1990 Toyota Camry: Time to call salvage?

Car Talk,

It may be time to switch strategies regarding my 1990 Camry. Please advise.
I’ve been trying to keep it running for financial reasons.
Describing minimally …

  • it’s at 247,000 miles +/- the 6 months the speedometer cable was broken
  • other than A/C, suspension, and alternator, it was trouble-free until 2015.
  • 2016-11-30 replaced dead alternator
  • some time in 2017, it started losing oil. I poured in more oil.
  • the oil leak worsened over several months
    -2017-09-25 coolant was leaking, causing overheating. In replacing the hose, I broke the rusted water manifold; so I replaced it too. ($107, 12 ports with hoses) Lesson: antifreeze is needed in warm climes to inhibit rust.
  • 2018-07-30 oil ran out and it overheated on the freeway. I poured in more. It overheated again in about 2 freeway miles. I had it towed to a shop. They reviewed it and sent a list of recommendations http://2un.me/x1p3cuho
    $2200 to start repairs, I had it towed home to fix it myself. (in spite of NOT being a mechanic)
  • 2018-09-29 After cleaning a year of oil/road accumulation, buying half of HarborFreight, replacing oil pump, water pump, plugs & wires … restarted, drove 50 ft … and stalled. Towed back to shop. For $660, they said the timing belt jumped. (Lesson: the idler spring does NOT actively maintain tension on the floating pulley; the pulley should be screwed down tight.)
  • 2018-10-11 When I got it back from timing repairs, it ran REALLY rough, but rather than incur further expense, I tweaked the timing by rotating the distributor. But … it was leaking coolant at the back of the water pump. Rather than disassemble EVERYTHING, I forced the metal tubes back enough to toothpick some rtv into the leaking connection. Pulling the rusty pipes that hard cracked them, so I JB-Welded the crack.
    Leaks sealed, not at factory-new power, but running OK.
  • 2019-03-## Overheating. Losing coolant. Pour in more water; figure out where coolant’s going.
  • 2019-04-02 After multiple overheatings, realized auto stores loan pressure testers. Used tester. _RE_discovered the leaking heater hose reported by the shop in July. Replaced the hose; added antifreeze mix. !!! milky oil pouring out!!! (Lessons: overheating is a main cause of blown head gaskets; pouring cold water in a hot engine begs temp-differential issues.)
    Decision: replacing car is better than replacing the head gasket .
    Tried BlueDevil chemical gasket sealer. Failed. Followed the instructions and flushed the radiator first. Re-tried sealer. Seemed to work: no loss of coolant, no milky oil.
  • 2019-04-12 Driving only 10 miles, overheated again. After cooling, poured in water; water poured right out.
  • 2019-04-14 Noted a gushing hose ADJACENT to the replaced heater hose. (shockingly, of the same 1990 vintage) Replaced the hose. Added antifreeze. 5 miles into the 10 miles home, overheated again, at 70, on the freeway. Drove home slow, hot, near the shoulder.
  • 2019-04-15 Poured water in, idled an hour, stopped several hours to cool. Coolant level normal. (Uninformative re overheating)
  • 2019-04-16 Drove around the long block, 30-50mph, ~2-3 miles. Overheating. Stopped a few hours to cool. 7-quart radiator down 3 quarts.

Is it time to call Salvage?
Or is there some low-cost possibility that might get me another year of service?

Next CarGuru Client?

Time to put it to rest & look for something better.


Agree with @Renegade… time to put the old girl out of your misery!


Time to send it to the junkyard, the type of diy repairs you are doing will only make it worse.

1 Like

Agreed. … on to CarGurus.com.

I believe you never mentioned the thermostat and the electric cooling fans

Are the fans even engaging?

Is the thermostat the original from 1990 . . . ?!

I had a 1996 Toyota Camary with only 62k miles on the engine and transmission when it rear ended a Honda Civic (sad, sad, sad). Anyway, the insurance company towed it to salvage; the company got an auction price of $115; and I got an insurance settlement of $3500. I thought of it later that I would have liked to transplant that engine, transmission, catalytic system, exhaust, and ECM into another 1990ish body to run out the engine and transmission. Sooo, you might look for a newer, used engine with low mileage and transplant it to you vehicle. That is assuming your body, electronics, interior, paint, etc. are worth continued use. Otherwise send it to salvage; donate it; or just crush it.

As a worker at a scrapyard, I commend your efforts at keeping the old girl alive for this long.

I’d have to say, it’s probably time to let that car die. I figure a mid 90’s Camry can be bought in decent running condition for about the same price as a decent head gasket repair done by a good shop would cost.

Yeah you missed it. Shoulda done it then but better late than never.

Sadly, you have run this classic Camry into the ground, and will now need to junk it and buy something else. A real shame, because the body looks to be in excellent condition with no visible rust or damage.

Unfortunately, you are not capable of replacing the engine yourself, together with the other incidentals that are needed for a successful repair. A newer car with much less miles would be way cheaper than paying a shop to fix this one.

Fans are running. New thermostat. Unsure where the coolant is going…guessing boiled off, spit out.

Most 29 year old cars would not be worth a significant “investment” in order to keep them running. When we are talking about a 29 year old car with a history of several overheating incidents, it is definitely not worth spending any more money on band-aid repairs.

Honestly this car was done for on July 30th of 2018. That’s the point it should’ve been junked IMHO. Ever since then you’ve been metaphorically-speaking; using duct tape on the Titanic.