George likes to do his own maintenance on his vans and trucks. Occasionally, he makes stuff out of wood.
It's Gotta Be Done
Toyota recommends the replacement of spark plugs, typically when your vehicle reaches 120,000 miles. This routine maintenance can be very costly. The dealer I talked with proposed $900 for the job, which seemed unreasonable for a set of cheap spark plugs. Let's look through the work that is required, and you can make the decision yourself whether to do it yourself.
Since I have done this already myself, this article should serve as a helpful guide for those of you in the same predicament. There really isn't any need to disassemble a large part of what's under the hood. I try to show how to get the spark plugs replaced with the least amount of work required. I estimate it will take two to four hours, but you need a long reach and strong, nimble fingers.
What Do I Need?
- 4- and 8-millimeter Allen wrenches
- 10-, 12- and 14-millimeter sockets (the 10-mm will be used most often)
- Rubber spark plug socket (5/8 inches)
- 10-millimeter wrench
- 12- and 14-millimeter ratchet wrenches (makes things easier...)
- Small ratchet with extensions
- Flexible ratchet
- Standard and needle-nose pliers
- Paper towels
- Flathead screwdriver
- Electric tape
- Hat (your hair will be brushing against the vehicle a lot)
- Towel (to cover the parts that you will be lying on)
First Disconnect the Battery
While wearing gloves, use the 10-millimeter wrench to loosen the bolts on the battery. Carefully remove both sides and separate them from the battery, being extra careful not to touch both connections at the same time (otherwise you could get shocked). There should be a slight sizzling sound, which is okay.
Place a towel over the battery area, or otherwise, make sure the area is safe for working. There will be lots of time spent leaning over this area, so make sure it's set up in a way that is safe.
First Set of Three Spark Plugs
The spark plugs are split into two sections, three in the front and three in the back. The front three plugs can be replaced in about 15 minutes, but be prepared to set aside an additional two to four hours for the rear three plugs.
Remove the Cover
Grab the smaller Allen wrench and unlock the three bolts on the front of the frame. Once you unlock them, it should be fairly quick. If you have trouble getting a bolt to unlock, use pliers on the Allen wrench.
Change the Spark Plug
First, remove the bolt on the side, unclip the wiring, then gently pull the long tube out of the hole.
The Special Spark Plug Tool
There is a 5/8th-inch socket specifically designed for spark plugs. This socket has a rubber lining which allows gripping and gentle installation. Connect this to a ratchet with a long extension, along with the socket, and unscrew the spark plug from the hole. Once it is pulled out, place the new spark plug in the socket and gently screw the new one into its place.
Replace the Other Two Front Spark Plugs
Repeat these steps to replace the remaining two front spark plugs. On the three rear plugs, the method will be the same, but with less room. On the rear plugs, no detaching of the wire assembly should be necessary (as they made the cables long enough to pull the spark plug tube out without detaching the wiring).
Remove the First of Three Items
To get to the rear spark plugs, you will have to detach three items. The first and simplest is the set of cables above the exhaust manifold, just above the new spark plugs. It's in the way and will need to be moved. Only three 10-millimeter bolts, a cable, and a few pipes need to be detached and moved. Disassemble so that this piece can be moved over the front spark plugs, out of the way, but there is no need to take anything out of the hood yet.
Start Removing the Exhaust Manifold
Just to continue in this section, remove the four bolts that require an 8-millimeter Allen wrench. No need for any extravagant tools here. Once the bolt is unlocked, it can be removed by hand. After removing the four bolts, remove the two 12-millimeter bolts on each side, and then remove the metal framing. Take this piece of framing out of the hood and set it down for reassembly later. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of getting that exhaust manifold off.
Remove Item 2 of 3: The Air Filter Unit
Proceed by removing just the tubes and bolts so you can pull out the air filter unit. It's fairly simple. There are two small 10-millimeter bolts and several tubes to disconnect. Pulling the large tube off the exhaust manifold on the right should take a little force, but you can easily reassemble it later. Place this piece outside the hood, next to the engine cover and exhaust manifold bracket taken out earlier. This is the last piece that will be pulled out completely.
Remove Item 3 of 3
The challenge with removing the exhaust manifold is that it is bolted on with three brackets in the back that you will need to get to. See the picture below. The first bracket is not at all flexible and has a 14-millimeter bolt. The other two are 12 millimeters and can be removed using special tools. The short 12- and 14-millimeter ratchet wrenches are perfect for squeezing in and getting those out where there is little room to move. A great deal of force is needed, so it might make sense to put on long sleeves before reaching into the back.
Remove the Manifold
Proceed in removing the manifold. There are two pipes connected to the aluminum part on the right which will spit out a little antifreeze. Not much will come out, but be aware when removing those pipes. Attempt to pull out the big piece as one and disconnect any lines that are connected. It may help to use colored tape to identify which pipe goes to which, but mine were, fortunately, color-coded already. You may need to use needle-nose pliers to gently remove the older pipes that are sealed.
Change the Spark Plugs! (Finally)
The method is the same, but this time the cables are longer (as previously mentioned), and the wiring doesn't have to be disconnected. Unbolt the spark plug tubes and proceed to replace the spark plugs. The flexible ratchet will be very helpful in this case. I found that separating the ratchet from the extension helped me fit it in; then I would re-attach it when unscrewing the spark plug.
Now that the spark plugs are replaced, reassemble everything. Getting those three bolts back on may very well be as difficult as taking them off, and took me about the same amount of time. Once they are back on, the rest should go fairly quickly.
IMPORTANT: Make sure that every pipe and wire connection is double-checked, and that every line is connected thoroughly and routed to the correct place. These connections are critically important and could mean serious damage to the vehicle if not correctly assembled.
There is an option to clean the pieces as you reassemble. Might as well, as these pieces are vacant and easy to access.
Check Your Work
As with any service maintenance, start up the car and let it sit idle for a bit. Some would suggest taking it for a short drive to make sure the "check engine" light doesn't come on (which would suggest a pipe or wire assembly was not put back in the right place). After a bit of testing, the car should be ready for use.
I did notice that the front spark plugs appeared to be under more stress than the rears (as shown), which may explain why some suggest changing the fronts periodically. This would certainly be easier than changing all the plugs.
Hope this helps in your project. I wish you the best!
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.
Scott-Darth on May 25, 2020:
Thanks George for the write-up. It was very helpful. I just replaced the spark plugs on my 2005 Sienna with 276,200 km. A few notes and hints for those wanting to tackle this major job: (a) the stubby (short) 12 and 14 mm ratchet wrenches are a must (I don't know how anyone can use the regular length - there isn't enough room), (b) like George, I did not remove the wipers - doing so would probably provide more room, but it is doable without, (c) the middle intake manifold bolt is difficult to reach - you really need to feel and stretch with both hands, (d) you need to use both hands to reach the passenger side intake manifold bolt as well - there is a pipe in front of the bolt that you have to maneuver around, (e) the wiring to the back middle spark plug is short - I manged to get it out somehow without disconnecting the wires, but to get it back in I had to disconnect, resulting in the clip breaking (I also broke the front 3 spark plug clips and decided to use liquid electrical tape to secure all of them), (f) I found it impossible to put the 3 intake manifold bolts back in - tried for hours - then I dropped and lost the 14 mm bolt, which turned out to be a godsend because when shopping for a replacement I discovered body bolts with a tapered end that guides you to the entry hole (size M8 x 1.25 x 25, with a 13 mm bolt head) - I replaced the bolts with body bolts and had the intake manifold re-secured in less than an hour (note that the original bolts are shorter - M8 x 1.25 x 20 - get these if you can - if not, the longer bolt fits the passenger side and throttle body entry holes, but is too long for the middle entry hole; I added a couple of thick washers to get the middle bolt in, (g) cover the 6 exposed manifold holes to avoid dirt getting into them; also clean the surface of the manifold before you try to remove it - I didn't do a good enough job and I think some dirt fell into the holes as I took out the manifold. Anyways, hope this helps someone. Good luck!
John thomas on July 16, 2019:
I have now done 234000klms on my 2005 Toyota sienna van ,same set of sparks,still doing the same RPm same gas mileage
Mnbska on April 29, 2019:
This was one of the hardest things i have ever done, and I am a skilled mechanic. I spent 2 hours on the rear 3 bolts alone. I cant e,emphasize enough how crazy difficult those bolts were to get in and out.
John doe on February 27, 2019:
Not trying to be a dick or dousche, but i think that black plastic thing you're calling an exhaust manifold is an intake manifold.
Rob on January 01, 2018:
just did the spark plugs on a 2005 sienna xle. took me a leisurely 5 hours, and i removed the manifold as described. Thanks so much for the useful description and pictures! it made it go smoothly without any surprises or difficulties. wow!
Fred Siegele on June 13, 2017:
Jill. What tools, specifically did you need? The same ones the guy above suggested?
Clinton on October 12, 2016:
You really should check the gap on the plugs before installing them. Not doing that simple task could make the engine run rough (or not at all).
To do this, get the gap setting for the engine from the auto parts store and buy the $1 gap tool.
Jill on June 30, 2016:
I did this spark plug change myself today at my mechanics garage because they were too busy and it needed to be done. It took me 4.5 hours and I didn't remove anything but the engine cover(plastic with the Toyota symbol on it) and I had to unclip the middle cool clip to get it out to maneuver the removal and replacement of the spark plug. I was on all kinda of forums looking up how it was to be done, but in the end didn't have to remove anything. I am a woman and have slender arms and hands: just wanted to say, it an be done and it only cost me the price of the spark plugs- 50$ I have a Toyota sienna LE 2003. I have a ton of respect for me Janice and what they do because this is the first time I've ever done any fix myself. Feeling pretty good and pretty tired!