1988 Toyota Corolla Wagon w/100k miles, back tire snapped off, bent in half, 3k fix?

We purchased a 1988 Toyota Corolla wagon w/103k miles on it for $1850. It had one previous owner, a lady librarian in NJ. I thought ‘score, this car will probably give us another 200k miles.’ We put a new battery in ourselves and had my mom’s trusted mechanic look at it (post-purchase). He replaced wires and gave it a tune up, so we put an additional $400 into it. The mechanic couldn’t find anything wrong with it, but he was also highly skeptical of the wisdom of our purchase. It did get us from upstate NY to Cali. We were originally going to take it all the way to Alaska, where I am now. The other night my boyfriend was driving it in Cali and the back tire snapped off on a sharp turn, he did a 360. He is safe and sound, thank goodness. The place that towed him, which is a AAA auto shop, is saying $3000 to repair as they have to replace both sides of the back wheels, the joints specifically, but at that cost, maybe they mean the whole drive train. They suggested he scrap it and they will not charge him the $150 tow fee. My thing is the battery is worth at least that. So what to do? It seems a waste to scrap this little engine that could, and if the repair was around 1000, I would consider it, or at least sell it someone who would want it and fix it. Thoughts?

I would not put that much money in an already 27 year old car. Once the shop starts digging into this they will undoubtedly find more problems to raise the price even more. Just as an aside, battery and tune-up are maintianence items, and are nothing more than selling points, not extra money upon sale. Just my 2 pennies worth.

I agree with PvtPublic. At this point, the vehicle isn’t worth spending any more money on.


Agree also. Driving a car that old to Alaska is “unwise”, to say the least. The Alaska Highway is a very lonely place and ready AAA service is just not available.

Scrap the car and chalk it up to a learning experience. Toyotas are good cars but I’d get a newer one by about 15 years at least.

AAA towed it to THEIR shop. Sounds to me as though they think they have you trapped. They don’t. It’s your car. You can have anyone work on it.

It’s a front wheel drive car. What is there to replace but the POSSIBLY the strut, spindle and wheel? All of that can be bought from a salvage yard. It usually comes all together as a unit, including the brakes. I’m unfamiliar with Cali prices, but around here those used parts would be under $200 for each side. I don’t understand why they think BOTH sides need to be replaced. Did he hit the curb with the other side and bend something as he spun out? With you in AK, is there possibly more damage than he is telling you about? Is there BODY damage that they are quoting to fix that may not be necessary to make the car safe to drive? If there is body damage, do you have insurance that may pay for all or part of the problem? It might anyway, even w/o body damage, but I doubt it, especially if it didn’t HIT anything. They’d simply call it a mechanical failure.

I’d check the yellow pages or online listings for a MOBILE mechanic to have him or her give you a second opinion. Be sure you find one who is willing to work on rear suspension items with USED parts to save you some money. Yes you’ll have to pay for that service, but it will be cheaper than having it towed to another shop and then paying them to look at it. Do be sure the AAA shop will allow it. If not, have ANOTHER tow service take it elsewhere. If you have AAA service, I think you are allowed more than one tow, so THEY can take it wherever you say. Since there is a $150 tow bill already, I’m guessing you don’t have AAA service.

I have not seen the car. Maybe it should be scrapped. If $3000 is the true cost, it probably should be.

I agree with the others. Let the tow company have it for the scrap and find another vehicle.

The money that you spent was a gamble with a car this old.


1988 Toyota Corolla was a front wheel drive car, so there is no drive train involved in your accident. However, Toyota did sell a 4WD wagon (all-trac) that year, so perhaps that is what this is??

Get a second opinion, as MG above states. They may be quoting you OEM parts, you could opt for used parts.

I forgot about the 4WD wagon. That is a horse of a different color. If that’s it, it could very well need A LOT more things fixed.

I’m wondering about the ’ the back tire snapped off on a sharp turn’ explanation of the boyfriend…could be true, of course.

Since you’re not there, can he get a more complete explanation of what’s needed? Is it AWD?

But a 27 year old car isn’t worth much, even though you had plans for it. Even without the problems I’d have recommended against driving it to Alaska.

How does a back tire “snap off on a sharp turn”? Did the tire come off the steel wheel? Did the wheels come off the car? A little clarity please., thank you! Rocketman

Corolla’s of that era was (in)famous for rusting out in the rear strut towers in salty environments and it is not that easy to see from the outside because of the shields covering the wheel well. When I worked at a junkyard, I saw many a Corolla coming in with a camber on a rear wheel almost like in the clip bscar2 posted in another thread. The cross member to the rear suspension could rot out as well, just giving you a excellent camber the other way. The first 2 generations of Mazda 626 fwd would do the exact same thing. When we got a 626 of those in, with a good cross member, it was almost like having a piece of gold.

Thanks all! There was no accident, it was so badly rusted that it basically snapped off. The situation is basically like asterix described. And it’s not an AllTrac, or 4 wheel drive. We do have AAA, but it’s in my name and we had just got it, so he didn’t have the card on him at the time. The shop said we would have to replace both sides bc of the rust, but yes it seems like a high quote even so. I feel like there are 2 schools of thought on old cars–people who prefer them and people who think it’s crazy to drive an old car. Perhaps this car wasn’t meant for the open road and that’s what it came down to. If it wasn’t so complicated, and wasn’t in AK and the car in Cali, then I would be tempted to find a way to fix it for less than a grand and use it around town (as I only have a bike up here) but alas it isn’t meant to be. Part of the complication is that it’s on the other side of the country, and he has to go back to NY. I see so many rusted Subaru and all track wagons around here in Homer, AK, and I can’t help but wondering how they do it. My only real regret is that we paid way more that what it was worth, on the other hand we had a great trip across country and used he car to do 2 moves which would have cost at least 1000.

Sounds like a good choice. If that was rusted, you can bet there’s rust elsewhere. You might ask your boyfriend to check around, maybe there’s an import junkyard that’ll pay decent money for it.

Boyfriend here! It was indeed quite the incident. Back left wheel cambered to 180 degrees at speed, around a hairpin turn in west Marin. I am lucky I didn’t sail off a cliff. But for some reason this morning I am feeling like I would like to at least attempt a fix, to keep the car as a non-highway local driver (the engine and interior are in very clean shape for an 88).

The rear strut towers are rusted through and brittle. They should be replaced entirely. Anyone know how much this should run, with labor and parts? The rust in the back is fairly extensive, though seems limited to the wheel wells. Front looks good. The car is from NJ but lived in a garage.

Or maybe it’s time to find an old Corolla from Nevada…

“The rear strut towers are rusted through and brittle. They should be replaced entirely. The rust in the back is fairly extensive.”

Finding solid metal to which the strut towers can be welded could be…problematic…if the rust is as bad as you describe.

Rusted vehicle-no one died because strut failed -Give it up and move on

There is flaking rust on the forward bottom edge of the wheel well body panel. As you move away from the “splash zone” the rust tapers off. I know a lot of mechanics don’t touch this kind of situation because of how hard welding can be… so are you telling me it’s cancer and it’s hopeless? ;(

With rust that extensive it’s time to junk it.

First time car owner, it was hard to give up. Thanks for talking me down.

I think you’ve been good advice (except for mine). With that much rust causing the incident, you are far better off with another car. No amount of chemo will fix it.

Considering how brutal some of the AL-Can highway is, you don’t want to start out in another rust bucket that may well do the same thing.

Whatever you choose for your second car, get it checked out by a knowledgeable pro. It will be the best $100 you will ever spend.