The engine on my 1997 Toyota Camry seized up on 10/19/99 with only 28000 miles. I had conducted all the necessary oil changes and have receipts. The engine had to be replaced and Toyota would not honor the warranty. The cost was $4100.
They continue to state it was due to lack of maintenance even though I produced the receipts. I took my case to an arbitrator (who works for Toyota Corp) and they denied my claim. Through my research, I have found other similar cases similar to mine where the Toyota engine seized and Toyota held the consumer liable.
Throughout all this, Leesburg Toyota in Leesburg, VA. has been very rude, discourteous, and unresponsive. My last three cars (including 2 Toyotas) have all gone over 150,000 miles and I have maintained each and every one. One of my current vehicles is a 1991 Toyota Previa with 165,000 miles and going strong.
This is how Leesburg Toyota in Leesburg, VA. treats a valued customer! I have a detailed account of events I will send to you as an attachment. There is also a lot of information in this attachment that I have found out about Toyota in the past months.
HERE IS THE TOTAL STORY
June 10, 2000
I have been engaged in an on-going battle with Leesburg Toyota in Leesburg, VA. and Toyota Motor Corporation since October, 1999. That is when the engine on my 1997 Toyota Camry seized up after only 28,126 miles of driving. The car was then towed to Leesburg Toyota in Leesburg, VA. The Service Manager there, Dave Wishnow, refused to honor the warranty on this vehicle saying that he believed the reason for the seizure was due to poor maintenance on my part even though I was able to produce evidence of 4 oil changes all within the 7500 mile interval recommended in the Toyota Owner's Manual. This vehicle has had to be towed into the Leesburg Toyota dealership three times since October.
The Service Manager is making me bring it in every 1000 miles for an oil change. He has also been very rude and discourteous throughout this ordeal. I have owned and maintained cars for the past 30 years and have never been treated like this by anyone. Toyota Corporate has backed his original decision even though I have provided them proof that this problem was probably caused by a defective part, namely, valve stem seals that are leaking and have caused sludge build-up. I have informed them that this vehicle has in the past and continues to blow blue smoke out its exhaust. According to information I have gathered, this is a sympton of leaky valve stem seals.
Since this whole ordeal started, Leesburg Toyota has been rude and unresponsive. It has been next to impossible to talk to a Toyota representative about my case and the valuable information I have recently found to support my claim. They owe me $4100, which is what I had to pay to get my car repaired in October.
I have waited long enough in trying to deal with them so I must go on. I am hoping that you may be able to help me. If you are unable to help me, then at least maybe you can take this information I have found out about the Camrys and warn others about the way Toyota is treating some of its customers. The following is the events that have transpired in this case as well as the information I've been able to gather from various sources. Please take a look for yourself.
On October 19,1999, my 1997 Toyota Camry completely shut down at
28,126 miles (well within the Toyota warranty period) and had to be towed to Leesburg Toyota in Leesburg, VA. According to Leesburg Toyota, the engine seized because of sludge in the motor. They told me that this had happened as a result of poor maintenance and that my warranty was therefore negated. I was told that I would be 100% liable for the $4100 it would take to fix it. When I said I was not going to accept this decision and would fight it, I was told Go ahead. You will never win this.
When I went to Leesburg Toyota the next day and met with the Service Manager, Dave Wishnow, the Assistant Service Manager, Tony Nguyen, and the Head Mechanic, I questioned how I could be accused of poor maintenance when I had followed Toyota's Owner's Manual and had the oil changed four times, each oil change well within the 7500 mile interval required in the Manual. (In fact, two of the four oil changes were performed by Toyota at the dealership.) The mechanic responded to my
questions by saying that I should have been changing the oil every 3,000 - 3,500 miles since it's a 4-cylinder motor and can't handle it. A completely different definition of proper maintenance was provided by Mr. Wishnow and Mr. Nguyen. According to them, I should have changed the oil every 5,000 miles to prevent this from happening.
The fact that the Owner's Manual requires an oil change every 7500 miles and that I had in fact done this made no difference to either the mechanic, the Service Manager or the Assistant Service Manager. The Service Manager continued to insist that Toyota would not assume any liability since the problem was due to poor maintenance and was not a manufacturer's defect. I then called the District Manager. Mike Wirth, and he said the same.
I consider myself to be a valued Toyota customer. During the past 20 years, I have owned 3 Toyotas and I have always spoken well of Toyota vehicles. All my previous vehicles have reached at least 150,000 miles which speaks highly of both the Toyota product and of my maintenance record with these vehicles.
NOTHING BUT BS AND THE RUN-AROUND
On October 27, 1999, I met with Dave Wishnow, Service Manager, Mike Wirth, the District Manager and Paul Strohocky, a Toyota Field Representative. I was designated as Case Number 1999-10200747. I provided receipts for the 4 oil changes, including the two oil changes done at two different Toyota dealerships. The fact that I met the requirements set forth in the Toyota Owner's Manual was again ignored by Toyota management. The extremes to which Mr. Wirth, Mr. Wishnow, and Mr. Strohocky were willing to go to avoid honoring Toyota's warranty became clear as they struggled to explain why my engine blew up at
28,000 miles. They asked me if I had added any additives to the oil. The answer was no.
Mr. Strohocky said that maybe the sludge was due to using different kinds of oil. He then asked Mr. Wishnow what type of oil he used at the dealership to which Mr. Wishnow replied Castrol. I had him call the other local Toyota dealer and ask what type of oil they used. The other local Toyota dealer replied that they use Quaker State. Under Mr. Strohocky's own theory, therefore, it would appear that my motor blew up because of Toyota's own admitted use of two
different motor oils at two different dealerships. The fact that Toyota personnel were willing to accuse me of using different motor oils to explain why my engine blew up and then abandoning this line of reasoning when it became clear that Toyota itself used two different types of motor oils illustrates the weakness of Toyota's position that poor maintenance caused my engine to blow up.
The fact remains that the engine of my Toyota Camry was properly
maintained in accord with the Toyota Owner's Manual. Mr. Wirth does not dispute this and in fact agreed that I had met all the requirements according to the Owner's Manual. Despite all this, Mr. Wirth refused to honor Toyota's warranty because sludge is not a defective part. I found the cold indifference exhibited by Mr. Wirth to my dilemma completely at odds with Toyota's stated commitment to treat you the way you want to be treated. Mr. Wirth could have cared less about trying
to satisfy me as a loyal Toyota customer of 20 years.
This appears to be the type of customer satisfaction endorsed by
Toyota corporate managment. The fact that Toyota personnel defined proper maintenance four different ways - each crafted to find me at fault for my engine blowing up within the Toyota warranty period was unfair. They told me they were not going to do anything to resolve this matter and suggested that I take the case to Arbitration.
ARBITRATION, WHAT A FARCE
Arbitration is the next level in Toyota's chain to take unresolved disputes. Toyota hires another agency to handle it's disputes. In this case, it was NCDS, headquartered in Dallas, Texas. My hearing was held on Dec. 10, 1999, at Leesburg Toyota even though I had requested NCDS that it be held at a local library but was denied. Anyway, an elderly gentleman by
the name of Carl Micilli presided over the meeting as the arbitrator.
Representing Toyota at the arbitration hearing was Kimbra Marsh, a representative from Toyota Corporate, and Mr. Wishnow, the Leesburg Toyota Service Manager. I brought Mr. Howard Leek, a person with 15 years experience as a Service Manager at an area Ford dealership.
Without going in to great detail, I just want to say that this whole arbitration process from the very start to when the final decision was rendered several weeks later was probably the most unprofessional event I have ever witnessed. Mr. Leek will also attest to this. Before the actual hearing got underway, Mr. Leek and I were appalled to see Mr. Wishnow having a conversation with Mr. Micelli. We purposely stayed away from him because that is what the arbitration hearing guidelines specifically stated to do. During the hearing, whenever I spoke, Mr. Wishnow and Ms. Marsh would laugh and snicker at one another while I was
presenting my case. Mr. Leek even alluded to this childish behavior at the end of the hearing.
Mr. Micelli decided to deny my claim. He ruled that I had not
presented any evidence. He did not mention a letter I had presented to him from a major oil company giving 5 or 6 reasons for sludge to accumulate in a car. He also did not mention Mr. Leek's testimony that he had honored the warranties of customers coming into his shop with sludged engines. The decision had misspellings and Mr. Micelli even stated that he had based his case on the warranty laws of Maryland when,in fact, everything that ever happened to the car happened in Virginia and the arbitration was held in Virginia. He even referred to the replaced motor as being re-built instead of new unless he's aware of something I'm not. Is this what Toyota calls an arbitration? Is this the type of professionalism Toyota wants to stand behind?
Since the arbitration fiasco in December, I have been able to gather quite a bit of information from various sources regarding my case. I also want to inform that, in addition to being towed into Leesburg Toyota in October for the engine seizure, it also had to be towed there in November and December 1999. The first time was due to a speed sensor on the transmission and the second time to have carbon removed from a
oil switch. Under the direction of the Service Manager at Leesburg Toyota, Mr. Wishnow, I am having to get the oil changed every 1000 miles. He commented on the service order for the most recent oil change that this would have to be done for the next 10,000 miles. He also wrote in the comments section that I need to check the dipstick every time I get gasoline. Why do I have to abide by a different set of rules than other customers? I am afraid to not comply in the event my engine has
another problem and again he decides not to cover it under my warranty.
I feel that this is unfair and that I am being persecuted.
Several weeks prior to my last oil change, the oil light flashed
on/off several times. I checked and found the oil level to be down. It had only been approx. 900-1000 miles since the last oil change. I added a quart of oil and the light did not flash on again. I told the Service Department at Leesburg Toyota about this and they told me this was normal. I told them about the frequency of blue smoke coming out my exhaust and they said they would flush out the engine. They did this but I still have the blue smoke.
In the past months, I have discovered the following information
about the 1997 Toyota Camrys which I want to convey to you:
1) A woman from Alexandria, VA had the engine in her 1997 Camry seize up like mine from sludge build-up several months ago. The car had 47 K miles on it and had never had the oil changed. The woman claimed she didn't know she had to change it! Guess what happened? Alexandria Toyota in Alexandria, VA replaced her engine under warranty AT NO COST!!
2) I received a letter from Castrol Oil stating that sludge in a motor can be caused by the following reasons, not just from poor maintenance:
a. Contamination from a coolant leak (glycol or anti-freeze)
b. Improper PCV functioning system
c. Carbon from combustion, moisture, and acid from incomplete combustion
as a result of short trips (which I take) where moisture never really has a chance to evaporate.
d. Dust and dirt escaping from the oil filter
e. Fine metallic particles that result from engine wear.
f. Over-accumulation of the contaminents engine oil is exposed to in the normal course of an engine's operation.
3) A memo was put out several months ago by a Carmax dealership in Atlanta, GA stating that late model 92+ Camry's have a tendancy to sludge if the oil was not changed at 3000 miles which is 4500 miles less than the owner's manual recommends. Upon further contact with them, they informed me that they have several late model Toyotas come in with sludge that we are unable to resale because of the mechanical problems that can occur. They also go on to inform me that they are now pulling
the valve covers on all Camry's including late models coming into their lot and checking for sludge. According to their research, this problem started occurring when the engine went from 2.0 2.2. By the way, they told me that Carmax sells approximately 400,000 Camry's a year so they are very familiar with the Camry. They further told me that they believe Toyota should definitely change the oil interval recommended in their
Owner's Manual for Camrys from 7500 miles to at least 5000 miles to help avoid this problem. The Carmax representative told me that the sludge is a result of the engine running at a higher temperature than the oil cooling system can handle. The source goes on to state, The maintenance schedule given in the owner's manual is not adequate to keep the oil fresh. The V6's are also affected by this. I checked a V6 yesterday and it looked like somebody smeared apple jelly all over the inside of the engine.
4) Another source informs that Camrys show a proneness to sludge build-up. This is a result of leaky valve stem seals. The seals leak oil into the cylinder causing sludge. According to the experts,
If the valve guides are worn and allowing oil to enter the
combustion chamber and burn, it could cause the oil to
sludge or carbonize in the head and block the oil return ports, not allowing the oil to flow back into the oil pan as fast. If the carbon breaks loose and clogs other parts of the oiling system it could cause damage to the engine due to lack of oil.
This may cause blue smoke to come out the exhaust. I have always
observed blue smoke coming from my Camry. Other vehicles have and are currently being tested for this. Initial findings show the Toyota products more prone to have sludge.
You can refer to the following web link for more information:
5) I have a copy of at least one case with the National Highway
Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) where an individual also had his 1997 Toyota Camry seize up at 21,000 miles. This occurred on November 15, 1998. The case number is ODI 831623.
6) Several months ago, a 1998 Camry with 19K miles started
shaking and lurching at all speeds and was taken to a Toyota
dealership where sludge was found. The person had receipts for 5 oil changes but guess what? Toyota is NOT going to honor the warranty and is making this person pay $7000 to replace the engine. This person is from Austin, Texas and can be reached via email at email@example.com. There has been another similar incident several weeks ago. I am currently trying to get in touch with this person to find the details.
The District Manager, Mike Wirth, has already admitted in our meeting in October that there was no lack of maintenance on my part. I provided copies of the 4 oil changes I had done. Even the gentleman from Toyota that also attended the meeting, Paul Strahocky, stated that he could not be 100% certain that the sludge was caused by poor maintenance. So maybe it was caused by one of the reasons given above. Further, in addition to this and the information I have gathered above, my past track record has been excellent. As I stated before, I have owned and
maintained Toyotas since 1982 and both have gone over 150,000 miles. My current 1991 Toyota Previa has 160,000 miles.
I believe from the evidence and information mentioned in this letter that a possibility exists here of either a possible defective part or perhaps a flaw in the design of the Camry engine that causes sludge to build-up. Carmax , a major car dealership, has spent a lot of time and money on research to prove this. I believe this evidence proves that sludge can be the result of many other things in addition to the ONLY
reason Mr. Wishnow and Mr. Wirth believe causes it, that being poor maintenance. I believe this is something that Toyota Corporate would definitely want to further investigate and inform all their personnel.
At minimum, based alone on the evidence I have found, Toyota should seriously consider lowering the interval for oil changes from 7500 miles to at least 5000 miles. Even the personnel at Leesburg Toyota would agree with me on this one.
Recently I contacted Mr. Wirth seeing if we could get together again and re-open this case since I have new information. I mentioned to him about the woman getting her sludged engine replaced at Alexandria Toyota at no charge even though she had admitted to never changing the oil. He said he could not do anything now and told me to contact Corporate Headquarters in Torrance, California. I told them the same thing and the best they could do was offer me another arbitration hearing. Now there is a case exactly like mine in Austin, Texas where
Toyota is refusing to honor the warranty of a sludged engine at 19 K miles even though the owner has receipts of 5 oil changes.
Anything you can do to help me or get the word out to other consumers would be most appreciated. As I stated before, I'm not sure what else I can do to get Toyota to do the right thing. I sent Toyota Corporate this same information about a month ago and they have not done anything to resolve my case yet. I did find out that they must have read my letter because within a week after sending it to them, they apparently, according to my sources, reprimanded the Toyota dealership in Alexandria, VA that replaced the seized engine at no charge even after the woman claimed she had never changed the oil. This proves that
Toyota only cares about itself, not the consumer.
R L. Rinehart
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