2002 Camry: To repair or not to repair

I have a 2002 Camry (4cyl, LE I think) with ~107k miles on it. It’s a solid car that I got ridiculously cheap from some family friends when I finished college and I know these cars can last quite a while so it was a steal! However I wasn’t the best at doing regular maintenance in the last couple of years as a poor grad student (e.g. waited about a year or more normally between oil changes, never changed any other fluids), and while I don’t drive a lot, I’m really happy I have the car. The only issue I’ve had with it is that it has developed some sort of issue that makes it sound like a diesel (a louder roar, lower RPMs than the gas engine I know it has), which was diagnosed as a broken exhaust pipe and a dirty air intake. I spent around $2000 to get the exhaust assembly replaced and the intake cleaned about 2 years ago, and for about 6 months the car felt like new - a lot more power just in idle, and the engine was much quieter. Other than that, the only maintenance I’ve done is get new tires when necessary, put in new brake pads a few years ago, and the occasional oil change. Though the diesel-like sound came back, it wasn’t in my budget/schedule to get it looked at.

This week, I decided I would take the car in for the 105k mile inspection and check to see what else is going on with the car. The mechanic (who I trust) took a look at it over a day and told me in addition to all the regular maintenance at this point (brake fluid, oil, coolant), the front and back suspension would need replacing and that the front axle needed a new part as well (sorry I can’t remember what it was, I don’t know much about cars) if I wanted to be driving at highway speeds (we do take trips into the mountains for hikes, with drives being a few hours long, so I’d like to be safe). All in all, it sounded like I would need to spend around $3000 for this car that KBB says is worth less than $2000.

So my question is whether it is worth putting in the money to get this car safe for longer drives again? I feel like 100k miles is pretty low to get rid of a Camry, even if I wasn’t the best at maintaining the car previously, and I am in favor of getting as much out of a car if it’s still reasonable. On the other hand, I’m not sure if there’s more things that might break soon, and my wife and I would benefit from a 4wd car that would help us get into the mountains, as well as perhaps have some updated safety features as we think about starting a family. We were looking at a Subaru Impreza, but anything newer than 2013 is at least $14,000 where we live - definitely more than the repairs! I still have about a year of grad school (2 for my wife) ahead of us, but we could manage car payments if we decided to buy one. Since the car isn’t in great shape cosmetically - somehow a lot of cars have swiped us with minor damage to the body, so there’s a few dents and scrapes - selling it might not get us much in trade-in value, so we would donate it to our local NPR station if we did choose to buy.

Thanks in advance for any advice!

There’s no real good or clear answer to your dilemma.

It sounds like money is an issue in your budget, and that at best you could replace this Camry with another used vehicle (though newer). While that may sound appealing… the truth is that even newer used cars can and will have problems. You also generally don’t know any of the prior maintenance history on a used (new to you) car.

Meaning that: you may still have issues/repairs with the new to you car.

At least you know the maintenance history on your Camry. You also have an idea of what work (which is only standard maintenance, really) needs to be done.

A Camry would be ideal for carrying kids (and their stuff) around, since you mentioned wanting to start a family. A paid for vehicle is also a blessing with a young family, believe me.

My leaning would be toward keeping the Camry. I’d take it to at least one more mechanic, have them look it over for what maintenance needs to be done, and what can wait. You might be surprised what different mechanics find and say about your car.

Good luck.


I think that, with your admittedly casual attitude towards maintenance, you’d find a Subaru prohibitedly expensive to keep on the road.

$3000 is a lot. I get that, my wife and I have been where you are. But it’s a lot cheaper than a new car. What concerns me is the “knocking noise,” which I suspect is caused by low oil and could easily lead to engine damage. Whatever you do, make a commitment to take care of your car. If you treated a dog or cat the way you do your Camry it would be dead by now. If you do decide to replace your current vehicle, you might be able to find a used Hyundai or Kia for $10000 or so with some warranty left.

Thank you for the thoughtful answer @ledhed75 and others. I am also leaning towards keeping the car and certainly will be focused on more maintenance in the future, but it’s a good point that I know the history of this car and buying a used car might not actually save me any maintenance coming up that I wouldn’t see with this car - plus there will always be used Subarus to buy in the future, so I can wait! Also, you’re right that I should take it to another garage and see what their assessment is.

As for committing to more maintenance, what does that entail? My family had two workhorse cars growing up that lasted without much trouble in a New England city (shorter trips mostly, and the occasional long trip to Maine), and I think they were also on perhaps a yearly (or sometimes longer) oil change schedules , so I never had anyone give me some rules of thumb. I’ve been doing a bit of reading about long-term care for these cars recently, and there’s enthusiasts that recommend changes every 5k with specific synthetic oil, while I’ve seen others that say it’s not so important what oil as long as its once a year. I’ve always just looked at the oil on the dipstick and if it was getting dark or getting low it was time to get it changed. I’m focused on having a safe, reliable ride that will last me a few more years and I’m not an aggressive driver, so I always figured that put me in a category where I could be a bit more relaxed with maintenance, but certainly I’m happy to step with any rules you follow.

Thanks again!

On this 18 year old vehicle that has had some what sketchy service I would just do an oil change at 7000 or 12 months from now on. And just use what oil your owners manual calls for .

You had a great opportunity, then you abused it and neglected it… it is now a burden. From what you have described it is very likely you have ruined the engine due to lack of any sort of oil change regime.

So the good deal that you got… is a thing of the past. If your engine suffered an oil related failure and it sounds as if it has (diesel sounding engine)…its over… The vehicle is junk and you junked it. Thats about it.

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The “diesel sounding” needs to be diagnosed. If it’s internal damage to the engine that means imminent destruction, that’s one thing. If it’s external - an exhaust leak (loose or cracked manifold, or loose connection somewhere) that’s different. If it went away but has come back…?

@jjaenisch_162160, you have a computer and you know that Internet is, yet instead of spending few minutes on Google to look up how to properly maintain your car by getting your Owners Manual and reading it, you rely on total strangers here (who happen to include some high-caliber mechanics, but how you would know that).
I bet your 2002 Camry Owner Manual describes in teh maintenance section to change your oil with some language like “5000 mile or 6 months, whatever comes first” (it is an example, I did not spend any time looking it up for you), which means that if you drove your car for 6 months and it was only 3000 miles for example, you still have to change your oil by time, not by mileage.
Likely your car is a dead horse by now, as @Honda_Blackbird rightfully said, you were given the opportunity, but you did not use it.
At the very least, make yourself a favor and do not burn yourself another hole in the pocket by keeping your attitude toward maintenance, as it will be quite expensive lesson to learn… and smart people do not need to be given a second one to learn it…
As for Subaru, since it is known for excessive oil consumption, it will not be long before that kind of attitude would kill its engine from oil starvation.
That would be a second lesson of “you must check your oil level regularly, at the very least once a month”, which you better learn not from your own experience.

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If the Camry engine not destroyed, fix it up. But for your trips to the mountains or where ever, rent a vehicle.


That may be true, but it isn’t the question that needs answering. The important question is whether spending $3000 to return your Camry to good operating condition is better than the other options available that would yield a reliable & economic ride for you and your family. If you buy a new car the down payment & monthly car payment and the higher costs of insurance will eat up the $3000 pretty fast. On the other hand there’s less maintenance expense with a new car. And a new car will be generally more reliable and have improved safety features compared to a 2002 Camry w/100k miles. Yet there’s always the risk with a new car of experiencing some stubborn sample defects, which can be very time consuming for the customer to deal with. There’s a poster here who’s been posting in recent weeks about a new car sample defect problem in fact.

Ok, for the bottom line, given what you say I think your best bet is keeping the Camry and asking your trusted inde shop to do what’s required to return it to good working order. If your shop advises something be done that you’re not sure about you are welcome to post back for some opinions. But remember that the folks here posting opinions about a car they’ve never seen isn’t nearly as valuable as a trusted shop with trained staff who’s looking underneath the car on their lift.


A sad truth is that aftermarket exhaust components often do not last very long. If its been a couple of years, the car does mainly short trips and then sits, well… you most likely have another hole somewhere in it.
Suspension components are wear items. Struts are usually replaced prior to 100K mile, and 18 year old bushings are probably in need of changing…
Yes you could go to town and replace all fluids, but I suggest you do what you have been doing. Keep neglecting and using it and maybe you can get another year or two of it. Have any safety concerns looked after but limit what you spend on it. When it comes time for the multi hour highway trip-- rent a vehicle. Far cheaper than breaking down many miles from home.
You might also benefit from a garage with less expensive pricing. PS as a graduate student you clearly have the ability to learn. Changing your own fluids and familiarizing yourself with the car is not beyond your abilities, and a good life skill to have.