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Buying 1991 Toyota Corolla

by crypticlineage, January 28, 2012 in Pre-1997 Toyota Corolla and Geo Prizm

Hello everyone,

I am in market for an inexpensive used car and what better than a corolla. I found a 1991 corolla which the owner says is in very good condition. It has 5 speed transmission with clutch replaced recently and 144,360 miles. Body is apparently in good shape. I am going to look at it this evening and take it for a test drive. I was looking on KBB and the pricing only goes as back as 1992. The owner has listed $1450. So I am looking for opinion.

Certainly, the car has been driven very little, only 7200 miles per year on average. So I won't be surprised if its in good condition. On kbb, I did some calculations for 1992 model of this Sedan and the prices go from 1167 (Fair) to 1667 (Good) to 1742 (Very good) to 1867 (Excellent). I will know the condition when I look at it today, but how much should a price difference be between successive years?

I am basically wondering if car is in KBB Good condition, should I pay what the owner says, or make a counter offer.



The market for smaller, fuel efficient, and reliable cars has exploded the past several years - so prices will be inflated compared to other years.

There is a significant difference between the 1991 and 1992 Corolla platforms, depending on the trim levels. The 1992 model year was the first year they introduced fuel injection to their mainstream (base) Corollas - in 1990-1991, only the SR5 trims and above got fuel injection. This will have a non-trivial affect on value - which will be a good or bad thing, depending on the prospective buyer.

One thing that could be an issue is low mileage. Sounds funny, but I tend to shy away from cars that don't see much use, especially if they haven't been driven near daily basis. Reason being, a car that is operated often will circulate fluids, consistently get up to operating temps, and see more routine maintenance - than one that sits for months at a time. If a car isn't stored correctly, significant problems can occur. Good example is gasoline - only takes a week before it starts to break down and create varnish. Other is run-time - if the car doesn't completely heat cycle, get up to operating temps for a significant amount of time - it will not be able to "cook" off contaminants in the motor oil and other fluids. Over time, this can eat internal parts or sludge/gum up parts.

That said - if the owner stayed on top of all the maintenance - then all of the above is a non-issue. As for value - always make a counter offer. IMO, $1450 for a 6th gen Corolla is a little steep, even with those relatively lowish miles. If it is the SR5 trim or better and body shows no side of corrosion, little cosmetic damage, interior is clean - then $1200-$1300 would be a great price. Otherwise, I'd bee looking for $1000-$1200 for the car. As always - have a shop toss the car on a lift and take a peek at the bottom. Note any odd sounds/odors during the test drive.

These older Corollas, if well maintained, last an incredibly long time. But like any car, if you don't keep up on the maintenance or get maintenance done incorrectly, be another potential money pit.

Fish: Thank you for that thorough analysis and explanation. Much appreciated.

As it turns out, the car has been stored outside under the tree for several months here and there, and has gotten very little driving. Upon inspection, I found a lot of cosmetic problems, inside roof vinyl/carpet is not there, just bare cardboard, inside door handles and window cranks are broken, and the clutch made funny sounds when shifting from 1-->2.

Plus the owner is emotionally attached to the car and will not negotiate, so I decided to let it go.

I need to keep looking. It's not an emergency yet, but my 2000 corolla (with a 2003 engine replaced 60K miles back and now has about 110K on it) is starting to make piston slap sounds. The rattle comes from inside engine when the vehicle is stopped, the sound disappears when engine RPMs increase. For example, if I put my foot down lightly on gas (car in neutral, and parking brake on), the rattle will disappear. It doesn't burn much oil, may be half a quart between oil changes (if I drive highways, no burning at low speeds). But still, I think the engine may be on it's way out.

Sounds good.

Hmm. Rattling when at idle, goes away when engine speeds are brought up off-idle? Slight oil consumption - I take it 5K oil changes? What motor oil do you use, viscosity? Have you pulled a oil sample for a UOA? That will definitely show if there is piston slap (elevated wear metals, excessive insolubles, etc.) Anyone checked the timing? See if VVTi is advancing the engine like it should?

Could be rattling from the VVTi actuator or clogged OCV (oil control valve) and related OCV filter (metal screen filter). Pulled the plugs to see how they look? Did you do the sparkplug disable check to see if it is restricted to a cylinder or two? This is basically disconnecting a sparkplug, one at a time, while listening to the noise as the car is running. Only need a second or two per cylinder for testing, so that the tested cylinder will not get too loaded with unburned fuel. Once you find a case where the disconnected cylinder(s) makes the engine less noisy, you've found the trouble cylinder(s).


I use Castrol GTX High Mileage 10W30 oil and toyota filter. I live in Texas, so it never gets very cold here. If I use 5W30, the oil burns much faster. I have been religiously doing my own oil changes since this engine was put in, roughly sometime between 3000 and 3500 miles. By the time I get to oil changes, the oil has turned completely black.

Glad I put this info on here. I will check the spark plugs and do the disconnect test and report results. Is it sufficient to just take out the spark plug coil? If I do find the troubling cylinder, what does that mean?

The rattling has gotten worse over time. Earlier, if I put it in neutral, it woudln't rattle anymore, but now it does. The timing has not been checked. I didn't realize that timing chain needs to be checked (as opposed to timing belt). Can I do this at home? If not, how much should I expect to pay for this check up?

Yeah, if there is enough slack in the wiring, just pulling up on the coil will be enough - just need to break contact with the plug for a short time. The trouble cylinder will just mean that you have another piece of information to explore - might indicate something else is going on.

As for the timing chain - really no set inspection time for the chain. I would check on the timing chain tensioner, verify that the tensioner o-ring is sealing well - as these engines get close to or run past 100K miles, the o-ring tends to dry out and start leaking. It would be on the side closest to the firewall - passenger side of the car (by the serpentine belt) - just look for any oil wet spot.

Curious, did a shop diagnose piston-slap or did you come up with piston slap via the symptoms? Have you tried zeroing in on the noise with an engine stethoscope? Could be detonation issues - spark plugs will tell the story. A compression test might also be in order, depending on what you find from the spark plug test. Or possible a dying injector - those can make for detonation issues at idle as well, as it cannot meter properly.


I am making a separate thread for this matter. The title is misleading.

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