'99 Corolla...worth it?
February 20, 2011 11:57 AM   Subscribe

'99 Corolla CE, 120,000 miles, $4700...help me decide if this is a good deal.

So, I need to buy a new car. In the interest of saving money, I've been looking at used cars. All that matters to me is reliability and gas mileage. I found this particular car at a local Toyota dealership. Price seems in line with the KBB price for my area (San Diego).

Are there any particular issues with this age of car? The carfax report lists regular maintenance (every 6 months at the dealer), and only 1 owner. I would be paying cash, and this is approaching my spending limit.

Any advice? Family are too far away to help, and I don't know any friends who know much about cars here.

I don't need to purchase a car this minute. I've arranged my life so that the bus/walking/biking works for most things. My current car will die any day, and there is so much wrong with it, I'm not fixing it. I will be looking for jobs for summer, so a working car is essential by then.
posted by shinyshiny to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have a 2000 Corolla (VE, I think) that's developed an oil leak/burns oil that will kill the car at some point soon. When I took it to a mechanic, he looked up general repair trends for the specific engine that was used in my car, and said that it was a common problem with that specific engine. I'm not sure whether this was also an issue in the 1999 CE models. I wish I had more information, but I wanted to put that out here because I tend to think of Corollas as cars that will keep going and going...but the mechanic seemed to say that that's unlikely with my particular year and model.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:07 PM on February 20, 2011

Has the timing chain been replaced? This usually gets replaced every 80-120K, and the labor can be expensive. Chain failure can destroy the engine, so this has to be done to keep the car running.

What shape are the tires and suspension in? If you push the rear bumper down, it shouldn't wave like a waterbed, but just pop back up. You can do the penny and quarter tests to determine if the tires need replacement.

Knowing this might help you negotiate the price downwards.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:07 PM on February 20, 2011

Ask about the catalytic converter. That's about the mileage my 2003 corrolla had when the catalytic converter died, and it was $1,100 to get fixed. Ask about anything related to the emissions of the vehicle that might prevent you from passing an emissions test. Regardless of what the carfax report said about "regular maintenance," ask specifically about the condition of the brakes, both pads and rotors. How much life to they have left in them? Also, ask the same question about the condition of the tires. Ditto on the battery. You could also ask when the last time the transmission and radiator were flushed, though those are usually "regular maintenance" items.

If you want to see what it costs to get various items repaired in your area, I always look at this site.

It's a great little car. good luck.
posted by Buffaload at 12:10 PM on February 20, 2011

You can get a lot more car for your money if you look at Hyundais or American cars.
posted by The Lamplighter at 12:13 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

While standard wisdom says that Hondas/Toyotas will "last forever", a recent unpleasant car-buying experience has taught me this: EVEN JAPANESE CARS can have their engines destroyed by poor maintenance and this isn't always immediately apparent. Have a mechanic check the car out - including a deeper look inside the engine than you'd usually have 'em go. If I'd sprung for three hours of a mechanic's time rather than one (for a cursory once-over), I may have discovered that the "indestructible" Toyota engine I was about to purchase had a serious oil-burning problem.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:14 PM on February 20, 2011

I have a 2000 Corolla with 133k miles on it. I've spent almost no maintenance money on it, ever, and it shows no signs of developing any problems. However, the interior - the steering wheel, ceiling, the plastic lining the windows - is starting to deteriorate. I'm not sure if that stuff is important to you; I care almost nothing about having a nice car and I have to admit it's starting to grate on me a little bit.

My mother drives a Camry with over 250k miles and it's still doing great. I think I could probably get another ten years out of my car if I had to.
posted by something something at 12:22 PM on February 20, 2011

re: the reply from "needs more cowbell", it'd be easy to check if the 1999 is prone to the same problem by checking consumer reports used car buying guide. they do a pretty good job of presenting data on issues for specific years/models.
posted by Quisp Lover at 12:32 PM on February 20, 2011

Maybe used cars sell for more on the west coast, but the price seems a bit high. A year ago I paid $3200 Canadian for a 99 Rav4 - essentially a beefed up Corolla with 4WD - with 154 000 km (less than 100 000 miles) on it, from a kind of sketchy Chinese garage in the hinterlands of Ottawa.
Apart from putting on 4 new tires (not cheap, about $800) right off the bat it has run flawlessly since then. To be honest, I didn't do any of the due diligence* that people say you should, just took it for a quick test drive, but my last vehicle was a Toyota as well and it never let me down. They just seem to be very well engineered and put together.

*Oh, I did check Carfax and saw that it had had just one owner in the Ottawa area before the garage bought it at auction. I took it on faith therefore that the owner would have been a typical Ottawan: a responsible, careful to a fault civil servant.
posted by Flashman at 12:35 PM on February 20, 2011

any ten year old car is going to have a few issues. At that age the previous owners maintenance really matters. Being a one owner car with a history of regular maintenance is a good sign. On a test drive does the car feel 'tight' or is it kinda wishy-washy all over the road? things like is the steering wheel straight or crooked or can you move it a few degrees without the car reacting? does the brake pedal go near the floor or does it start slowing down the car right away after touching it? does the carpet in the trunk smell moldy? is their rust under the carpet in the trunk and under the spare tire in the trunk? is the engine and underside of the car covered in grease and oil? Does the automatic transmission shift easy or hard(auto transmission seem to be the one weak point in a lot of otherwise good cars-my solution is to only buy manual used cars)? and do any of the fluids smell burnt or look bad? (this means you need to get under the car and look around or take it too a mechanic if you lack the skills to make a good judgment) These are the kinds of things a mechanic will look at to tell you the general condition of the car.

That being said you have a better chance of a 99 Toyota being a good car after ten years than just about any other make, and definitely in your price range. However a newer KIA or Hyundai might be just as good of a buy and have a better interior (most interiors on economy cars seem to age at about the same rate).
posted by bartonlong at 1:05 PM on February 20, 2011

I sold my '99 Corolla VE for $2250 last year. Well below the KBB value for a car with 120k miles in good shape, but mine had the oil burning issue (which did NOT kill the car over the years I had it although you do have to replace the oil on a pretty regular basis). Otherwise it was in tip-top shape. I think it was a wonderful car--I was sad to let it go. But you might try a private seller and a lower offer.
posted by supercoollady at 1:33 PM on February 20, 2011

That seems pretty overpriced to me.
posted by twblalock at 1:49 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

My friend had a '94 Corolla that had fewer miles than that. What killed it was when the automatic transmission died (they cost around 3K to fix). While there was a redesign between the '94 and the '99, there probably isn't a different transmission.
Make sure a mechanic takes a good look at everything about the car. If the dealership that is selling the car is the same one where it has had maintenance, they should be able to tell you about everything that has (and hasn't) been replaced and repaired.
posted by DeltaZ113 at 4:37 PM on February 20, 2011

Even if the car is great, that's just too much money for a car that old with that many miles. $2-3.5K is as high as I'd go if I were looking for a car like that. I think KBB is kind of off sometimes on high mileage cars - that might be a typical ASKING price in a dealership, but I find it hard to believe people are paying that much typically.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:09 PM on February 20, 2011

I have the same car, and the only problems I've ever had with it are tire-related (the tires were a little undersized that model year, I understand they went up to a larger wheelbase in the following years). Never had problems with the engine, knock on wood, and I'm up in the 150,000-mile range now.

It sounds a bit high, price-wise, but if they (the dealership) have all the service records for it, and none of the engine problems mentioned above have been an issue, this is a car that should last you for quite a while, so it all comes down to whether you'd rather pay a little more or swap cars frequently.

This is my second Corolla and I love it dearly, it has a lot to recommend itself and is really nice to drive, too.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:41 PM on February 20, 2011

I gave my '99 Corolla CE to my dad last year. It had around 110K miles. I loved that car and it served me really well. The last couple years I had it, I drove it over 2 hours a day for work, and it showed no signs of slowing down, even though some of the interior left a little to be desired. It's still serving my dad well, and our (trusted) mechanic says there's not much he has to worry about.

That said, I can't imagine that it would ever go for $5K. That's a LOT of money for a 12 year old car.
posted by AlisonM at 7:42 PM on February 20, 2011

Thanks for the answers everyone! I've decided to look at private sellers for Corollas, instead of that particular dealer.
posted by shinyshiny at 9:04 PM on February 20, 2011

Do a compression check (or have a mechanic do it for you) on the engine of any used card you are thinking of buying.
posted by mlis at 11:20 PM on February 20, 2011

If you're willing to travel to LA I have a 98 corolla with 70k on it I've been meaning to sell for less than that! Toyotas hold their value, but that price just seems ridiculous. Ah, just noticed you mentioned it's at a dealership. Buying from a private party is not fun (oh the scams on craig's list!), but if you run the vins on carfax and only deal with people who don't seem sketchy to you, you should be able to find something.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:32 AM on February 21, 2011

A 2011 base model automatic with 0% or almost no interest starts at 16k where I am. 11 years old and still 1/3 the price of new is toooo much.
posted by TomMelee at 7:18 AM on February 21, 2011

I sold my 2000 Corolla with 145,000 recently for $1500. Low price because it had some body damage, but I wouldn't have asked for anymore than $3000 if it had been in perfect condition. I think you can get a better deal.
posted by Rocket26 at 6:27 PM on February 21, 2011

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