Editor’s note: You may want to read more of Autotrader’s model vs. model comparison car reviews as well as our articles on Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Used Honda Accord and Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Used Toyota Camry.
If you’re in the market for an affordable, basic used car that can get you from point A to point B, you might be considering the 1997-2001 Toyota Camry or the 1998-2002 Honda Accord — both popular midsize sedans that tout excellent durability, reasonably strong fuel economy, highly affordable pricing and at least the fundamental safety features. But which one is better, and which one deserves your hard-earned dollars? We’ve created a close comparison of both models to help you find out, but first let’s cover the basics.
1997-2001 Toyota Camry: The Basics
The 1997-2001 Camry was a midsize sedan offered in base-level CE, midlevel LE and upscale XLE trims. Available with 4- or 6-cylinder engines and offered with optional anti-lock brakes, the Camry lineup later grew to add 2-door coupe and convertible models — both dubbed Solara — in 1999. Find a 2001 Toyota Camry for sale near you
1998-2002 Honda Accord: The Basics
The 1998-2002 Honda Accord was a midsize car offered in 2- or 4-door variants, with 2-door models called simply Accord Coupe. Available with 4- or 6-cylinder engine options, the Accord’s safety features roughly mimicked the Camry’s with standard dual airbags and optional anti-lock brakes. Find a 2002 Honda Accord for sale near you
Given that these models are around 15 years old, reliability can be very difficult to assess, since it’s largely based on how well previous owners maintained specific cars that you find for sale. It’s worth noting, however, that both the 1997-2001 Camry and 1998-2002 Accord have many positive reviews on Kelley Blue Book’s website that point out their durability and dependability in particular.
As for ownership costs, neither of these models is known for specific, common high-dollar failures — though it’s worth noting that both models use timing belts rather than more durable timing chains. While timing belts aren’t necessarily a problem, they require (sometimes expensive) replacement at specific intervals, so it’s worth obtaining service records, if possible, to find out when the last replacement was performed.
The 1998-2002 Honda Accord came standard with a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine that made 135 horsepower (in DX models) or 150 horses in LX and EX trims. Fuel economy was the same whether you chose a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic: 25 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway with the stick shift or 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with the automatic. Drivers looking for more power could upgrade to a 200-hp 3.0-liter V6, which was only offered with the 4-speed automatic and returned 21 mpg city/28 mpg hwy.
The 1997-2001 Camry also offered two engines. Base models used a 135-hp 2.2-liter 4-cylinder, which could be had with 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmissions — both of which boasted 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy. Drivers who wanted more muscle could upgrade to a 194-hp 3.0-liter V6, which boasted 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy with its standard 5-speed manual or 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy with its optional 4-speed automatic.
Although that’s a lot of numbers, the basic gist is that the Accord slightly trumps the Camry in terms of gas mileage, with the Accord touting a couple extra mpg with both 4- and 6-cylinder engine options.
The Accord slightly outperformed the Camry in crash tests carried out by the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While the Camry earned 3-star scores in passenger- and driver-side impact crash tests, the Accord earned 4-star scores in both tests. Meanwhile, the Accord earned a 4-star score in driver and passenger front impact tests; the Camry earned four stars for the driver and five stars for the passenger.
As for safety equipment, both models are pretty basic by today’s standards. While both models offered government-mandated dual airbags, anti-lock brakes were only on some: They were optional on the base-level Camry CE and standard on LE and XLE models, while they were standard on Accord EX models and optional on the LX. Both cars also offered side airbags, but it was a rare option: The Camry gained the feature in 1998, while the Accord added it in 2000.
If we were in the market for an older Camry or Accord, we’d try hard to find one with both anti-lock brakes and side airbags. That’s easier to do if you choose a Camry, since side airbags became available earlier — and anti-lock brakes were standard on midlevel LE models, while they remained optional on the midlevel Accord LX.
If you’re interested in technology, we strongly caution you to not expect much: Big news for these cars were features such as CD players and keyless entry, not touchscreens or Bluetooth.
Still, when it comes to equipment, high-end versions of the Accord get our vote, as they gained certain options — such as automatic climate control in 2001 and steering-wheel audio controls in 2002 — long before the Camry had them. Even then, however, you’ll have to shoot for an upscale Accord model (and a late model year) to get those items. Early or base-level versions of both cars will seem sparse by today’s standards.
There are currently around 1,500 different 1998-2002 Accord models listed on Autotrader with an average price of around $4,300. Meanwhile, there are currently about 1,000 different 1997-2001 Toyota Camry models listed on Autotrader with an average price of about $4,100 — likely a function of the fact that this generation of the Camry started in 1997, while the Accord started in 1998.
Which offers better value? In situations when two models offer wildly different prices or vastly divergent traits, we’d be able to provide an answer — but given that both these cars have virtually identical values and similar benefits and drawbacks, it’s hard to say. To us, the winner in this category will come down to specific cars you find and how well they’ve been maintained.
Both the 1998-2002 Honda Accord and 1997-2001 Toyota Camry are among the best midsize-sedan bangs for your under-$5,000 buck. In fact, these two models are so similar that their few distinguishing features are limited to the fact that the Camry offers a convertible model, the Accord has slightly better gas mileage and the Camry has a slightly wider array of safety features. Otherwise, pricing, dependability, interior room and driving experience are about the same — and that makes this comparison a draw. Assuming equal mechanical condition, the Camry might be a little quieter, but the Honda will be more fun to drive. Instead of picking between the Camry and Accord, we suggest choosing whichever one you find in better mechanical shape. Your wallet will thank you later.