Toyota: Tercel vs. Paseo?

Hi all,

I’m finally purchasing my first vehicle. I’ve decided to learn how to drive a manual transmission, so I’ll need a car that can at least handle some initial clutch abuse. I’ve narrowed my results down to a '96 4-speed standard tercel, and a '96 5-speed standard paseo. says the tercel gets an average of 32 mpg, and the paseo gets 28 mpg combined. The consumer reviews are about the same for both cars on edmunds, epinions, and carsurvey. I’ve found one of each model at the same price, for sale by private owners. Both are in fair condition, and have less than 140,000 miles.

Which would you choose? If you’ve owned either, please let me know what you think. My three main concerns are fuel economy, reliability, and longevity. If you have another make/model that you think is outstanding in all 3 categoires, feel free to recommend it.

Lastly, where should I go to learn to drive a manual transmission? Do driving-schools offer classes strictly teaching that?


Reliability and longevity are essentially the same thing. They’re both Toyotas of similar eras and with similar builds, so they’ll be equally reliable. Therefore, since your other concern is fuel economy, the Tercel is your only choice.

Thanks for your quick and informative reply!

I really can’t address your specific question; but I will say that my '82 Tercel was a wonderful car. Fun to drive, great on gas. It was totaled by a deer at only 103K; and it broke my heart.

Somebody can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the Paseo and the Tercel from that era has the same drive train. So get the one you prefer that appears to be in the best condition.

As for learning to drive a stick, do you have any patient friends or relatives with a manual transmission and some open space.

Ed B.

The Tercel 4 speed is tough to live with unless you’re doing exclusively in town driving. It’s brutal on the highway at higher speeds. I’d go for the 5 speed assuming anything else isn’t a deal breaker.

They should both be around $1000. If there is anything that needs work, subtract that off the $1000. The Paseo should be a little more comfortable and fun to drive, but you need to decide which suits your needs best.

What makes you think they should be around a $1000? The cheaper of the two is $2000! Maybe I’m not searching in the right place? I’ve been browsing Craigslist, Ebay,, autotrader,, and local classifieds for the last month. I’ve yet to find anything newer than '96 with less than 140K miles, and in good condition for $1000 . . .

What exactly do you mean by “brutal”? I’ve never driven a standard. And how high a speed? 60, 70, 80?

Both are 15 years old and been through numerous owners I’m assuming. If owner 1 was diligent in maintaining the car, but owner 2 wasn’t, then owner 3 had to get caught up on things 2 didn’t do and likely dumped it to number 4 because it was costing too much to keep going, ad infinity

The motor really whines up at highway speeds making the interior quite noisy. Noisier than the already too loud road noise. Wear ear plugs from 60 plus. I’d look for a Corolla 5 speed or a Prism 2002 the last model year.

As has been alluded to, these two cars are essentially the same in a mechanical sense, albeit with different body styles. As a result, the decision really comes down to these factors:

Which one do you prefer, based on personal taste?

And–more importantly–which one comes with FULL maintenance records?

It is nice to think of Toyota products are infallible, ultimately reliable vehicles, but the reality of the situation is that the second, or third, or fourth, or fifth owner of these 14-15 year old cars will be the one who pays the price (literally) for the lax maintenance of any or all of the previous owners.

I will concede that it is difficult–bordering on impossible,–to know the full maintenance history of a car that is this old and has gone through…God only knows how many owners. As a result, the OP has to be prepared for frequent mechanical and electrical/electronic problems, and has to budget at least $800 per year for these problems that will continue to crop up, simply because of the car’s age and its uncertain maintenance record.

As long as you don’t require extremely reliable transportation, and as long as you have budgeted appropriate reserve funds for ongoing repairs, just choose the one whose maintenance history is more complete.

I’d rather rely on public transportation than a 15 year old used car unless I “nutured” it myself from birth. In reality, all our advice on which car to buy pales in comparison to your luck of finding a well maintained car in any make.

If they’re asking $2000, they’re asking far too much. A 1996 Toyota Tercel DX with manual in fair condition and 140k miles has a KBB value (private party) of $1,000.

Hmm, you’re right. However, the paseo is “worth” slightly more. Maybe I’ll just keep looking . . .

Tough Love. I Hate To Rain On Your Parade, You’re So Excited (Cough . . . and . . . Cough, Cough
. . . naive . . . Cough) And All, But You’re Just About Trying To Do The Impossible.

Those are old cars (museum pieces) with old parts and old problems. Many of us guys who are regulars on this site and know something (opposite of no - [know] nothing) , in fact a lot of something about cars and most of us would probably not be very successful buying a reliable car in the age and price parameters that you’re working with here. “Fair” condition is not a good thing.

You’re talking car reviews, KBB, and EPA mpg stats like you’re looking at new cars. Read what Dagosa said, “In reality, all our advice on which car to buy pails in comparison to your luck of finding a well maintained car in any make.

I will add to that the mpg, and transmission option should be on the back burner.
also, this probably isn’t a good time to act on the whim of checking into a driving school and learning to drive a manual (or buy one). Do you know a good clutch from a bad clutch ?

My advice is to save up for a while and then go shopping. You want to shop for cars built in at least the current decade. Otherwise, I’m afraid you’ll be throwing away a couple thousand dollars worth of money that could go toward a decent car. In my opinion those begin at about $4000 - $5000 for car savvy buyers.


I am going to tell you how we learned to drive standard shift back in the Fifties when most cars were not automatic.

We, of course, watched what the older drivers did, as far as the throttle and clutch and gear shifter.

Then, with the car in a place where it was not going to run away, and WITHOUT THE KEYS, we’d get in, and practice shifting.

Put it in first, with the clutch in, let out the clutch while pressing the throttle (we had to fine tune the clutch/throttle once we started driving, of course.)

Keep the throttle down until we felt it was time to shift, as best as you can with the motor running, push in the clutch while backing off the throttle a tiny bit, shift to second, then let out the clutch and give it throttle again.

Repeat until we were in high gear. Over and over and over, as only young lads who want to drive will do.

Since that is how we had to learn the shifting sequence, I have always found it rather dumb to expect people to learn that stuff while a car is moving on the public highway. Practice, of course, but the sequence should be well locked into your spinal cord before you start driving.

I would bet that there are more Tercel body parts available in the automotive recycling industry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. New parts are probably cheaper body-wise too. They’re the same car other than that.

The Paseo is basically a Tercel in sportier clothing. Years ago I had a friend with a standard 4 speed Tercel and it wasn’t much fun on the highway.

All things being equal, I’d go with the Peseo, looks better and you won’t find yourself trying to shift into a fifth gear on the highway which doesn’t exist.

Based on my experience with stick-shifts, all other things being equal, I’d want the 5-speed. Small 4-cylinder engines with 4-speeds don’t work so well. You’re either running 3,500 RPM on the highway, or you have a situation where 2nd is too “tall” to pull out of 1st, 3rd is too tall to pull out of 2nd, etc…It gets real frustrating after a while, especially if you drive in a hilly city (I live in Pittsburgh, so I speak from experience).

This is why my 6-speed Versa effortlessly does merges that were a real struggle in my old 4-speed auto Civic. It is nice to be able to merge onto a highway without getting a Peterbilt up my rear-end!