2011 Toyota Sienna Long Term Road Test


2011 Toyota Sienna: Maintenance Required, But What? When?

January 18, 2011

2011_toyota_sienna_1600_mainreqd_dashlight.jpg

Our 2011 Toyota Sienna coughed up a warning light as I crossed the 4,500-mile mark a week ago. Page 685 of the owner's manual says this light will flash for a few seconds at startup beginning 4,500 miles after the last oil change, then burn steadily at 5,000 miles, whereupon the engine oil must be changed.

Then I dug deeper and found that this doesn't jive with the official maintenance schedule, formally published in the supplemental "Warranty and Maintenance Guide", one of those thin booklets packaged with the owner's manual. Page 36 of that document plainly lists 4 items for the 5,000 mile service, none of which are an oil change. Here the first oil change is called for at 10,000 miles.

I called Toyota and was told the supplemental "Warranty and Maintenance Guide" takes precedence. The 10,000 mile oil change interval applies here.

Great. I've got this figured out.

Then Scott went out and crossed 5,000 miles and threw all that out the window. The lamp above burned steadily, as expected, but there was more...

2011_toyota_sienna_1600_mainreqd_direwarning.jpg If the maintenance schedule is correct and the oil change interval truly is 10,000 miles, someone needs to tell the guy who wrote the software for this warning.

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According to Toyota, the critical element is synthetic oil. Toyota began a gradual transition to 0W-20 synthetic oil and 10,000-mile oil change intervals during the 2010 model year, and our 2011 Toyota Sienna was filled with the stuff at the factory.

Toyota, in a September 2010 "Tech Tip" sent out to dealers, lists the reasons for switching to 0W-20 Synthetic and the 10k oil change interval as follows:

* Reduced friction and wear on engine surfaces

* Improved Fuel Economy

* Reduction in waste oil stream

* Reduced maintenance cost

They are quick to point out that 5,000-mile interval service visits are still required between each 10,000-mile interval oil service. Looking at the page above, the main 5,000-mile interval item of note is a tire rotation, even though a driver's floor mat inspection gets top billing. They also seem to assume people won't ever check their own oil and fluid levels, either.

So our "MAINT REQD" lamp has a reason to blink on each and every 5,000 miles, but the reason is not necessarily the need to change oil. The prominent "Oil Maintenance Required" warning we're now seeing on the information screen seems to be an artifact from an earlier oil policy.

It's either that or our Toyota sources and the maintenance schedule are both wrong and the oil change interval really is 5,000 miles.

2011_toyota_sienna_1600_mainreqd_oilcap.jpg

Here's a little more. The owner's manual never uses the word "synthetic", not even once. And there's no underhood sticker to that effect, either. You'll see 0W-20 listed in both places, but that's as far as it goes.

Turns out that might be enough, because it appears that a synthetic formulation is necessary to get the viscosity all the way down to 0W-20. Therefore the stated need for 0W-20 in the owner's manual implies synthetic oil even though it's not explicitly called out. Still, that seems weak to me. Spell it out. Remove all doubt. Leave no room for error if engine life and warranty coverage are at stake.

As for the supplemental "Warranty and Maintenance Guide", the one pictured above containing the official maintenance schedule, synthetic oil is clearly listed in large letters on the front cover.

That's not good enough. This stuff should match up precisely and the specific in-vehicle warning we're now seeing makes me uncertain of the real story. The two manual authors and the person who programmed the oil warning screen need to check each other's work. One or more of them are wrong.

What does all this mean for us?

I'm still trying to confirm the official answer, but in the meantime we'll take our Sienna to our local dealer and play dumb. Based on when we bought it, the new Toyota Care program should apply to our Sienna either way it turns out. We shouldn't have to pay a dime for any routine inspections, tire rotations or synthetic oil changes, whenever they occur in the first two years.

More to come later.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 4,860 miles, and then again @ 5,034 miles

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The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2011 Toyota Sienna in WA is:

$134 per month*
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