Toyota Tercel

I’m looking into a new car and found a 1997 Toyota Tercel. Now what drew me to this car is the mileage- it currently has 70,000 and the asking price is under $3,000. I’ve been looking for a car a lot lately and it seems hard to find a car with under 100k for that low of price. Now I don’t know much about Tercels… are they just smaller versions of Corollas? Are they reliable like them? What are people’s opinion of them?

I owned a Corolla and liked it very a lot. Very reliable car and held up even during long trips. But, I also bought a 92’ Hyundai Excel with 55k for $700 a while back. Don’t get me wrong… I did not expect much out of it and I did not get much out of it. Just a few thousand above 100k and started to loss compression. So my point with this is I don’t want another Excel… I want a reliable car. Is a Tercel what I’m looking for?

Sounds like a winner to me. Tercels were rated very highly reliability-wise as I recall, similar to the Corolla. I thought they were called Echos by that time, but I must not be remembering correctly. Anyway seems like a good deal.

Make sure to first take it to an independent shop for a pre-purchase inspection. That will cost you $100 or so, but will be money well spent.

You can’t expect a lot from an 18 year old car, but the Tercel was reliable. Have the car checked for rust damage to be sure it is structurally sound. If it passes this test, the engine runs on all its cylinders, the clutch or automatic transmission doesn’t slip and the steering and suspension are.o.k. you might have found a good car. Don’t concern yourself with faded paint or a. radio that doesn’t play or,worn upholstery. You are talking basic transportation here

For being a '97 it seems to look descent, but than again pictures can be very deceiving. There is no doubt that it is very basic transportation… It seems to be the base model of a very basic car. Maybe it’s to ambitious with the Tercel, but my next buy would hopefully get me around 10 years accounting for around 7k a year. Obviously, in that time frame, with any car, a good amount of maintenance will need to be preformed, but what I don’t want to do is end up buying another car.

Are you really asking for advice on a car you have not seen in person , but just pictures . Expecting 7 k and 10 years more out of a 97 anything is a pipe dream.

It’s a long trip down the owners and to be honest, I have not heard of Tercels until I saw the ad and wanted to make sure that I did not have the illusion of reliability because of a Toyota badge.


Having owned numerous Toyotas over the years . . . including Corollas and Tercels . . . I can say the Tercel is NOT like the Corolla

It’s not on the same platform. It’s not even based on the same platform. Very different

It is far more basic, in every conceivable way. The suspension and steering is more primitive, skinny tires, much lower quality interior, etc.

In fact, considering how much you’re giving up, it’s not much more fuel efficient than a Corolla

$3000 seems quite high for a 1997 Tercel, no matter how low the mileage. It’s still an 18 year old econobox, nothing will change that.

You do realize it’s probably way overdue for a timing belt, yes?

As far as the Hyundai Excel and low compression . . . did you bother to check your valve lash? Tight valves will lead to lower compression, and if you wait too long, will lead to burnt valves and misfires

The Tercel was a bare-bones econobox with a four-rhodent motor, but it developed a reputation for being a reliable and highly economical way to get from point A to point B. If it’s been well maintained and has no rot, it sounds like a fair deal… albeit one you could probably get the seller to drop he price a bit on.

Have it thoroughly checked out by a trusted shop. Even with excellent maintenance, there are numerous rubbery bits that can begin to fail due to age, like seals in the brake cylinders, brake flex lines, engine mounts, etc.

I always liked the Tercel. But, then, I’ve always been cheap.


I can’t remember doing anything with valve lash to the Hyundai. It was my high school car and started to really break down my sophomore year of college. The exhaust was completely gone and the body was very bad on rust. Eventually I started having to stop halfway home from work and let it sit because I would lose basically all power. At the time I had an older BMW that I figured I would start driving more and made that my primary car and just let the Hyundai sit which did it no favors… I can’t remember if it was the parking break or what but one of the breaks had locked up when I started it a year later and ended up just junking it; but I learned a lot from working on that car.

The Corolla is gone too. It was a '94 but very reliable just burned a little oil. My wife ended up being in an accident several years ago and it was deemed a total loss. Great car though.

Yeah, I don’t know if the Tercel is the answer to my prayers however.

It’s difficult to say whether a car that old will be reliable or not. The price seems a bit high to me for an aged Tercel.
A careful inspection and some price negotiation could make it worthwhile though.

Considering there are so many newer cars that are absolute dung heaps for far more money I wouldn’t dismiss the Tercel completely considering it has low miles for the age.

For being a '97 it seems to look descent, but than again pictures can be very deceiving.

Are you seeing this car advertised online (Craigslist, etc?). If so, be careful.

As others have noted, do find an independent repair shop (not one recommended by the seller) to look over the vehicle. That $100 investment may save you thousands later.

All good advice here but the best part is listed below.

“Make sure to first take it to an independent shop for a pre-purchase inspection. That will cost you $100 or so, but will be money well spent.”

I think the OP would like the Tercel. Most likely it has crank up and down windows and no “moonroof” which get leaky as they age. Basic car, but definitely reliable and cheap to maintain and repair.

My son had a Tercel and loved it until it died in a crash. Years ago the German Automobile Association (ADAC) and their Consumer Association wanted to find out once and for all which were the most reliable cars on German highways. The answer caused considerable ANGST! The lowly Tercel and Mazda 323, another econo-box, won hands downs.

It’s taken a very long time for German consumers to accept the fact that their econo-boxes and their other cars cannot hold a candle to the best Japanese cars when it comes to reliability and durability. I went through this with my Japanese camera in Germany in the early 60s. My explanation to the German camera store owner was that the Japanese made good stuff; after all “they almost won the war, just like yourself”!!!

You have to see the car and drive it before you do anything else. If you don’t want to drive down to look at it, you don’t really want the car. Your inspection should include looking in the trunk, especially in the spare wheel well and wherever else water might collect. Also look inside and pull back the mats to inspect the inner panels if you can. Look under the hood and if you can manage it, look under the car at the frame. If after your thorough inspection you still think you want the car, spend the $100 for a mechanic’s inspection.

All good comments. I would add that it also depends on your commute type. This car is not safe by today’s standards, so I would think twice about freeway driving in this car.

“This car is not safe by today’s standards, so I would think twice about freeway driving in this car.”

My spare car is a 1994 Tercel. It gets driven on the weekends, for grocery shopping and chores. But I drive it once a week, to a weekly meeting I attend. And I drive on the freeway

No problems. The car is definitely not fast, but I have absolutely no problems keeping up with traffic.

And no . . . the meeting is not AA


I’m still driving a 1994 Tercel. It has 135,000 miles on it. I have found it extremely reliable but these days I also only drive about 3000 miles a year as I commute by train to work. For local driving, I would say it’s okay but I would not want to do a lot of long-distance driving in it. Do get it checked, though.

If I read your first postings correctly you bought a Hyundai for $700 and drove it 50,000 miles and you are critical of it. If that’s true, you’ll never be happy with a car.

That said, go look at the Tercel with some money in cash in your pocket, like maybe $1,800 or so. If you like the car, and it checks out, offer the cash and tell them that that’s what it’s worth to you. If they send you home, go home. It’s not your car.

I like the approach that @wentwest mentioned.

Years ago, when I was looking to buy that 1994 Tercel I still have, I brought $300 less than what the guy was asking, because that’s what it was worth to me.

The guy was asking $3300 and I brought $3000 cash. No cashier’s check. No check. No money order. Cold hard, green US dollars. Cash in the hand

Anyways, I drove the car, crawled underneath, even did a compression check.

I pulled out the $3000 cash and showed it to him. I asked him “Is this okay? It’s all I brought”

He said no, so I walked away. I kept monitoring it on craigslist for a few weeks, just out of curiosity. Once he dropped it to $3000, it sold immediately

I know that, because once it wasn’t listed anymore, I called the number and asked if the car was still available. He said he just sold it

By the way, I didn’t try to get the car for $3000 once he lowered the price a few weeks later, because he acted all stuck up when I showed him $3000 in cash. He felt I was insulting him. I was polite and to the point. If somebody doesn’t like my approach, then maybe I don’t want to do business with him, either

By the way, my story occurred YEARS ago, 2002, I believe, when that Tercel I mentioned was actually worth $3000 private party sale. And I’m kind of surprised anybody would still be asking that kind of money for a 1997 Tercel, no matter the mileage