Repair or replace 1992 Camry?
March 14, 2011 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Repair or replace 1992 Camry? (with some interesting caveats)

I own a 1992 Camry LE (auto, 2.4L 4cyl engine, 130k mi) that I purchased cheap while on assignment in Korea. Loved it so much I brought it home. Served me in good stead since as a "go-to-work" car. Anyway, I'm heading to my next duty station (in TX, 1200 mi drive) next week, so I figured I'd take the car to a mechanic and get it checked out. It had a slight hesitation when shifting from 1st to 2nd gear, and the A/C was nonfunctional (which didn't bother me overmuch, as my longest commute was 20 minutes)
Just got the call with estimates:

-Brakes: Front brakes at 20%, recommend replacement, $396. Rear brakes at 40%, okay for now.
-AC: "Condenser" (probably compressor, I think) bad, recommend replacement, $547.
-Transmission: Some leaks noted, referred me to a transmission shop.

So, I know this question's been asked before, but repair or replace? If I replaced it, I't be looking at a used car in the $8k-$12k range. Also, are the costs for the individual repairs reasonable?

Oh yeah, my big caveat: I'm deploying for a year within 2 months of arriving at my next duty station, so the car (either my new one or the Camry) will be stored while I'm gone (in paid storage, with periodic driving/maintenance, etc). I'm not sure if that would affect the decision or not.

Finally, the tires are 6 months old, just replaced radiator/changed oil. Car itself runs well and has been maintained properly, but has lots of cosmetic issues/damage stemming from three years in Seoul.
posted by armyman83 to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Having had some experience with brake problems, that's about normal on the front brakes. Recently replaced a '93 Buick's rear cylinders for about $360.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:17 PM on March 14, 2011

You'll need to periodically replace the brakes on any car, and it's unlikely that you'll find a cheap used car with brand-new brakes on it.

If your front rotors and pads both need replacement, $400 seems reasonable.

If the broken AC doesn't bother you...don't fix it!

The transmission is a huge question mark, and you'll need to get a quote. If it needs expensive repairs, I'd declare the car a loss, sell it for parts, and buy a plane ticket to Texas with the money you just saved on brakes and repairs.

My advice would be to patch the car together enough to survive until your next deployment, and sell it right before you go away. When you get home, go car shopping. (Also, note that there are surprisingly decent cars that cost $12k new, which will get you a fresh set of consumables and a warranty. I'm a big fan of the Nissan Versa.)
posted by schmod at 2:18 PM on March 14, 2011

A/C health is improved by regular use. There is a recurrent theme about "seals drying out" if the A/C isn't used and my own anecdata suggest it's true. I would, in your shoes, ensure that the A/C is charged but do nothing about the compressor until you return from your next deployment, and deal with it then.

"Slight hesitation" on an upshift could come from a lot of sources, not necessarily bad ones. Others might weigh in on whether there's a vacuum modulator (which is an easy fix) or whether this transmission is electronically modulated.

A '92 Camry is basically bulletproof and 130k miles is just broken in. Keep it if you can.
posted by jet_silver at 2:21 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a 1990 Camry that got up to about 140k miles and still ran great (sold it to a guy who immediately totaled it), and currently have a '99 with about 110k. If it were me, I'd pay it. If it's been well maintained over the course of its life you'll your money back out of it.

Is there a possibility of just fixing the brakes (and maybe transmission) and letting the a/c go? If so, that's probably what I'd do. Meet in the middle. Just roll your windows down.
posted by penduluum at 2:22 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: The brake estimate seems a little high to Mr. Shoes (my car guy) but he does our brakes himself, so he's not familiar with what mechanics charge these days.

His advice is to fix the car. First of all, if you buy a 'new' used car you never know what kind of problems you're going to inherit. This Camry is a known danger so to speak.

Second, why get a 'new' car just to have it sit for a year. Car values only go down with time.

Lastly, with the repairs required Mr. Shoes thinks you could easily get another 70-80k miles out of the car.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:24 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: $300-400 for front brakes (pads and rotors) is pretty normal. I know Toyota's have had a bit more expensive cost for the brakes. Skip the A/C. Have the transmission checked out.

Seeing your situation, if the transmission were fine and not having major issues, I'd keep it and store it. I'd also do brakes. Same goes for if the transmission repair were cheap, say, $400 or less.

If the transmission repairs were expensive, and it could last 1200 miles to TX, I'd haul 1200 miles and then sell it, skipping the brakes, too.

If the transmission were going to prevent me from going 1200 miles successfully and cost in the thousands, it's adios to the car before the trip. Do a one-way rental or U-Haul with the money you get from selling/scrapping it. Figure out future car plans once in TX (can you go without or on a rental for two months?)
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:41 PM on March 14, 2011

If it were me, I would drive the thing down to Texas as is without the repairs and see how she holds up. If you can get to the point of deployment without having to sink money in, then you can store it for repair later. To me, being liquid, having cash in bank, is more important than having a car that works real well sitting in storage.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:33 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all for the replies.

I should have mentioned that the garage said there were transmission seal leaks as well, so it's not something I want to just ignore (that said, I've never had to top off the transmission fluid in between oil changes). I'll update when I get a estimate from the transmission shop (probably Wednesday).
posted by armyman83 at 6:01 PM on March 14, 2011

I spent about $170 for parts (ceramic front pads and pricey slotted rotors) on my mazda. It was my first time doing brakes myself, and the second side took me under 45 minutes. It literally involved taking out 4 bolts, and just having the proper tools. I'd be surprised if it took a mechanic longer than an hour to do both sides. I'd say that much over $300 and you're getting taken for a ride - unless they're flushing your brake system or something.

20% sounds low, but it's not nothing - you could probably go two months on that easily unless you're just brutal on the brakes or they start squealing.

I rather like JohnnyGunn's suggestion of just keeping it and seeing how it holds up. If you could hang on for two months and sell it before you deploy, you wouldn't have to pay storage fees - which might wind up saving you quite a bit.
posted by itheearl at 6:54 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: Price for brakes is about right. Many backyard 'mechanics' just hammer a new set of pads in; there's actually a lot more to a brake job than just the pads. Lots of quickie-fix places are to be avoided as they also do the least bit necessary to get you out the door.

Have the tranny serviced by a mechanic, not a tranny shop. Leaks are not usually a big deal on a 100K + mile car. I have a 93 Camry wagon with 145K and it leaks a bit. Just a little incontinent. Runs fine, except for droopy headlights no issues at all. I bet if I took it to a tranny shop I'd get a beautifully rebuilt trans for around $2K, even if it was still driving and acting normal.

Mine won't shift into 4th for the first mile or so if it's cold out (near or below freezing). I can live with that.

Forget the A/C. Once it breaks, it's not worth fixing in most cases.

Great cars. Drive it!
posted by KenManiac at 7:15 PM on March 14, 2011

A brief Google search turns up replacement transmissions for $1000 and less. So, for about $2k you could conceivably fix or replace all of your caveats, and have a bulletproof car, and stick that $8 to $12k for a "new car" in the bank, which is the smart play.

I say keep it.
posted by ZakDaddy at 7:37 PM on March 14, 2011

Response by poster: So, first shop I contacted wanted $800 just to pull the tranny and fix the leaks and $2k to replace with a "USED" one...said no thanks. I may try somewhere else, but ended up spending $500 for the front brake job, a partial tranny fluid change, and a Freon fill. (Apparently, the AC system works, just has a big leak.) Also bought/used a bottle of Lucas Transmission Fix...normally I'm not a fan of additives, but this seems to be the perfect stopgap solution to get me through a few months, based on the testimonials I've read on various forums.

Took the car home and the brakes are sweet (as expected) and the car shifts smooth. Looks like everything worked out, so far. Thanks to all who replied.
posted by armyman83 at 3:58 PM on March 15, 2011

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