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Looking to replace 2002 Corolla due to failing Smog Test. What's an acceptable replacement for $ 3K?

We’ve been using this car for more than 12 years and it’s been failing smog tests for a while now.

Any suggestions for a replacement car for about $ 3K?

Preferrably a Sedan since we need a room for standard wheelchair and other things.

I’ve glanced a bit on youtube videos but there’s too much info.

For 3K, it’s gonna be used.

Still, I’m interested on what’s a good car if the budget were raised to $ 12K.


You might look for a used lexus, 2008 or so, but it is all a guess, had similar thread, I recommended a challenger, different needs, but it is really hard to do a recommendation, Now we have a lease 2015 KIA Optima 2015, trunk is great for wheelchair, and they are right in that price range used.

Another Corolla, or a Yaris, a Honda Civic or Fit, Mazda M3, those are all good cars. There’s others too, Fords, Chevy’s, Kias, Hyundais, bigger cars like Camry’s and Accords, but focus on an econobox that fits your bill, not performance cars. The more you have to spend the newer model year options you have. I wouldn’t spend more on a different car, one of those cars that was newer. Before writing any checks see what Consumer Reports has to say, and hire your own mechanic to do a pre-purchase inspection. If your pocketbook is in the higher number range be sure to see what the local rental car companies have for sale. I recently walked by the Hertz rental car sales office and they had a very nice assortment of nicely appointed econoboxes to choose from. The rental car sales place has no manual transmissions tho.

BTW, do you know the reason why your 2002 won’t pass a smog test? A 2002 Corolla should be a very good car still. Maybe the experts here can give some ideas why it won’t pass, what you could do to make it pass, if you provide some add’l info.

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This is the same answers that most of these what vehicle should I buy: one that meets your needs-one that passes a mechanical inspection-one that you and who ever else might drive it agree on

Just because one of us likes a certain vehicle does not mean that you will like it or get the same good service or might even get better service. Many times these threads receive recommendations and if the person does return and say what they bought it was not even mentioned.

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I’d like to know exactly what is failing

I’m in California . . . the state with the strictest emissions standards . . . and your car would not be subjected to a dyno smog test, only a plug in test, which is definitely easier to pass

What kind of smog inspections are you subject to, and what part of the inspection is your car failing?


Me too. What’s failing?
How many miles does the car have on it?
Do you know anything about its maintenance history?

Generally, if the vehicle is in otherwise good shape, it’ll be cheaper to fix the problem than to replace the vehicle. But more information is needed to make suggestions.


Another vote for knowing what is failing. It could be that the fix may cost way less than 3 grand.

What if that 3 grand ends up buying a headache which causes you to rue the day you bought it.

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With the age of the car you’ll find at the $3,000 price point, the current condition and the maintenance history matter much more than the brand or the original reliability ratings. Regardless, if I had to pick a brand, I’d look for a Kia Optima or Hyundai Sonata.

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What’s the wheelchair situation? You going with a car topper for the chair, does the chair user need to drive, etc?

That said, if you’re replacing it for 3k, you’re fairly likely to get a car that has problems which are just as expensive to fix as the problem you have now. Upping it to 12 gives you a much better shot at getting something that doesn’t need big work.

For a little less than 12k you can easily get a Hyundai Veloster that’s only 2 or 3 years old. They’re great cars, and they’re hatchbacks with plenty of room for the wheelchair and lots of other stuff.

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A $3000 used car is likely a crap shoot! A 10 year old low mileage compact might be had for that amount. Look for ads by seniors downsizing to one c ar. A Chevy Cobalt in good condition with low miles might be available. A Hyundai Accent could do as well.

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They told me it’s “Drive” or “Drive Cycle”.


They told me it’s “Drive” or “Drive Cycle”.

More info needed as to what is wrong with the car. A 2002 Toyota Corolla is one of the most reliable and durable cars of its era. Unless it has had serious damage or neglect, it seems reasonable to not give up on it.

“Drive” or “drive cycle” has no meaning without whole lot more context.

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Thank you for the information

It means your readiness monitors didn’t run to completion. In all likelihood, only 2 or 3 were incomplete, and the rest were complete.

Without even seeing your car, I’m guessing evap and catalytic converter were incomplete. In California, you would only be allowed 1 incomplete monitor, and that would be evap.

There are a few different reasons for incomplete monitors, such as . . .

You cleared a fault code, which resets all monitors to incomplete status

You replaced the battery

you left the lights on overnight, which could kill the battery and clear the monitors

Somebody needs to drive this car properly to get those missing monitors. Google obd2 drive cycle. Read it carefully and you should be able to get the car ready

By the way, even though your car did technically fail the smog inspection, it didn’t fail because of high emissions, tampering, etc. Really, it failed because it wasn’t “ready”

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Good info by poster db above. What that means is your car’s computer is tattling on you. As you drive the engine computer is constantly monitoring for conditions that could yield higher than allowed tailpipe emissions. To do that it performs a series of tests, each under a different driving condition, what they call a “drive cycle”. For example test 1 may occur at idle, test 2 at 35 mph with the coolant above 180 degrees, test 3 occurs at 55 mph with the gas tank more than 1/4 full, etc. After all those tests are completed , which may take a dozen driving trips or more, then the computer decides if that set of tests passes or not. If it passed each test, it puts a “pass” mark" for that set of tests, and a check mark in the “readiness monitor” column, meaning the engine performed all the required drive cycles and passed every one of the required tests.

If your Corolla failed b/c of a “drive cycle” problem, that means the emissions tester sees that one of the readiness monitors doesn’t have a check mark; i.e. all of the required drive cycles for that set of tests haven’t been completed yet. It doesn’t mean necessarily than any of the tests failed, just they haven’t been done yet. You might ask how that could be, since your car is15 years old. 15 years should be enough time to complete all those drive cycles, right?.

The problem is that the computer can forget it has already done the drive cycles. A mechanic can instruct the computer to forget, or if the battery is disconnected or a fuse pulled, all the prior drive cycle info is lost. The emissions folks, as you might expect, won’t pass the car until the necessary drive cycles are completed and each test passes. What you’d need to do is drive a car normally for a couple weeks, then take it to your shop and ask them to check the drive cycle readiness monitors, if they are completed enough to take the car for an emissions test. Your mechanic should also check for diagnostic codes which might prevent a successful emissions test. If you post the state of the readiness monitors and any diagnostic codes here, you might get some ideas what is involved to fix the problem.

I should add I own a Corolla of older vintage than yours, and do battle the Calif emissions test every two years. A car of its vintage has to be tail-pipe tested on a treadmill gadget, like it is being driven in other words. The problem for me is the tailpipe HC levels when it is driven at 15 mph. It passes all the other tests ok. But that one particular one it is right on the margin. I usually have to give it a complete ignition system tune-up and an injector cleaning treatment to get it to pass. In your case I think all you have to do is pass the computer’s drive cycle tests, no tread mill tailpipe testing.

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Thank you so much guys.

What happens is that our battery has been randomly disconnecting for the past 2 years.

Sometimes it lasts months, sometimes once a week and sometimes everyday.

I do remember that the terminal was old, crusty and loose before then there were people who helped out but “yanked” something so I’m not sure what exactly happened there.

In any case, how hard is it to replace the entire battery cables and how hard is it?

I wonder if we can do these by ourselves and not have to rely on an expensive mechanic

I will post the reports on the “Drive Cycle” issue later on as I don’t have the paper yet.

All of your help is being/has been very much appreciated.

It isn’t difficult as long as the cable ends are accessible, but it’s extremely important to strictly observe safety protocols. Don’t even think of trying it without safety glasses and (my preference) leather work gloves. And always remove the negative line first.

Here’s a link to a simple-to-follow procedure.

NOTE: on a '02 Corolla you may have to “reinitialize” the body control module to get the power windows to work right again. Any dealer’s parts window guy can help you with this protocol. It’s really simple.


May be take a look at Consumer Reports Used car issue to narrow down the cars with least problems and check the costs on before heading to the dealer.

I would also check car specific forums for used car sales. Most forums I have been to have such section.

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You’ll want to head to the Toyota dealer and buy the battery cable ends. They usually have them in stock. They bolt on, no cutting or crimping required. Do not replace the entire cable, you’re just making more work for yourself

Just bring the car over and show them

Do NOT remove the cable ends until you have the new ones in your hand, ready to go

Just how old is that battery, anyways?

After your repair, you may want to consider having a parasitic draw test and charging system test performed, to make sure there are no no other problems, which might affect your battery

Also make sure your belt and tension are in good shape, so that your alternator has a fighting chance to do its job

@the_same_mountainbik Thanks. I’ll let them know about this and show it to them. We don’t have power windows though but we don’t mind.

@Noelm Too bad CR is paid. I’d have to scrounge up other articles just in case. I’ll check cargurus later though. Never heard of it.

Any suggestions for car forums? The other I’ve seem seem very inactive compared to this site.


@db4690 Ok. I’ll let them know too.

How expensive are these bolt on cable ends just in case?

The battery is only about a month old.

Anyway, yesterday, the engine just stopped while we were about to finish parking. Could that be another issue other than the battery? The car has automatic transmission.