I was on CraigsList one day scrolling through all of the sub $1000 Toyota cars, looking for a basic car to commute to work in . On the first page at the bottom was a listing for this 1997 Camry XLE- V6 with 248,000 miles at $500. The ad stated the car has been sitting for a few years and doesn't have a battery so they were unsure if it was operational. I sent them a message and got a response right away, so after work we went to look at it and I took a battery to check its condition.
When I arrived at the location, we had to walk behind the house and a pile of old furniture to locate the vehicle, and right away you could tell it has been in this spot for a long time. There was a thick layer of dust and leaves on the car and spider webs everywhere. They opened the car so I could check it out and release the hood, the interior was not bad but you could see evidence the owner was a smoker. The car no longer smells like smoke but you can see some burns on the doors and seats, and there was a red handicap placard hanging from the mirror. After talking with the seller for a while she told me this was her moms car, who is now over 80 years old and no longer driving.
I installed the battery and to my surprise the engine fired up right away and ran smoothly, so I started checking things like the a/c (witch still works), idle learn from cold start, no check engine light, and for any other noises. After the engine was warmed up I did a stall test on the automatic transmission in D and R, and it held steady around 2500rpm, but now there was some smoke coming from the engine bay. After looking around with the flashlight I could see there was a pretty bad oil leak from the valve cover gaskets, and there was oil under the car too. I wasn't able to go for a test drive because the brakes were worn down to metal, so we agreed to a price of $300, signed some paperwork, topped off the fluids, and cleaned the windows so I could limp it to the shop.
On the drive to the shop I didn't go faster then 40mph because there was some pretty scary noises and shaking coming from the suspension, and I noticed the temperature gauge wasn't working so I wanted to take it easy. I get to the shop and put the car on a lift for a full inspection, and at this milage every bushing in the front suspension is worn out. There are also many oil leaks to diagnose, and the struts are pretty much non functional at this point. The right rear tail light is broken and there is some body damage including the common bumper corner dent. Also some latches and switches inside are not working or broken, so we will address those as needed. The plans are to clear up the oil leaks and get the car road worthy again before starting the smog/registration process, so lets get started.
To start we need to address the brakes so we can do a proper road test, and you can see here there is nothing left of the pads. We picked up a set of Akebono ProACT pads and machined the rotors and heres how that looked.
Now that the brakes are safe again, since we are here lets look at the fluid. Brake fluid is by far one of the most overlooked maintenance items on every vehicle, and this car definitely never had a full flush. I hooked up the flush machine that pressurizes the system, pushing new Prestone DOT3 fluid through the lines and NOTHING came out of the rear caliper bleeders. I had to remove the bleed screws and wire-brush the rust off of them to get fluid to flow. take a look at the difference!
Great, brakes are done and the pedal feels solid now lets move on. Another concerning issue was that the coolant temp gauge wasn't working, I certainly don't want to overheat a good engine so I did a inspection of the wiring and the coolant temp sensor, and boom right away found the issue....rodent damage.
This was an easy fix, strip the wires and install a crimp then tape it up. Done. Now we can see the coolant temp gauge is working so lets put air in the tires and take it for a road test. We took it up the grade here in East County which is a great place to test for performance related issues like overheating, spark knock/detonation, transmission slippage, and shift quality. Then on the way down you check for braking issues like fade, warpage, and pedal feel. I'm pleased to report it performed great aside from the smoke due to the oil leaks and a nasty knocking noise in the front suspension. Check back in for Part 2 of project Camry where I'll tackle some of the oil leaks and start on the suspension diagnosis and repair.