Buying advice: '89 Camry with 131K for $1600. Is it a good deal?

Just moved down to Los Angeles from SF and I’ve been scouring Craigslist for a cheap car. Ideally I’d like a hatchback (Civic would be nice) but given my max budget of $2500 there doesn’t seem to be many options. People want ridiculous amounts for salvage titled Hondas with 200K+ miles and a lot of the ads seem to be phishing scams or have sketchy stories about how they lost the lease… riiighhht.

The other day I came across the following ad:
White 1989, 4 door, manual, Toyota Camry. Excellent running and physical condition. Extremely clean body. Low miles (131K), no known mechanical problems. I am the second known owner of this car. It was previously an old ladies car, who babied it. Selling only because my wife can’t drive a manual and is nervous to learn now that we have a baby. Has red interior, power locks and windows, AC. Clean Title $1600. Hate to see it go, being its a great gas saving car in amazing condition for it’s age.

I talked to the guy and he seemed legit (I could hear a baby crying in the background which seems to confirm his story about why he wants to get rid of the car) and although everyone seems to claim that their car was previously owned someone’s grandma, it’s possible he’s telling the truth about that too. So my question is, should I go for it? I’m going to test drive the car tomorrow. I like that it has low mileage and that year has great reviews but it is still a 22 year old car. Seems like things might be ready to crap out from age if not from use. Does anyone have one of these that’s still running strong? I’ll put it through the paces and check the fluids, clutch, etc, is there anything in particular I should watch out for on this model?

One other thought: $1600 seems kind of high given the age of the car. Blue book values don’t go back to '89 but the estimated pricing for a good condition '91 Camry with that mileage is $1465 so I figure an '89 should go for slightly less than that. Excellent condition is listed as $1665 but really is it even possible for a 22 yr old car to be in excellent condition?

Another concern I have is that being an '89 this model won’t have airbags which I believe didn’t come standard until around '92


If it checked uot good on the rack I’d offer $1,000, but that’d be about max for me. Even if it’s in great shape it stll lacks many of the safety features of a modern car. And low mileage on an old car generally suggests all short trip driving, which is the hardest kind of use.

And never believe anything in an advertisement that cannot be readily proven. There are many times more cars on the market that were owned by little old ladies than there are little old ladies in existance.

hmmm, yeah, that’s what I suspect. given how battered cars in LA seem it would probably be best to get one with airbags. problem is so many of the cars out there have salvage title which means the airbags could have been blown and not replaced. I’ve never seen a salvage title – it doesn’t specify the reason does it? Some people claim it’s salvage title due to minor body damage or theft recovery but there’s no way to verify that is there?

I wouldn’t pay that much for a car that old. No way.

Craigslist sucks for buying a car unless you get VERY lucky. Try this instead:

I suppose it depends on the year. '96 and newer vehicles are required to perform a “self check” on the airbag systems at start up. Older cars could be tested, but there may be ways to fool the system that I’m unaware of.

I guess the bottom line is that if safety is important you’re better to get something no older than a '96. And even that’s 15 years old, so even if the airbag’s fine a ball joint may be ready to fall apart. You still need to get it checked out thoroughly.

I would say that it’s at least it’s possible the car could be worth that much. My feeling is that there is a point at which a car that is clean, runs and drives well, and has no apparent major problems has to be worth X dollars as transportion no matter the age.

There is that murky point at which a car is rolling junk and worth little but I’m of the opinion that a very decent sled is generally worth around 1500 dollars.

Make sure any test drive is more than 2 miles. You want to have it fully warmed up while paying close attention to everything. This means no radio on and on chatter from a passenger.
I would also show up with a checkbook in a shirt pocket and a wad of cash stuffed inside. (20s & 100s)
Let the bills protrude out of the checkbook about 1/2". The seller’s eye will be drawn to that right off the bat and they also know you’re serious.
If you then decide you want the car then make a cash on the spot offer far below 1600 dollars and go from there. Just my 2 cents.

i’ve looked at the stuff but most of their listings are from shady auto auction sites or dealers with terrible ratings, not to mention that most of the cars listed there have super high 200k+ mileage.

Finding a good used car for $2500 or less take patience, caution, and networking. Have you let your family members, relatives, friends and coworkers know that you’re seriously looking? You wouldn;t be the first to get a good used car cheap from an elderly generous uncle.

I like the old Camry, but '89 is getting very old. Still, a manual 4 cyl old Camry would be a car I’d consider. Not sure about the price, but you can offer $800 and see where it goes. Little old ladies didn’t usually drive manual shift cars, but a story is a story. It isn’t about the seller, as much as it is about the car. Have a mechanic check it out, but I’d be interested. Just not sure about that $1,600 price tag.

I would not pay more for $1000. I would not have high expectations of longevity but you may find yourself well surprised.

Personally I would stick to vehicles made in the last decade as they are far superior to most vehicles built in the 1980’s.

I’ve already considered the family angle to no avail. I’m afraid Craigs is my best bet. I have considered looking at some used car lots but most of them don’t seem to stock anything less than 5k

there’s a 98 Escort ZX2 for 1500 but it’s got 204,000 miles. I’m thinking I should probably stay away from any 200k plus cars, particularly american made cars but then again I doubt if I can find anything with less than 130k miles in my price range.

Edmunds says a 1990 Camry Deluxe with cruise control, AC, AM/FM/Cassette, and power door locks is worth about $527 from a private seller in LA. It’s definitely worth a personal look. Drive on over and see what the car looks like. How are the tires? What does the interior look like? What about the trunk (pull up the carpet)? What does the engine bay look like? Check the transmission while driving and make sure the clutch doesn’t need to be replaced immediately. Also check the condition of all the fluids. I’d go over with a printout of the Edmunds estimate and lay it on him if you like what you see. You might also look at the NADA and KBB. If they all agree, you might be able to get up to $1000 off the car. This gives you bargaining power. The current owner, like most owners, wants far more for their car than they can reasonably expect. The worst he can do is say no and you will only have spent the afternoon looking at a car.

Thanks for the tips. Just test drove a '98 Mitsubishi Diamante that was parked 2 doors down from me. 134k miles and the thing was a total beater. Tranny felt pretty good and it had good power but started running rough and coughing after a 10 minute test drive. Alignment was totally shot too with all tires wearing heavily on the inside and the steering wheel tugging to the right. Guy only wanted a $1000 bucks but I think that’s probably about 500 too much.

Supposed to test drive the Camry tomorrow.

Bought a car this morning! It’s a 1997 Honda Accord SE Automatic with 124K miles. Paid $2400. Clean title. Cold A/C, power locks but no keyless entry, stock CD player, sun roof. Has minor front fender damage and cosmetic scrapes on the drivers side but is otherwise in good condition. Front tire wear indicates a bit of an alignment problem but it doesn’t seem too bad. Tranny feels good, shifts smoothly under acceleration. Woman I bought it from was an exchange student returning to her home country at the end of week so she wanted to get rid of it fast. We shall see but it seems like a great deal considering Blue Book value of the car in good condition is $3700.

Grats! First thing to do now is get all the fluids sorted out, or at least checked. Transmission fluid, oil, you may want to include coolant and brake fluid in the list. There’s no telling when it was all done last, unless you have receipts.

There’s a sticker for the oil that shows it’ll need a change in 500 miles. Transmission fluid was within range but on the low side so I’ll have that topped off when I get the oil changed. I’ll check the coolant.

Anyone have a ballpark figure for what it might cost to fix the alignment? The steering wheel tugs a little to the right and the front tires have some wear on the inside. Rear tires look great.

Tire wear on the inside edges could be a simple matter or it could be a sign of something far more serious.
Simple would too much toe-out.
Far more serious could be worn suspension componets, too much negative camber (maybe due to worn suspension), suspension component or subframe bent, etc, etc.

There’s also a timing belt/tensioner/water pump issue which has to be considered unless someone can prove with paperwork that it has been done in recent history.

Low transmission fluid is also something that raises a little concern and at this point I’ll reserve judgment as to whether this was a good deal or the seller laid out a good story about selling it fast.
(The storyline would be that I’m getting out of Dodge and out of the country so don’t come looking for me if there’s a problem. Just sayin’.)

$1100 too much for a car that old? Better tell the guy with the '69 Camaro who posted below.

“$1100 too much for a car that old? Better tell the guy with the '69 Camaro who posted below.”

A 1969 Camaro SS sold this year at the Scottsdale Barrett-Jackson auction for $220,000. They can sell for a lot more than that. What Camry more than 2 years old is worth even $22,000? Why mention a car that has tremendous upside when we are discussing a car the never will?