Toyota Camry (97-01 4-Cylinder 5SFE) Spark Plug Replacement

Updated on November 2, 2016

Tips Before You Get Started

Iridium Plugs

When you replace the spark plugs on your Camry, I recommend replacing them with iridium plugs as a simple and safe way to enhance performance: see the discussion at the end of this article.

Clean the PCV Valve

At the same time you replace the plugs, either clean or replace the PCV (Positive Crankcase Ventilation) valve, which is located on the valve cover between the number 2 and 3 ignition wires. The PCV valve channels unburned carbon blow-by gases back into your combustion chamber. A valve stuck closed will allow these gases to react with the motor oil and possibly cause the formation of engine oil sludge, a subject that was controversial for Toyota in the late '90s. In addition, a PCV valve stuck closed will create internal engine pressures that can cause oil to leak through the crankshaft, camshaft, and/or oil pump seals, requiring their replacement.

Track Down Valve Cover Leaks

When you pull the ignition wires to gain access to the plugs, you will see a valve cover locking nut for each spark plug hole. These nuts have a tendency to loosen, allowing oil to leak from the back side of the valve cover. In very bad cases, oil will leak from behind the front passenger side wheel. Re-tightening these nuts will eliminate the leakage. If an oil leak continues to this area after tightening up the valve cover nuts, the leak may be coming from:

  1. a worn crankshaft, camshaft or oil pump seal, or
  2. a worn oil pump rubber gasket.

The procedures for replacing these parts can be found in my article on timing belt replacement.

I. Removing the Spark Plugs

a. Spray the ignition wire clips with silicone spray and detach wires from the clips. If you do this without lubrication, you run the risk of breaking the clip off of the valve cover.

b. Detach the right-most driver's side ignition wire from the coil pack; otherwise there will not be enough wire length to remove the wire from the spark plug tube.

c. Pinch, twist and pull up on the rubber ignition wire nipple above the rectangular cap to detach the wire from the plug. If this proves difficult, pinch and pull with long-nose needle-nose pliers using the base of the valve cover for leverage. *WARNING - Regardless of how careful you are removing the wires, you run the risk of damaging the wire if the wire does not detach easily from the plug. It could be stuck due to the ignition wire's rubber boot fusing to the plug's ceramic insulator. Use silicone or di-electric grease on the boots during re-installation.

d. Remove the plugs using a 3/8 socket wrench attached to a 4" extension and 5/8" spark plug socket. If the plugs seem frozen in place, spray penetrating oil into the plug hole and let the oil saturate the threads. Combine loosening and tightening action to allow the oil to migrate.

II. PCV Valve Removal and Cleaning

a. Using long-nose needle-nose pliers, position the plier tips under the lip of the PCV base and use the valve cover as a leverage base to pull up on the valve.

b. Position the PCV hose clamp away from the PCV outlet and twist off the valve from the hose.

c. Shake the PCV valve. If it is relatively free of carbon, you can hear the spring inside when you shake it. Either way, spray Carb Cleaner into both openings of the valve, seal the openings with your thumb and index finger, then shake the valve. Keep shaking until the internal spring and plunger move freely. Drain out the Carb Cleaner.

d. Reverse above steps for re-installation.


III. Tighten the Valve Cover Locking Nuts

a. Use a 30mm 1/2" socket.

b. Alternate the tightening sequence from the inside out. That is: plug holes 3, 1, 2, 4, in that order. Do not completely tighten each nut. Gradually spread out the tension.

IV. Install the New Spark Plugs

a. If the threads in the cylinder head seem corroded, use a thread-chasing tool to clean them up.

b. Use anti-seize lubricant on the spark plug threads to prevent plug seizure for the next change.

c. Don't use a 1/2" socket wrench to install the new plugs. A 3/8" provides just about the right amount of torque for a tight spark plug fit. If you aren't sure about the proper amount of tension, use a 3/8" torque wrench.

d. Lubricate the tips and the interior caps of the ignition wires with silicone or di-electric grease to ease installation and future removal.

e. Carefully attach the ignition wire clips. Too much pressure will snap the clip off the valve cover.

Try Iridium Plugs

To keep your Camry in top-notch running condition, consider replacing the standard factory double-electrode spark plugs with iridium plugs. Iridiums generate a bigger spark, last just as long as platinum plugs, and are now the auto industry standard on new vehicles. It's the simplest and cheapest performance enhancement you can make to improve fuel economy and power.

Denso and NGK were the first to provide these plugs, which were very expensive when first introduced over 10 years ago. Now Champion, Autolite, and Bosch provide their own versions at competitive prices. The standard center electrode diameter is 0.6 mm; Denso is the only company with a 0.4 mm plug, which produces a hotter spark but sacrifices longevity. Iridiums work extremely well in forced-induction turbo applications where air and fuel are "rammed" into a combustion chamber, a process requiring high-quality plugs for complete and efficient combustion.

Although some will refuse to deviate from the manufacturer's stated spark plug brand and type, iridium plugs have been thoroughly tested by the auto industry and are standard on many new car applications. Replacing the obsolete spark plug design with new-state-of-the-art Iridiums will not harm the engine in any way.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Tammy 7 months ago

      Been working/having issues with my wires, now wondering about the plugs and what's right for my 97 Camry. This info was so helpful and clarified if I can use iridium or platinum plugs. And the proper way to change my wire set. Thank you!

    • hardlymoving profile image

      hardlymoving 4 years ago from Memphis, TN


      You should notice a mild increase in fuel economy as well.

    • profile image

      david 4 years ago

      Following the instruction, just replaced Iridium Spark Plugs !

      Everything is ordered from this page's link from Amazon.

      Noticed power increase a bit. The sounds feel a little like to drive 2012's new Toyota.

      Thank you hardlymoving !

    • profile image

      pomysean 4 years ago

      Hi Hardlymoving,

      I really appreciate your Spark plug replacing information. I want also change for my car but the problem is that which plug I can use? I found following Bosch plugs, please see and tell me about these.

    • hardlymoving profile image

      hardlymoving 5 years ago from Memphis, TN

      Is you MIL/Check Engine light on? If so, go to AutoZone or Oreilly's and they're download the code for you and tell you what's wrong.

      With respect to poor performance, it could be a lot of things such as: bad ignition wires, bad O2/Oxygen sensor, clogged air and/or fuel filter, clogged PCV valve, bad coil pack, failing fuel pump or one of your sensors tied to your PCM (Power Train Control Module - or Computer).

    • profile image

      Emma 5 years ago

      My toyota camry 1999 4cylinders LE consunes a lot of gas than normal.pkease any advice on what to do?i changed the spark plugs and the problem still continues.meanwhile,if it is climbing hiill,it makes a lot of noise,and would not fire to climb quickly.please any advice would b appreciated.i am emmanuel.

    • hardlymoving profile image

      hardlymoving 6 years ago from Memphis, TN


      Today's cars do not need a timing gun to adjust the timing. The car's computer auto-adjusts.

    • profile image

      david 6 years ago

      So you are saying no need to turning the crankshaft pulley, and align its groove with the timing

      mark using a timing gun, after the spark plugs replacement ? Thanks

    • hardlymoving profile image

      hardlymoving 6 years ago from Memphis, TN


      The timing belt replacement should be performed at the specific time or mileage interval set by the manufacturer. On the Camry 5SFE it is either 60 or 90k miles or around every six years.

    • profile image

      David 6 years ago

      After the Spark Plugs replaced, does the timing belt need to be readjusted ? Thanks

    • hardlymoving profile image

      hardlymoving 6 years ago from Memphis, TN


      It's probably the rear sway bar bushings or links. Here's the article I wrote to fix it:

    • profile image

      amnit 6 years ago

      Hi all,

      I have purchased used camry and there is a funny noise coming from rear of the car when ever it passes from hump or when I turn.I checked every corner of boot and nothing is loose, took spare tyre out, removed back seat, speakers and still sound is coming as something is rattling. Got exhaust checked and they said something is in fuel tank. I am surprised how something can get into tank. They said mounting boots are fine, shocks are good, boot is not making this noise. It is giving me headache please help

    • hardlymoving profile image

      hardlymoving 7 years ago from Memphis, TN

      Hello Andy,

      If anything, the higher efficiency Iridiums will make your catalytic converter last longer. The O2 sensor is a normal wear item that last approximately 90k miles on most Camrys and won't be effected by the plugs.

    • profile image

      Andy 7 years ago

      Thank you for all of your detailed Camry advice and instruction! I'm wondering if you could address an issue pertaining to your recommendation of spark plugs. In this article, you advocate using Iridium spark plugs over the manufacturer recommended Platinum plugs. While you say that the Iridium plugs won't hurt engines (I have a '99 Camry LE 4-cyl.), is there any chance that the increased efficiency and performance could affect or hurt other components? Say, the catalytic converter or oxygen sensors? Thank you.