By on December 29, 2011


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.


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35 Comments on “Piston Slap: Of Head Bolts, Bad-Ass Sedans…...”

  • avatar

    So Sajeev, why are studs better?

    I have never had a problem removing a head from a motor fitted with bolts. Removing a head with studs particularly if there has been head gasket failure can be a royal PITA.

    This is definitely true if the head gasket failure was gradual over a long period.

    Now if we were talking wheels, studs are way better than bolts.

    • 0 avatar

      Studs are functionally stronger than bolts becuase they do not have the stress riser at the point where the shank meets the head. I believe the difference is about 20%. I’m a big fan of studs becuase one you screw them into the block with a touch of loc-tite, then you can tourque the ever-living F^@& out of the top nuts without worry of tearing the threads out of the block. They also offer near-idiot proof head gasket alignment, which is critical if you’re using copper spray, and (I feel) they offer better torque control on the bolted connection by keeping the turned element up at the top.
      You are right, though about getting the head out on some cars. If the cowl extends over the head, then it’s a royal pain to get the damnable head off w/o pulling the studs.

  • avatar

    You don’t say how many miles your 7M has. I can tell you from experience (my ’87 Turbo Supra) that no matter how well cared for, these engines will develop head gasket problems around 150K miles. My advice, if you are close to that number, is don’t bother with tightening the head bolts. Wait for problems (coolant bubbling out of the overflow tank for example) and then have a new gasket installed with the bolts tightened to proper spec. Just make sure you don’t overheat the engine. I can also tell you that even though the 4ME and 5ME did not have bolt tightening issues at the factory, they would typically develop head gasket issues before 200K miles. Same with the L24 Datsuns (closer to 100K mi).

    • 0 avatar

      Please don’t “wait for the problem to develop” and risk possibly overheating the engine and warping the head. At the very least, get the head retorqued. Replacing the head gasket as preventative maintenance would be even better.

      • 0 avatar

        +1000 to this!

        Why would you wait? You know this will be an issue, it is just a matter of when. You can fix it now at your convenience, or you can wait for it to strand you, or possibly cause even more $$$ in issues.

        I don’t understand why people have such a hard time with the concept of preventative maintenance. Fix it before it breaks.

      • 0 avatar

        Unfortunately a retorque on the 7M is likely to make the gasket fail. Replace the gasket with a steel gasket or wait are the only real options. Check out supraforums for information from people who know this engine (and the rest of your car) inside and out. Just don’t let them convince you to put a turbo on it.

  • avatar
    Downtown Dan

    No mechanical advice to offer here– just wanted to say that the OP is making me very jealous.
    A mint-condition RWD Q-ship with one of the very best engines of all time. Enjoy it, dawg.

    • 0 avatar

      + 1. Please take good care of the Cressida. I’ve owned a ’88 Cressida for over 3 years now. They are great cars and should really be appreciated, especially since they are getting so difficult to find these days.

  • avatar

    I would retorque the cylinder heads to the latest updated specifications, perform maintenance on the cooling system, and call it a day.
    “Due to a large error in the factory head bolt torque specifications, all of these engines had severe problems with blown head gaskets. Toyota never issued a recall for any of the affected vehicles. The problem could be easily fixed by replacing the head gasket and torquing the head bolts to 75 lb·ft (102 N·m) of torque. However, due to the lack of a recall or appropriate service bulletin, the head gasket problem would recur if the gasket was replaced and the bolts were retorqued to the erroneous service manual specifications. With the head bolts torqued correctly, the engines were otherwise extremely durable.
    To those that say to replace the head gasket as planned maintenance… I say where do you stop? Should you then do a head job? rings? reseal? There is a point of diminishing returns.

    Also, I am constantly surprised to see so many on this site state that vehicle “X” is such a great car even though they acknowledge head gasket problems. In my book a great vehicle should not have the engine opened up in it’s normal life if it is never overheated and the oil is changed.

    • 0 avatar

      In my book…

      But every person has their own book.

    • 0 avatar

      in it’s normal life

      The car is 22 years old, its way past the end of it’s normal life.

      • 0 avatar

        I knew that my post would create a little controversy, but it is a valid discussion point for Piston Slap.

        If you are looking at a car as a driver or recommending a vehicle for someone, should you even consider an engine with a history of blowing head gaskets? Especially if the person is not wrenching on the car himself.

        BTW, 4 of my 5 vehicles are older than 22 years old and the engines have never been cracked open. This includes my 1973 Pinto 1600 that gets driven 500 miles a week.

      • 0 avatar

        @Trend Shifter: Neon head gasket blows before 150K miles in routine operation = car is POS. Condemn the engineers, salesmen and assembly workers to an eternity of hard labor in Hell.

        Cressida head gasket blows before 150K miles in routine operation = no problem. Oh, normal issue.

        Pretzel logic indeed.

        When I started work at a Toyota dealership, I was amazed to find out that one of the regular maintenance procedure costs for a turbo Supra was $400+ (in 1991). It was pretty extensive and it involved removing a crossover intake pipe (I believe) and a bunch of other labor intensive operations.

        I became a fully confirmed member of the Church of the Eternal Small Block after that.

      • 0 avatar

        …recommending a vehicle for someone, should you even consider an engine with a history of blowing head gaskets? Especially if the person is not wrenching on the car himself.

        I consider the Alfa Romeo GTV6 to be a “great car” because of its styling, history, seating position, and engine sound. But, I’m never going to recommend one to someone that can’t change a tire and would be better served with an ’03 Honda Accord.

        However, this isn’t a “New or Used” column and Earl here seems to have some knowledge of what he’ll need to do to keep the Cressida running well. Plus, there is nothing in his question that states the Cressida is going to be his only means of transportation.

      • 0 avatar

        @ ajla

        I also like Alfa GTV6’s.
        Did you see this one?

      • 0 avatar

        its only a baby one of mine turned 52 in december still runs good

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        So if this Cressida is way past the end of its normal life, what about the ’90 Accord that hit 1 million miles on the original engine and manual gearbox?

  • avatar

    I also don’t understand why studs would be better than bolts. Back in my Ford flathead fooling around days bolts were considered to be the way to go rather than studs.

  • avatar

    My family’s ’89 Cressida made it to just under 300,000km before it was felled by a recurrence of the head gasket issue (had been repaired to the old specs).

    The head gasket was the only thing that ever went wrong with the car, in spite of hard daily use.

    Re-torque the bolts!

  • avatar

    A quick Google search brought up ARP’s website which recommends their bolts in place of Toyota’s inferior stock bolts (which stretch over time and cause gasket failure) on normally aspirated engines and studs for boosted engines for better clamping force and to perfectly situate the gasket .

  • avatar

    My wife’s first car was a hand-me-down 1986-ish Cressie in British racing green and matching leather interior. It is my life’s goal to find her another one. Color be jealous!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Nice score, take good care of it. If only these cars were as easy to find in the classifieds as an LS400 or LS430.

  • avatar

    Ha! I took that picture – didn’t think that’s how I would get on TTAC for the first time.

  • avatar

    If it is a simple matter, then sure, I’d retorque and drive on. If this is costly then I may go ahead and do the head gasket. I own a 1fz-fe powered vehicle…another inline six from Toyota. The Land Cruisers of this vintage (93) had no torque issues but did have head gasket issues. Something about having to replace asbestos in the material combined with the material differences between the iron block and aluminum head added to the fact that the 1fz is a massively long motor meant head gasket durability was suspect.

    And be careful with studs. In some cases (my 1fz for example) studs make the head impossible to remove with the motor installed.

  • avatar

    Update: The Cressida in question is mine. Since writing Sajeev, I took it back to the Toyota dealer for the re-torque. The tech found coolant seepage in the throttle body and evidence on one spark plug. Soooooo, I had the head gasket replaced. They noted light scoring, but the tech said in his experience he’s successfully changed head gaskets on cars with far more. I had the timing belt and seals changed as well. So far so good, mind you there was no obvious evidence of leakage before. I didn’t go with the ARP due to time and dollars, but this car won’t be driven in anger.
    In fact, it was bought 8-weeks ago for my wife as her first car ever. I went out to buy a Jeep and just got charmed by the Cressida. I can see from the responses there’s a lot of fondness for these cars and I sure appreciate why. However, with what I’ve spent on this one, it’s going to have to earn its keep as a part-time commuter car. My wife loves it and I think she really gets the whole “car thing” that I am afflicted with. I like how it’s a modern car, but gives an old-school driving experience. With only 60,000 miles, this one’s a time capsule and shows how good Toyota’s quality was back then. When I first got it home I noticed it’s built the same way as my 2000 Lexus. Thanks to everyone for your interest in our “Cressi” I’ll try and attach a pic.

  • avatar

    Yep…the only real weak point on Toyota inline sixes.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, this is true. I think the sheer length of the head makes the issue worse. Keep in mind too though that when we talk about these “head gasket issues” they are still pretty rare. Mine is at 250k miles on the original head gasket. Even with the Cressidas known additional issues I wonder what the failure rate was compared to say a GM quad-4 of the same vintage. Literally everyone I knew with that motor blew a head gasket very early on.

      Perhaps its not so much the head gasket is weak…perhaps its just not as stout as the rest of the motor.

      • 0 avatar

        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.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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