By on March 30, 2018

2018 Toyota Camry LE - Image: Toyota

It’s 11:40 a.m. Do you know how large your Camry’s pistons are?

Odds are you don’t, and Toyota isn’t sure it knows, either. That’s why the automaker has issued a small but relatively unusual recall for 1,730 Camrys from the 2018 model year. The issue lies with the installation of pistons built to an incorrect specification.

Essentially, they’re too big for their britches.

Toyota doesn’t say which engine is affected by the porky pistons (which boast a larger-than-spec diameter), nor whether any major incidents have resulted from the snafu. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn’t listed the recall at this time.

“In certain conditions, this may cause the vehicle to run rough, create an abnormal sound, emit smoke from the exhaust, and illuminate warning lights and messages,” the automaker said in a release. “In some cases, a reduction of power may occur and the engine could stop running.”

Of course, having your engine conk out at speed usually impacts your power steering and brakes, so there’s an inherent danger here.

Owners of affected vehicles should expect a mailed notification by late May. Once in the shop, the automaker will check the production date code for the pistons — if you’re the lucky owner of a compromised mill, you’ll receive a whole new engine courtesy of Toyota.

Given the limited nature of the recall, it’s unlikely Toyota PR need to worry about gaining a poor reputation from this minor fiasco. Still, Honda — which is currently losing the great Camry/Accord battle — might lob a joke or two.

[Image: Toyota]

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53 Comments on “Toyota Discovers Bigger Pistons Aren’t Better, Issues Camry Recall...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    One might wonder why Toyota is winning the sales battle. For one thing, almost every one I see around here (Colorado) has rental plates.

    For another, Toyota’s doing lease giveaways on them.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I don’t wonder much, Freed. The new Camry is a nice car, even in LE trim. If Toyota’s losing the retail side to Honda, it probably isn’t by much.

      I also don’t wonder why the outgoing Camry was approximately as successful as the Accord in retail. After cross-shopping used 2015 Accord EXs and Camry SEs for my wife’s daily, I learned that auto magazines exaggerate. Shocking, right? The Accord was fundamentally very good but dull and cheap inside, which also describes the Camry. The Toyota, however, had better seats, a sensible single-screen infotainment, and no CVT. That we found a nearly new mis-labelled XSE at a Mercedes dealership for the price of an SE made that one a no-brainer.

      Incidentally, I highly recommend buying used vehicles at Mercedes dealerships if you don’t want to feel like a prole when purchasing a used vanilla family sedan.

      • 0 avatar
        Whatnext

        Really? Every Benz dealership I’ve walked into here when looking for a new car has looked down there nose at me. Maybe because I’m not Chinese. I’ve happily taken my dollars to other German manufacturers.

        • 0 avatar
          Tele Vision

          Reminds me of my Dad’s friend who, with two other guys, won some money on the lottery and decided to treat himself to a top-shelf Mercedes. He was a senior VP in an oil firm and could have bought whatever he wanted but a sudden $250,000 is still nice and free money. Anyhoo, the sales guys at the Merc dealership ignored him for the 30 minutes he was there so he went to the Jaguar dealership and bought, I dunno, a Vanden Plas or whatever the hot Jag was back then. It might have ended there but a friend of his was the editor for the biggest newspaper in town – result: it was in the paper the next week. That dealership was raked over the coals.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            Not to say the Merc dealership was in the right, because they weren’t, but I wonder how your dad’s friend was dressed. That made more of a difference back in the Vanden Plas Era. The father of a then-girlfriend was a musician in a Big Five orchestra – by definition, a very successful guy and one of the best in the world at what he did. His wardrobe definitely skewed bimodal: either tails for concerts or jeans & flannel shirt for working around the house. Not looking like the typical business guy of the era, he definitely got ignored on one occasion when he went to buy a car.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I haven’t driven either the Accord or Camry, but my impressions from just checking them out on dealer lots:

        -The old Camry felt like higher quality goods than the new one.
        -I like the basic shape of the Camry, but some of the styling details on the non-base models are just silly, and don’t get me started on the painted black roof.
        -Not crazy about the front end of the Accord, but otherwise, it feels FAR more expensive.

        I guess I’ll have to drive ’em. How awful.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          “The old Camry felt like higher quality goods than the new one.”

          My impression as well, especially comparing a post-refresh ’15 K-platform car to the new one.

    • 0 avatar
      VW4motion

      You hit it on the head. Hard to find a rental car without it saying Toyota. Honda and some others don’t make those sales records by fleet sales.

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      So how much are they oversized? 1/1000″?

      How do they check the piston production date — pull the head, drop the oil pan? Seems like a pretty difficult check to me.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        That to keep a check on Sudden Acceleration Camrys.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        My question would be, “Who was the supplier and where were the fat pistons made?”

        Modern engines run pretty tight at spec, unlike engines of the past. So with the expansion of metals by heat during operation it could mean trouble if parts were overspecced.

        In the past, buying a new car meant a break-in period of the drive train for around 1000 miles during which the drive train was babyed until it was “broke in.”

        Modern engines no longer require that break in period and can be driven long and hard without seizing or blowing up, right off the showroom floor.

        Many GIs returning from Europe used to arrange to have their new cars readied for pickup at Hoboken, NJ, and then they drove them across the US to their new duty station, at Freeway speed.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        They were probably undersized and oversized pistons. These examples went to epa and auto reviewers to cook the books…opps we want those back now!

  • avatar
    ernest

    Maybe, just maybe, the Accord isn’t the superior car all the fans think it is? We recently took a trip from Portland up to the San Juan Islands. It was about a 500 mi round trip, and I spotted exactly TWO new Accords on the trip. One waiting for the ferry, one headed for an off-ramp on the return trip to Portland. Good thing I wasn’t counting Civics or CRV’s- they were everywhere. Ditto new Camry’s.

    As far as the marketing of cheap leases, consider we live in a day and age where Mercedes locally is advertising a C300 lease for $299 down, $299/mo. Who in the hell would want to lease an Accord for more than that? Keep in mind we’re talking mid sized family sedans. Do 4 cyl. turbo’s and CVT transmissions address reliability priorities in this market segment? Does a bodystyle that looks like a slightly enlarged Civic address the desire for room and comfort? Yes, the Accord can outrun the Camry on a track. Does anyone in this market segment really care? Apparently not- the sales figures don’t lie.

    Through February, Honda delivered 37,430 Accords. Toyota delivered 55,403 Camry’s in the same time period. As a side note, the much praised Mazda 6 is down 44% in sales YTD, another example of a good car that doesn’t resonate with it’s intended market.

    Honda’s got a problem here, and it’s self inflicted. They zigged instead of zagged (I personally think the styling is the biggest issue). But to lay the blame on Toyota Fleet Sales and cheap leases is…. well, a cheap shot. At least one of the two manufacturers is interested in moving product. Which is, after all, what the whole game is about.

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      The article is not about a Honda product.

    • 0 avatar
      redgolf

      oh yeah, how much down on that Merc?

    • 0 avatar
      redgolf

      oh yeah, how much cash down did they want on this “cheap lease” Merc? gotta read the fine print!

      • 0 avatar
        ernest

        This winter, it was $299 down, $299/mo for a 36 mo low mileage lease.

        *Edit- just re-checked. Same deal- $299 down, $299/mo (no sales tax in Oregon).

        Same dealer has an E350 or GLE for $499 down, $499/mo.

        Big dog ticket is a S550- $990 down, $990/mo.

        In any event, I read somewhere over 80% of all Mercedes and BMW sales were actually leases. Not hard to understand why. But whenever I see one on the road, I don’t think “prestige car.” I think “another $299 down, $299 mo.”

  • avatar
    JMII

    How did they figure this out after the fact? Also “Once in the shop, the automaker will check the production date code for the pistons” shouldn’t they already have this information?

    • 0 avatar
      gmichaelj

      Does seem strange that you’d have to go to the dealer.

      Why wouldn’t the serial/VIN contain the necessary info?

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      There are several ways Toyota could have found out internally.

      One possible scenario: Toyota’s piston supplier was investigating an issue and discovered a bad batch of parts was produced a few months ago.

      Depending on the nuances of the failure and/or the requirements of their product traceability system, they may not know the actual production date.

  • avatar
    xtoyota

    2017-18 Honda CRV are not doing good … but wait till the 1.5L engines start to fail because of gas getting into the oil

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Hmm, if the diameter is too large, how do these even fit into the bores at the factory in the first place? The only conclusion I can come to is that fine manufacturing tolerances matter far more than I realized.

    • 0 avatar
      volvo

      Maybe because of that little gap in the rings?

    • 0 avatar
      volvo

      I think the little gap in the rings is the answer.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The clearance between pistons and cylinders in modern engines can be around 0.0005″ (half of one thousandth of an inch).

      If, for example, pistons were installed with only 0.0003″ clearance, they could thermally expand in such a way that they bind in the cylinders. So they would fit during assembly, but not while running.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        Sounds like repair pistons got into production by accident.

        Different ring tension like what Subaru tried ended up with oil comsumption tens of thousands of miles down the road. Camry’s just came out in October.

        Are these Japanese built Camry’s that they first brought over?

        • 0 avatar
          el scotto

          Why would “repair pistons”; whatever they may be, have different specs than OEM pistons? Did a mechanic tell you that “Super Duper Extra Special Buick Repair Pistons” were like, totally worth the extra money? Oh I get it; it’s the “Special Cylinder Rings” that you mention in the second sentence that make all the difference. A piston ring is part of a piston, Subaru gets thrown in for some very non-germane reason. It doesn’t state if the Camrys were JDM or rolling out of Georgetown. Perhaps others will find a point in there somewhere.

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            Waste not, want not. Ever seen a productuon area without a repair area? Back to rework for some and mostly you would never know it.

  • avatar
    brn

    This is pretty concerning, not so much from a safety perspective, but form a longevity perspective. Even a repaired vehicle may have long term negative effects. I’d be wary of these vehicles on the used market.

    • 0 avatar
      Eddy Currents

      They are getting brand new engine assemblies. Sounds like a no brainer to me.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        If that’s the case, I’m with ya. I was concerned that they were just going to give you new pistons and rings.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          Man, that would have been an expensive proposition for Toyota. Imagine the dealer grease monkeys rebuilding the engines. The labor cost, time in the service bay, and lack of factory control over the quality of the rebuild would have been a disaster in the making.

          Now, the cost of replacing the entire engine is cheaper, just like when your toaster stops working under warranty and they just give you another one. It’s hard to believe an engine is now disposable like a toaster, but the cost of repairing anything is more than replacement. They’ll probably just junk the engines, like repairable toasters get tossed.

      • 0 avatar
        bullnuke

        With all the torque-to-yield fasteners and special tooling nowadays, manufacturers don’t want the dealership mechanics doing the repair. Just strip it to a short block, replace it with a new short block, and send the defective short block back to a refurbishment center that has the tooling, etc., to do the job correctly and effectively.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Must those early Japan made Camry’s that they brought over?

  • avatar
    ajla

    The Camry’s pistons are ENGORGED WITH POWER.

  • avatar
    John

    Nice clickbait title. Toyota didn’t “discover bigger pistons aren’t better”. Toyota discovered that pistons that are out of spec aren’t better. Whoop de do.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    GM would say the customer misused their car, didn’t follow driving recommendations in the owners manual and just generally abused their car. In no way were there any engineering or manufacturing errors from GM. No Siree, no bad manufacturing, no bad parts from GM ever. Toyota finds something wrong with the engine, replaces engine.

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis

      el scotto

      I never had an engine problem in any of my GM cars, so I’m going to have to take your word on that one.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        Just the basic differences in the way the two companies do business. Dad had a Northstar Caddy, mom had a Cobalt. The Caddy service writer tried to tell an aeronautical engineer, who is OCD about maintenance, that it was his fault his engine failed. The Northstar should be burned with fire. Our local indie mechanic runs a sprint car and is a hard core Chevy guy. The only non-GM product to grace his driveway was his wife’s Mustang GT convertible. After an oil change on the Cobalt his advice was simple “bad car, get rid of it.” Then he grinned, and said, “Engine, tranny, electrical, all bad, but it will keep me busy” He’d rather wear pink panties on his head than bad mouth a GM product. Not a drop of gasoline should be spared burning all Cobalts. GM/Ford, if the car has a truck engine, consider buying it. Car/SUV specific engine? Walk over to the Japanese lot. I’ll give hearty Amens at the combined super-church of 3800 and LS power. The rest of GM? Wheezy motors in overweight cars.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      Oh you mean like how Toyota blamed the entire oil sludging issues on dumb American consumers who didn’t follow service correctly and refused to replace engines in thousands of affected vehicles for years. Good try

  • avatar
    John Horner

    What a non story. Does this site still have editors?

    Toyota realizes that an exceedingly small fraction of Toyota Camrys might have shipped with slightly out of tolerance pistons. Not bad enough to cause the engines to fail, but theoretically might cause problems under extreme circumstances. Toyota doesn’t wait for class action lawsuits (which might never happen in a sub 1% of vehicles scenario) but proactively issues a recall and offers brand new engine installations on any potentially out of spec vehicles. The industry standard reaction in this situation would be to do nothing and say nothing. Toyota is going the extra mile to clean up after themselves. That is The Truth About Cars in this particular situation.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Someone missed a step in the quality assurance process.

    Who ever setup for machining didn’t accurately measure what was produced.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    Nissan had a similar problem in the late ’90s with the VG30Es in the pickups. The pistons and bores were graded by size and the piston manufacturer marked some of the pistons wrong. Some of the engines ended up with pistons that were a little loose, and on a cold winter morning you’d get a little piston slap, similar to what was normal in GM cars at the time. The fix? Remove and replace the engine. I imagine that’s what Toyota is dealing with, except they’re getting cylinder wall scoring.

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