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Considering buying a 2nd gen...

45631 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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Thank you all for your replies. I don't personally know any "trusted" mechanics, however when selecting a car, I google the area/neighborhood it's located in for auto mechanics in that area and their rates, and reviews. I also use the CA smog website to check out the plates when available. I can technically drive stick, but it's been a while and I wouldn't feel comfortable doing it.

I have no plans to modify the car, I wouldn't know enough to even start on that. I'd like to keep the car looking & running as it was originally meant to.

Listings like this usually catch my eye. Ones like that are not the LE model, but appear to have power options anyway. A good thing about the car's age is that I won't have to get it smogged for that much longer, depending on the year. (30+ year-old cars become exempt from smog in CA) But with low miles and no apparent problems for that price, I do become a little suspicious. I plan to test drive these cars in all sorts of roads and conditions, and use everything in the car to check if it all works like it should. After that, if I feel confident about the car, I will have it inspected before buying.

Just in case you're curious, here are all the local listings on craigslist near me:
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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.
Yeah I enjoy looking at the listings every day. First week of January, hopefully.

There's the rub, finding one that has been well maintained all those years. Too bad the OP has so little to spend. His task may indeed be daunting.

You gave a good example with the wagon,one the OP can cross of his list.If it had all that work it is probably work to hold the car over until it can be sold.
I don't see as many wagons, plus the mileage isn't as good on them and I like the look of the sedan better anyway.

Not per se, but as said above the youngest examples of these cars are approaching 25 years old which is about 15 more than the designers envisioned . Any car that age will need some work from time to time and has a well established list of common failure points that should be checked before purchase. He also needs to be cautious to not spend all he has on the car and then having nothing left if it requires repair in a short period of time. I'd try to have at least $500 on hand for emergencies, at least until he gets comfortable with the car. Personally I like the looks of the blue one; the wagon has a lot of great new parts but whenever I see that I wonder why a lot of work got put into a car and now they're getting rid of it...
Yeah the blue one is one I'm seriously considering. Many of these listings may not be available by January, however. So I'm trying not to get too attached to any one of them just yet. Around the last week of December, I'll contact one or two sellers and try to make an appointment.

I took a short walk around Lynwood (in South L.A.) yesterday, and I spotted a couple 2nd gens in great condition. Every time I see one, it keeps my confidence about those cars high. :)
(...) The reality is I doubt you will find one of these that won't need at least some work, and odds are someone is selling it for a reason. For a private sale I'd highly suggest finding a trusted mechanic to check it out, and in California make sure it will pass emissions. Common wear items that tend to be neglected and fail or are wear items on these are struts (leaks), motor mounts (odd vibrations/excess noise/clunks), hoses (cracks, swelling), the ignition system (especially ignition coil causing poor running)), leaks from the front end of the engine (oil pump, front crank seal, and occasionally cam seal), timing belt/water pump, A/T and differential fluid changes being ignored (check for dark/burnt smelling fluid), and drive axle boots tearing (flings grease everywhere).

None of this is abnormal for an older car of any make really. I also suggest the I4 as it's easy to work on and the V6 is prone to head gasket issues. A small puff of smoke on start up is normal due to worn valve stem seals and no big deal; avoid cars that smoke while idling or revving. On the plus side in California rust will be far less of an issue (but still get under it and inspect the fuel/brake lines), and in terms of electronic stuff most of it generally works and when it fails is easily fixed. The most common issues are probably minor stuff like a dead tape deck or broken wire driver's door impacting power window operation.

They do drive and ride rather nice/easy when in good shape and even the I4/Auto combo should be able to keep with traffic and get out of it's own way. As said above you will need a metric socket set: the Lowes Kobalt 3/8" drive is great for the money but the Harbor Freight set is more or less the same thing and also fine if it's on sale, and the factory service manual is a must. There are not too many mods for them unless you go with an AllTrac or engine swap, and even then I'd focus on having money on hand for repairs. If you can DIY it you'll save a fortune. As for audio, I had a Kenwood Excelon HU, 6.5" Excelon rear speakers, and 3.5" JL speakers. It was crisp and clear but had even less bass than my Corolla. If you want any bass you'll need a sub. Right now though since the car is nearing the end I just have a newer Toyota OEM tape deck and the JLs and frankly it doesn't sound bad at all for what it is. Just depends what your level of expectation is, for me as a short trip/winter car it works fine.
I do hope those items are DIY-fixable (and not too expensive)....all I remember out of those is helping my Dad replace a timing belt in our old 1993 Nissan Sentra a long time ago. The timing belt problem was responsible for incredibly annoying, loud high-pitched screeching/squealing when the car started up, and when accelerating under 30mph or so. I was so glad when we fixed it.

And I'll watch out for those V6's now that you mentioned it. Also, after reading other threads, I've seen some complain about the puff of smoke upon startup (and a video too) due to those worn valve stem seals - can those be replaced, and at what cost$$$, if I come across that problem? What if left ignored?

Also, I'm trying to avoid needing subs or amps just to have decent bass in the car. The factory stereo on my 2011 Mazda2 had surprisingly excellent bass - I wouldn't need anything more than that. I discovered deep/low bass grooves on songs I didn't even know existed until playing them in that car. Amps and subs are pricey (and subs take up valuable trunk space), I'd rather not have to go through all of that. I just want to replace the factory head unit and speakers, without adding anything else.

Wagons rule for space and comfort, plus they look more expensive than they are. Heck they even look good in white.
I'm focusing more on fuel economy rather than space, though. I've only owned small cars/hatchbacks in the past, I never had to haul anything that didn't fit in them.
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I see. You're fortunate to live where you do where you have a choice of these older cars. That's not the case for those of us who live in salt belt states. I personally have not seen this Gen in a long time,thanks in large part to rust.
Yeah you see rare cars in parts of L.A. especially (usually the low income areas). Not usually near the beach, though. I've seen even high-end luxury vehicles prone to rust and paint oxidation over there. But in my part of town, quite a few rust-free 2nd gen Camry's floating around. The paint oxidized on them long ago, though.

I'd imagine if you can do a timing belt on a Sentra you can do it on the 4 cylinder Camry. May be a little tighter but a FWD timing belt is a FWD timing belt for the most part, excluding some Hondas that drive the balance shafts off the belt and can be a pain to do.

Warn stem seals can be replaced. It requires taking the head partially apart (timing belt, cams, lifters) to get the seals replaced. It can be done with the engine in the car and head on the block with the right tools and a way to hold up the valves. My mechanic quoted me around $400-500 on an old Corolla years ago, probably more now but that cylinder is identical in configuration to these so it's not a terribly difficult job. But I personally wouldn't bother with it on a car like this, oil use from this 'problem' in my experience is minimal.
I see. So it should be fine if left ignored, then?

A recent listing in my area....I like this one, that color is rare. Sandalwood Metallic was only available for the '90 model year Camry's.
A recent listing in my area....I like this one, that color is rare. Sandalwood Metallic was only available for the '90 model year Camry's.
Link leads to a 74 Mazda wagon. Cool car though!
Oops. I was browsing multiple cars at once and must have mixed up the URLs. Here:
I don't think I've ever seen one of those on the road, the fastback version yea. Here's a gen2 V6 probably only needs a PS pressure hose.
I like it. But Santa Barbara is a bit of a drive from here. It would be nice if I could get it shipped my way (about 150 miles).

You're still fortunate. Once rust gets a foothold it spreads quickly.It's reminiscent of the Honda rust issues that affected many Accords of the same vintage.
I've only seen one Honda from that era with rust - a white one with rust on the rear, just above one of the tail lights where it appears to have been hit by an object (chipped the paint, rusting the now-exposed sheet metal beneath it). That was in a Wal-Mart parking lot. But on all other 86-89 an 90-93 Accords I've seen down here, the worst they have is oxidizing paint.

Looks good, I'd take it for a spin. It's a V6 but hey I can't preach against it, after all I do own one. They're not very easy to work on, the engine bay is cramped. Plenty of parts available. I take mine on fairly long road trips every year, never had an issue. 2VZ-FE / A540E combo is not too bad on gas, it likes 91 octane but I have averaged 24 mpg on my last trip and I was pretty satisfied with that. They're good cars. If you're willing to learn how to maintain it yourself I doubt you'll regret buying one.
I didn't notice it was a V6 until you pointed it out. At any rate, I'll be contacting a seller about four weeks from now.

This one is strange. If he put all that work into it, why is he selling it for just $300 (and apparently expecting it to be sold as a parts car)? The seller even states that a new tranny will get it up and running again just fine. Some of the new parts he put into it are probably worth more than $300 individually. Maybe I'm missing something...?
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That's first one won't be available in 4 weeks. There will be something else though, don't worry.

As for the last one, it isn't worth much without a good transmission. The interior is probably trashed. $300 is about what you'd get sending it to a junkyard...

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.
Be VERY careful with this. It might not be as bad with a private party sale, but for the small used car lots - the local mechanics tend to know the dealer lots, if not do maintenance for them, so they often have more interest in helping the local dealer sell a car than giving you an honest evaluation of it.
I'm avoiding used car lots/dealerships. I did find a couple dealerships actually selling 1991 Camry's which I found interesting, but as the general consensus from everyone I know is that those places are shady as hell - I'm avoiding those. I intend on meeting the private seller(s) in a bank parking lot. I've read up on avoiding being scammed on craigslist (although apparently the seller is at higher risk of scams than the buyer).
The private sellers can be shady as well. There are scammers to worry about, but there are also the people that will find out the head gasket is leaking and put some stop-leak in the radiator and change the oil and tell you it runs great and doesn't have any problems and will be a great car for you ...
You don't want me to get a car, do you? :grin: Don't worry, remember I will have the car inspected before buying (and that's if I feel comfortable with the car during the test drive first, plus my own personal inspection). I also won't be going alone, after all, I need someone to take me there to meet the seller in the first place. But thanks for the heads-up, I'll look into that.
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?
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)

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!
That's very nice of you! :) I'll message you with further details.
I think at this point if you're buying a 25 year+ old car any accidents it's had in its life and repairs probably aren't an issue. If a 1991 model was totaled in 1996 and then rebuilt and has gone 20 years, I think it's safe to say it's okay.
Yes. Not many listings I could find with accidents that far back though.

What do you guys think of this one? I've been in contact with this seller since earlier today, I'm going to talk to him on the phone tomorrow. Needs to be smogged+tags but he lowered the price just enough to be favorable anyway.
Says its had engine work I'd avoid. I like this one
I like it too but remember my budget is $1500. It would take me until the end of February to save up for that one, and by that time it would probably be gone anyway.

Also, what are the risks with that engine (on the car I posted)? It says that the water pump had been replaced and head deck resurfaced. I just want to carefully consider all my options here.
Head deck resurfacing along with a water pump would make me think it had a water pump fail, over heated, and blew the head gasket, warping something along the way that required machining work to get right. This job needs to be PERFECTLY or it will never be right with little chance of getting it right. I'd want thorough documentation on the repair job including who did it, and then have a third party verify everything with a leak down test and coolant system pressure test. From one picture I'd inspect the right rear arch carefully for rust; it looks a bit dented and can't tell if the black spots are just primer/scratches or rust.
I don't think there is any rust on it, Carfax shows the car has always been here in California since it was manufactured. There does look like there is a dent just above the front right wheel arch, but it's no big deal to me. I'm asking the seller for recent vehicle records today.
If it needs to be smogged/tagged that could indicate the person tried, failed and didn't have the money to do repairs to get the car passed. Their solution is to sell the car rather than deal with it.
The California smog history website shows the last time the car was brought in for smogging was in 2013, and it passed. Cars are typically supposed to go in for smogging every two years here, it doesn't show that the car was even brought in this year yet. The seller insists that the car will pass smog; I assume he just doesn't want to deal with it (including the tags) and would rather sell it like you said. If he had tried to smog it and failed, it would have shown up on the CA smog website.

Here's my other best choice (as it's not a V6 and it has low miles). So what do you think about that one?
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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 do you guys think of this one? It was just listed a few hours ago. I like everything about it, the price is just right for what it is - but one thing that does bother me is the fact that the user covers up the license plate. I know a lot of people do this, I was never really sure why since privacy laws prevent license plates from being traced to the owner's residence or anything like that. But it just makes me think that the owner is trying to hide something, preventing me from checking the vehicle's smog history or carfax report.
I also just noticed the lack of an odometer reading mentioned anywhere in the ad or visible in the pictures. I've emailed the seller, asking for it.

I do my best to avoid vehicles with over 200,000 miles on them. It's nice to know they are capable of lasting that long, however I don't want to buy one that is already that "aged"...
They are all aged at this point. Ha!

Its just whether you get a fine wine or vinegar.

Perhaps "broken-in" would have been a more appropriate figure of speech rather than aged. Well, I contacted the seller of the vehicle above and he said it had 245,000 miles on it. Ehh, moving on to other listings.

Here's one I'm not considering really, but it's one of the few California cars you'll see that does indeed have rust on it. It's been in Encinitas (a beach city) for a while so that explains that. The rust doesn't look to bad, at least.
I'm curious about this one as well. Those first year models are the least common as far as I've been able to tell. And what do you think that problem with the shifting could be?
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