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Considering buying a 2nd gen...

45633 Views 914 Replies 22 Participants Last post by  Kingdom934
Hello. I've owned two cars in the past; a used 2008 Toyota Yaris (that I only owned for five months before totaling it in a car crash), then a new 2011 Mazda2, which I totally loved every day until it was repossessed and immediately auctioned due to financial troubles on my part earlier this year. I've been without a car now for three months in the most car-dependent state on the planet, and yeah, it sucks.

So now that I'm steadily employed and relatively financially stable again, I need another car, and fast. I absolutely do not want to deal with monthly payments, aside from auto insurance and regular maintenance/gas. At first, I was looking at 4th generation Camrys, since they're still everywhere and those were the last generation of said reliable car before all the cars started getting really fat and bloated (high beltines, anyone?). But the average price of those Camrys is too high for me to save up for at the moment ($2300-$3300). I also looked at used 2000s cars to buy outright, but most under $2500 are full of problems. So I opted for pre-1997 cars for less than $2000.

That's where the 2nd generation Camry comes in. Here in Southern California, especially in L.A. and vicinity, there are still quite a few of these 1987-1991 Camrys zipping around, and with no rust. In my city alone, there are probably a dozen or so of them on the roads (white seems to be the popular color of choice). I see enough of them daily to where I feel they have proven themselves to be sturdy, reliable vehicles for their age. I see just as many 1986-89 and 1990-93 Honda Accords and Civics here, but those are stolen even more, and I don't need that. I also could have opted for the just-as-good-if-not-better 3rd generation Camrys (1992-1996), but they're too round and ordinary-looking for my taste. The 2nd gen Camrys got it right IMO, not too boxy but not too round either.

So I've been doing extensive research on these 2nd gen Camrys every single day for the past month now, and there are over 100 of them for sale locally on craigslist. Many have between 100K and 200k miles; I've even seen some with 300,000+ miles on them (!!!). So I'm currently saving up about $1500 for one, that seems like a reasonable price to me. Now I am not a mechanic nor am I very mechanically inclined with cars (the most I've done is change the air filter on my 2011 Mazda2), however I'm willing to learn what is needed to keep the car running smoothly. In fact, it kinda seems like it would make me feel more personally attached to the car, thus making it even more special. I would not typically drive long distances in the car, I just need to get to my job and college (all within a few miles) and occasionally my friend's house and stuff like that. Local driving, mostly. However I should mention that the roads here are pretty crappy in general. We also have many, many curvy & twisty roads, often with long, gradual as well as very steep grades/inclines. I hope the Camry can handle it.

I do love listening to music, oh man do I love me some good tunes. So I've already looked into Pioneer audio systems for the car just in case, as I don't believe the stock stereo/speakers will do the bass any real justice.

As for safety, to be honest, I'm not all that concerned. Post-1985 cars I'm not worried about. It has just enough for me, I'm fairly minimal in my preferences in a car. All I need is a good sound system, A/C and the typical power steering/etc and I'm set. I'm 23, by the way.

So tl;dr - are these good cars? Is $1500 worth it? Any advice/tips/recommendations/etc? Thank you.
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The Gen2 were were not the best in audio field or any 80's car. Running 4" in front and 6.5" (ish) in the rear, it didn't do much in the lower end sound range. The Gen3 with the 6.5" in the front and 6X9 in the back is much better. Some people can opt that it sounds pretty decent though, but I never had a Gen2 to test my ears on.

For a Gen2 $1500 is about right, but for that price, I would want to have all the power options (LE Trim) and body in reasonably good condition. V6/I4, but the V6 does have a weak point with the transmission with the reverse usually failing first unless proper maintenance was done to the transmission.
Yes they are good cars, but you need to consider the fact that the newest 2nd Gens will soon turn 25 years old. It's a good thing you want to learn how to fix things yourself, you'll find a lot of support from this forum.

If you can drive stick I'd recommend you buy a 4 cyl manual car for fuel economy, reliability and ease of maintenance.

If you don't have tools of your own you will need to buy metric sockets and wrenches. You'll use that 10 mm socket a lot.

Inspect the vehicle before you buy it. Bring a flashlight with you. Inspect the rubber hoses, check for leaking fluids, integrity of steering parts and suspension. How the car performs mechanically is more important that its looks. 1500$ is a fair price for a well-maintained 2nd gen.

When you finally decide to buy the car get the Toyota Factory Service Manual and study it. Do your own fluid changes and tune-ups. Come to the forum, read threads, ask questions, spend some time here. You will get to know your car and once you know how your car works it can save your ass, believe me. If money is tight, resist the urge to modify and customize your ride. Keep your money for maintenance and repairs.

The more you work on them the more you get attached. Yes they're reliable, rather safe for their age, extremely well built and engineered, get decent mpg... just perfect cars IMO.
If the Gen1/Gen2 didn't rust out as they do, I would probably be still driving my Gen1! So freaking easy to work on and get pretty good space and gas mileage. Of course, it won't win any crash test though...

Trying to find a manual Camry here is like trying to find Gen3 SE Camry. Quite a rare treat, but I'd love to grab a manual Camry. A lot of manual camry are base models though.
Wow there is some pretty nice cars there. I am envious

84Cressida, look what is there too!

and I'd buy this since these are nonexistant. LE trim too

OK...getting off subject, lol.

Those two looks good as well.

But like always it could be car flippers. I see them quite often enough overhere.
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Fortunately I made a folder in my Bookmarks containing all of the 2nd gen Camry's that I'm "seriously considering" (there's about five in there right now). I comb the listings every day to find any more potential good ones. Odds are that at least one of these will still be up in four weeks. If not, I have a folder for other "acceptable" Camry's that I'm considering.
I been combing my local craiglist daily for the last several years's an addiction O_O
Be careful soon that looking addiction will turn into a buying addiction :facepalm: If I had the space I would own 10 Toyota's by now. BTW the guy I sold my Corolla to was an avid Toyota collector he had a flatbed trailer just for buying cars, guy owns some awesome stuff like a Crown wagon.

On people pouring a bunch of money into the car and then selling, I agree you can't really judge the car on that. People get fed up with putting money into a car and just want it gone, remember most people cannot work on the cars themselves so anything they do costs a small fortune. As for dealer versus private I'd say dealers are 10 times more crooked at least in my experience. They lie their faces off, I've seen the paperwork from the dealer that showed a "51 point inspection" everything checked off good but when I looked at the car there were so many things wrong no way anything was checked. One car I looked at had a broken coil spring, great inspection job guys.

I'm already an addict. That's why I got so many cars at my house. See my sig on what I have so far. That and I work/maintain on my close friend's cars when I have time and counting my parents.

So that list below plus...

2000 Camry LE I4 Automatic (Dad's) (J-vin)
2001 Camry LE I4 Automatic (Mom's) (J-vin)
1998 Camry LE I4 Automatic (Friends) (4-vin)
1997 Camry LE V6 Automatic (Friends) (J-vin)
1997 Avalon XLS V6 Automatic (Friends)
1995 Land Cruiser I6 Automatic (Friends) (J-vin)
1995 Corolla LE I4 Automatic (Friend's dad) (J-vin)'s too late already, 71Corolla. My mom keeps telling me I need to get rid of my other two cars (my 85 and 87. They sit most of the time)

Also, should I bother with car history reporting companies like Carfax to look up info/history on the vehicle if I'm serious about buying it? It costs between $40 and $55 for vehicle history reports. Is it worth it?

If you need one I got a 2 month subscription until end of January. I would just need the plates and the state and then I can send it to you.

Carfax IS NOT PERFECT, take it with a grain of salt. it DOES GIVE YOU a good indication on the history and see if it matches up to what you see. I bought the unlimited searches for carfax because I am looking for another Camry (and good to look at random 'I know it's a car flipper trying fix a bad car' one too). (it's a Gen4 2000 5spd at a private lot :facepalm:
I'm usually on here on the weekdays (at work thats why), but I do check on occasion on the weekend.

Things to look out for on an older camry is odo roll backs and salvage titles/junk titles. Cars older than a certain year (I think like early 90's) it may or may not show all the owners (it may list 'owner' change but not listed on the carfax report of the owner change).

You will be VERY surprised on how many cars are reported salvage that are on craigslist. For older cars, it's not that bad because if it was salvage when it was 20 years old, it was probably a minor accident and the repair bill was 75% of valve($1500 repair on a 2K value camry, it could just need a paint job and new fender!). On newer cars especially, I would be very cautious as a Camry valve at 15K with a 75%+ repair bill - you know it would had been a bad accident!
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White one looks good to me as well, assuming info is accurate.

As far as Carfax - I wouldn't pay the $50. If it is from a dealer, I would probably get him to run it and fold it into the price of the car. From a private party, that is hard to do.

And I would look for negative info on the Carfax - i.e. if the Carfax shows accidents, odometer errors, etc. - look at those as issues with the car to negotiate the price down or be aware of. If the Carfax is clean - that isn't a negative against the car, but don't assume that the car is fine b/c of that.

Yes. Car fax is only as good accurate as the people who report it, so if it was someone who drove into a pole but never reported it, the car would show up as 'no accidents'. I buy Carfax when I'm serious about puchasing another car just because I want a second set of eyes (i.e. where car has been, any odo rollback, serious accidents). Since I'm on craigslist a lot too, it is good to just randomly carfax cars that I suspect it being a 'bad car'.

Just as a reference, I had two minor accidents in my 2004 Camry that caused minor paint chipping on my bumper (rear end got tap) and a small dent on my hood (lifted truck reversed) which both never shown up on carfax and I had a police report for both (minor vehicle collision). My friend's dad though when his car got totaled, it did show up on carfax though, but that was a serious accident.
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I just received the strangest phone call....

I had emailed the seller of that '89 Camry earlier today and gave him my phone number, and he called me back and suddenly said that he was getting rid of the car for just $500 today, and if I was interested to call him back. So yeah...thanks but no thanks, dude.

Good thing that wasn't the only car I was considering.
What the heck? That is strange unless they trying to pull that 'moving' crap and just flipping cars.

Although to make $500 off a car is not alot. Most of these flippers tend to aim for cars a bit newer with more overhead value.
Hmm didn't know other places do via owner instead.

In Hawaii, the plates are bound to the vehicle. You CAN request new plates, but the vin links up to the plates, so if you have the vin (which you can find out via plates), you can look up all the previous plates the car had.

This is also a reason how I can tell when a car was recently registered over in Hawaii. It's always weird to see a car with new plates but the car is at lease several years older. While I understand sometimes owners/dealers will get new plates before they sell their car (they pay a small fee here), sometimes it indicates the car was off the road (i.e. storage) for a bit. I've found some pretty interesting car records on older cars with newer'ish' plates - some which were salvage/total loss cars that were fix and being sold on craigs.
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Yeah, that and you pay registration fees based on weight of car not age. So my 88 LE with 240k miles costs nearly $300 each year.

Yep...I do the same almost as well. We go by weight and misc tax.

Hard to believe but back in 2000, my 1985 Camry used to be under $100 bucks for registration.
That kind of rust here is

But yea, it is well worn. Missing speaker cover and passenger handle door thing is different color. stains as well.

If your an interior perfectionists, this would not be it.
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Beach cars seem to rust from the top down due to salt air.
That and everything around the trunk and/or firewall. Take a eye on that.
It can be awfully hard to tell from just pictures. I have had cars that I thought had major dents and dings and it was just a reflection on the photograph and cars that I thought looked flawless on photographs that I would be embarassed to own (dents and dings when seen in person).
That or there some weird smell going on inside the car/trunk lol
If you can do your own work, there is a trade-off here, though. If your budget is $1500 and the new car is only $900, that gives you $600 in parts to put into the new car if it needs it.

But you have to factor in your time and inconvenience.

Also - on 25-year-old cars, I'm not sure $500 in the sale price means that much difference. i.e. the $1500 car could also need major work (any 25-yo car could) and the seller may just as easily be thinking "Anything that runs is worth $1500" as "This is a fantastic car, but nobody is going to pay more than $750 for a 1989 Camry."

There is less potential damage from a rear-end accident than a front end accident and probably most cars this old will be in some accident in the past - regardless of what Carfax says. Again - Carfax is a negative, not a positive. A blemished Carfax gives you an idea of things to investigate and check into. A clean one doesn't mean a good car - just a possibly good car.

Very true. Also demand will raise or lower prices. Older Camry here still go for a decent amount due to the popularity. Don't get me started with some old 80's toyota pickup, the prices here are inflated quite a bit, even rust buckets with bondo.

Carfax gives you an idea on what may have happen. I wouldn't immediately write off an older camry that has a salvage title that occurred when it was 20 years old. I would, be careful if the car was salvage early on (i.e. within 10 years) as that usually means more serious damages. Depending on the state, salvage titles are issues on vehicles that has a repair cost more then 75% of the total value of the car iirc or something like that.
If I had to opt for a choice on a Gen2 or Gen1, I'd opt for a fully loaded LE or a show room like DX/base. I would perfer an LE on these any day especially when the cost most of the time between the Base/DX/LE should only vary a few hundred, if at all.

Speaker setups in these are no where near what 'stock' setups are nowadays. You got a custom 4" design speaker and housing in the front and you can fit a 6.5" in the rear. You can get sound, but nothing near what I would call 'awesome' in these.

Offtopic, but there has been this ES250 that has come and gone on craiglist without being sold. Person selling having a hard time trying to get it sold. Guess because the price is a tad high and no one knows what a ES250 is, lol.

Condition is pretty nice. Looks like leather pkg upgrade along with chrome wheels, but no sunroof :( (some pictures below)

Me? Would I buy it? Sure if I had more space and a tad bit more cash, lol.
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The (FWD) LE models all had automatic transmissions, the base and DX models it was optional. What you are seeing is the difference between the auto and manual transmission ratings.

I noticed you mention that the LE (FWD) had automatic. The only way to get a 5spd manual for the LE was the All-trac, right?
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Good luck to you on this adventure. Guess a good way to start the new year?

I'd check all fluids prior to driving far. Brake fluid, power steering fluid, tire pressure, oil, transmission, etc. It'll give you an idea if anything needs attention after the long drive, but 100 miles for a proper maintain car should be fine. Heck, I drove 150 miles in one day (I'm on an ISLAND), my old camry was fine.
I have this inner sense where I know a car is a good deal when I see it. Most times when I do see one on craiglist, it is gone within a matter of 24 hr.
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Half decent Cressida. Looks in good shape. Base trim w/ automatic.

If it was going on sale for that price here, it'll be gone in a few days if not hours. Cressida are hard to find, more so rust free!


There was a post of an ES330 near where I lived. Man, if I didn't have so many cars, this would be an awesome project. Just wondering if the timing belt gave out on the 3MZ though....that be a heafy repair work!

Carfax ran and the car is all clean titled. Last (current 3rd owner) I believe for the last 7 or so years, so 'salvage' and 'manual' is possibly a mistake lol...
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I take the opposite approach to most people no distance is too far if I find the car I want. If importing a U.S. car into Canada wasn't so much of a hassle and expense I would have likely bought a Cressida or All-Trac from one of the southern States. California is the #1 market in the world for Toyota and Lexus so if you live there you have the best selection.
Only thing sucky about Cally is the emissions.

I'd love to get another old Toyota, but the shipping to bring one in the states exceeds the value of one here. At lease a thousand. That and having to schedule and get all the proper paper works is probably a headache.
My 88LE "Cali" car did get shipped to Hawaii, first Big Island, then Oahu where I sold it rust free after driving a number of years. I assume it's still driving around as I personally replaced just about everything except the engine/trans itself. Registration was easy; state inspection and super expensive registration based on weight of vehicle and not age. Even the A/C was working most of that time.
Would love to had seen it. Hard to find a rust free older Camry here.

Actually, if it was on craiglist i probably would had seen it.
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