The most popular car in America makes for a safe buy.

Over the years Toyota has built up an enviable reputation as a manufacturer of bulletproof cars. But for a long time, its cars were smaller than what the average American buyer wanted.

That changed when Toyota introduced the revised Camry in 1992. It was a car squarely aimed at middle America. Obviously Toyota's research was right on target as the Camry became the best selling car in the U.S. in 1997, ousting the Honda Accord and the Ford Taurus from that coveted spot.

Many car enthusiasts complain that the Camry is bland looking, but perhaps that explains its popularity -- it's like a trusty appliance, always there at the first turn of the key. It blends in so well that it becomes part of the owner's everyday lifestyle -- like a pair of comfortable slippers.

The current model came on the market in 1997 and was a further refinement on an already good model. However, purchasers of a pre-owned Camry manufactured before 1997 will find that they are not giving up much in terms of overall solid value for the money.

 

What You Need To Know:

1. Review of a 1996 Toyota Camry

2. Summary of Good and Bad Points by Owners

3. History of Camry

4. Review of Current Model

5. Basic Facts

6. Changes Year-to-Year

7. Safety Information

8. Value Guide

9. Option Installment Rate

10. Sales History

11. Awards and Commendations Earned

12. Other Reviews

13. Recall Information

14. Price of Spare Parts



1. Pre-Owned Vehicle Review -- 1996 Toyota Camry

My Likes: solid feel, reliability

Dislikes: bland looks

Competitors: Honda Accord, Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Lumina, Mazda 626

Miles: 28,000

Condition: A

Price New: $20,168

Estimated Current Value: $15,425 (March 1998)

When Toyota introduced the third-generation Camry in 1992, its target was the Honda Accord. The Accord had established itself as the favorite family car with American buyers. Toyota's answer was a slightly larger car also powered by a 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engine. The car's style did not win any awards. It was variously described in the automotive press as dull or conservative. But nobody could fault the solid, reliable, bulletproof reputation the model built for itself.

The Camry I tested was a previous-generation, three-year-old vehicle. As soon as I got in it, I felt comfortable. I was surprised at how peppy the engine felt. It felt like it had a V-6 engine, although I knew it was only the four-cylinder model.

The ride is excellent but an enthusiastic driver would find handling and steering a bit soft. There is a two-door coupe model that was on sale between 1994 and 1996, sold to appeal to those with a sporty inclination.

The owner of this Camry LE was very happy with the car though, believe it or not, he had had a couple of minor problems. He had worn out a pair of tires in fewer than 20,000 miles because a wheel had gone out of alignment. This was probably not a fault of the car. The other issue was a slight hesitation in the engine immediately after cold starts. It was traced to a minor problem in the engine's electronics, which was fixed under warranty.

However, even considering minor problems this owner encountered, he still felt the Camry was an exceptional vehicle. The facts would tend to bear this out since many surveys have indicated that Camry's overall quality places among the top of an extremely competitive segment. Of all the sedans on the market, the Camry and the Accord are probably two of the safest bets to purchase as pre-owned cars.

 

2. Summing It Up -- Owners' Views

Good:

"Reliable"

"Bulletproof"

"I have had no problems with the engine and have had to pay for no more than wear and tear" ('86 Camry with 116,000 miles on odo)

Bad:

"parts are expensive"

Verbatims: N/A

 

3. History of Camry

In 1997, the Toyota Camry became the top-selling car in the U.S. It gained the coveted title by beating out its archrivals, the Honda Accord and Ford Taurus. It actually took five years for the Camry to achieve this. It looked as though it might have managed it in 1992 when the third-generation model was introduced, however the car was more expensive than the Taurus and slightly more than the Accord which hurt its chances.

The Camry was first introduced to the U.S. market in 1983 as a replacement for the Toyota Corona. Since then, it has grown in popularity as it has proven to be such a reliable car. In 1985, it was rated "Most Trouble-Free Car in America" by Consumers Digest. Since then, it has consistently won similar awards almost yearly. It's no wonder that it has earned a reputation as a bulletproof car.

Toyota started building Camrys in the U.S. in 1988, which was also the year a V-6 engine option was added. In 1990, the plant in Georgetown, KY won the J.D. Power and Associates Gold Plant award as the plant producing vehicles with the least number of problems per vehicle in North America. The third-generation Camry was introduced in 1992 and, with an increase in size, it moved up to a "mid-size" classification. The accolades bestowed upon the Camry continue to add up every year.

The current, fourth-generation Camry was introduced in 1996 as a 1997 model. The station wagon version is no longer sold in the U.S. In the summer of 1998 Toyota introduced the two-door coupe version of the Camry and gave it a separate name -- Solara. Previous Camry coupes were nothing more than two-door versions of the four-door sedan. The Solara however has a unique bodystyle to give it more character. It is also available with an optional V-6 engine that produces slightly more power to make it more of a performance machine.

 

4. Review of Current Camry

The third-generation Camry, introduced in 1992, had proven to be such a reliable car that it seemed Toyota would be hard pressed to improve upon an already good car. But it did. The 1997 model is quieter, lighter and more powerful while possessing a better ride and improved handling.

I remember when the new model was first talked about it was described as using less expensive materials in it in an attempt to keep the price down. Many auto writers wondered if the car would be as good as its previous incarnation. I have to admit that when I first saw the 1997 model, I wasn't sure if it was, aesthetically speaking, a knockout.

But in truth, the looks of the previous model never really excited me either. However, my opinion changed when I drove the newest Camry in 1997. I found it to be a very pleasing car to drive. It is one of those vehicles that feels right. Yes, because of this, it may lack the "character" required by a car enthusiast. But for an everyday car with a decent amount of room in a reasonably sized package, it's hard to beat.

The most recent version of the Camry is the Solara two-door coupe. It has a more sporty feel, but it did not provide the sort of excitement I expect in a sporty two-door coupe although I found it to be a pleasant enough car to drive.

It's easy to see why the Camry is described by many as a baby Lexus. In reality it is, since it's built on the same platform as the Lexus ES 300. However, the price is not in Lexus territory -- it sells for many thousands of dollars less. In summary, the Camry is a safe buy for those who put a high priority on reliability.

 

5. Basic Facts: 1992 - 1996 Camry

Vehicle Type: Compact Sedan (also coupe and station wagon)

No. Passengers: Up to five

Origin of Assembly: Georgetown, Kentucky and Japan

Engine: Standard: 2.2-liter 125 hp I-4

Option: 3.0-liter 188 hp V-6

Transmission: 5-spd. manual, 4-spd. auto

Length: 188 inches

Wheelbase: 103 inches

Width: 70 inches

Height: 55 inches

Curb Weight: 2976 to 3186 lbs.

Cargo Volume: 15 cu. ft.

Fuel Tank Capacity: 18 gals.

Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway): 23/31 (2.2-liter, manual), 21/27 (2.2-liter, auto), 20/29 (3.0-liter)

 

6. Changes in the Toyota Camry Line 1994 - 1999

1994 Model Year

Two-door coupe introduced

All new, aluminum V-6 engine teamed with an intelligence-equipped, electronically controlled transmission

Driver- and passenger-side airbags are standard

Chloroflourocarbon (CFC)-free air conditioning

Side-impact protection meets 1997 standards

New leather trim option on the SE Coupe and Sedan

1995 Model Year

Mild redesign of the front and rear fascia, improved options and passenger safety.

A power package option is now available on DX models, which includes power windows, door locks and side-view mirrors

1996 Model Year

Increased availability of luxury and convenience options, and a lower emissions four-cylinder engine

DX-grade models receive new seat fabric, the LE Sedan is now available with the leather package and the Wagon can be ordered with power-operated driver and passenger seats

1997 Model Year

All-new Camry becomes mid-size sedan

Station wagon and two-door coupe dropped

Quieter, lighter and more powerful with better ride quality and improved handling

1998 Model Year

Lower emissions V-6 engine and enhanced interior appointments.

The V-6 engine joins the four-cylinder engine in meeting California's strict Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) requirement thanks to a simplified catalyst. The LEV requirement applies only to vehicles sold in California.

The theft-deterrent system has been enhanced with a new engine immobilizer feature. Standard on the XLE model and available as an option on the LE grade

Camry's windshield molding was revised to further reduce wind noise

1999 Model Year

Addition of two-door Solara coupe

Daytime running lights standard on all models

Headlights automatically turn on and off depending on ambient light levels

Two new audio options

 

7. Safety Notes

NHTSA Crash Rating (1995 model year): Driver 4; Passenger 3 (5 is best)

Driver-side airbag standard from 1992, passenger-side added in 1994.

From 1995 on, the Camry met 1997 side-impact standards.

Anti-lock brakes are optional on base models, standard on upscale models between 1992 and 1996.

From 1997 on, anti-lock brakes became standard on all models except the base 4-cylinder DX model.

 

8. Value Guide

Prices listed are for base models. Options can add considerably to the lowest price listed as these are usually "stripped" models. In many cases, very few vehicles are ever sold at the lowest price listed! Source: Kelley Blue Book

1992 Model Year

New: $15,093 to $21,473

1993 Model Year

New: $15,633 to $22,443

1994 Model Year

New: $16,813 to $24,363

1995 Model Year

New: $16,525 to $25,065

1996 Model Year

New: $16,888 to $25,458

1997 Model Year

New: $16,868 to $24,508

1998 Model Year

New: $16,938 to $24,868

 

9. Option Installment Rate

Generally, when you order a new car you have a choice of factory-installed options. When you buy a pre-owned vehicle the choice is limited to what was actually installed on vehicles sold in that model year. Use this option installment rate as a guide to the chances of finding particular options on a pre-owned vehicle. Source: Ward's Automotive Yearbooks

1993 Model Year

Installment Rate

Bodystyle:

4-Door Sedan 96%

Station Wagon 4%

Engine:

2.2-liter 4-cylinder 72%

3.0-liter V-6 28%

Transmission:

Automatic 93%

Manual 7%

ABS Brakes: 23%

Air Conditioning 96%

Power Windows 87%

Cruise Control 95%

Remote/Keyless Entry: n/a%

1994 Model Year

Installment Rate

Bodystyle:

4-Door Sedan 78%

2-Door Sedan 15%

Station Wagon 7%

Engine:

2.2-liter 4-cylinder 72%

3.0-liter V-6 28%

Transmission:

Automatic 98%

Manual 2%

ABS Brakes: 82%

Air Conditioning 98%

Power Windows 96%

Cruise Control 97%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 90%

1995 Model Year

Installment Rate

Bodystyle:

4-Door Sedan 79%

2-Door Sedan 13%

Station Wagon 8%

Engine:

2.2-liter 4-cylinder 68%

3.0-liter V-6 32%

Transmission:

Automatic 98%

Manual 2%

ABS Brakes: 82%

Air Conditioning 98%

Power Windows 95%

Cruise Control 98%

Remote/Keyless Entry: n/a%

1996 Model Year

Installment Rate

Bodystyle:

4-Door Sedan 100%

2-Door Sedan 0%

Station Wagon 0%

Engine:

2.2-liter 4-cylinder 68%

3.0-liter V-6 32%

Transmission:

Automatic 95%

Manual 5%

ABS Brakes: 88%

Air Conditioning 99%

Power Windows 95%

Cruise Control 94%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 42%

 

10. Production/Sales Volume History

Normally, a model year runs from October to September. Often though, when a new version is introduced, it hits the market before October. Legally, a model year can start as early as January of the preceding year. Accurate model year sales counts are almost impossible to collect, as different model year vehicles are regularly sold side-by-side for several months. Production figures, when listed, include vehicles made for export to Canada, Mexico and overseas. Source: manufacturers

1992 Model Year

Production Run: Oct. 1991 through Sept. 1992

Total Number Produced: n/a

Total No. Sold in U.S.: 262,531

1993 Model Year

Production Run: Oct. 1992 through Sept. 1993

Total Number Produced: n/a

Total No. Sold in U.S.: 284,751

1994 Model Year

Production Run: Oct. 1993 through Sept. 1994

Total Number Produced: n/a

Total No. Sold in U.S.: 347,912

1995 Model Year

Production Run: Oct. 1994 through Sept. 1995

Total Number Produced: n/a

Total No. Sold in U.S.: 317,786

1996 Model Year

Production Run: Oct. 1995 through Sept. 1996

Total Number Produced: n/a

Total No. Sold in U.S.: 352,053

1997 Model Year

Production Run: Oct. 1996 through Sept. 1997

Total Number Produced: n/a

Total No. Sold in U.S.: 383,187

1998 Model Year

Production Run: Oct. 1997 through Sept. 1998

Total Number Produced: n/a

Total No. Sold in U.S.: 398,548

 

11. Awards and Commendations

1992

"Ten Best Cars" - Car and Driver

"Import Car of the Year" - Automundo

"Family Car of the Year" (tie with Buick LeSabre) - Family Circle

"Best Buys" - Consumer's Digest

"Top Ten Models in Initial Quality" - J. D. Power and Associates

1993

"Ten Best Cars" - Car and Driver

"All-Star"- Automobile

"Family Car of the Year" - Family Circle Sedan Finalist

"Best Buys" - Consumers Digest

"Top Ten Models in Initial Quality" - J. D. Power and Associates

"Best Model in the $17,001 to $22,000 Price Class in Initial Quality" - J. D. Power and Associates

1994

"Ten Best Cars" - Car and Driver

"Family Car of the Year" - Family Circle Sedan Finalist

"Best Buys" - Consumer's Digest

"Top Ten Models in Initial Quality" - J. D. Power and Associates

"Best Overall Value - Subcompact/Compact Wagon Class Over $15,000" - IntelliChoice Complete Car Cost Guide

1996

"Best Buys" - Consumer's Digest

"Best of What's New" - Popular Science

1997

"Best Buys" - Consumer's Digest

"Best Family Sedan" - Consumer Reports

"Ten Best Cars" - Car and Driver

"All-Star"- Automobile

"Golden Wheel Award - Vehicle of the Year" - African Americans on Wheels

"1997 Total Quality Award - Compact Car" - Strategic Vision

"1997 Top Three Vehicles in Initial Quality - Premium Midsize Car Segment" - J. D. Power and Associates

 

12. Quotes

"The Camry coupe is a family sedan that happens to have two doors. It blends in well and makes virtually no outward statement, yet it is extremely satisfying to drive. Its four-door version can even be considered as a low-buck luxury car." -- John Rettie, New York Times Regional Newspaper Group Test Drive, Feb. 1994

"Family sedans, on the other hand, need not charm and beguile in the same seductive fashion. However, they do need to reliably, safely and economically move the family from here to there and back as required. That the Camry does, without falter or complaint." -- AutoWeek, 1994 Autofile annual

 

13. Recalls (Only major recalls listed)

ID Number: 96E001000

Component: fuel: throttle linkages and control

Year: 1996

Year of Recall: 1996

Potential Number of Units Affected: 5,145

Summary: Some cruise control systems fail to hold the speed set by the driver and can accelerate above the intended set speed. Unintended acceleration can increase the potential for a vehicle accident.

ID Number: 96V037000

Component: lighting: lamp or socket: tail lights

Year: 1996

Year of Recall: 1996

Potential Number of Units Affected: 756

Summary: The plastic material of the bulb holders of the rear tail light assembly does not have sufficient heat resistance. When the bulb is illuminated, the resulting High temperature can cause the bulb holder to deform. As the bulb holder deforms, the bulb can lose electrical contact, resulting in an inoperative lamp, increasing the risk of a vehicle accident.

ID Number: 97V156000

Component: brakes: hydraulic: power assist: vacuum system

Year: 1997

Year of Recall: 1997

Potential Number of Units Affected: 18,746

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger vehicles registered in the states of Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. A condition can occur where accumulated moisture can temporarily freeze in the brake vacuum hose if the vehicle is used in extremely cold climates for an extended period of time. This can result in the elimination of vacuum assist to the brakes that can increase stopping distances and could lead to a vehicle crash.

ID Number: 97V213000

Component: electrical system: ignition

Year: 1997

Year of Recall: 1997

Potential Number of Units Affected: 289,326

Summary: Due to a possible jamming of the lock pin of the key interlock solenoid, it is possible to remove the ignition key even when the shift lever of the automatic transmission is not in the "Park" position. Under such a condition, should a driver fail to move the shift lever to "Park" position and also fail to activate the parking brake, the vehicle could roll away down a slope.

 

14. Cost of Parts and Service (Relative to Other Vehicles)

Headlight unit: $238 (above average)

Side marker lamp: $42 (average)

Door (left front): $528 (above average)

Fender (left front): $149 (average)

Note: these are estimated retail prices for commonly replaced body parts on a 1995 model. Prices are current as of mid-1998 but will vary from region to region and are subject to change at any time. Source: ADP Collision

 

The Rettie Report and Pre-Owned Profiles contain objective information from a variety of sources. The subjective comments are those of John Rettie.

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