Reader Question: I just bought a used 1995 Toyota Camry with 80,000 miles. It is very clean and in good shape, so I would assume the previous owner kept up with maintenance. Is there anything in particular I should have done as part of my maintenance schedule?
Dear concerned car owner,
Great question and glad to hear you bought a Camry. They are very well built cars, or at least the ones built in Japan are. Do you know where to find the place of manufacture? The first letter or number of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) will tell you where the vehicle was assembled. The VIN plate is located in the driver side corner of the dash under the windshield, and is also located on the inside of the driver door near the door latch mechanism.
If the first letter is a J, then it was built in Japan. In my opinion, vehicles with a VIN beginning with "J" tend to have better maintenance records. They also seem to be harder to find on the sales lots and are usually more expensive to purchase. Do the dealerships think that the vehicles with the "J" are more reliable too, and that is why you pay slightly more for them? If the VIN begins with a "1" it was assembled in the USA, "2" refers to Canada, and "3" is Mexico. There are many more codes, but these are the most commonly used in North America.
Ok, back to your question. I hope you had the vehicle inspected by your mechanic prior to your purchase, but let's assume you did not. So what should you do now that you own the vehicle to prolong its life and keep costly unexpected repair bills to a minimum?
The first major component that comes to mind is the timing belt. The engine is driven by a large rubber belt located inside the engine. This belt is lightweight, but very strong and has a life expectancy of about 60,000 miles. If this belt breaks, the engine shuts down, and you are now on foot. Costly internal engine damage can also occur when the belt breaks, so going beyond 60,000 miles is like walking on thin ice. If you are not sure how many miles are on the timing belt, you should have it replaced just in case. While changing the timing belt, I would also inspect the other rubber fan belts and water hoses and replace them as needed. It is not recommended that you replace one belt or hose at a time, but rather replace all rubber components together so they are all the same age and carry the same useful life expectancy.
I would then have the electrical system tested. The three main components are the battery, alternator and starter. I have seen many "good looking" batteries fail without warning-stranding the driver, disrupting work schedules, and adding additional costs like a towing fee to what should be a simple and inexpensive maintenance item-a battery replacement. Same wisdom thought as the timing belt: if there are any doubts about the condition of the battery, just replace it.
The third area I would have checked would be the condition of the tires, brakes and front end components of the vehicle. All three items are easy and inexpensive to inspect, and can provide a wealth of information about future repair costs to expect and plan for.
The last area that I would have inspected would be the condition of the fluids. Fluids consisting of antifreeze, brake, power steering, and automatic transmission or clutch fluid. As the fluid deteriorates and loses its protective properties, the color of the fluid will change-making a visual inspection rather easy. Dirty or contaminated fluid will not protect the component it was designed to protect, and internal damage will occur resulting in unexpected breakdown and additional repair costs. The wisdom thought here is that keeping all fluids clean and at their correct levels can reduce repair expenses.
I hope you enjoy your "new" Camry and take the time now to bring your maintenance routine up to snuff. We offer free maintenance schedules on our Website that make a great companion to the manufacturer's service recommendations. Remember to keep accurate maintenance records of what has been done and what needs to be performed. This practice will help you forecast your budget and will be invaluable to you and the next owner of this vehicle.
Austin C Davis
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