Piston Slap: Idiot Simple Corolla?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap idiot simple corolla

TTAC Commentator npbheights writes:

Hi Sajeev, I have a 2009 Toyota Corolla XLE with just over 45,000 miles on it. I purchased the car brand new with 52 miles on it and have had every oil change performed at the selling Toyota dealer at the recommended 5,000 mile increments. I know it sounds a little silly, but before you laugh, the dealer gives you free tires and batteries for life if you have all of the “scheduled maintenance” performed there. On a Corolla, the book specifies oil changes at 5K and air filters once in awhile and that’s about it. I am playing this game because it’s not worth getting crushed to death by a car over an oil change (like someone in my area two weeks ago) and I intend on getting my fair share of tires. They have already coughed up two. When it comes to unscheduled maintenance, such as replacing the alternator at 38,000 miles (I was not pleased about that) I wench it myself. Said dealership wanted $720.00, I bought a good used one on ebay for $50.00 and it works fine. New front brake pads: $38.00. This simple car is ‘idiot simple’ to work on and I enjoy it. Anyway – On to my 2 problems.

Problem #1

When I run 87-octane fuel in the car and I am driving at a normal pace, say over 35 MPH and I lightly apply the throttle, a slight rattling from the engine audible. I have a classic car as well and it sounded like pre-ignition to me. With today’s advanced computerized engine management systems, I thought that was a thing of the past but just for the heck of it, I put a tank of 93 in the car and poof, it went away. I then put 3 tanks of regular in it and then the sound came back. On my current tank of gas I put 93 in it and it went away again. I have never had the Check Engine light come on. Is it possible to have a faulty knock sensor and not have the CEL light come on? I don’t know where it is yet but is there a way to test it? I did not buy a stupid Corolla to put high-test in it.

Problem #2

While this is semi-cured I would like to mention this as well and get some feed back. As I explained, I bring the car to Toyota for oil changes. I do check the level now and again and the engine barely uses oil and the stuff looks as clean at mile 5000 as it does on day 1. This summer I have started to notice at startup the engine makes an unpleasant noise like it has no oil in it. It happens right as the engine turns over and just for a split second, then all was fine. I immediately checked the oil. Almost full. This went on for a few weeks. Three weeks ago I checked the oil again and it was down less than half a quart. I went to Wal-Mart to buy a quart of the recommended oil. Manual said 0W20 or 5W50. I had never seen such thin oil specified for anything outside of a door hinge. I perused the isle with all of the additives and looked at the Slick 50 but settled on the $3 bottle of STP oil treatment. It was 15 ounces so I figured there was enough space for it in my engine for some. It freaked me out a little when I poured it in the engine. It was so thick, images of slugged out ’99 Camry engines flashed through my head. I chickened out at about 3/4th through the bottle of STP. I also put a dash of the salad oil (5W20) in it for good measure. Since then the car at sounds perfect at start up. The oil change receipts do not specify which oil they are putting in the car, and I not usually one to challenge engine designers, but is this super thin oil appropriate for South Florida in summertime? Should I have the dealer put a bottle of STP crap in it at the next oil change or will they freak out? I intend to put at least 200,000 miles on this car and I will not tolerate failure.

Sajeev Answers:

This is quite the quandary, but one thing remains: there’s no such thing as free tires and batteries, as dealers normally load the average cost of those expenses either on the front end of the deal, or into the cost of these maintenance packages. Then again, perhaps you got the Corolla for Invoice or less, and perhaps the dealership wasn’t expecting you to keep it for 200,000 miles while doing high margin repairs (like alternators) by yourself. So good for you…probably.

Question as you already know, the Corolla is tuned for regular grade gas. Some engines tend to ping from carbon buildup, so perhaps all you need is a good fuel injector cleaner (or Seafoam for older cars) and a whole lot of time at full throttle at higher RPMS. If you’re a lead foot and know that’s not the problem, at least pull a spark plug and examine it for signs of improper wear. Since you can change an alternator, do yourself a favor and just replace all four plugs proactively. That combined with a little carbon-busting action should clear it up.

Question I suspect you hear a little timing chain rattle, which won’t affect the life of your engine for a long time, even by your (Steve Lang worthy) automobile ownership standards. That said, fixing this is as simple as a change to full synthetic oil in the recommended viscosity. No more additives, no need to mix viscosities like a master chef in full experimentation mode: make it easy. Doing this worked elsewhere on the Internet, and also in my personal garage. Because of your relationship with the dealer, ask if they’ll do a synthetic oil change and let you extend the service interval without repercussions to your free tire/battery plan. Best of luck with that.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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3 of 74 comments
  • Npbheights Npbheights on Oct 19, 2010

    Yes Sajeev, i'm the person with THAT avitar :-) My fleet = 1979 Lincoln Continental Town Car, 2003 Chevy Silverado Extended Cab/Short Bed 1500, and the now infamous 2009 Corolla... The Toyo was bought to preserve the first two. You read my mind 100%. I have always been a fan of both Lincolns and Cadillacs and have toyed with buying a current gen TC for years. I've been seriously scoping out clean 2003-2007 Town Cars for a few months now (gotta be a Wixom Car) I recently spotted a nice one 07 with 28,000 miles for $16K. As well documented on Panther Week, I think the TC will meet my criteria for longevity and simplicity. - Plus it is waaay more my style

    • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Oct 19, 2010

      Nice. Now find a Designer with THX and you'll never care about the 10+MPG you're losing compared to the Corolla. Of course, I have bias in that matter.

  • Joel Whipple Joel Whipple on Oct 21, 2010

    I own the last "true" japanese Toyota - a Yaris. Mr. Karesh is already well aware of what I think about my pile of dung, and the dealerships. Sigh, I'm going in sometime next week, I suspect the wheel bearing is shot.

  • Tassos While I sure am not interested in any big and heavy crossover, even if it is a Honda, I got to say that this thing's "up to 300" mile range is really dismal.But why? You'll ask. It's not bad. That is not good enough. When we have Model Ss with certified EPA 402 mile real range, and many years later (ie today) this brand new wannabe Tesla killer gets barely 300, while it should get 500, using the progress in the years after the S it came out, it is really disappointing. And sure as hell "up to" 300 does not mean even 300 at all.The price is not bad, since it is in devalued, worthless, Idiot Joe Briben 2023 dollars. If you don't mind a Crossover, it may actually be a good place to put your $, compared to a ... savings account above all. And the top should easily exceed $65k, if not $70k, when it comes out (with another 10% of your lame $ eaten away by the rats of the failed Idiot Joe Briben Administration.)
  • El Kevarino If you have an EV platform that supports dual motor AWD, then why choose FWD for the 2WD version?
  • Analoggrotto Try as they may and as they might but the future of Electric, the future of human reality is TESLA. Only the highest level of affluence, priviledge and wealth can earn one a place in the stars. In fact when you look at the night's sky do you notice that the stars are brighter? This is because of Supreme Wizard Elon Musk, who has brightened them with this awesome grace.
  • Dukeisduke Sixty-five miles of range added in ten minutes? Doesn't sound very impressive.Also, how are they going to build these in volume if GM is building Ultium packs by hand (which they have been, slowly)? Or are the packs coming from Korea?
  • Dave M. On one hand Honda tends to make a strong, competitive product that should give you years of excellent service. On the other hand it's built on the bones of a GM product, who has a tendency to underbake their products until right before cancellation. NUMMI worked out well for GM; I wonder if this will work out well for Honda....