By on March 24, 2016

2000-2002 Toyota Tundra, Image: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.

TTAC Commentator ScarecrowRepair writes:

I live on a private road that’s 3/4-mile paved and 1/2-mile dirt. Myself and a couple of others on this road park our cars at a wide spot in the paved section and use a high-stepping 4×4 pickup for the short ride between the parking spot and our homes, primarily because the steep dirt road alternates between an inch of dust in the summer and a couple of feet of snow in the winter, with slippery clay mud in between.

My pickup, a 2001 Toyota Tundra, sometimes goes an entire tank just driving back and forth, 3/4 mile at a time, good for a staggering 9 mpg. The trip expands to a seven mile round trip to the post office on weekends, and more rarely 60+ mile round trips to pick up lumber, paint, etc. The last three months showed 500 miles on the odometer, and it has just over 100,000 miles now.

I read somewhere that short trips cause the engine and oil to not warm up enough to drive out the water on short trips. I also read that engine components cause more wear and tear when cold because they’re designed to best fit when warm. And that’s before you realize that cold oil doesn’t lubricate well in the first place.

Should I put more longer trips on the Tundra? I’ve also sometimes driven the pickup to work if it hasn’t made any long trips recently. Is there any benefit to that? Is there a minimum long distance for any such benefit?

Sajeev answers:

We’ve covered this topic in several variations before (here and here for starters) and everyone’s opinions point to a general consensus: throw in a longer trip, long enough to stay at operating temperature for several minutes, and your Tundra will be fine with the otherwise short trips up/down the hill on cold engine oil. Cold oil is bad for the engine, but it only takes a few longer trips with warm oil to help things out.

While it’d be happier with a different commute, that’s not happening. I consider the extra wear going up and down on cold oil as a “convenience fee” a la ATM machines. It’s worth the extra wear, provided you continue to include longer trips to get the oil up to temperature. And, most importantly, you should use an oil filter with an anti-drainback valve.

Lastly, consider switching to synthetic oil for maximum engine wear protection, but the Tundra’s gaskets might weep with joy in pain with that good stuff at this age.

[Image: Toyota]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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42 Comments on “Piston Slap: Helping the Tundra Fight Cold Engine Oil...”


  • avatar
    EMedPA

    I’d add one piece of advice: if they’re not already, the truck’s oil change intervals should be calendar-based, not mileage based. Every 3-4 months should be OK, I would think.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Yep, I think aggressive oil change intervals with a high quality 5w30 synthetic would do the Tundra good.

      Now here’s my bigger worry: the catalytic converters. super short trips where they don’t heat up for a decent amount of time could be problematic in the long run IMO.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        I stick to dino at this point – as noted above if the seals have been nibbled on a switch to synthetic could causes other issues at this point.

        Main seal part – $15
        Main seal labor – YOU WANT WHAT?!?!?!?!

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          Is that a real thing? I always heard that only the earliest (WWII-era) synthetics were known to cause leaks.

          Heavily sludged engines can have issues with synthetic oil, but they have issues either way.

          • 0 avatar
            Lack Thereof

            Yeah, that’s an old guideline. No longer holds true.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            I’ve never seen an issue occur on a vehicle that didn’t already have a leak.

            I’d buy Wal-mart brand synthetic (or a high-mileage semi-synthetic) and swap that out nice and often.

          • 0 avatar
            econobiker

            Some of the first consumer available (mid 1980s) full synthetics with weird temperature ranges (like Mobil 1 0W50)weren’t particularly good for engines created and specified for running standard dino oil especially like motorcycle engines.

            Now 30 years later most all current production engines are developed and manaufactured with synthetic oil as an option to use.

          • 0 avatar
            mason

            Synthetics don’t cause leaks. They are packed full of detergents that break down any deposits or sludge that may be in the engine from running conventional oil. Once those deposits are removed sometimes leaky seals are exposed, and synthetics get the blame for “causing” them.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Syns are useful for fighting high temp oxidation, but none of that on this duty cycle.
      I say use the cheapest 5W-XX you can find that meets ILSAC GF-3 or higher and change often.
      And no need to change the filter every time either, just dump it and reinstall.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The biggest offender with cold oil is the buildup of sulfuric acid in the oil. This comes from combustion of sulfur in the gasoline. Operating the engine until the oil is hot will drive off the acid deposited from condensation. Modern gasoline has a very low sulfur content which minimizes this problem. Also, modern oils are better equipped to handle small amounts of sulfuric acid.
    How is the exhaust system holding up? That is a good proxy for engine wear from cold starts as it sees the brunt of the condensed sulfuric acid.

    • 0 avatar
      ScarecrowRepair

      This is Felix. There are no problems with the exhaust system that I know of; I take it to a local mechanic for oil changes because he puts it up on a lift and checks everything like that — brakes, shocks, rust (if I remember to wash off the dried mud!), and the only problems it has had in 100K miles was the steering crossbar (no idea what it’s called) leaking, and the stereo ceasing to eject CDs.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Would an engine block heater with a timer help in winter?

    • 0 avatar
      NickS

      of course it would, but only in general terms. The ambient temp usually dictates how long it takes for the oil to heat up, and that happens well after the coolant is up to temp on most engines of that vintage (there are newer designs that shorten this somewhat).

      The specific issue is the very short duty cycle here, but even with a preheated block, it would still take a good 15 minutes of driving to be sure the heat will cook off the blowby.

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      Kind of assumes there is power available at the parking spot.

      We have a lot of trees here in PNW but none with power outlets as far as I know.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    I’d park the V8 truck and drive a 4-cylinder that would heat up the fluids quicker and cost less to operate in wear and tear. That is if the Tundra frame is not a rusty one that was replaced by Toyota in their 3rd attempt to match the Big-3 trucks.

  • avatar
    mason

    Just to clarify, because I feel like I’m missing something. You drive a beater a half mile to your Toyota, then get in the Toyota and drive 3/4 of a mile and shut it off? Why not just park the Toyota until it’s needed on the longer trips and run the beater the entire mile and a quarter?

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      He drives a beater 4X4 Toyota Tundra along half a mile of dirt road every day to get to/from his regular car.

      At least that’s how I read it.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Felix sound like it could be HDC on his Mexico ranch?

    • 0 avatar
      ScarecrowRepair

      No no, I drive the 2001 Tundra up and down the 3/4 mile to where a parked car awaits, unless there’s a foot of snow, in which the truck goes the whole distance, or there’s four feet of snow, in which case I hope I knew in advance and parked the truck 3/4 mile away near the car, and snowshoes get me up and down the hill.

      The Tundra isn’t old enough or beat up enough to call a beater yet.

      I have sometimes seen beaters for sale, but if they are cheap enough, they are really beaten and not worth the hassles.

      I see where the confusion comes from. The private road is 3/4 mile paved starting at the county road, then 1/2 mile dirt to my house. There’s a wide spot in the pavement, 1/4 mile from the dirt, where people park cars which either won’t or shouldn’t go up the dirt road. So my 3/4 mile “commute” is 1/2 mile of steep (1:3 or 1:4) dirt road and 1/4 mile pavement to the wide spot where the car is parked.

      • 0 avatar
        NickS

        I don’t doubt the utility factor of it, but now adding that 1/2-3/4 mile is steep makes the problem more serious in one sense. When the engine is cold, it shouldn’t be pushed hard, which I expect is the case with the uphill drive in one direction. The flip side is the harder it gets driven, the faster the oil will heat up, but I like to go easy on an engine when it is cold. YMMV.

        Just drive it a longish distance more often if you can, and do more frequent oil changes. Synthetic will help as well. If you have used good quality oil so far, and have no oil leaks you won’t have a problem switching to synthetic. Open the oil cap and inspect the underside for signs of that characteristic white/brown sludge.

        Also, make sure your PCV and vac hoses are all working properly. That can go a long way towards venting the moisture out of the crankcase.

        • 0 avatar
          ScarecrowRepair

          The 3/4 mile drive is actually uphill both ways, but the steep one is back towards home. I’ll drive it at about 15 mph when the engine’s warmed up from a good drive, but when it’s cold, I don’t push it and go about 10 mph.

          Did once measure speed at 18 mph uphill, but that was chasing a jackrabbit and wondering if he’d eventually straighten out his path instead of zigzagging all the way. Nope. At 18 mph, I started to catch up, and he never deviated from his zigzags.

          Even further off-topic, I read something interesting about rabbits and deer — why do they raise their tails when running away? You’d think it would make them easier to see. Someone created a simple game of a fleeing animal and the gamer’s task was to track the animal. The tail made it harder, adding a half second or so lag to following jumps and twists, presumably because it was at the rear of the animal, not the head, and distracted the predator.

          • 0 avatar
            never_follow

            Can’t say it’s for all animals, but like you observed with the jackrabbit, they zig and zag to evade capture. I’ve noticed my rabbit will shake it’s tail before running away from me when it’s naughty.

            Either it’s smart enough to be laughing at me (unlikely), or it’s trying to get me to commit one way while it scoots the other… I have yet to pounce on my rabbit, so it remains a theory for now.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    I agree with what people are suggesting (synthetic, regular oil changes). Just one note: oil warms-up slower than coolant. You need more than just a few minutes at operating temperature to make sure it’s hot enough to burn-off any water and contaminants.

    Part of the reason why oil doesn’t heat-up as fast is that it mostly goes to the bottom end and cams. Coolant surrounds the combustion chamber, which is a lot hotter.

  • avatar
    Acd

    Move to paved and level ground?

  • avatar
    ammom_rouy

    A few longer trips mixed in and the anti-drainback valve are the most important, but I would also use a synthetic or synthetic blend with the high-mileage additives package given the 100k+ on this. Plenty of good choices exist. You should be able to get another 100k.

    • 0 avatar
      360joules

      Second the synthetic with high mileage additives. Other posters suggest 3 month intervals which I agree with because this is severe service. I’d assume a 2 year interval for the fluids in tranny, transfer case & differential. We have a family friend who lives in similar circumstances as you – his crummy is an International Harvester Scout. Moss grows on the dash, windows are cracked but the drivetrain is well maintained. Hope you never have a medical emergency.

  • avatar
    jfbramfeld

    I have no trouble believing that colder oil will hold some sulfuric acid and water, though there is has been no discussion of how long it takes to evaporate them. I’m guessing not long.

    What I do have a problem with is the assertion that “cold oil is bad for the engine.” In what world could this possibly be true? I suspect that cold ambient temperature oil is great for the engine, the only problem being build-up of contaminants at a higher rate.

    • 0 avatar
      NickS

      @jfb

      Water evaporates at all manner of temperatures actually, but much faster as it gets closer and closer to its boiling point, or when exposed to open air so it can be diluted (air is a fluid by the way). So the higher the oil temp, the faster that happens. Figuring out how long it would take to evaporate blowby involves some complex math, but it would definitely be much longer than a 1/2 mile drive cycle (if you want some certainty that is) — this is an enclosed space that doesn’t vent to the atmosphere.

      As far as cold oil, what you say is true. The physics of lubrication doesn’t go away when the oil is cold. Colder oil provides much higher oil pressure, which is always good (unless the oil and filter system go into bypass mode). At engine start, there is theoretically no oil where it is needed (cams, mains, etc). The cams experience maximal stress as they are kicked out of 0 rpm. That starter crank in theory provides some initial oil flow but it is not enough to oil the cams adequately — that is why most of the damage is done at crank time. Hotter oil would flow marginally better at that critical crank time and might permit less damage.

      That said, as we all know are heat-treat all these components for a reason, and they remain within tolerances for a long time given proper maintenance.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Any operation of an ICE, that does not allow the oil to get to efficient thermal temperatures (i.e. what the manufacturer would deem normal oil temp) and remain there for approx 10 minutes or more, is technically not good.

    Generally speaking, it takes the average vehicle a continuous trip of 10 miles in order for oil temperatures to get to and remain in the optimum temperature range, and for water condensate and other ills to be blown out or otherwise vented from the exhaust system, also.

  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    This is Felix. Thanks for the posting, the advice, and all the comments. I see a trend :-)

    I’ll switch to a synthetic and make sure to get in some longer trips, such as the 20 minutes each way to get groceries instead of using the car. I already get oil changes 2-3 times a year and will bump that up to 4 times.

    • 0 avatar

      You’ll do the truck right by those actions. And make sure to get a decent quality oil filter on there (if you haven’t already).

      Thanks for submitting the question.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Synthetic seems like a waste. You’re not working the oil hard in any way, you’re just contaminating it. Synthetics are useful for dealing with extreme temperatures, but it’s going to get contaminated long before the base oil deteriorates in any way, just as it would with a conventional oil.

      A 0W oil would help a bit with fuel economy and start-up lubrication in the winter. Other than that, I see no justification for a synthetic.

      The oil will not be problematically acidic after three months. You can do a used oil analysis to confirm this if you want.

      I’d change the oil spring and fall, with a 0W-20 or 0W-30 in the fall and a 5W-30 in spring. Even the 0W is probably overkill. 5W-20 or 5W-30 in the winter won’t affect engine life, and the fuel economy difference may not even pay for the extra cost of a 0W synthetic. I don’t get the impression the truck ever sees anything really cold, like -40F.

      Any decent filter will have a ADV if the engine needs it. Some may be better than others though. Use a quality filter.

      Using a block heater for an hour or two before start-up in any below-freezing weather would be the best thing you could do for the engine. That, and being gentle with it while it’s warming up.

  • avatar
    NickS

    Wow, I don’t remember the last time I saw an oil discussion online that didn’t involve name calling and everyone agrees even. The internet must be broken or something.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    Scarecrow,
    Post your questions on BITOG.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    The old “synthetic oil may make it leak” saying went away along with cork and paper gaskets. Automakers switched to molded rubber gaskets starting around the mid 80’s, which work well with synthetic oil, and they have also come a long way with seals. You can use synthetic oil in any engine made within the last 25 or so years, you can even switch back and forth without causing any harm.

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