Help Me Take Care Of Grandma's Car



Hello, this is my first post here, hope I'm not jumping in too suddenly with the techncial stuff.

The issue I have is that my 71 YO grandma has a 96 Corolla that she bought new that the only thing she's ever done to it is put in a battery and change out the tires. Ever. The car gets oil changes at Walmart AFAIK pretty regularly, at least. It's got 66K on it, and it's more than a decade old at this point and the gas milage is starting to suffer, not mentioning that it's getting to be kind of pokey, I can blow her doors off in my Taurus if that tells you anything

I've finally gotten her to agree to allow me to catch it up with the maintenance provided it doesn't cost a lot, so I'll be doing as much as I can all by my lonesome here, and I have a few questions.

I've done obvious things like Air Filter and getting all the lights working again. The little snap on the side of the taillights was a PITA to figure out, if I may say.

I want to do spark plugs, but I can't find the torque specifications anywhere online, I've got a clicker style torque wrench that reads in inch lbs so I think I'm OK there. It looks to me like I can just pull out the spark plug boot and stick my extension and socket down in there and undo the plug, but I want to make sure this is correct before I touch it. both my Taurus and the Vanagon I had before were both OHV so the plugs were right out in the open. Another concern that I have is that it looks like it'd be pretty easy to cross thread the plugs, what with them being down in a hole like that, gotta be careful careful when putting the new ones in..

Beyond that, I know absolutely nothing about the 4AFE or Toyota's in general, any pointers you can give me would be great. I know there's a PCV Valve in there somewhere that might need attention, anything else I should look for?

I know timing belt is due at 60k but there's no way I can get her to cough up to get it changed, and it seems like it'd be beyond my capabilities to do this job myself. Pretty Please say the 4AFE is non interference
. I think she's gonna run it until the belt breaks on it unless I intervene so I need to see about getting it taken care of. Tell me, *grits teeth*... how much? I'll pay for it myself if I can keep the car going for another decade.


Concerned Grandson

edit: title, LOL. "grandma's car(e)". mods fix plz K thx. Typing on autopilot there.

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I recommend you follow the owner's manual for scheduled maintenance.

The 4A-FE is a non-interference engine.

If the timing belt breaks, the car stops. It can go at any time, or last for thousands of miles more.

PCV is on the intake manifold, firewall side.

The spark plugs are easy to change. I usually change them with my calibrated wrist, I am not sure of the torque value, but can look it up, if you really need it.

I have worked on the 4A-FE engines and have a couple of cars that have them in it.

I do all the work myself. Saves $$$.

Let me know if you need some help.

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Timing belt replacement should be around $200 in my experience.

I remember my local dealer would often send out coupons for $180 timing belt replacements on Corollas.

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New member
I use a 3/8" socket wrench with a 6" extention on mine, and I stick the plug into the socket and hand tighten the extention so I can feel if its threaded right, then when it gets tight I attach the socket wrench and tighten it easy since I use anti sieze on the threads because it will apply more torque than what it seems. Make sure the plugs are gapped right because theyre often not out of the box, including iridiums.

Along with the above recommendations I'd change the coolant and tranny fluid if it wasnt replaced at 60k. Also change the brake fluid and power steering fluid if they havent been replaced in the last 3yrs. Clean the maf sensor with non silicone cleaner. Run some seafoam or b12 thru a tank of gas and see if that helps improve her mileage. You may consider running some thru the crankcase too since these engines burn oil because if she hasnt been keeping it topped off it could have a lot of varnish in there. Check her tires too because low tires will cause decreased mileage. I dont believe you'll ever feel an improvement in it close to your taurus as its a more powerful car than the corolla but doing everything suggested by everyone here will keep it running strong.



I know Karate, Kung Fu, and 47 other dangerous wor
Wow - a 1996 with 66K miles. That is practically brand new. Assuming that she got it sometime in fall of 1995 - could be nearly 12 years old! That works out to be 5500 miles a year, or about 483 miles a month.

Did the car sit for an extended amount of time, get pretty even amount of driving on it, or just infrequent long distance trips? Depending on how she drove it would dictate the direction of your maintenance plans. A the very minimum, assuming that the car has not see any other maintenace other than oil changees - I'd suggest a complete tuneup of the engine (note that I ran into a similar situation with my older car - a BMW 2002 series car - sat for almost 15 years (drove it HS, then some occasional trips, but it was properly "pickled" before it sat in the garage) - followed similar steps below and it now runs like butter):

- oil and oil filter change (if it time to do so)

- replace air filter

- replace fuel filter

- replace sparkplugs

- check cap and rotor, replace as necessary

- check plug wires, replace as necessary

- check condition of battery, replace as necessary

- replace the serpentine belt (accessory belt)

- replace engine coolant (stick with Toyota Red if you can - don't forget the overflow tank)

- (automatic transmission?) replace transmission fluid (Dexron III - a drain and refill would be OK)

- (standard transmission?) replace gear oil (select weight that is appropriate to the climate)

- flush the brake lines, replace with fresh DOT-3 fluid (flush master and slave cylinders on standard transmission)

- fresh fluid for powersteering (drain and refill reservior OK)

- inspect and clean the throttle body

- replace the PCV valve

- inspect and check all vacuum lines

- inspect chassis nuts and bolts

- inspect brakes, replace as necessary

- inspect tires / wheels, replace as necessary

- inspect drive axles, CV boots, bearings - replace if damaged

- inspect suspension, check for leaks, damage

- inspect steering, tie-rods for slop, replace as necessary

- inspect the intake system for leaks

- inspect the exhaust system for leaks

Run some good quality fuel injector cleaner and drive the car. Might just need to burn off some deposits get old fluid circulating to perk up the car. As for the sparkplugs - you are right, just need to pull up on the boot, high-tension cord will pop right off. Like 01loadedLE mentioned - get a long extension and should be a pretty easy job. I'd recommend taking a peek down the hole before you loosen the plug, don't want debris and junk to fall in as the plug is removed - you can blow them clean with some compressed air. As long as the head is cold, you shouldn't have too much problem with cross-threading the plug holes or striping the threads when removing the plugs. Torque spec on the plugs are 13 lbs.ft according to the service manual. Just start them by hand with the extension minus the ratchet, then finish them up with torque wrench.

I've seen T-belt replacements run from $199 to $299, like Ghost mentioned - sometimes less, if you have a dealer coupon. I got my Camry done years ago for $150 with a coupon - couldn't beat that - had them replace all the belts and waterpump at the same time - no additional labor charges since everything was off anyways. I'd get the car running well before I get too worry about the T-belt. But I wouldn't wait too long, mileage is not going get you here, but the age will - 12 years on the original T-belt is asking for trouble. Bikeman982 is correct that it is a non-interference engine - but waiting for the T-belt to let go before you get on it is a bad idea - like happening in the middle of crossing a busy intersection.

If after this, the mileage has not improved - might be looking at a tired O2 sensor.



A 1996 with only 66K is very low mileage.

I didn't recommend waiting on the timing belt change, just informed DeMagistro of what happens when it breaks.

It happened on my daughters car and I had to go rescue her. I towed it with my Kar Kaddy.

All the items Fishexpo101 mentioned are what is recommended.



New member
Sparkplugs: just buy a spark plug wrench in auto store, so much easier than using socket and extender, only $3. Don't worry about torque, a new plug with gasket (come with), keep turning and 3/4 turn after it touch the bottom is enough. The gasket will keep it tight in a pretty big torque range.

T-belt: you are lucky it is a non-interference engine, so not changing it will get your grandma stranded, not killing her engine. At 12 years the rubber is probably due so I would replace it. In NorCal it is around $200 labor, parts depends on where you buy it. is a good place to start (they have 5% off coupon if you look around). I usually use AC Delco parts instead of Toyota OEM, both are good quality.

Other stuff: tires crack when aged, O2 sensor is probably fouled (where the bad mileage is from) with short trip driving like hers, starter should last 100k+, change the transmission fluid (and the front differential if it is a 3 spd, many people forget that), drain and refill the coolant, replace the brake fluid (every 2 yrs), check and replace if needed the front pads (my rear is still going at 160k), new windshield wipers.

You are good to go.


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