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Dump it or keep it!

This is asking for your opinion ad ideas that can help me make an informed decision.

MY SITUATION:- I am a grad student in OH, and intend to move to CA by the end of this month. I own a 1991 Toyota Corolla with 198K miles on it. It works fine for my usual 3 miles roundtrip commute to school and the occasional long drive to NJ or IL. There is some visible rust in the corners but nothing significant. I am looking for a job and will continue to do so after I move to CA.



OPTION 1: Get my old car checked up and make any necessary repairs to keep it running for the next one year. I know I may have to change tires and most probably the brakes. There is a strong chance struts might have to be replaced too. So I am thinking if I can get all necessary repairs done within ~$800, I will get it done, drive to CA and keep the car for the next year (or two hopefully).


Sell my car for whatever I can get and move out. Then I will miss out on my possible rare opportunity to drive cross country and will have to get my books etc. shipped and fly to CA with extra baggage.

I have thought about it and haven’t reached a decision. I am looking for the opinion of the this great Car Talk community that can help me decide !

Will you need a a car in California? If you can get away without a car, you may want to spare yourself the expense. If the Toyota isn’t air conditioned, I certainly wouldn’t make the trip.

Will the car make it? That is a good guess. I had a graduate student who drove an old Ford Fiesta made in the late 1970’s to California from Indiana. This was around 1996. This woman was quite mechanical and also very feminine. She pulled the cylinder head off the Fiesta and took it to a machine shop for a valve job before she made the trip. She drove the car for several years out in California. She had a good job, but was a wonderful pianist, so she bought a new grand piano before replacing the car.

Before taking the car to CA, make sure it meets the CA emissions standards. Back in time some cars were 49 state cars and couldn’t be sold and registered in CA. Not sure about '91 but if your car doesn’t meet CA standards it will cost too much money to bring it up to CA standards. If it is a 49 state car you won’t be able to register it in CA.

There is an emissions “sticker” somewhere in the motor compartment. With the VIN # you can figure out if the car is a “50 state” car also. You need to research this point before you make a decision about taking the car to CA.

I vote for option #1.

@ Triedaq: Thanks for putting it in perspective. I am not an artist and my choice of labor does not require any heavy investment except my tiny brain !I can do without a car. However, I would like to have my flexibility and the option to keep the old faithful for a couple more years.

@ Uncle Turbo: Excellent point. One I am trying to figure out. I will look up the sticker and see what it says. Only thing I know is that this car was in NJ till 2003 and consistently met all emissions requirements there. I think other states derive their emissions standards from CA, so I am hoping my car should be okay in CA too.

@ mcparadise: Thanks for the show of support !

Also, I got an oil change done and had the car inspected. Everything seems to be in order except I will need new tires (down to 15% of the tread).

As for air conditioner they said that this old car used an older freon A/C system. So to fix the a/c they will need to retro fit my car with some new fittings and put in new freon etc. Total damage to the wallet ~$225. Any ideas on how good or bad this information sounds ?

I greatly appreciate all of your feedback, and hopefully sometime will have a chance to put in 2c worth of thoughts to someone’s questions!

You need to look for a sticker similar to this one off a 1999 Camry

Sounds correct on having to change out the freon, I don’t know about the price. Where in CA? You might get by without it, but it will be a hot drive!
Unless you’re noticing major bouncing over bumps, you could defer the struts. But tires and brakes you can’t, as you know.

p.s. - is the coolant at the correct strength?

@ Pvt Public: Thanks a bunch! Helps to know what exactly to look for.

@ texases : Well it is the Sun 'n Sand city of CA, a.k.a San Diego. So I am guessing in this weather, I might be ready to get cooked by the time I get there (especially going through NV, UT). Didn’t specifically ask about coolant, but he did say all fluids look good. Nothing to report. Brakes are at about 50%. Tires I definitely need.

If it’s really 50% on brakes, they’re fine. And he can test the coolant for strength, ‘looks good’ isn’t good enough for a trip like this. When what is last replace? If over 3 years, it’s be worth replacing the coolant.

Yeah, the trip might cook you, but you could live w/o a/c in SD.

You can live without AC as long as you ae within about 40 miles of the coast. I was there last week and the blazing August sun drove the temperature all the way up to 68 some days. It almost dropped to 60 at night. Look at for the exact town you will live in. There should be historical data for average temperatures during the year.

Keep it as long as you can. 4 new tires for your vehicle are infinitely less expensive than a monthly car payment. Why not let the vehicle continue to work for you. It will definitely be hot in the desert states, BUT, the humidity is low, so, you should be fine. As for San Diego, most beautiful weather! Good idea to move there and make it your adoptive hometown. Everytime I have visited there, and I’m going back in about 6 weeks, the weather has been great. Living near the Pacific ocean, you get much cooler weather. I only saw snow there once. It was about 15-20 years ago and it lasted for about an hour on the ground before it was all gone. Capt. Mike. the weather guy on Channel 9 (I think - could be 22) expl what happened but I can’t recall what he said caused it. It was fun, though. Best wishes.

Thanks a lot for the feedback! I will definitely change the tires, but postpone the work on the A/C for a while (its not a safety issue anyway).
The ONLY thing that can be a dealbreaker is if I cannot register my car in CA. I looked for the sticker and it does not say 49 states or 50 states. To be clear, here’s the image. Can anyone please help me figure out if my car can be registered in CA ?
[P.S. I have seen 1991 Corollas out there. Nobody in OH that I know of can do an emissions check or anything to help resolve this.]

Your sticker says Fed and Canada. This essentially means 49 states with CA being the odd one out.

As far as the A/C if the system is empty it will need more than a conversion. It likely has leaks that need to be repaired and without doing that any conversion would be a waste of time.
You would roast the entire way because it’s plenty hot in this part of the country also. (TX, OK, NM) Best route would be further north. It’s noticeably cooler.

Offhand, my vote is for tires and keeping the car but that registration in CA could be problematic. I used to live out there many years ago but things have changed a lot and I’m not real familiar with their current boot on the neck policies.
You might contact the C.A.R.B. out there and see just how big a problem this is going to be.

My vote is to keep the car, if you could use it for at least another yr in CA.

There is no need to fix the A/C or the struts. The only expense will be the 4 new, really cheap tyres-lets say $200.00 at most. That expense should give you use of the car for at least 1 year in CA. If you’ve just done your inspection in OH, I am assuming that you could use your car for about another year (or untill your winshield sticker expires OR untill you have to register the car in CA). After that when you’ll have to smog/inspect it in CA, all bets are off. However, as OK4450 said it is best to check with Kalifornia Air Resources Board (CARB) for all the details-I am sure they have a website.

If it turns out you must make it CARB compliant and register it within 30 days-or really soon after getting there, then it is not worth driving it there, and investing in the new tires. Sell it in OH, and rent a car one way to CA. This way you get to drive there and carry your books too, and probably have some money left over as well.

The old Corollas you saw in CA were car sold in CA to begin with, so they were CA compliant.

According to you could rent one way a Ford Escape from Cleveland to SanDiego for one week, for $719.00 out the door( that means all taxes included). You’ll drive in a safe, new-ish, A/C-ed car, with plenty of space for your books and belongings.

so, i do not live in california, but i do know that they do not allow new diesels to be sold there w/o passing stricter emissions regulations, but if you have a 49 state diesel, from out of state, with more than 8500 miles on it, you can register it there when you move.

and besides, 1991 is so old, i mean it has to pass emissions, but i would think it only has to be so clean, you wouldnt be required to make it pollute as little as a new car, you would just be required to have all the proper equipment functioning (i.e. catalytic converter) the exhaust system and the regulations surrounding them may have still been simple enough in 1991 that your car is fine out there…i do not know, i do know that your car is pre-OBD-II requirements, so it won’t be “spitting codes” to the emissions guys

but it sounds like it would make it out there just fine, as an alternative, you could ride a train, that way you can bring all your stuff with you and see varying landscapes and meet interesting people in the dining car and not have to drive or fly