Save the Celica! (or do I?)

I’ve got a 2000 Toyota Celica I purchased from my dad on the “family discount” payment plan 6 months ago. It’s a fun little 5-speed, my first stick shift, and I love it to bits. It’s a GT model but it’s pretty loaded, with power everything and 6-disc CD changer.

So then last weekend happened. The clutch went out, and in the process, it’s done something bad to the transmission. Problem is, the mechanics don’t know exactly what. And they can’t figure it out until they start tearing the thing apart to replace the clutch!

With repair costs, I’m looking at a minimum of $1100 parts and maintenance for the clutch, plus whatever for the transmission. It could be a few bucks for a missing clip, or it could be $1700 for a whole new transmission! This car goes for about $2000 in good condition on KBB. How do you justify spending $3000 on a car that’s worth 2???

I’m conflicted because otherwise, it’s been a great car. It’s either got 225,000 or 186,000 miles on it, depending on who you ask (past owner claims there was an engine replacement earlier on). It’s the only 5-speed I’ve had access to and probably the only two-door coupe I’m gonna have my hands on before life starts catching up with me and makes me settle down.

The other thing is I already have another car–my 1998 Toyota Tacoma that’s been doing me fine for the past 5 years. It’s reliable, but it’s no sports coupe.

What do you guys think? Blow the equivalent of 5-10 new car payments on a high-mileage roadster, or sell it for $500 to someone a little more mechanically inclined?


From here, it’s a nice looking vehicle. I recommend to keep it.

Spending $2k to fix a $3k car, I know it doesn’t sound like it makes economic sense, but it isn’t the correct method to compare costs. If you want to do a cost analysis, you now, the boring way, figure out what it would cost to replace it, purchase price of replacement vehicle, fees, license, insurance differences, then add back the value you think you’d get by selling it yielding the total cost to you, and compare that number to fixing the Celica. I expect fixing it will be kinder to your wallet.

And you might get lucky on the transmission.

Where else you gonna get a car that great for $2-3K?

I should also point out that until you pay your dad off it’s still his car. If you sell it with his agreement you’re going to need to sell it for enough to pay your dad off. And nobody’s going to buy it broken

Welcome to the adult world.

Why do you think the transmission was damaged? Can you describe what happened?

He might have told her the pressure plate and throwout bearing also needed replacing and she understood him to mean that the tranny was broken too. It’s just a guess on my part, but it wouldn’t be an uncommon misunderstanding.

I’ve always liked Celica’s. Very solid cars - I’d keep it. At 200K miles a clutch replacement is the kind of thing you’d expect to need at this point.

Get thee to a good independent mechanic and have the Celica properly diagnosed. Once you find out exactly what it will cost…go from there. I recommend repairing the car as well. When the clutch goes…the transmission will act wonky. I wouldn’t worry about it.

If that is a recent picture, it must be in the Southwest. The body is likely in excellent condition rust-wise, and the clutch is worth fixing. It may be expensive, but it is really maintenance, not a repair. See if you can convince Dad to help pay for it.

Thanks for the replies guys. You’re pushing me in the direction I want to go; it’s just hard to convince myself when I already have another perfectly working vehicle. Just to correct a few misconceptions:

  • jtsanders: I wish I was in the Southwest. Actually the picture was taken on a late afternoon fall day in Iowa. But you're right; aside from one small bit of rust starting on the left rear fender, it's pretty much clean.
  • Mountain bike: When I said "family discount payment plan" I was trying to be cute; my dad sold it to me for $700.
  • And I know it's a girl's car, but I'm not. ;)
My mechanic (at the dealership) thinks there's something wrong with the transmission because the car won't go in reverse. I got a quote from another mechanic for replacing the clutch before bringing it to the dealership, and it was higher; although the cost I'm looking at now has risen above it. Believe me, I would use my normal local mechanic if I could, but he doesn't do that kind of work on Toyotas.

GeorgeSanJose: If I were to purchase another Celica (same year), I’m looking at about $4000. Some of them have lower mileage, although if the first owner of my Celica is to be believed, the engine was replaced at around 68,000 miles (recall). However, the person my dad bought it off didn’t have the paperwork for this. She was a neighbor though, so I’d consider her trustworthy. It’s just not going to help with any sales (not that it’s the major issue right now).

I don’t know what the typical fees are from a dealership (never had to deal with one), but my insurance costs would be the same. Let’s call it $4200 for a replacement Celica. I have a buyer willing to give me $500 for my Celica as-is. So $3700 vs $1200-$3000. It’s close, but you’re right, it’s still better. Plus, I know the history of my car a bit better than anything else I’d buy.

I have until Monday to tell my buyer “never mind,” and I’m sorely tempted… it’s certainly better than getting suckered into a new car with a loan to pay.

Thanks again for the replies. I’ll try to figure it out over the weekend.

Without car in hand I can’t tell you what the issue is with the transmission (if there is even an issue…) but I prefer to look at it as a glass half full and no transmission issue at all. Not going into reverse doesn’t necessarily mean the transmission is bad.
A flawed clutch or failed pilot bearing (part of many clutch kits although not all) can cause problems with reverse.

I’d pull the transmission and go over the clutch along with the pilot bearing. With the transmission out of the car it can be shifted manually to determine if all gears are in order along with rotation of the mainshaft to rule out failed shaft bearings and so on.

Looks like a pretty nice looking car so dumping it would not be high on the options list in my opinion.

When you do the clutch, do everything

Clutch disc
pressure plate
resurface the flywheel
replace clutch master and slave, if there is any doubt at all

it’s like doing a timing belt, you want to make sure everything in there is new, or overhauled

I’m not talking about the trans, though

Like the others, I tend to feel the clutch is the only problem, and it’s affecting the trans operation at this point in time

When all the clutch stuff is taken care of, the trans will probably be fine, as well

I’ve owned several Toyotas with manual transmissions. Reverse can be a bear to shift into even when everything is working right. Just the nature of the beast. Typically, I may need to run through all my forward gears to get the reverse gear to line up right to engage. A few times, I’ve had to partially engage the clutch in first gear to get reverse to line up enough to drop in place. This was both my old pick-up truck and my Supra. My wife’s Celica was also troublesome, but I didn’t drive it much. A replacement transmission would be a waste of good money and probably will not fix it. Just fix the clutch. Make sure you use a good synthetic GL-5 gear lube when you change out the trans fluid. It will make a big difference.

I can’t imagine what could have happened to the transmission when the clutch was going out unless you were banging it into gears or forcing your shifts, and that would have to be knowingly abusing it. Can you describe what you were doing or what the transmission problem is? Otherwise I’d do the clutch like the other posters said, maybe change the tranny oil while it’s out. Rocketman

One other thing to check us the shift linkage. It could need adjustment or bushings could be worn.

Sincere apologies for the gender mistake. No disrespect meant.

The Celica GT is actually a well known and respected car among sports car enthusiasts. I personally think you’d be making a big mistake selling it. I also think that if you get the clutch assembly replaced and the shifter linkage looked at you’ll have this back in shape in no time. A bad clutch can cause all sorts of shifting maladies, and getting that resolved is the first step.

Db mentioned refacing the flywheel. In my experience the flywheel can be evaluated when the pressure plate assembly is removed during the new clutch installation, and unless it’s glazed, grooved, or shows signs of overheating (a pretty blue-black color pattern), a new clutch assembly can be installed with a normal lifespan without refacing the flywheel. The other items, the throwout bearing, pressure plate assembly, etc. mentioned by Db should definitely be changed with the plate. They’re all part of the “normal wear” process. I’ve seen people try to save money by just changing the clutch plate and they all end up doing the process all over again in a very short time.


I may be mistaken, but I believe the baseline Celicas of that generation were all badged GT

Maybe Steve can confirm or correct me


By the way, I mentioned resurfacing the flywheel, because the only clutches I’ve done in the last several years have all been class 7 and 8 dump trucks. And believe me, the flywheels all desperately needed resurfacing. It’s a fair amount of work to remove a transmission, and I’d want peace of mind

I haven’t done a “car” or light truck clutch in some time now. The smallest clutch recently has been on a class 5 truck. A vehicle operator was being taught to drive stick. He didn’t get the hang of it, AND he wasted everything. And I do mean everything

Thanks for the advice again, guys. I’ve decided to get her fixed and keep it. There’s no way I can get a car like this for the same price, and once fixed, she’ll be worth more than what I paid into it. Not that it matters; I hope to drive this one as long as I can.

Thanks for the follow up. I think you’re making a wise decision.

Db, no problem. I can definitely understand now why you commented on the flywheel.