental car. The original SPA letter mailing was halted and a new CSP letter was to be mailed to all owners of 1997 - 2002 affected models. I suspect (and you confirm) that these letters were not all mailed. I personally know too many Toyota owners who did not get them for it to be just a coincidence. Both the SPA and CSP cover the repair costs for your engine.

Your dealership knows about this policy. They received letters and notices on it. You will find discussion of it on nearly every Toyota message board at one time or another. Just try a web search for Toyota Engine Sludge using the google.com search engine and you will be surprised at all you find!

You can find a scanned copy of the original SPA on the website nhtsa.gov under "Problems and Issues" then "Technical Service Bulletins". You also may want to go to the website edmunds.com and do a search for "sludge" in their discussion groups. There are several sludge discussions, but one was started by Toyota corporate to answer questions on the policy. The forum started sometime around April 2002. Both the NHTSA scanned document the Edmunds discussion give phone numbers at corporate Toyota that you can call. Another site where you can find information is yotarepair.com (go to the "Sludge Zone").

I really don't know what else to tell you except that you SHOULD have received a letter from Toyota about this. With your two oil changes you SHOULD be covered 100% for repairs and rental car. It is very disappointing to me that Toyota is still denying this problem almost a year after the first policy coming out. I had really had a change of heart about the company because of their policies, but if it was just "hush money" for people who complained a year ago and is nothing now, well, I am having a change of heart again, this time for the worst. Like you, I absolutely loved my Sienna, thought I was buying into the Toyota reputation of sound quality cars. Little did I know. I wish you luck and hope that Toyota comes through for you. Let us know.