By Craig Van Batenburg, AAM
I have just finished reading a book titled "The End of Detroit," written by Micheline Maynard. (It's good, except I disagree with the author's history of Honda.) The book tells a disturbing story. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG have a lot to be worried about when it comes to Toyota (see the sidebar). "Toyoda" was not a misprint; it is the family name and that family is good. Very good.
The reason why I write these articles is twofold. First, I want the car companies, all of them, to "design in" the necessary room and access points so automotive technicians can work on their products in a more efficient and professional manner. Second, I want technicians to know we care about what they do every day.
Now on to the Toyota Camry. I chose the V6 because a four cylinder by its very nature is easier to work on than a V6. Comparing the 1996 Camry V6 to the 2004 Camry V6 was easy. My friend, Roger Fowler, an independent Toyota tech; and Paul Richardson, a dealership tech; helped me out by answering a lot of questions. My thanks to them. Things are getting better all the time, as the Beatles used to say.
Let's look at the '96 model. This model has three problem areas: The rear plugs are hard to access, the thermostat is poorly positioned and the fuel filter needs reworking. Most other items are OK.
Toyota does learn and works on improvement, but not always for the technician's benefit.
Sludge has been widely reported as a problem. Many leased Camrys had little to no preventive maintenance, so those engines failed at as little as 80K miles. Toyota made good on most problems with sludge buildup. Changing the oil is, of course, a good idea.
Other problems these V6 sedans had were dirty air flow meter, charcoal canisters coming apart on the '98 and newer (look for an extended warranty on that issue soon), front O2 sensor problems, and upper front strut bushing wear. Overall, a pretty good design, but it could get better.
Let's look at the 2004 and find out if it did get better:
The 2004 Camry V6 now has the fuel filter in the tank. Coil-on-plug (COP) is on each plug; the '96 has a coil on the front plug with a cable to each corresponding rear plug. Does that make it coil on front plug and wire on rear plug? Toyota made it hard to find problem areas.
Mastertech by Vetronix is the factory scan tool. Nippon Denso makes most of the ignition. Quality parts are important for a successful repair.
Front drive adds the usual challenge for a V6. Rear spark plugs are accessible, but still hard to get to. Normal maintenance can be performed relatively easily. When replacing the timing belt, be aware that the water pump, tensioner and pulleys can show wear and noise at as low as 60,000 miles.
Toyota has redesigned the water pump seals to help extend their life. The throttle cable is gone. A tip on getting to the rear plugs: Remove the PCV valve and hose first.
The following story has become folklore in repair circles. It is about the Toyota lifetime fuel filter. It was almost 10 years ago when Toyota proclaimed its fuel filter never needs replacement. How could that be, since it was an external metal can? Seems as if the warranty claims on some makes were very high as the lower nut was overtightened at the factory and a new metal line from the tank to the underhood filter was commonly damaged. Since then the filter has been a hands-off item. Makes one wonder.
Toyota was interviewed for this story and they say they love feedback. If you think they got it wrong, let them know. Just be specific and offer a solution if you have one.
One last item. Why can't Toyota locate the oil filter, or provide a drain, so that oil doesn't get all over the front motor mount? This has been a problem for years.
Craig Van Batenburg, AAM, is the owner of the Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC), www.auto-careers.org, and delivers management and technical seminars nationwide. He formerly owned Van Batenburg's Garage Inc. in Worcester, Mass., for more than 25 years. Van Batenburg is ASE master and L1 certified, with advanced skills in hybrid drive systems. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org