1988 Toyota Camry - A140E Transmission will only engage reverse gear, no forward gear engagement

The title says it all. A gentleman is looking to sell the above vehicle to me, which only has 110K miles on it. Barely driven for a Toyota of that generation. He says he can only engage reverse gear but can no longer get it to drive in forward gears. Previous to this, the description said the car was hesitating/slow to engage but “drove fine” after that. He said he hadn’t bothered to confirm if this is due to low transmission fluid when I had asked. How likely is it that it could be solved by topping off the fluid or even performing a fluid and filter change? Sadly, it’s a wagon, so I’m hoping I can “save” it!

If you can buy it for salvage price it’s worth taking a shot at it. Don’t get your hopes up too high but “nothing ventured-nothing gained” is a trite cliche, but very true. After half a day’s work and $40 for parts you might have a winner. If not,get the scrap value and move on a little wiser.

You can cehck the fluid as it is now. Don’t get too hopeful, though. If he’s not even willing to check fluid levels before deciding to part with it, he clearly didn’t take care of it.

If the fluid levels are right (all of them btw, not just the trans), check the actual operation of the selector. I’ve seen some on the past that wouldn’t move down to drive, but at the same time either they wouldn’t move up to park (e.g., park was at the “D” position), or a bracket was coming loose (in this case, a 6mm bolt cured it).

Since his GAS (Give A S___) level is pretty low with rgards to this car, I’d spend some time thoroughly checking the motor, too. Oil - level, texture, smell and color, coolant - all the same, listen carefully with a mechanics stethoscope (get a cheap one a harbor freight). If the motor all checks out, and the rest of the car is salvagable, you should be able to find a used transmission for not too much.

You’ll have to decide the level of effort you want to put into this project.


IMHO if you’re buying this as a project car that’s fine, but otherwise it’s a poor risk. Buying any vehicle that you cannot test drive means that you’ve no way of even guessing the condition of the braking system, the chassis, the engine, or anything else really. Buying a 23 year old Camry that you can’t test drive means the likelihood of having to put more into tit than it’s worth is extremely high, and even if you get “lucky” you’ll still end up with a 23 year old Camry.

IMHO this is a very poor bet.

My vote is with mountainbike. This car is going to need a transmission rebuild or another unit, be it used or remanufactured.

A 24 year old Toyota with a bad transmission is worth scrap value only and I’d safely wager (and I’m not a gambling man) that the seller knows more about the condition of that transmission than they’re letting on.

Mountain and OK are correct…Few people are willing to “invest” $3000 in a car that has a value of $1200

SOMETIMES you can make these deals work IF you can locate and install a serviceable transmission YOURSELF…But it’s ALWAYS a gamble with used transmissions…Salvage yards are full of cars exactly like the one you describe…

he’s lying to you. If he could get it running ok by topping off the fluid he would have done it. It’s almost as easy to add fluid as it is to check it.

I’d skip it. If he doesn’t know the fluid level now, it’s likely that the car has been neglected overall.

It all depends on the overall body/interior conditon. If it is in above average condition, the car is worth far more than $1200. I saw one on the NW for sale by a dealer recently for $5k. Rediculous for sure, since that is about half of what they sold for new in 88.

But that said, we just spent $3k repairing front end damage on our 90 V6 wagon. But, I had rebuild the V6 in it, my wife still likes it, and there’s not much available (IMHO) to replace it. I have 346k on my 90 I4. Had to swap out my A140E last winter. Cost $350 and a weekend.

Name a vehicle (any age) that you can buy for $500 and get 30+ MPG and 400,000 miles out of?

Apparently this 1988 Camry didn’t make it anywhere near 400k miles from brand new, much less from a 500 dollar starting point.