Used car a deal or a lemon?

I’m looking for a used car for a college student. A friend told me about a 2002 Toyota Camry (8 years old) with 35,000 miles that was driven by a grandma who recently passed away. Price is mid-range blue book. I was told the low mileage might not be a great thing since it was evidently all in-town driving. Oil was changed regularly. I’m thinking it’s still a good deal. Opinions? What else should I be checking out?

Can you look at the maintenance records? If the oil was changed every 3000 miles, and at least every year, it’s worth having a mechanic give it a once-over. If the car was barely driven for the last year or two, though, I’d be less interested.

Take it for a test drive. Check the interior condition, especially the pedals, to see if the wear is consistent with the mileage. Also, the tires should be the originals at only 35,000 miles. Check under the hood, too, for signs of age. It it checks out, pay a mechanic to check it out for you. If there is a smog or safety inspection, get it done before you buy. It should definitely pass the smog inspection and should pass the safety inspection. But you can subtract whatever is needed for the safety inspection from the purchase price plus 10% to 20% of the repair cost for your extra effort.

In addition to the good advice given by texases and jtsanders, I want to add that these legendary low-mileage cars driven only by little old ladies frequently exist only in the mind of the people spreading these tales.

Back in the '60s, when I was in college, the stories of WW II surplus Harley-Davidsons packed in Cosmoline, and selling for $100, were circulating all over many campuses. Everyone who told the tale had “a friend of my cousin’s neighbor” who had allegedly scored one of these pristine, under-priced gems. As you may have guessed, this was just another fable.

Verify the reality of the claimed mileage, look for maintenance records, and have the car vetted by your own mechanic prior to purchase.

I can verify it really was a little old lady’s car, as the family is a friend of a friend’s. How much should I expect to pay to have a mechanic inspect it? I have a couple of recommendations, but I don’t have any personal experience with either. (My husband takes our cars to the dealer for service.) We’re in suburban Chicago. The local Toyota dealer has a lousy reputation so I won’t take it there.

Consider the cost of a timing belt replacement since the belt is 7 yrs old now. Factor that into your offer. There can be other issues in the age vs mileage arena, but it is probably the most expensive issue.

Frankly, I think it is hard to screw up a properly maintained Camry in 35K miles, regardless of stop and go, etc. Some of my best used car buys were low mileage cars actually driven by older folks.

Test drive and a prepurchase inspection by a trusted mechanic should help you out in this decision.

If the price is right, buy it.

As far as cost, maybe this will give you and Idea. I live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, And I took several cars to a local mechanic, NOT a Stealership, and it cost around $60 for a once over. It was worth it because I looked at a datsun 280zx that had a bone dry differential, so it took only $60 to find a problem that could have cost hundreds if not thousands to repair.
If the local guys have a good reputation, ask what it would cost for a look-over.