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1997 Toyota Avalon - what to look for before purchase?

I test drove the car today, then had it checked out by a mechanic.

Before I took it to the mechanic, I put the scanner on it and there were no DTCs that came up at all. There was no smoke or unusual smells from the exhaust, it shifted fine, and the engine sounded fine. I did notice that the oil was above the “full” mark, but it did not look like it was mixed with coolant.

According to the shop that checked it out, the main issues are that the valve cover gasket is leaking, it needs a rear motor mount, and it needs both rear struts and strut mounts. The repair cost that they quickly estimated was $800.00. I assume that these are parts that wear out with high mileage and age.

Being that the asking price of the car at $1,600.00 was only slightly below KBB “Good” private party value, I let the seller know of the repairs that needed to be done, and that I couldn’t buy it as-is at their asking price.

They said that they have a mechanic friend who can fix it for them for much less, and that they’ll let me know when it’s done. I’m not holding my breath that they’ll follow through, but if they do call me back, I’ll have to check each part to make sure they actually did it. The rear struts will not be hard to check, but the valve cover gaskets and motor mount might be more of a challenge.

It is pretty interesting (and frustrating) how many details people leave out when selling their cars.


It seems to be mostly dealers who sell on, so there’s not much besides complete junk in my price range.

As far as the mileage of the cars that are listed there, most people probably think that there aren’t many people who will want to buy a car with that high of mileage, so they just keep the car, trade it in, or give it to a relative. There is someone in my area on another site selling a 1999 Avalon with 504,000 miles.

You’re right, at $1500 there’s not much out there. The repairs you listed are typical of Camry/Avalon/ES300 of that age (all pretty much the same under the skin). So if you get a bit off on the price, that one could be good.


You can put in “ready struts” yourself. Rockauto has them for a fair price, but it’s Gabriel and Monroe. I’m no fan of Monroe, but any new struts are probably better than the ones currently on the car.

You can do the valve cover gaskets yourself . . . and while you’re at it, do the plugs and wires, if in doubt.

The motor mount is also no big deal, if you have a jack and jack stands.

As a matter of fact, I think you could do most everything by yourself, if you’re determined and have enough time.

Personally, I think that the early Avalons were quite well built, up to a point. I see plenty of early Avalons with split leather upholstery and dashboards. I assume the owners neglected the cars. But it doesn’t affect driveability . . .


I’ll add up the part prices and see if I get him to come down on the price, but I’m not sure that he’s going to be willing.


Do the “ready struts” include the strut mounts?

Also, the mechanic who inspected the car said something about the valve cover gaskets not being as simple to replace as just removing the valve cover because there is some fuel related part in the way (sorry I can’t remember what he called it). Can you explain what he was talking about?

I do have a jack and jack stands, and it would be my second car (at least until the repairs were done), so I would have the time to do it a little at a time.

“ready struts” are preasembled . . . strut, coil spring, mounts, bellows, etc.

As for the valve cover gaskets, you may have to move some fuel lines and fuel rails out of the way

If this is going to be your second car, you shouldn’t let the work scare you off

Thanks for the info, @db4690‌

While I’m waiting on the owner of the car in question to get back with me (and not holding my breath), I found another 1997 Avalon with 216,000 miles on it for about the same price.

This new one does not have a leaking valve cover gasket (or only very minor), but it does need both rear struts replaced.

Also, when it was pouring rain, there were a few drops of water at the inside top of the windshield. Something looked unusual about the seal at the top of the windshield, like perhaps part of it was missing. I don’t know if that is an easy fix or not.

Last of all, there was some quirk about the factory alarm system that seemingly had to do with the auto-lock feature. I didn’t fully understand that part.

The owner told me that the car goes from the “Full” mark on the dipstick to the “Low” mark after about 2,500 miles. He said that he just changes the oil then instead of adding it.

What do you guys think?

Based on the comment from the owner about allowing the oil level to get down to the Low mark and then changing what’s left of the oil instead of not monitoring the level and keeping it full in the first place would have me running from it.

I take the oil comment to mean that the owner checked the oil regularly, and that when it got to the one quart low mark–about 2500 miles–he changed it instead of adding a quart. Sounds perfectly reasonable and quite vigilant to me.

You don’t mean to say that he should have regularly checked the oil and added anytime it was less than the full mark, do you? Do you top off cars that are less than 1 quart low?

Yes I do. If the oil is a 1/3of a quart down on something then I top it off as needed. It’s the same reason if a car had a known coolant leak I’d keep the radiator topped off rather than wait until the temp gauge needle rocketed through the H or keeping a leaking transmission topped off rather than wait until it’s slipping.


He said that his friend didn’t pay attention to the oil level on his friend’s Toyota Camry and the engine started tapping, so he didn’t want that to happen to his car.

The main things that I’m worried about are the (apparently) minor windshield leak and the alarm quirk.


This Avalon with 216K sounds a lot more promising than the other one

The struts are an easy fix . . . install a set of “ready struts” yourself

As for the windshield . . . from what I understand, it’s not always easy to remove and reseal a windshield without damaging it. Call an auto glass shop and discuss your options with them. You will probably find that having a new windshield installed is not very expensive.

The auto-lock situation would not be a major concern for me

Wow. I don’t top off oil at less than a full quart down on anything, mine or a customer’s car. Transmission fluid, coolant, steering, same thing, if it’s in the “safe zone” it gets left alone.

I think waiting for the oil to get to the one quart low mark before buying a quart and putting it in is different than waiting for your temp gauge to peg to H.

Everyone has their own methodogy and I agree that being a quart down may not hurt anything. My preference is to keep things topped off and at the dealers I worked for we always did this while checking fluid levels.

The thought of being 25% low on oil if a quart down on a 4 quart motor or 20% down on a 5 quart one just bugs me a bit.

While we’re on the topic, is one quart in 2500 miles too high for that engine?

I have a 10 year old Sienna with 172,000 miles and a small windshield leak. I know it is from corrosion around the seal due to a poor windshield replacement before I owned the vehicle. I just put a strip of clear Gorilla tape around the top edge and everything is now dry. It’s not especially pretty but, at this age and mileage, the expensive alternative of pulling the windshield, cleaning the rust, repainting and then possibly having to replace the windshield glass (they often crack when pulled) was not really an option.

It’s always a balance buying older cars. Older high end cars IMHO, should be steered clear of. If you want to save mony, stay with older cars with as few options as possible that need repair. A power window that fails in the winter is a big deal. Hopefully it fails in the up position. For the same money, I would shop for a base Corolla, Hyundai etc,

No, one quart per 2500 miles is fine, for that or any engine as far as I’m concerned. While I’m not particularly happy about the new industry standard of one quart/1,000 miles being normal that has as much to do with piston ring, cylinder wall, and oil design as anything else and like it or not it’s the way it is.

ok4450 is much more vigilant than most about checking and topping off oil, which is probably why his cars are in better shape than mine, but in my opinion anyone who checks oil, never lets it get more than a quart low and changes it that often is doing just fine, and it sounds like that engine is just fine too.

“Older high end cars IMHO, should be steered clear of”

This is a Toyota, not a . . .

Range Rover

And, in my opinion, the early Avalons were quite well built. Toyota was not yet using the low grade materials that they’ve been using lately

I own a 1995 Avalon (same 1MZFE engine). Problems I’ve had (with 195k miles):

Leaking power steering rack (or pump- dealer says pump, I see fluid on rack) after cleaning everything)

Power windows (except for driver’s) do not go down except in the dead of winter. There is FLUID leaking from under the door handles (from regulator?) under w=the windows that don’t work.

CV joint boots cracked (I’m taking it in next week for repairs)

Rear Valve cover (Right) leaking. I replaced the other(front) one myself. This one’s a bear to get to.

R/F ABS sensor needs replacing. I’m changing that one myself. WHen trouble shooting the ABS to determine ABS fault code (31) , (using the Factory manual procedures) the Airbag light came on. That took me hours to reset , using the alternate ground procedure (where timing must be precise). NO FUN.

Most of the maintenance headaches are due to car being FWD (making DIY repairs difficult). Never had a sludge problem.

Oh and if you want to do valve lash adjustments yourself, invest in a bunch of shims. They couldn’t make it so that you can turn a screw and locknut like on the 20R engines?


None of the stuff you mention seems very bad to me

Leaking power steering racks are common on older vehicles

Power window failures are among the most common in many vehicles

Most FWD cars eventually have cracked CV boots

Valve cover gasket leaks are also quite common

Toyota has used shims for decades . . . so have Mazda, Ford, and many others