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1997 Toyota Camry I-4, Any Experiences?

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Darren Crouse, May 14, 2006.

  1. Darren Crouse

    Darren Crouse Well-Known Member

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    I just purchased a 1997 Toyota Camry - 4 Cylinder w. Auto Transmission with 155,000 km/93,000 miles and was wondering if anyone has any anecdotal experience with this car and engine configuration. I've heard some bad things about this generation and year (specifically sludge problems, valve problems, etc). Is this car a reliable one - I do hope it is, as I plunked down $200 down and have to pay the rest next week. However, if there any particular issues with this particular model and year, then perhaps I'll count the downpayment as a loss and take it from there. Any opinions would be greatly appreciate. I would like to add that I had a 1990 Celica that used the same engine I believe (5SFE) and it lasted almost to 300,000 km/ 180, 000 miles before a utility truck backed up on me. I took consolation that this Celica engine was the same one in the Camry - so are all these sludge problems a realised threat or just the media exaggerating things?

    Thanks,

    Darren.
     
  2. DonnyD

    DonnyD Well-Known Member

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    Yep, great cars as long as you keep the oil changed, which pretty much goes along with anything. I bought my GF a '94 Camry several years ago that had 180k on it but after I drove it 10 miles with a empty radiator, we were forced to change out the motor. Still a great car. My oldest son just bought a 96 Camry to drive to work as he has a couple of big Ford trucks and so far, it has been a great car. I certainly believe Toyota makes a long long lasting vehicle. In the 70-80's, I had a Toy truck that had 160k on it when I sold it and it was still going strong.
     
  3. Stephen Orr

    Stephen Orr Well-Known Member

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    I have this car! Other than regular maintenance, we've never had any mechanical problems. Still runs strong and gets great gas mileage.
     
  4. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Well-Known Member

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    Darren,

    I'm a tech in the service dept. of a largish Toyota dealership in Central California.

    You have to really neglect oil changes to get sludge on one of these. I pull the valve covers off these with 150k miles on 'em and they're clean as a whistle if the oil's been changed every 5k miles or so, only see sludge if it's been let go for 10-15k between changes.

    If the timing belt's never been changed, get it done. These typically last 90-100k miles. If it breaks the engine will stop and you'll coast silently to the side of the road, but it's not an "interference" engine so no damage to the valves will occur--you'll just have to have it towed in for a new timing belt.

    Early signs of belt stretching are rattly noise for a while on cold starts that diminishes a bit when warmed up.

    These did have a problem with clunky/rattly noises from the front end on small "chatter bumps"--cured by a redesign of the upper front strut mounts.

    If you notice a clunky rattly noise from the front suspension on smallish sharp road irregularities, take it to a Toyota dealer and have them listen to the noise. Independent shops like to sell you new struts for this noise, the upper supports are cheaper.

    Chances are the power windows are making a sorta gronky noise as they go up and down, sorta like a big clockspring creaking as it unwinds, perfectly normal and won't hurt anything. There actually is a big clockspring in the regulator to assist in the up motion (not unique to Toyotas btw) and it will make this noise.

    I had a neighbor in my condo complex get 260k miles out of one of these (she was in real estate and this is a big spread out area). She sold it to her kids and bought a Mercedes when she got a new job that didn't require such a reliable car.
     
  5. Darren Crouse

    Darren Crouse Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for all the info, I do appreciate it. I would also like to ask whether using a synthetic oil would be advisable for a car this age - or is it just superfluous? Once again, thanks for the input - always good to have some personal insight.

    Take Care,

    Darren.
     
  6. Danny Tse

    Danny Tse Well-Known Member

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    I have a 2001 Camry I-4 with almost 77,000 miles and it does make that clunky noise in the front end. I know of the strut mount issue and plan to replace the struts and the strut mounts for a "less-floaty" ride. Otherwise, I have had no problem with car....no oil sludge issue.
     
  7. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Well-Known Member

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    Darren,

    I wouldn't go to the expense of synthetic oil at this late date. I've used it in my Mazda 3 since the second oil change and plan to continue but if your Camry's been using dino oil for 90+k miles it's not really going to be worth it to switch.

    Do have the oil and filter changed every 3500-4000 miles or so.

    If you are at all worried about sludge the valve cover on one of these can be removed in about 20 minutes. The valve cover is held down by those 30mm nuts threaded onto the tops of the sparkplug tubes. While you're there look down into the sparkplug tubes--if you see any oil around the bottom of the tubes you should have them resealed. They unscrew from the head--just clean up the lower threads with a wire brush and apply some teflon sealant to the threads and re-install.

    Sludge will look like partially melted icecream or big thick globs of dark tar coating everything under the valve cover. Thin sorta film-like flaky deposits are nothing to worry about.
     
  8. Darren Crouse

    Darren Crouse Well-Known Member

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    So the general consensus is that it is a reliable car, correct. That's important right now in my life (or should I say our family life - as we have a 2 year old). I can handle the nuances of the car - but the big thing for me is the engine and transmission reliability. I expect maintenance repairs but do not want any major repairs that might dip into our savings just yet. My 1990 Celica had its issues, but the engine was reliable and I could count on it getting to A and B with little issue. I can handle the odd rattle or squeak, but I can not handle being nickel and dimed to death, or frequent costly repairs. The reason for my trepidation is that I have scoured many websites and magazines, and some of the reviews of the '97 Camry are not too flattering, something, quite frankly, I am not used to as a loyal Toyota owner (every car except my first has been a Toyota). Once again,

    Thanks,

    Darren.
     
  9. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Well-Known Member

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    Darren,

    Having worked in a Toyota service dept. since 1971 I can assure you that the 97 Camry has been a more trouble free car than the '90 Celica was.

    When buying a used car with fairly high mileage like the one you purchased by far the most important factor relevant to future reliability is how well the car's been maintained up to this point.

    If the thing runs really well, all the toys work, the AC blows cold, the belts look good, the coolant is nice and clean, the trans fluid is a clear clean red color and doesn't smell burnt, the brakes don't squeal excessively and don't pulsate when slowing from freeway speeds, no odd rattly mechanical noises from the engine, and none of the doors is falling off you probably got a good one.

    I've driven many a Camry of just about any generation with 200k or more miles on it that I wouldn't hesitate to drive from California to New York.
     
  10. Darren Crouse

    Darren Crouse Well-Known Member

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    Steve,

    I picked it up on Friday, and other then the odd problem that I will take care of in the future, it runs well. The transmission and engine seem tight and it passed emissions with flying colours. However I do hear that front end chatter whenever I drive over small bumps and such. And I think there might be a wheel bearing problem in the rear as I sometimes hear a groan and slight whirring sound coming from there. But on the whole I am happy with it - I just need to sink a few dollars into it, to keep it running on the long haul.

    Thanks,

    Darren Crouse
     
  11. Scott_lb

    Scott_lb Well-Known Member

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    "These did have a problem with clunky/rattly noises from the front end on small "chatter bumps"--cured by a redesign of the upper front strut mounts.

    If you notice a clunky rattly noise from the front suspension on smallish sharp road irregularities, take it to a Toyota dealer and have them listen to the noise. Independent shops like to sell you new struts for this noise, the upper supports are cheaper."

    I have this exact car (i.e., a '97) and do have this problem. It's very annoying and the dealership wanted to charge me $1,100 to fix it. After being told that it wouldn't affect the safety of the car (and would only be annyoing) I decided not to go through with it. My old boss also has a '97 Camry and has the same problem, although his doesn't seem to be as loud as mine.

    The only other problems I've had have been related to the electrical system. The light under the shifter knob burned out about two years ago and the clock keeps fading in and out on a consistent basis. Also, I seem to be going through headlights much faster than I should be, given the limited amount of time I drive at night/in the rain.

    All in all, I've been very happy with it and take very good care of it. I've got 112k so far and am looking to get at least 150k out of it (which I don't see as a problem) before picking up my next car (likely a Honda).

    I just wish that rattle could be fixed inexpensively!
     
  12. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Well-Known Member

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    If the left or right turn signals start to flash really fast, remove the bulb in the front turn signal (see owner's manual for instructions). Look down into the empty bulb socket and you'll see a little tab of metal about 3mm wide protruding down the side of the socket. This tab is meant to contact the side of the metal base of the bulb. Bend the little tab toward the center of the bulb socket and re-install the bulb, your turn signal will now flash at the proper speed.
     
  13. Scott_lb

    Scott_lb Well-Known Member

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    Never had that problem with the turn signal, but thanks [​IMG]
     
  14. Danny Tse

    Danny Tse Well-Known Member

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    An update....this past weekend, I finally decided to replace the front struts on my 2001 Camry LE (now nearing 82,000 miles). The front end had the clunky noise and has developed a squeak when going over speed bumps (even at extremely low speed). $340.00 later, all the front end noises are gone. Originally, I was thinking the strut mount bushings needed to be replaced as well, but apparently not. The car rides a lot better now.
     
  15. John_Bonner

    John_Bonner Well-Known Member

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    My 97 Camry LE (6 cyl) will hit 130,000 miles this week.
    No major mechanical problems, still runs fine.
    I had the timing belt changed at about 90K when it was in for a tune-up.
    Hoping to get about 2 more years out of it.
     
  16. London Lawson

    London Lawson Well-Known Member

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  17. murraydav

    murraydav New Member

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    Really really need to talk to S|teve. You seem to both understand and love these Toyotas. Also you seem ver willing to share your knowlege. My wife and I also love the Camry. However I just finished installing new rear struts in her 97 Camry. I must have goofed up real bad on the second side. First side went 100%ok. Test drive and clunk was gone. Proceed to second side. When the strut dropped out of the upper bracket it fell too far and stressed the ABS sensor tube. It did not look damaged. However after the install, the ABS light on the dash will not go out. Am I hooped. Have I ruined the entire ABS. Or can I just replace the sensor on the side I stressed???? No doubt a trip to the dealer will come with a $500 buck admission fee. No idea where to turn or where to begin.

    Now I see Steve has not posted here since 2006. The question is open to anyone with any ideas. Thanks in advance for anything and everything.
     
  18. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Well-Known Member

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    This thread is three (3) years old. Steve last posted at HTF five months ago. If you want to try sending him a private message here, please feel free, but please don't hijack unrelated threads where Steve has posted previously. Thanks!
     
  19. pork

    pork New Member

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    Thanks for the post about upper shock mounts. I have a 1999 camry. I spent a lot of time trying to track down that noise in the front. kinda clunky. especially on the normal roads and small bumps, very irritating. one guy called them washboard bumps. I changed and looked at everything!!! quick little clunks like a rubber ball in a tin can. ......It is the upper shock mounts. I replaced the upper mount and bearing on each side. The car is now so quiet it's truly fun to drive. I changed both sides in under 3 hours. I guess you can do it faster if you decide to buy a complete shock-with-mounts replacement, then you don't have to worry about compressing those springs..... Those were about $100 each on amazon. I decided to replace only the mounts with bearing, which I found on ebay for $50 for a pair. thanks all.
     
  20. Jim Mcc

    Jim Mcc Well-Known Member

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    We had a 1990 Camry 4 cylinder that we gave to our son when it had about 200,000 miles on it. He recently junked it with 350,000 miles on it. It still ran, but it got to be unsafe due to rusting floor, etc.
     

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