Rack and pinion etc, in 97 Camry

I have a 97 Toyota Camry, 4 cyl, with 150,000 miles on it. It started leaking power steering fluid a couple weeks ago, so we took it in to get checked out. It’s the rack and pinion, as we suspected, and there is also a slew of other things wrong. Here’s a laundry list:

*Rack and pinion, plus alignment: $570

*Timing belt/drive belts (these haven’t been replaced in 70K miles): $280

*Valve cover gasket and front engine seals are leaking, replace: $350

*Decarb: $120

*Positive terminal end (corroded): $45

Grand Total: $1365

I called around to three different shops, and these are the best prices I was quoted. My husband and I are POOR, so I need help cutting costs! Here are my questions:

1) Which of these things definitely should be done right now?

2) Which of these things can we probably do on our own, with the help of a somewhat knowledgeable friend? (he can do “simple” things like tune-ups, oil changes, etc.)

3) If we do replace the belts, should we go ahead and replace the water pump too? (I’ve been told it’s cheaper to do this while they are in there.)

Thanks SOOO much for any advice you can give me. I’m so stressed about affording all this! I don’t even know if it is worth doing all this to our car…I’m sure it is worth less than $3K…but I don’t know if we’d get anything if we tried to sell it as is! (scratching head)

If on a tight budget, here’s what I would do.

On the rack & pinion leak. Add a bottle of Lucus Power Steering Stop Leak. I’ve had great success with this product stopping leaks in the rack & pinion assembly. And even if it doesn’t work, you’re only out a few bucks.

I believe the service interval for the timing belt on your vehicle is every 90,000 miles. So you still have another 20,000 to go before that service is required.

The valve cover gasket is cheap and easy to replace, but the front seal is a little more involved. Replace the valve cover gasket. And then when it’s time to replace the timing belt, have the front seal replaced then. Just keep an eye on the oil level in the mean time.

If there’s no problem with the drivability of the vehicle, skip the decarbonization service.

Cleaning/replacing a battery terminal/cable is also cheap and easy to do.

So for under $100.00, you can have most of this stuff fixed. With the help of your mechanic friend.


*I can’t help you with the power steering, but someone else will be able to.
*The timing belt and water pump should be changed at this mileage but don’t necessarily need to be done immediately - that’s a very good price though. Drive belts you can probably let go for now, but someone can correct me if I’m wrong.
*The oil leaks are probably manageable - just watch the level of oil and add as necessary. If they get very bad, then you could fix them.
*Don’t bother decarbing the engine. You could use a can of Seafoam to do that for about $10 if you have a reason to think it needs it.
*You or your friend can clean the battery terminal. Unhook the negative cable. Unhook the positive cable. Scrub the terminal using baking soda and a toothbrush. Hook the positive cable back up, then the negative.

I’ve had success with the power steering stop leak product (available at Walmart).
Unless the tires are wearing unevenly now, skip the alignment.
Doesn’t Toyota (the car maker, not the dealer) recommend 100,000 miles for timing belt change?
The valve cover gasket is a simple “at-home” replacement. DO get the Haynes #92007(or, Chilton’s) Repair Manual.
The “front engine seals” leaking? The dealer will only tell you that they are leaking. He will never tell you if the leak is minor and can
be ignored. I think that it’s a minor leak and can be ignored. Ask your mechanic.
The Decarb. Your mechanic/friend can do the decarb with a can of Carb/Throttle Body Cleaner from Walmart, or an auto parts store. Cheap.
Do yourself: replace the positive battery cable. Again, available from Walmart.
Grand total: much less.

Starting with the easy stuff first, why not drop by Wal Mart in regards to the battery cable end. The ends are a couple of bucks there and I think (?) Wal Mart may install it for free or a few dollars at most. I’m pretty certain it’s not going to be anywhere near 45 bucks.

If the car is apparently running well then you can skip the decarb for now. I assume this is an induction cleaning or something like that.

There’s no way around a leaking steering rack so that number is a given.

The figure quoted on the timing belt, etc. is about right but the water pump should be changed.

Here is the one I have an issue with. That’s the 350 dollars for seal replacement. This sounds too high to me because removal of the drive belts/timing belt, etc. means the mechanic is already in there anyway for T-belt replacement and a lot of the work has already been done.

They may be figuring labor like this, and I don’t agree with it. Just for the sake of argument here, assume a T-belt job is 3 hours labor and seal replacement is a 4 hour job. A reputable shop should not charge a total of 7 hours because there is a lot of what is called “labor overlap” here. This is due to many of the procedures being the same. Basically what ahould happen here is that 4 hours should be charged out and this covers the T-belt, which has to be removed anyway.

I don’t know if this is what they’re doing or not but it certainly sounds like it. Hope this helps to explain it and helps you out. :slight_smile:

The rack needs a shop. It’s not a DIY job for a novice. While the price sounds like he already quoted a rebuilt, it can’t hurt to ask.

When he does the timing belt he can do the front engine seal cheaply. He’ll be right there. You can skip the valve cover gasket. Ask about this. And yes, with 150,000 I’d recommend having him change the water pump when he does the belt. Opinions vary on this.

Should you sell it, you are under absolutely no obligation either legally or morally to disclose any of this. Anyone buying an 11 year old car with 150,000 miles should expect these things. However, these things are not major, they’re all normal wear & tear, so if it’s running good I personally think you’d be wise to fix it and keep it. Where else are you going to get a good car for that cheap?

Unless the power steering leak is a big one, nothing needs to be done now. Get the stopleak Tester mentioned and see if it works. Are you using oil? If you are not losing a significant amount of oil the leaks and seals don’t have to be worked on right now. Clean the battery cable yourself with an old toothbrush and water and baking soda. When you have to get it done the price for timing belt and drive belts is quite low. Negotiate a water pump replacement at the same time; the same labor works for both, but do it before the work is begun.

Have the battery cable replaced, not just the terminal. Hope the stop leak works. Poor people don’t change their timing belts on a car that old. none of the other stuff needs doing except maybe the alignment to make it easier on the power steering and I hope you don’t need a ball joint or tie-rod end.