Piston Slap: Of Head Bolts, Bad-Ass Sedans…

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap of head bolts bad ass sedans

Earl writes:

I just bought a mint condition, dealer-maintained 1990 Cressida. I am aware of the head bolt torque issue on the 6 cylinder engine. The car shows no sign of head gasket issues. My question: should I have my dealer simply re-torque the head bolts? Their tech (30-year’s experience) says he’s done this on many cars with no issues. Your thoughts?

Sajeev answers:

Your tech, the Internet Forums, and my gut agree: DO IT! The information posted in my last sentence’s hyperlink is pretty much spot on, including the technique of doing such a re-torque. That said, let’s get to the heart of the matter.

You have an awesome car! Cressidas get better and better with age, from a design and collectability standpoint. Well, it’s no Supra…but bad ass sedans are just that, son!

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

LSX-FTW aside, let’s play devil’s advocate and consider a time when the head gasket lets go. Replace it (obviously) because this car is a keeper. But instead of putting the bolts back in (assuming Toyota didn’t used Torque to Yield Bolts) install head studs instead. It’s a great item for peace of mind and possibly even for resale. ARP makes a great kit for Supras, and I would recommend this at some point in this Cressida’s life.

Maybe not now, maybe not even 5 years from now. But at some point, consider head studs.

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

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6 of 35 comments
  • Claytori Claytori on Dec 29, 2011

    Virtually any engine that uses an iron block and aluminum head(s)will eventually blow a head gasket. The differential expansion between the two results in repeated shearing of the gasket and stretching of the bolts/studs. Re-torquing is a way to extend the life of that gasket by negating the bolt stretch and re-establishing the compression of the gasket. This is advisable at your stage and you should take the advice of your mechanic and advantage of his 30 years of experience. The only truly bulletproof head gaskets can be on iron/iron or al/al engines, because thermal expansion is equalized. The same thing can happen when there is an iron exhaust manifold and an aluminum head.

    • See 1 previous
    • 84Cressida 84Cressida on Dec 31, 2011

      @mkirk My Grandparents had a 1990 Cressida they traded in for a '97 Avalon. Some friends of theirs bought the car and kept it until 2006 until they sold it and it was on the original headgasket and had 220,000 on the clock. A 7M might eventually blow a gasket, but it will do so at a mileage that wouldn't seem out of the ordinary. Unlike the Neon, which someone laughably compared to the Cressida in this thread, the Cressida was actually a good car.

  • Trucky McTruckface Trucky McTruckface on Dec 30, 2011

    I used to bomb around in high school with a buddy who had a 2nd gen Cressida with the 5M-GE. It was done in by the same problem at just over 100k, but then the car was also 20 years old. A shame, that car was indestructible in every other way and way more fun than a brown '80s Japanese sedan should be.

  • Ethan Gaines Ethan Gaines on Dec 30, 2011

    My now deceased elderly next door neighbor had one of these Cressida's when I was a kid. I will always remember spending most of the late 90's putting our mail box back up after he would hit it with that Cressida. Good times, good times.

  • Sexyhammer Sexyhammer on Jan 03, 2012

    I see a lot of misinformation in this thread. To be fair, a lot of the rumors floating around the internet are propagating the belief that re-torquing your head bolts will buy you some time before the inevitable BHG occurs. That is false. I'm sure we all know by this point that Toyota dropped the ball by under-torquing their head bolts by about 15 ft-lbs from the factory, but if you have a car with any appreciable mileage on it, this won't solve your problem. In fact, it exacerbated mine. My '89 Cressida was bought with 135k miles on the clock and after about 6 months I started to hear the "death gurgle." I set out with my wrench and performed the "official procedure" one afternoon only to have my head gasket blow within a month. This is because once the gasket has started to fail, loosening and re-tightening the bolts will cause whatever seal remaining to break free. The only REAL long-term solution if you intend to keep your 7M is to pull it, find an OEM headgasket and use studs when you put it back together. Having the surfaces checked and cleaned up is never a bad idea. That being said, you will spend far more trying to keep the old motor running than it would cost to find a junkyard 2JZ-GE from a GS300, or if you have the balls a GTE motor or a 1UZ. Good luck.