The first locally-built Toyota Camry sedan and wagon brought twin cam, multi-valve technology within reach of Aussie families. It restored performance and driveability on basic unleaded fuel with the bonus of outstanding economy and reliability. It was also strong with better crash safety than peers. To achieve its budget price, the Camry relied on front drive and integrated mechanical systems that can now be too costly to repair or replace. It was also badged as a Holden Apollo after it replaced the Camira. Camry problems also affected Celicas from the same era which shared its mechanicals.
The massive local new car sales slump from 1986 to the late 90s still inflates prices for this Camry, now way beyond its design life. Depending on the swag of genuine receipts with the car, demand for a good early one can drive prices up to $3500 but subtract for every repair that you will soon face. The best of the last examples peak at $5,000.
The later wide-body Camry from February 1993 addressed many early Camry problems and could be cheaper long term after repair costs are factored in. Nissan Pintara/Ford Corsair, Ford Telstar/Mazda 626 and Mitsubishi Galant offer similar packaging.
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Neglected metallic paint can be faded through to metal. Moulded plastic bumpers are often covered in bog to hide repairs. As the bonded front and rear screen seals fail, water will pour in under the carpets and rot the floor. If the windows mist up in bright sunlight, find out why. Rear tail light units are bonded to rear panel and must be carefully resealed if disturbed, otherwise spare wheel well and boot floor will rust-out. Front apron has flimsy metal stays at each corner worth all of 50 cents but cost $25 to replace. Check for underbody damage at front. Walk away if the body is no good.
Appalling imitation body panels and lights are common and ruin Camry safety and strength. Check for roughness on inner guard edges poor alignment of shut lines. Look for water leaks, corrosion and fade in lights.
Hardy trim and carpet can be worn through but new seat panels are easily stitched in, providing padding is not ruined. High-mileage steering wheel rims pull away from internal frame. Check all door hardware, locks, interior/dash lights and switches especially heater fan which is costly and fiddly to get working again. Padded central console lid essential for rear passenger safety but nasty folded plastic hinges snap for costly replacement. Spongy brake pedal usually means master cylinder overhaul. Odometers can stop for false reading so check other wear indicators. Air-con may need costly updating if not working.
Local strut inserts ease the pain of worn front shockers but worn rears require complete and expensive rear strut replacement, leaving most used Camrys with sagging or bouncy rear ends. Regular four wheel alignment is essential. Split driveshaft boots and clicking CV joints can generate big costs. Front tyre wear is excessive unless constantly rotated front to rear. Rear brake drums often conceal weeping wheel cylinders, soaked brake linings and dirty wheel bearings for major cost. Check front brake discs for minimum thickness.
Choice of three engines includes basic early single cam 1.8 with single point EFI and 64 kW; later twin cam 2.0-litre with carburettor and 82 kW, or optional twin cam 2.0 litre multi-point EFI with 88 kW. Although 2.0-litre EFI is most desirable, the cheaper carburettor version can save a fortune in expensive fuel injection repairs as the car ages.
Camry engines never give trouble, then reach a point when most items fail in rapid succession. First to go is the radiator or the alternator, followed by a leaky water pump driven by the cam belt and hidden from view for disaster if not caught in time. Welch plugs, oil seals around distributor, engine sump, rocker cover and rear main then fail in rapid succession as under bonnet heat destroys everything perishable. Cooling hoses, windscreen washer jets and hoses, ignition coil, expensive plug leads and distributor cap, fuel lines, power steering hoses and pump all need to be monitored. Internally, the valve stem seals harden and allow the engine's 16 valves to rapidly empty the sump of oil without the owner knowing. Seized Camry engines are now common so don't buy one that has been filled with thick oil to hide a death rattle.
Unlike most rivals, replacing Camry valve stem seals to reduce excessive oil consumption requires expensive cylinder head removal job. A blown head gasket, common if the coolant has been neglected, is also fiddlier than most. Cam belt replacement must be recorded otherwise allow for its immediate replacement.
The fuel injection system is now generating frustrating cold start problems and rough running when hot caused by a number of switches, relays and sensors that require expert diagnosis. Replacing each part at up to $300 each until you find the problem is not an option for the average home mechanic. There is also a cold start injector and even if it is working, internal carbon build-up can soak up its extra shot of fuel before it reaches the engine. A full carbon clean is the cheapest starting point.
Noisy or worn manual gearboxes are now showing up. Excessive graunching or noise suggests a hard life or faulty clutch hydraulics. A worn 4-speed auto will display delayed changes, shift shock and inability to hold overdrive for hefty $1500-plus repair bill. Broken engine mounts are common and quickly generate costly exhaust fractures. Design flaw allows diff oil to drain into transmission after its internal seals fail eliminating external leaks and early warning. The dry diff can then destroy the whole transmission as it disintegrates for $3000 repair bill.
Rear liftback struts on wagon sag but can be re-gassed. Check rear wiper operation. Make sure liftback shuts and seals properly to avoid killer exhaust leaks. Check rear load area for tell tale creases from hefty rear impact.