A new van was a dream come true for busy working mom Rami Amaro. "That was my first vehicle that was just mine. It wasn't my husband's; it wasn't anybody else's, so I babied that van," says Rami.
Despite all her extra care, Rami says her car started to smoke after only 28,000 miles. When she brought it in for repairs.... "That's when they told me that it was sludged." Sludge is gelled oil that builds up in the engine. The caked on substance often causes extensive and expensive damage. "It's a lot more expensive than getting your oil changed on a regular basis," says Clint Loftin with Super Lube in Tyler.
The Center for Auto Safety says it has logged hundreds of complaints from sludge sufferers in the past year alone. Loftin says the best way to clean up an engine's act if it becomes sludged is prevention. "No it's not ruined you can get it fixed. But the best fix is obviously to prevent it from happening in the first place," says Loftin. What's causing the problem? Auto makers say cars can become sludged when consumers don't change the oil often enough or use the wrong kind of oil.
But consumer care isn't always to blame. In some cases, the engine's design may lead to the sticky mess. "Because engine compartments have gotten smaller, because more sources of heat are closer to the engine that that is one of the reasons why we are seeing more engines with sludge problems," says Richard Truett with Automotive News. "In a few cases, manufacturers have identified occasionally an oil sludge issue with an engine and they may extend the warranty," says John Cabaniss with the Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Companies like Saab, Volkswagen and Audi have offered that extra protection on certain engines. Toyota tells us it also has a special program to make any necessary repairs on two of its engines. But, to take advantage of any special warranty, Truett says you have to prove you took care of your car. "The best thing you can do is use the most aggressive maintenance schedule the auto maker recommends, and save all your oil change receipts," says Truett.
The receipts should include both when you change your oil and what kind was put in your car. Rami says she would have been covered with one of the new extended warranties if it had kicked in during her lease. It didn't, so she was stuck with a sludged car until her lease was over. "I parked it in my garage for about six months and didn't drive it although I was still making the lease payments. The remedy that they eventually offered was too little, too late," says Rami.
Experts say there are warning signs if your car is starting to sludge. It may emit bluish smoke or your car may be going through oil more quickly than usual.
Christine Nelson reporting. firstname.lastname@example.org