Should You Sea Foam Your Tundra? I Wouldn’t
A recent thread on TundraSolutions.com about using Sea Foam – a chemical designed to remove carbon deposits from inside your engine – got Tim and I talking. Would we use it on our vehicles? Why or why not?
While I don’t think Sea Foam is bad for vehicles (it isn’t, at least if it’s used correctly), I’d say that it’s a bad investment for most vehicle owners. Here’s why:
1. Like any corrosive additive, improper use of Sea Foam can harm your engine. If you don’t follow directions, don’t be surprised to have problems. Sea Foam is a mixture of naptha and alcohol – two things that your engine can process in small quantities, but in large quantities can kill your motor.
2. The amount of carbon build-up in modern engines is significantly reduced compared to just 20 years ago, let alone 40 years ago. As a result of better design and electronic control, engines benefit from these types of treatments with far less frequency than they used to. I would go so far as to say that many engines have absolutely no need for Sea Foam treatment, especially if they’ve been well maintained.
3. Sea Foam benefits are a bit nebulous. Most people who use this treatment talk about a smoother idle and/or a slightly better “feel” under acceleration. These are good things, but are they really beneficial?
The Sea Foam website doesn’t publish any data that shows Sea Foam will restore lost power or improve fuel economy. As a matter of fact, the Sea Foam website specifically states that it does NOT do either of these things. From Sea Foam’s website:
If your engine is being affected by significant deposit build-up, you will likely see an improvement to like new fuel mileage with continued use of Sea Foam because you will have removed these hindrances to performance. But Sea Foam is NOT promoted to be a “mileage enhancer” product as such.
Please note the use of the words “significant deposit build-up.” Running Sea Foam through an engine with moderate or slight build-up likely won’t deliver benefits (and this matches my experience with these types of additives).
While some people may see Sea Foam’s unwillingness to talk about results as “legalese,” the fact is that the benefits to the Sea Foam process aren’t usually obvious. While a smoother idle is nice – and some have reported better fuel economy, more power, etc. – most people who put Sea Foam into their vehicles see no measurable change.
What’s more, improvements in fuel economy and additional power could be a result of replacing the fuel filter, replacing the spark plugs, etc., which are things people often do after completing a Sea Foam treatment.
4. Sea Foam isn’t for amateurs. There are HUNDREDS of documented incidents where people have used Sea Foam and experienced catalytic converter failure, O2 sensor failure, damaged actuators inside the air intake manifold (remember, your Tundra has an ACIS system), and a bunch of other issues. While Sea Foam advocates argue that these problems are all caused by improper use, that will be little comfort if you have a problem.
Put another way, Sea Foam can be tricky. If you don’t take great care when you use it, you could end up with a headache.
5. Toyota does not recommend Sea Foam, or any other treatments like it. Make of it what you will, but no manufacturer recommends this sort of aggressive treatment as part of any regular maintenance cycle.
NOTE: As MPToy07 points out in the comments, there are some situations where Toyota (and other manufacturers) recommend using chemicals like Sea Foam. As a general rule, these vehicles utilize direct injection. See the exchange below (and bonus points for MPToy07 for calling me out!)
For those of you who don’t know me, and/or for those who are wondering “Why the hell should I care about what this guy says?“, here’s my background info.
I’m the founder of TundraHeadquarters.com. Since 2007, I’ve been writing about trucks, reviewing accessories, talking to all kinds of experts in the auto industry, etc. Before founding TundraHeadquarters, I spent 9 years working at auto dealerships. While I’ve never turned a wrench professionally, I’ve worked on my own cars and helped manage dealership service departments. I also have an engineering degree. I’m well-versed in all things automotive.
Is my opinion on Sea Foam extremely qualified? Admittedly no. There are people who know a lot more about the chemistry behind Sea Foam, people who know a lot more about rebuilding engines and removing carbon build-up, etc. than I do.
However, for what it’s worth, I personally wouldn’t bother with Sea Foam. If I had reason to suspect that my engine had a lot of carbon build-up, I’d find a shop offering the Terraclean decarbonizing system, make sure they knew what the hell they were doing, and then pay the money. It’s more effective and less risky.
Filed Under: Maintenance Tips