'90 - '01 Toyota Camry Fuel Filter Replacement / Throttle Body Cleaning
Toyota Camry 5SFE Fuel Filter
One of the most commonly neglected maintenance tasks on today's automobiles is fuel filter replacement. In the case of the Toyota Camry ('89 - '01), the manufacturer does not even list the fuel filter as a scheduled maintenance item. Surprisingly, many mechanics at both dealerships and independent shops do not advocate its replacement unless customers request it.
A replacement filter is not expensive, but when it gets clogged it deprives the engine of the fuel it needs, and the following symptoms may occur:
- Hesitation when towing or climbing hills
- Difficulty starting, especially when the engine is cold
- Poor acceleration
- Engine shutting down during idle
- Fuel pump failure (if the pump is overtaxed with too much back pressure)
- Engine misfire due to lack of adequate fuel
Advocates of fuel filter replacement recommend doing it every three years or 30,000 miles, and perhaps sooner if one is the victim of a bad tank of gas.
After you remove a filter, you can determine how badly clogged it is by this test: remove as much gas as possible from the filter, wipe clean the filter input port, and then try to blow air through the intake fitting, as if blowing up a balloon. Some residual gas will blow out in the process. Sometimes when I have tried this I found I couldn't blow air through the filter at all. Compare this to blowing through a new filter; it should have virtually no resistance.
On newer model Camrys ('02 and later), including most Toyota and Lexus models, the filter is integrated with the fuel pump regulator located inside the fuel tank. Perhaps the reasoning behind this design is that 1) if you are going to replace the fuel filter, you might as well replace the fuel pump too, given the effort involved in removing the fuel pump regulator assembly; and 2) the filter and pump should last about the same time. The latter assumption won't be true, though, if the fuel tank was filled with contaminated fuel that clogged the fuel filter but didn't affect the pump.
Camry 5SFE Fuel Filter Replacement
Access to the filter is made simpler by removing parts that interfere with tool access. I recommend removing the air filter box and the driver's side fender apron seal. As long as the air cleaner box is removed, consider cleaning the throttle body and throttle plate to get rid of carbon buildup. This is another maintenance item that isn't listed on the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. Accessing the throttle body intake is easier with the air filter box and air hose removed.
Remove the Cleaner Box Top Lid
Remove the Lower Cleaner Box
Optional: Remove the Cleaner Box Hose for Throttle Body Cleaning
Detach the Electric Wire Strap
Remove the Driver's-Side Fender Apron Seal
3/8" (12mm) Crow's-Foot Tool Attached to 3/8 Extension
Remove the Lower Fuel Line Fitting
Before torquing off the lower fuel line fitting, have a rag on hand to capture any fuel that may leak after removal. I used a crow's-foot flare nut adapter tool instead of an open-end wrench to generate more leveraged torque and avoid stripping the fitting.
If the Lower Fuel Line Fitting Won't Come Off
Sometimes the fuel filter needs replacement, but the flare nut just won't turn. The problem may have been caused at the factory where the flare nut was cross-threaded on with high-torque tools. There are two remedy options you can try:
1. Strap-wrench the filter and use vice grips on the flare nut. While holding the vice grips stationary, turn the filter with the strap wrench.
2. Hacksaw off the bottom portion of the fuel line. Go to your local auto parts store and find a brass fuel hose fitting that can screw onto the bottom of the new fuel filter. Purchase a foot-long fuel line. Connect the new fuel line from the hacksawed-off fuel line to the brass fuel hose fitting. Secure the fuel line ends with hose clamps. This is a last resort that has worked for me on several occasions.
A customer of mine had a fuel pump replaced, while away on vacation, and the repair shop told him that they couldn't get the filter off for replacement. He subsequently complained he could hear the new fuel pump making noise and the engine lacked power. Later, after he got the filter off and replaced it, the noise and power issues disappeared.
Remove the Union Bolt From the Top of the Filter
A 1/2" socket wrench is recommended. There is little room to attach a box wrench or open-end wrench to the union bolt. Grasp the filter firmly while applying loosening torque on the bolt. Place a bucket under the filter to capture gasoline; when the bolt is released, the filter will lose its vacuum.
Remove the Fuel Filter
If the replacement filter came with a new bracket, remove the two 10 mm bracket retaining bolts from the vehicle frame. If using the existing bracket, remove the bracket and loosen the filter clamp bolt to slide out the old filter. Attach the new filter to the bottom fitting before attaching the bracket. Doing this makes it easier to adjust the fuel bracket while aligning both the fuel supply line and mounting to the vehicle frame.
Screw the New Filter Onto the Lower Fuel Line Fitting
Connect the Filter Bracket and Fuel Lines
Slide the new or existing fuel bracket onto the new filter. Align the filter's elongated tabs with the indentation on the fuel bracket where the upper metal fuel line is at a 30-degree angle facing the transmission. Check that the bracket can align with the bolt holes on the frame without placing stress on the lower fuel line. After tightening the bracket mounting bolts, secure the union bolt to the new filter with new lower and upper O-rings. Now you can tighten the lower fuel line fitting.
Additional Fuel Filter
On the Camry, ES300, RAV4 and Avalon, there is an additional filter attached to the fuel pump regulator within the fuel tank that works in conjunction with the fuel pump strainer. If your car has over 150,000 miles on it, it may be a good idea to replace the pump, strainer and filter as preventative maintenance. I have written an article on how to do this replacement yourself.
Optional: Clean the Throttle Body Plate
If the air box hose has been removed, before putting everything back together, you might consider cleaning off any carbon deposits that may have accumulated on the edges of the throttle body plate (or "butterfly") and the interior of the throttle body port. For cleaning, use carburetor spray solvent. Work the plate open, and use a clean rag plus perhaps a used toothbrush to loosen the carbon. For a really thorough cleaning job, you can remove the throttle body from the intake manifold and clean it while it's off the car. This way you can clean the air ports leading into the throttle body using a thin nylon-bristle brush.
Test the Fuel Line for Leaks
Turn the engine on for 30 seconds to allow the electric fuel pump to saturate the new fuel filter with fuel. Check for leaks. Then start the car, and with the engine running, check for leaks.
I recommend using a "Top Tier" gasoline to prevent deposit buildup in your fuel injectors and intake values. Use a fuel injector/fuel system cleaner if you have any concerns about deposit buildup.