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1997 Toyota Avalon - what to look for before purchase?

I’m looking at a 1997 Toyota Avalon with 244,000 miles on it for a good price. It gets excellent reviews on, with a number of owners going into the 350,000 - 450,000 mile range with theirs.

In reading up on the issues, the main one I see is rack and pinion leakage. I’m not very concerned about that, as it’s not that expensive of a job.

The other issue that I see is “failure of the engine is caused because the engine oil gels. Engine oil gelling will also cause excessive engine oil usage. When proper maintenance schedules for oil changes are followed, oil gelling should not occur. Toyota has issued an 8 year unlimited mileage goodwill repair for this condition”.

Obviously, not following proper maintenance schedules for oil changes can cause engine failure on any car, but I would like to know if this car is more susceptible to “sludging” than most cars, and assuming the oil on the dipstick looks fine, how can I tell if there is “oil gelling” without removing the valve cover, for example?

Thank you!

In my experience the gelling was much more prevalent on the 4 cylinder. The only way to tell for sure would be to pull the front valve cover and take a look, but the engine may be burning oil at that age with nothing to do with oil gelling.

If the car is clean, well-maintained and cared for then you should be ok.


Thank you for that information. If I see smoke coming out of the tailpipe, then that’s another clue, of course.

These are the Toyota engines that had sludge problems.


My concern for this vehicle would be it’s high mileage. Make sure you have it thoroughly inspected by a good independent mechanic. Even if the guy is very good…there are things on a 244K vehicle that just can’t been readily seen. That “good price” had better be very, very good.


Apparently I should avoid the 1998-2005 Dodge Intrepid with the 2.7L V6. That had 1,902 complaints of sludge problems compared with the 1997-2005 Toyota Avalon 3.0L V6 at 24 complaints.


Ordinarily I would be hesitant to purchase a vehicle with such high mileage, but with my very limited budget and the consistently good reviews it receives even at very high mileage, it seems like a good option.

@98caddy … I have some experience with high mileage vehicles. The Avalon is a great car so it’s one that I would consider even with high mileage. It would really come down to condition and maintenance. If it was an '88 Yugo with 244K then I know it would be time to wake up.

+1 for missileman
You are looking for a soon to be 18 year old automobile. The first concern would be rust. If it is not rusted, then proceed to safety considerations. If the steering and suspension are in good shape, then think about the engine and drive train.

The transmission is a big ticket item. If the transmission shifts as it should, then think about the engine. If it doesn’t stumble on acceleration, doesn’t put out exhaust smoke when warmed up and on checking the oil, you don’t find indications of coolant leaking into the oil, the car may be pretty much o.k. At the mileage on this car, it may consume a little oil. You need to be vigilant if you purchase the car on checking the oil.

My rule for buying an old car has been to bring along masking tape and put a strip over the odometer and over the nameplate. However, a reasonably well-maintained Avalon gives this car an edge.

Assuming it’s not rusty, here’s a few things I’d do, in addition to what the other guys said

Bring along a scan tool and check for any stored fault codes

Check if all of the monitors are complete. If not, somebody either cleared codes because they’re sneaky, or the battery may have been replaced

Look at the fuel trims.

Hook up a vacuum gauge while the engine is idling

If you do buy it, do a complete timing belt job . . . with all the bells and whistles . . . right after buying it, as well as a transmission fluid and filter service.

The good news is the 1MZ-FE is a freewheeler, in case you can’t get around to it soon enough


I wish I had a fancy scan tool like that. The ones I can rent only show the fault codes, and I wouldn’t know what to look for in the fuel trims.

I guess I could rent a vacuum gauge, but I’m not sure that the seller will want me unhooking stuff under the hood. I’m also not sure what I’d be looking for.

I looked it up online and noticed that the engine was non-interference, so that was a plus. How much should I pay for a timing belt job? I’ve seen estimates from $225.00 to $1000.00 online.

A cheapo scan tool will still read out codes and let you check the monitors

As for the timing belt job, make a few calls, and this is what you want, in my opinion

timing belt
timing belt tensioner
tensioner pulley
water pump
cam seals
crank seal

You want this part . . . plus the cam seals and crank seal

In my opinion, you should do everything, because chances are all that stuff under the cover isn’t in great shape anymore, especially at your mileage

The $225 timing belt job probably includes on the timing belt and labor. Then they’ll call you to upsell all that other stuff.

I urge you to use the Aisin water pump, because the seal is the proper type . . . metal with rubber. The cheapo paper seals aren’t very good, in my opinion.

Thanks for that part number.

How difficult is your suggested job for someone who changes brakes, a radiator, regular water pump, etc.? I normally wouldn’t touch a timing belt job, but since it is a non-interference engine, I guess I couldn’t destroy my engine in the first few seconds if I made a mistake.

A vehicle with that high a mileage, even if well cared for, will encounter a lot of repairs and replacements in the next few years.

Usually this is the kind of car you get given to you or buy for a couple of hundred dollars. You can then nurse it along a make repairs when needed.

I would stay away from this one.


Like I’ve posted many times on this forum - if I had the money to buy a 2 year old car with 25,000 miles on it, I certainly would. Thanks for your opinion, though.

The difficult part of the job is the timing marks

Making sure they’re lined up is one thing, as you have to lean over the fender and possibly use a mirror to make 100% sure they’re spot on. In the end, you’ll probably use chalk or a sharpie to make them more visible

Getting them to stay lined up is easier said then done. Once you release the tensioner, things will change, and you have to take that into account.

I think you could do it, but you definitely have to look at this as an all day project, if not a weekend project

In that case, I would probably just have it done by someone who knows what they’re doing, as long as it doesn’t end up on the high side of the estimates.

Just make absolutely sure the shop is quoting you for the entire job

A lot of shops quote a low price, to get your foot in the door

I will.

I first have to look at it tomorrow morning to make sure everything is as good as they described in the ad. I will follow up with what ends up happening.

If you can do radiators, water pumps, and brakes then I feel that you can safely use a vacuum gauge. I would strongly suggest buying one and learning how to read it.

Gauges are cheap, easy to use, and can reveal a lot about what’s going on with an engine while it’s running. Just my 2 cents, but a seller should not object to the simple act of connecting a vacuum gauge.

I may have missed it, what’s a ‘good price’? I just looked on, there are 1221 Avalons with over 100k for sale in the US, only 16 over 250k, none over 300k. I’d take those 350k+ claims with a grain of salt, those are likely one-owner cars that have been obsessively cared for. Not saying you shouldn’t buy this car, but don’t assume it’ll live to an unusual old age. Have you done a search on for cars of all makes in your price range near you?