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Is it worth buying a 20 year old car?

I have to admit I am a fan of the Toyota Supra. I also plan on buying a car this summer on a sub 8000 budget. I have seen many listings of Toyota Supras’ of the 1988-1992 vintage in my price range, some of them even low mileage (under 80,000 miles). My burning question is the following: is buying a car that is pushing 20 years old, even if it is low mileage, and a Toyota, asking for problems?

Obviously I would have the car looked at by a mechanic to ensure it is in working order when I buy it but what about down the road? I plan on keeping the car for a few years and although it will be my only car I do not drive a lot.

The answer is yes. A twenty year old car should be expected to have some problems and finding parts and mechanics who know the car will be more difficult that a newer model

That does not mean it will be a poor investment, that you need to decide. As for the price, I have no idea what one should sell for.

It depends on where you live. If you are in the South West, or other dry area, and you find one with a good body (no rust)it might be a good deal if the miles are not too high. Supras are performance cars, so what you are looking at may be well worn. There is also the spares availability question; this car will be hard to get spares for, since it was a low volume car. Toyota is normally good at providing them, but don’t count on it. I would rather buy a 20 year old US sporty car; spares will be easier to get.

Finally, a car like that is not something you have to depend on as a daily driver. Having said that, I know a guy who drives a mid 80s Celica with 1.2 million miles on it. He does not depend on it for his daily transportation.

We have a 1990 Lexus LS400 with 225,000 miles on it. It still looks very good - nearly new in fact - and runs good too. It has a few minor problems like broken switches but the engine and transmission are as smooth as new. It is worth maybe $3,000, but I would say that it is a far better car than most of the low end new cars being sold at $15,000+. The leather is good. The AC blows ice cold. The radio sounds great. We bought this in 1994 at 56K miles. No problem finding a good mechanic or parts.

The difference I see is that you’ve owned your car almost since it was new. You know the maintenance record and how the car was treated for the last 13 odd years. The OP is considering buying this car now so it has an unknown history for the last 13 years (at least) and untold number of prior owners in that period. Also, the people interested in Supras might not be as kind to that automobile as the people who lust after a Lexus LS400. In other words, it’s more of a “sports” car than the Lexus and was more likely to be treated as such. Apples/Oranges IMHO.

Stay away! Don’t make the same mistake I did with my 87 Honda. I only took it on because it was a standard transmission, but I ended up selling my 95 Corolla. Big mistake.

If you’re looking at it as a hobby car that will also fill in for your occasional driving needs, I’d say go for it. I bought my '86 Accord when it was 20, and it’s given me no trouble at all and I would feel perfectly fine relying on it as my only daily driver. I see no reason why a well-maintained example of a Supra wouldn’t be reasonably reliable.

I do think 8000 is a lot of money though-- I know these cars do command a premium, but that is an awful lot for a 20 year old car. If you don’t have your heart set on that particular model, you may be able to get a lot more car for your money. I was thinking maybe the Nissan or Mitsubishi sports cars would be similar and could probably be had closer 10-years old in your price range.

Also, don’t pay a lot more for low mileage-- once a car gets that old, you have to worry more about age-related wear and it’s no longer a matter of there being X number of miles left on it.

I think your Honda was carbureted and mine’s fuel injected. It’s like night and day! I probably wouldn’t recommend a 20-year old carbureted car since they were so futzy and the scarcity of parts and expertise these days. The Supras are all fuel-injected though and feature an FI system that Toyota continued to use for another 15 years.

$8,000 for a 20 year old car to use for primary transportation is, in my humble opinion, a poor bet. My daughter just bought a 2002 Civic with 90,000 miles in excellent condition for $7,000. Lots of things in a vehicle contain elastomers, and lots of thing sare suject to corrosion. Brake lines, fittings, bushings, brake cylinders, there are a million items subject to these time-sensitive deterioration.

And a Supra just may well have been pounded on.

I recommend against it.

You say that you don’t drive a lot, and it might be a good gamble if it passes an inspection my a mechanic. Or you could buy a 1997 BMW 540i for under $7000, a 2000 Acura TL for less than $8000, a 2001 Infiniti I30 for about $7000, a 2001 Audi A6 Quattro for about $8000, or a 2002 Nissan Maxima for about $8000. To name a few.

Oops! I got carried away. There are so many fun cars available that are 2 or 3 generations newer that it seems like a waste of money to buy a Supra for the street.

Also, my question is; If the tranny or the engine on the said Lexus gave up tomorrow, will you really pay the money to fix it or you will trash the car? Now if someone buys this same car the same scenario can happen in the 1st month.

My daily driver for the last two years is a 20 yr old sport(y) car ('88 Mitsubishi Starion), so of course I think it’s fine to get an older car. Just be sure that:

  1. No rust/ crashes
  2. No signs of it having been dogged or abused by a teenager or somethin’
  3. The lower the mileage, the better of course.

You should be able to find something meeting those requirements for waay under 8 grand.

Of course once you have your car, you will have to be sure and keep on top of preventative maintenance a lot more than with a newer car. Above and beyond the normal tune up, you should do stuff like replace all the fluids- including brake, clutch/transmission, and flush the radiator fluid, be sure all the suspension points are lubed, go through your electrical connections w/ some dielectric grease, replace old crusty belts and hoses (including vacuum hoses), etc…

And if/when you do have problems w/ it, I suggest you find an online forum specific to your car (just about every cool car has one). They’ll be able to help you out w/ problems much more specifically than a general forum like this one, plus it’s a good place to make connections for cheap OEM replacement parts.

Thank you for your input everyone, It looks like this will be a nogo for me. I was looking at some other cars and will probaby get an Acura from 2001 or 2002.

I ask myself the same question when I shop around . . . is a 20 year car worth buying? Currently I’m looking for a mid-80’s Porsche 911, and $8k would be cheap for an 88-92. Nonetheless, I LIKE the look of the mid-80’s 911, I like the air-cooled engine and WILL spend more than the $8k you will spend on the Supra. I expect to have a used, 20 year old car that I can play around with, fix stuff as it comes up, and generally have fun with. I don’t expect a warranty . . . a trouble-free car . . . a daily driver in all kinds of weather . . . a good mpg commuter car . . . something cheap to own or insure. I think I will get a used sports car and expect some problems to come with it. If you ARE a fan of something (car . . . house . . . lover . . . money . . . whatever) expect that you will care for it a lot more than it will care for you. My friend, (a car dealer) tells me that he can spot an easy sale a mile away, when someone goes straight to one car . . say a new mustang, they already want/love the car before he gets out on the lot to meet them. You want a Supra, you’ll put up with the 20 year old problems until it breaks your heart . . . hopefully only stranding you once or twice and costing you only a few bucks to fix it. Good luck! Rocketman

A practical (but less fun) solution.

Just curious why you are looking at mid-80s, instead of earlier? Personally, I prefer the late 70s 911 (pre-emissions), just be careful about rust on anything 75 or earlier. Those cars are really a blast to drive on a track, lots of power and “interesting” handling characteristics.

I wouldn’t worry about the specific year, just decide what you think is the best make/model/year of the type of car you want to drive and search for the best example available. It’s all about condition, not mileage or age. buy the best one you can find, because it will be a lot more expensive to recover one that’s been neglected.

I like the style of the 80’s (well, any Porsche 356 . . . 550 . . . 912 . . . 911, they are beautiful, to me), but the mid-80’s just stands out for me . . . I’ll check it out well, wouldn’t kick a 1970’s out of the garage if I could find a nice one. Thanks for the comment . . . I’ll let you know what I find. Rocketman

I was just curious, they all have their own personalities so it’s just a matter of personal preference. Just be very careful of condition, if you buy a neglected one it will eat your lunch in a big way.

I have a 1979 Celica (with a carb) and never once had problems with the carburetor (or any other engine problem, for that matter.

If one maintains the car according to the FSM (and I mean the schedule there and NOT the one in the owner’s manual), it will be reliable, even as a daily driver.

Yeah, drive around with oil leaks, or other neglect because of the owner’s “it’s an old car, not worth fixing” attitude, and you have an unreliable car. Imagine that.