Edmunds dealer partner, Bayway Leasing, is now offering transparent lease deals via these forums. Click here to see the latest vehicles!

Camry - Oil Light Problem

dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
edited February 2014 in Toyota
I have a 1993 Camry LE with 143,000 miles. About
30,000 miles ago the oil light starting coming on.
I have checked the oil level, oil presure, and
have changed the oil sensor and the oil light is
still coming on. I can change the oil filter and
the problem will go away for about 1,000 miles.
Once the oil light starts coming on again I can
change the filter again and the problem is solved
again for about another 1,000 miles. Even using a
higher grade filter such as a factory filter only
extends the 1,000 mile to maybe 1,500 miles. Has
anybody else had this problem? I have had one
suggestion of using a different grade oil. I am
not a mechanic and I'm not sure if this could cause
even a bigger problem. Can anybody help.


  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Dear dalittle,

    There is only one way to answer your question...you have to hook up an oil pressure gauge and get a reading in real numbers. At that mileage, I'd say either your oil pump is failing or there is just too much clearance in your engine main bearings..that's a lot of miles...if you do indeed get a low reading on the test gauge then you'll have to diagnose the problem further.
  • lwflwf Member Posts: 223
    But he said he checked the oil pressure and it was ok, so the oil pump must be ok also.

    What grade of oil are you using?

    Does the light come on immediately when the engine is started from cold, or only after it has reached normal operating temperature?

    Sometimes the obvious explantions are overlooked. Is it possible your engine is so full of glop, the oil filter simply gets clogged after only 1000 miles? Are you sure whoever is changing your oil drains it when the engine is hot? I've know of gas stations & garages that only do oil changes when business is slow, which might be 4-to-6 hours after the car was left in the morning. Not a very good practice in my opinion. If you ever find out what's wrong, please share it with us.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Well, if the light is going on and it's not shorting, then by god the oil pressure is dropping at some point. Does the light stay on all the time after it first comes on? In theory, if the red light is on, your engine should be in serious distress and you'd know about it...or is this just at idle speed that the light comes on?
    If just at idle, a single weight oil might help, but I'm still leaning toward an oil pump problem since this engine has such high mileage.
  • gusgus Member Posts: 254
    We had a problem like this on a volvo one time. We replaced the oil pump, and put new main bearings in the car. I think that fixed it.
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Member Posts: 2,721
    What about debris in the oil pump pick-up screen?
  • KCRamKCRam Member Posts: 3,516

    I'd recommend (if you have some spare $$) having an oil pressure gauge wired, so you can see exactly what your oil pressure is doing and more importantly, when. You could be experiencing problems only under wide-open throttle, or at certain rpms, which will help diagnose the root of the problem.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    A clogged oil pump screen would spell destruction, so I don't think it could be that, and clogged filters would allow the bypass valve to open up, maintaining full pressure. The fact that it happens on a warm engine seems to indicate that as the oil thins in the bearings and oil pump, the pressure drops correspondingly.

    Of course, if the red light stays on and you're barreling along the highway, then the light itself is obviously no good because you'd have seized the engine by then.
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    Thanks for the responses.

    I have been using Amsoil synthetic oil. 10W30 as recommended. I change my own oil and do change it hot. The oil light comes on at different times, sometimes hot and sometimes not and can be at any speed or RPM. Sometimes when the light comes on I can kill the engine and start it up again and it does not come back on at all. When the light comes on, sometimes it just flickers and does not stay on. The last oil change I went back to petroleum oil and am having the same results. The car runs great. I have thought of trash in the system that could be clogging the filter after short periods of time. If this is the case, is there an effective way to clean the system.
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Member Posts: 2,721
    I said debris in the oil pump pick-up screen, not clogged. But this shows up as a loss of oil pressure at high rpm. Is it possible the oil pressure indicator light is grounding or intermittent? You need an oil pressure gauge you can refer to when the light goes on.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Yes, right, he needs the gauge to look at...an engine really couldn't run with the red light on at high rpm, it would crunch...those lights indicate a VERY low pressure, practically nothing.
    Usually, oil pressure either "is" or "isn't"...it's very odd to be fluctuating, sounds more electrical or maybe oil pump related, at least as it is being described.Bad bearings aren't variable, so that's kind of out...
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    Thanks for the info.

    I'm not a mechanic, but what ya'll are saying makes sense. However, I have a few questions. How could it be an oil pump problem if when the oil light starts coming on I can change the filter and the problem goes away for around 1000 miles? If it is the oil pump wouldn't it happen all of the time? Wouldn't I see a performance difference in the car? I am thinking of installing an oil guage to get an accurate reading of the oil pressure (good suggestion). Your comments are very appreciated.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Well, I don't know the answer to that...it's downright weird is what it is...
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    Mr Shiftright,

    You got that right. That's why I have been having this problem for so long. When this first started the dealer told me that the oil filter could cause the problem. Sometimes using a factory filter extends the mileage before the problem starts but they are expensive. I have also found other filters that work better as well but they are expensive too. If they solved the problem I wouldn't mind paying more, but they don't. They just extend the mileage before the problem starts again.

    Downright weird sums it up very well. Still hoping to get the answer one day.

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    The gauge, man...hook up the gauge....I don't think the filter is the answer, because it has a bypass if it gets clogged...what we need here is quantitative data, I think...if the gauge actually starts dropping after 1,000 miles, that would be an interesting question for a noted engine builder I know, but I don't want to bug him unless the facts are in.
  • lwflwf Member Posts: 223
    You said this has been going on for 30,000 miles and you've been sort of forced to change the oil and oil filter approximately every 1000 miles to avoid having the light come on. And you also drain the oil while it's still hot. If that's the case, I take back what I suggested that the engine may be so full of glop that the new filter simply gets clogged from that glop within another 1000 miles. If you've had about 30 oil/filter changes in the last 30,000 miles, your oil pan must be one of the cleanest for a 143,000-mile engine in the whole country. Some of the other things you reported suggest there might be an intermittent electrical problem that makes the light go on (and off), but a newly installed filter would have nothing to do with dysfunctional wiring. So I don't think it's a bad wire. I guess an oil-pressure gauge is something you really need. But in my opinion, every car and pickup needs one, and I hope there's an especially hot spot in hell reserved to the guy who first decided gauges aren't really necessary and that idiot lights are always good enough.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Oh, they're great if you notice them the minute they come on...if you don't notice them for 30 seconds on the freeway, your car's engine will certainly call your attention to the problem.
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    I have not been changing oil every 1000 miles, just the filter. I have changed the oil as recommended.
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    After tomorrow I will have an oil gauge on the car. I should be able to see what the oil pressure is when the light comes on. Thanks for the help so far. I will let ya'll know what the results are.
  • lwflwf Member Posts: 223
    "I have changed the oil as recommended."

    I interpret that to mean every 7500 miles or every 5000 miles if you have a lot of short (less than 5 mile) trips. So that implies that you've been changing the filter 5-to-7 times for every oil change. Does the duration before the light starts to come on (indicating you need a new filter again) seem to be longer when you've put new oil in? Does the oil seem to be still pretty clear at the occasion of the first filter change 1000 miles after the oil change? It should be, but if it's quite black you'll be running very dirty oil through a brand new filter, so the new filter will also clog soon. What I'm getting at is I'm starting to go back to my previous suspicion that your engine may be so full of muck the new filter just gets quickly clogged up again. I believe that draining the oil removes a lot more of the muck than what is trapped in the filter that's being changed. A few quarts of oil are inexpensive. Why don't you change the oil every time you change the filter for the next 4 or 5 times to see the duration before the light comes on starts to increase.......maybe up to 5000 miles?

    Another thing I, and others too it seems, have been wondering is why the bypass valve doesn't seem to be doing it's job. It should allow the oil to flow even with a clogged filter so the light shouldn't ever come on. But if changing the filter turns the light off, that sounds like a clogged filter is what's turning it on. It's conceivable to me that the bypass valve may not function properly if the crankcase if filled with a lot of sludge. Well just a thought.

    Keep us informed regarding what you find out from your new oil-pressure gauge.
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Member Posts: 2,721
    Debris in the oil pump intake screen. That's my story and I'm, stickin' to it.

    Bypass valve is spring loaded. That means to open it, there must be a pressure drop across it. So the oil pressure on the discharge side of the bypass valve is lower. That's the working pressure of the system at that point. It is not true that when it opens up, you have full pressure, since it requires a pressure differential just to open it in the first place.
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    If there is a lot of sludge in the motor. Is there anything that you can use to break up that sludge? I have thought about dropping the oil pan to see but this is not as easy as it sounds with the Camry. You can't just drop the pan. I'm not a mechanic, but I am tending to lean toward sludge myself.
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Member Posts: 2,721
    I can't see why there would be a lot if it was regularly maintained, even at 140,000 miles. But you would be the one to know. Is there? It could be something other than sludge. I once had a cheap oil filter disintegrate. Guess where it ended up? But this perplexes me because it sounds as if your Camry otherwise runs fine. It wouldn't if it was really gunked up. You still need to get that oil pressure gauge hooked up so you can compare to the oil pressure light when it comes on, before you start pulling pans, oil pumps, etc.
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    Got the gauge hooked up. Oil pressure was fine when I cranked the car, around 25 psi at idle. Took it out for a drive. Pressure increased to around 35 psi at 2000 rpm's. The oil pressure dropped to around 10 psi while stopped at a red light. Hit the interstate, the oil pressure stayed low, around 10 psi. Pulled over killed car and imediately recranked. The oil pressure came back up to around 30 to 35 psi where it should be. I'm still not sure if the oil pump is the problem. It seems like it would either work or not work and not work properly sometimes and sometimes not. What do you think? Is the next step dropping the oil pan? If I drop the oil pan, should I go ahead and change the oil pump?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    interesting that your oil light went on at 10 psi, but that's good I guess. Yeah, no harm in dropping the pan...really examine that screen and the pick up pipe for looseness or damage or restriction of some kind. If you don't see anything at all, the pump is cheap and a good guess...if none of that works, I guess it's tear down time or just drive the sucker until it...well...you know....
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Member Posts: 2,721
    Frags? Might still be worth it to try and prevent that. I think the pan should be dropped. If you find a broken pick-up pipe, you'll be glad you did. I wonder if oil is not getting picked up from the pan? Then you shut it down, oil drains back down, when it starts back up skims from the top, then sucks air again?
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    Cranked car this morning. Oil pressure at idle (1500 rpm) was almost 45psi. Went driving, oil pressure dropped to around 25psi after warming up. When returned home, the oil pressure was 10psi at idle. The oil light has not come on since I have installed the gauge. The senser is a 2 - 4 psi senser.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Oil pressure at idle is almost irrelevent...don't pay all that much attention to it...but it should climb quickly as you increase rpm. Yes, quad could be right, sucking in some air there...
  • lwflwf Member Posts: 223
    So far your oil pressure seems to acting somewhat normal. Since the idiot light hasn't come on yet, why don't you just keep on driving until it does and at that time get a reading on the oil pressure. Since it did not come on at 10psi, it's pretty certain that the light will correspond to something less than that....possibly about 5psi. If it goes back to 30 to 35 with a new filter and the light goes out, put the dirty filter back in and see if it goes back to the low value accompanied by the light. If so, that makes it pretty certain you are picking up sludge in an almost new filter.

    Dropping the pan today, cleaning out the sludge, and replacing the oil filter will probably fix your problem. But then, you'll really never know which corrective action fixed it.

    I don't understand why so many think this is an oil-pump or clogged-screen problem. Why would changing the filter affect the pump action or temporarily unclog the screen. It seems to me it has to be sludge in the pan that is converting a new oil filter into an old one in 10,000 miles.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I think we were thinking...well, I'll speak for myself...that perhaps the two conditions (new filter causes light to go out) are not actually causal, but both symptoms...even a clogged filter should not really cause that big a drop in pressure, but again, without digging in there, we'll never know...there's so many variables...what if the oil level drops over time? What if there is fuel dilution going on? so much we don't know without the car in front of us?
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    Drove the car today watching the oil presure constantly. Oil pressure would drop after running for awhile. Couldn't stand to wait any longer so I went ahead and changed the oil. I made sure that the oil was hot before changing. Bought a few extra quarts and poured through after the old oil had grained. Took for test drive. Oil pressure up where it should be. I believe it is sludge causing the problem. I plan on taking the oil pan off when I get a chance. Until then I will change the oil when the oil pressure drops below what I think it should. Maybe this will solve the problem.

    Thanks for the help. I will keep you updated on the progress.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Okay, thanks! Oh, and do check for fuel contamination...is your gas mileage so-so or really bad?
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    The gas mileage is very good. I usually average around 30 MPG on the highway. I think the sludge is the problem. I'm going to drive it until the pressure begins to drop and the oil looks dirty. Then I will go ahead and change again. It may be awhile before I get a chance to drop the pan. I expect that when I do drop the pan and clean that I will have the problem solved completely. I will keep the gauge on until I'm sure.
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Member Posts: 2,721
    Changing the filter would not temporarily unclog the screen. But remember, the pressure drop is equal to the combined resistance of the screen and filter. So when the filter gets clogged enough to set the warning light, then changing it turns it off. But whatever is trapped in the screen, if anything, stays there indefinitely and lowers the pressure accordingly. The owner says he thinks he has sludge...that is enough to make me believe him. You were right for suggesting that, it appears.
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    quadrunner500, lwf & MR_SHIFTRIGHT

    I am having the oil pan dropped tomorrow to have the pick up screen cleaned. I will let you know what I find.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I bet it's a Sapporo beer can....
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Member Posts: 2,721
    Drum roll... ... ... ...
  • dalittledalittle Member Posts: 13
    Guess what guy's. The oil pan was full of sludge. Oil pick up screen 3/4 stopped up. The oil pressure is now about 65-70 psi while running. What a difference it makes when thing are clean. I'm surprised that I did not notice any performance difference. I wish that I had done this a long time. I guess you live and learn. Thanks for all of the help.
  • dhoffdhoff Member Posts: 282
    I'm glad you were finally able to find your problem and have it fixed. This was a real stumper.

    What I'm now wondering is, what caused all of this sludge to form? From reading the previous posts, it seems you change your oil regularly. Are you the original owner of the car? It may be that a previous owner let the car sit for long periods without changing oil.

    I see that you use Amzoil. I'm neither a proponent or opponent of Amzoil, but if I were you I would change brands. This just should not happen if the oil was changed regularly.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Lot of times sludge comes from driving conditions where the engine doesn't warm up enough...you know, 2-5 mile commutes to work and back.

    Well, that was interesting...I'll remember those symptoms for next time.
  • lwflwf Member Posts: 223
    Glad to hear the good news.

    You said you had been using synthetic oil. How long had that been going on? At what mileage did you start and stop doing that?
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Member Posts: 2,721
    You probably saved your engine by dropping the pan. Congratulations!
  • paul29paul29 Member Posts: 178
    It might be in your interest to take an oil sample after a few thousand mi. and have an oil analysis done. This could possibly lead you to the cause of sludge i.e. antifreeze leak etc. Your oil pan is the garbage dump of your engine ,it is the lowest point and every thing ends up there .The spectrographic analysis will tell you what is in the oil ,and from what part of the engine it came from.
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Member Posts: 2,721
    I have always wanted to do that. A Caterpillar dealer does it for diesels. I don't know who does it for gasoline engines.
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Member Posts: 2,721
    Thanks for the info paul29!
  • gchernya1gchernya1 Member Posts: 43
    Live and learn! I would rather sell the sucker.
This discussion has been closed.