Hardlymoving writes about do-it-yourself automobile maintenance on various makes and models.
Three Common Causes of Oil Leaks From the 4-Cylinder Camry
Here are the three most common sources of oil leaks from the Camry I4 5SFE engine:
- Worn oil seals from the camshaft, the crankshaft, and the oil pump sprocket seal and gasket. These seals and gaskets are typically checked and replaced when performing a timing belt replacement. If leakage becomes excessive, you might want to go ahead and replace your timing belt ahead of schedule, since oil contact with the belt will reduce its longevity. A timing belt saturated with oil will eventually break prematurely and without warning.
- The valve cover gasket has shrunk, dry rotted, or simply lost its ability to seal. Since the top of the engine is tilted towards the firewall, the majority of the oil leak will accumulate on top of the intake manifold by the fuel injectors. The oil may continue to migrate down to the oil pan, which may give the illusion that the oil pan gasket requires replacement. Applying silicone-gasket-maker material onto the valve cover gasket, a trick I've seen tried often, does not work, and oil will continue to leak.
- The rubber coating on the valve cover/cylinder head plug (located to the right of the engine when facing the engine) has shrunk or cannot maintain a good seal. Toyota added this plug when they replaced their camshaft-driven ignition distributor system with solid-state coil packs.
If Item 1 is your problem, you will want to replace your timing belt, as discussed in another article. This DIY article will address items 2 and 3.
A Fourth Source of Leaks
If a leak is detected between the inner CV axle shaft and the transmission—if you see seepage stains below where the CV axle meets the differential, or drip marks on the ground in that area—the problem may be a transmission fluid leak from a worn axle shaft seal. A leak here will cause the level of transmission fluid (ATF) to drop gradually. Another article of mine shows how to replace the axle and seal.
Identifying the Source of the Leak
Leak Behind the Passenger-Side Front Wheel
If the number one and two fuel injectors show a film of fresh oil, or accumulated dirty oil, the valve cover may be the culprit. The source can be further validated by removing the front passenger-side wheel and inspecting the power-steering pump. If the pump is wet with oil, the leak has migrated from the intake runner down to the back of the engine block and then to the power-steering pump. This is assuming that the power-steering pump itself is not leaking; if it is, the power steering fluid level will be dropping.
Leak Beside the Passenger-Side Front Wheel
Again, the source of the leak can be verified by removing the front passenger-side wheel. If an oil film appears at the base of the lower timing belt cover where it meets the engine block, then the camshaft or crankshaft seal, or the oil pump seal or gasket, may be leaking. The timing belt cover must be removed to determine the exact cause.
Leak Between the Front Wheels, Below the Transmission
Unless the leak is transmission fluid coming from the inner CV axle shaft seal, the cylinder head plug (the half-circle hump on the right side of the engine by the ignition coil packs) is leaking oil.
Video on Recognizing a Bad Valve Cover Gasket
The 2-minute video below provides you an overview on recognizing a valve cover gasket that needs replacement.
Video on Replacing the Valve Cover Gasket for a Toyota Camry I4 5SFE Engine
The below 5.5-minute video will provide you with step-by-step instructions for removing and installing a valve cover gasket on a I4 Toyota Camry. Instructions in text form follow the video.
Video on Fixing Oil Leakage Inside the Spark Plug Tube
The 7.5-minute video below will show you how to repair oil leakage inside your spark plug tube. If this problem is not corrected, you may experience ignition misfire and possible damage to your coil pack.
Valve Cover Gasket Replacement and Valve Cover Plug Seal Procedure
- Remove the ignition wires. Using either bent-end or needle-nose hose pliers will ease removal.
- Disconnect the vacuum line from the right side of the valve cover.
- Unbolt the two engine hoist hooks from the front left and right side of the valve cover. This will ease the removal and installation of the valve cover.
PCV Valve Removal
- Move the hose clamp closest to the intake runner.
- Using needle-nose pliers, pry the PCV valve up out of the valve cover.
- Twist off the PCV hose, with the PCV valve attached, from the intake runner.
Remove the Valve Cover Hold-Down Nuts/Rings
- Using a 30 mm socket, unbolt the four 30 mm hold-down nuts/rings.
- The valve cover can now be removed. The rubber gasket may be slightly fused to the cylinder head; using a pry tool will ease removal.
Unbolt Plug Cap, Remove Plug, and Clean
- Two 10 mm bolts retain the plug cap. Remove the two bolts.
- Pry the cap off using a thin-tipped screwdriver.
- Clean the area where the cap sat, removing oil and debris. Finish by using any brake-cleaning product to remove oil residue.
Coat Cap Contact Surfaces With RTV and Reconnect Cap Cover
- Use any RTV product with gasket-sealing properties. J-B Weld makes an excellent automotive high temperature RTV if you can find it.
- Coat the base where the plug sits with RTV, along with the cap.
- Position the plug on the cylinder header.
- Secure the cap on the plug and re-bolt.
New Valve Cover Gasket Installation
My personal preference is to use silicone valve cover gaskets instead of rubber. Rubber will eventually shrink, crack, dry rot, and leak again. Silicone gaskets, if you can find them, last longer and retain their elasticity better than their rubber counterparts. When the new rubber gasket shrinks, re-tightening the valve cover rings will offset shrinkage, but this solution will only work for a while. However, I've found valve cover gaskets made by Fel-Pro to be of very high quality with good durability.
- Dab RTV sealant at the edges where the semi-circle hump ends.
- Clean the valve cover grooves where the new gasket is to be placed. Removing all oil residue from the grooves will allow the new gasket to adhere to the grooves, which will be helpful during installation of the cover. If the new gasket will not stay put, apply a small amount of RTV in the grooves.
- Re-install the valve cover. The remaining steps are the reversal of the removal process. When torquing down the valve cover rings, spread the tension equally among the four rings. This will help distribute hold-down tension on the new gasket and should provide a good seal.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have a 199 Camry LE and I think it is burning through oil like crazy. It does appear to be leaking oil however one time I did see a small spot of oil on the ground on the right side underneath the front passenger wheel (2 times). I do see that the front CV axle shift is covered in oil (front side). Where can the oil be coming from?
Answer: If it's a high mileage car (over 150k) its probably inside your timing belt cover which could be a worn out or dry rotted: 1. Camshaft Oil Seal 2. Crankshaft Oil Seal 3. Oil Pump Cover Oil Seal.
Question: I have a 2001 Camry 5sfe motor and have a bad oil leak. I had the timing belt, cam seal and crank seals replaced but it dropped 2 quarts of oil in 35km. Seems to be leaking from the same side but the seals were replaced. It has a dry gasket cover, but now oil leaking on the right side of the engine. Were else could the leak be coming from? There is a steady drip on the left side of the engine. Any advice?
Answer: Could be the rear main oil seal (sandwiched between the engine and transmission), the oil pump seal (driven by the timing belt but would be leaking from the passenger side) or the plugs on the side of the engine cover need to be resealed. Recommend you power wash all oil residue to better identify the source of the leak.
Question: I just need this car to last about 4 months until my grandson leaves for the military. Is there a way to fix a Toyota Camry oil-leak cheaply?
Answer: The only really cheap way is to do the repair yourself.
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