Piston Slap: The Relentless Pursuit Of…Sludge?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the relentless pursuit ofsludge

Yaw A. writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Long time fan of the blog. Sad that I have to ask this but the time has come. My mom bought a ’99 Lexus RX300 AWD a couple of years ago and has been having problems with it. She just came up on 135K miles and has been having oil lights come up + oil consumption problems. She got someone to look at it and the diagnosis is the dreaded 1MZ-FE sludge monster. The only logical repair seems to be to replace the engine; Lexus quoted her something crazy like $10K for a new engine and another $5K for labor.

My reflex answer when she asked was to find a junkyard replacement and get another shop to do the replacement. But thinking about it now, I’m not so sure. What if she does all that, only to find out the engine she replaced it with is sludged too? Plus the car is 13 years old, and I think she got a good 10 or so years out of it. Even if she went the junkyard route and it worked out fine, she’d be in a good couple thousand in a car retailing for not much more than $7000.

She is also looking to leave the country in the next 1-2 years, so a big new purchase is not necessary. I am thinking she should eat the loss and downgrade to something cheaper to run until she is ready to leave. What do you think?


Yaw A.

Sajeev answers:

My reflex answer is the same as yours. From what I see, it’s far too late for you to submit a claim for the sludge recall/settlement, so you got screwed.

About those junkyard motors: if you find one with low miles (around 50K) you’ll be fine. Have the mechanic pull the oil pan, cam covers, etc and inspect the motor before installing. Clean the oil pump’s pickup screen at the same time. If the mechanic doesn’t like the motor given by the junkyard, he’ll get another one under their warranty. The warranty is often for a year, so there’s no problem here.

Most modern junkyards aren’t very junky, it’s more like a networked group of warehouses around the country that can get you damn near any part for any vehicle. And I’m pretty sure that $2000-2500 gets a perfectly good motor installed for a few years of perfect reliability, at the minimum.

And that’s all you really need. For those who don’t plan on leaving the country soon, a junkyard motor that passes muster with your mechanic, with new gaskets, clean oil pump, regular (synthetic) oil changes will almost ensure years and many tens of thousands of miles with zero problems.

It’s worth the cash outlay, especially considering the resale value of any Lexus…even one with a sludgy reputation. My tune would change if this was a Mitsubishi Galant.

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4 of 65 comments
  • Phxmotor Phxmotor on Jan 04, 2013

    Geeze Louise... This is a NO BRAINER... Marvels Mystery Oil has been around for how long? Something like 75 years?? And its always been used for situations just like this. My god, where has common sense gone? Just run 5-30 in it and a qt of MMO. Change it every week if you do aot of driving, once a month if you don't. A long 1,000 mile drive a couple times in a row wouldnt hurt either. Then change it and add MMO and a new filter 4 or 5 tims... and guess what? It will be fine! My neighbor in DAVIS cALIF... A TYPICAL uNIV TOWN... NEVER CHANGED HIS OIL ONCE IN HIS 2000 nISSAN PICKUP... YES HE ADDED OIL WHEN NEEDED, BUT i SWEAR HE NEVER CHANGED IT ONCE IN 122,000 MILES. damn...sorry about the caps... Anyway... we changed his oil 4 times in 3 weeks, then the car went in for the CA smog test and it passed with flying colors... and its at 235,000 miles now and its fine. It stopped using oil... so what if it sludges up? BFD! It will clean up just fine. Seriously... within 1,000 miles and 4 or 5 oil changes with Marvels Mystery Oil or ANY similar solvent mixed with the 5-30 oil... it will be fine. My friend with an old Chrysler K car had gummed up rings... with oil burning and high oil consumption as well... within 1,000 miles and only two oil changes with a decent solvent additive (and NOOOO it wont ruin the engine), the car was back to normal. Geeze! Why get excited? It will be fine. Its a machine already. Its not made of paper machet. All this excitment about a gummed up engine... with this level of concern over such a minor issue... I swear we will never win a war again, common sense has left us all. Its a machine...it will clean up just fine with very little damage...my god already: it isnt brain surgery.

    • See 1 previous
    • -Nate -Nate on Jan 04, 2013

      @PrincipalDan MMO has long been used to free up gummed up piston rings , especially useful in older Diesel engines , you remove the injectors and fill the cylinders , allow to soak overnight , then clear the cylinders by cranking sans injectors , button it back up and run it to burn off the residue , the compression usually goes back up quite a bit and blowby is sharply reduced . -Nate

  • ToxicSludge ToxicSludge on Jan 18, 2013

    I've run MMO in all of my old Harleys for the last 40+ years.That is a good product and will clean up the sludge.Frequent oil & filter changes for about 1k miles,should do the trick,then run full synth.As for diesel to clean the inside of the engine.THAT is really old school,but works.The trick is to add about a qt.of oil to a gallon of diesel.Diesel by itself will clean TOO MUCH of the lube off bearing surfaces.Add some oil just to be safe on the bearings.

  • Tassos BTW I thought this silly thing was always called the "Wienermobile".
  • Tassos I have a first cousin with same first and last name as my own, 17 years my junior even tho he is the son of my father's older brother, who has a summer home in the same country I do, and has bought a local A3 5-door hatch kinds thing, quite old by now.Last year he told me the thing broke down and he had to do major major repairs, replace the whole engine and other stuff, and had to rent a car for two weeks in a touristy location, and amazingly he paid more for the rental ( Euro1,500, or $1,650-$1,700) than for all the repairs, which of course were not done at the dealer (I doubt there was a dealer there anyway)
  • Tassos VW's EV program losses have already been horrific, and with (guess, Caveman!) the Berlin-Brandenburg Gigafactory growing by leaps and bounds, the future was already quite grim for VW and the VW Group.THis shutdown will not be so temporary.The German Government may have to reach in its deep pockets, no matter how much it hates to spend $, and bail it out."too big to fail"?
  • Billccm I had a 1980 TC3 Horizon and that car was as reliable as the sun. Underappreciated for sure.
  • Inside Looking Out I did not notice, did they mention climate change? How they are going to fight climate change, racism and gender discrimination. I mean collective Big 3.