By on December 5, 2012

TTAC Commentator Ryoku75 writes:

Thanks for your response on my question on modern car grilles, you make a good point on modern cars being a bit taller up-front than needed. Now, I own an ’89 Toyota Tercel that needs a rear wheel bearing and exhaust (muffler, piping), otherwise it works fine and has 125k.

Unless if I fix the bearings and exhaust it won’t pass inspection. To fix them it would be $600 for both at my local garage.Should I fix it or sell it for $1500 and get something else?

If I should sell it, what should I get? My Criteria is:

1. Reliable
2. Long-Lasting
3. Cheap to fix (Parts, Labor, ease of work)
4. Not a Nissan Juke (I can take ugly, but this is something else)

If you suggest a “Panther” I’d go with it, they seem like good cars from what I’ve heard.

Sajeev answers:

Come on, Son!  If you’re even remotely considering a Panther, you know that I’m In It To Win It!

Just like the perfect license plate on a fat (non-beancounted) Panther. Ahem, now where were we?

Then again, your Tercel sounds pretty sweet, only needing a few hundred in repairs to make it a decent runner. Definitely don’t sell it, unless you want something newer.  Do you want something newer? I hope not. But I’d love to see you with a Panther and a Tercel.  You’ll have a (very) poor man’s S-class Benz for when you want to relax, and a proper miser (from the over-engineered era of Japanese cars) for the rest of the time.   Can’t swing that way?  Just be honest in your assessment of the Tercel’s future repairs.

If ye olde Tercel needs a few hundred in repairs every year, who cares?  Does your job demand you have a 100% reliable ride so you will always be 15 minutes early in the office? Must you have a fully functional vehicle all the time, or are items like a fubar A/C not a deal breaker in the short-term?

Answer those questions honestly and you’ll have your answer.  And if you wind up with a Panther, well, it’s all good.

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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38 Comments on “Piston Slap: Ter-Sell or not Ter-Sell?...”

  • avatar

    Fix them and keep the car. It’s a small price to pay compared to another used car that may not be as reliable as what you’ve got now.

    If you wanted a new — or nearly new car — that’d be one thing. A new or certified late-model used car has a warranty, has been quality-checked and would likely provide many miles of trouble-free driving. But a $3000 used car today is the equivalent to the $500-1000 car of pre-Clunker Trade days. Even the cleanest looking replacement pales in comparison to owning a car that you know is in good condition.

    Shop around to see if someone else will do a quality job at a better price, but be sure to know exactly what you’re getting. And make sure they use quality parts. If you repair that Tercel with quality parts, you shouldn’t have those issues again for years.

  • avatar

    Hard to argue….

    Plus , well appointed used Police cars in VGC are dead cheap in case you want a Panther…

    Me , i’ll keep my old W-123 Mercedes as it’ll out handle the Panther easily and is easier to park to boot .


  • avatar
    Sammy B

    This is definitely a case to fix and keep. 125K is relatively low. and if you’re caring for the rest of the car, keep through this round of repairs. again, assuming you don’t hate the vehicle.

    on the next round of “major” repair, it might be harder to stomach, but this car is so cheap to run and own, a $500 repair/maintenance bill once a year still keeps you WAY ahead on something newer.

  • avatar

    sweet ride

  • avatar

    If you like the Tercel, fix the Tercel.

    If at some point in life you want to be able to say “Why yes I did experience the last BOF, V8, RWD cars sold in North America.” Then get a Panther, in my area I’m still seeing models from early in the 00s with less than 75,000 miles for fairly cheap (like a little over $5000.)

    • 0 avatar

      Actually I’ve rode in a Panther cab for a good about of my school years, I’ve experienced the last of the V8s and frankly I loved the ride but desired more space.

      • 0 avatar

        Town Car has more rear seat legroom and a larger trunk… Just saying. Now if my budget was $15,000 I’d seriously consider a 2008-2009 Taurus/Sable based off the Ford Five Hundred. I’ve driven one and the larger 3.5V6 plus 6 speed auto were well suited for that car. The interior was very roomy and the trunk was 21 cubic feet! Mileage was impressive for a large car too. The best part is their resale value is crap compared to what they sold for new.

    • 0 avatar

      Some friends just picked up an ’05 GM with eighty-something on the clock for $5500. Smokin’ price per pound for a fairly new car.

  • avatar

    Definitely keep it. I think that the late 80’s were the absolute high water mark for Japanese cars– dependable as a hammer, plus that engineering “x factor” Honda used to call Man Maximal, Machine Minimal design. Every detail was engineered to give the driver what they needed (not what some bozo focus group thought they wanted). When you do that, you get cars with tall greenhouses, lots of angled surfaces and minor fixes to wear items 20+ years down the road.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    So long as the maintenance costs are reasonable, the answer always depends one simple idea.

    Do you like the car?

    If you do, keep it… and consider investing in little things such as shocks, good tires and cleaning materials so that your car is enjoyable for the long haul.

    If not, sell it. Make sure you buy another car before selling this one (biggest mistake I see in my work is when folks get this order wrong.) Then follow the used car purchasing process at TTAC that has been refined by the Best & Brightest over the years.

    Good luck!

    • 0 avatar

      I eventually sold the Tercel, I really got tired of its tiny size and interior that would practicaly soak up heat, plus the car really wasn’t in that great of shape. The previous owners did a number to the electrics.

  • avatar

    Rear wheel bearings on the FWD Tercel are easy to do and could probably done at a local mechanic for less than $200.00.

    The 4WD Tercels were a bit trickier to do as the bearing(s) had to be pressed on and off of the rear axle. Still, I was able to do this with basic hand tools and a BFH.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    What? Are you crazy? fix it it’s a no-brainer, a lot better than today’s plastic laden, poorly constructed crap like the Yaris.

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    Things are always changing without telling me but i think Toyota still makes the Toyota Corolla. That means to me that the biggest problem they have is fickle drivers.

    This thing will still be running good long past the time whatever you replace it with is gone.

  • avatar

    Forget a used Panther – the Tercel is as solid a car as there ever was. The problem is this- you cannot own an old car like that and not learn to fix it yourself. Otherwise the cost of repair will quickly exceed the value of the car itself.

    • 0 avatar

      It was a pretty solid car…until Bob Spanner hacked it up in ol”97.

      I did decide to go against a Panther simply because at the $1000 most Panthers are pretty worn out in terms of comfort features, plus the quality of Ford parts do concern me.

  • avatar

    I own a 92 Tercel, I wanted to sell it this summer because I thought it was slow, ugly and uncomfortable. That summer I also traveled to Nicaragua. When I saw how many beat-to-hell-and-back 80’s and 90’s Tercels were still chugging over the horrible dirt/rock paths or ‘roads’ as we call them, I realized just how durable these little buggers are.

    When I got back I decided to keep the Tercel because of my first hand experience seeing how beat these cars can get and still run. Im talking Tercels running on 2 or 3 cylinders with makeshift spark plug wires rigged out of coat hangers, ducktape and spit, but they still are ticking on mile after mile, or I guess kilometer after kilometer down there.

    Check out how much those parts cost online then get a Haynes manual and spend a Saturday working on one of the simplest yet toughest cars ever made.

    The Tercel has to be the cheapest vehicle to keep running today.

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      FYI the local So Fla junkyards are devoid of Corollas, Tercels and Camry I asked a manager there why and he told me that those that are salvageable are picked up, made to run again and shipped to poor countries in So America and the Caribbean and start new lives as basic transport for the poor working class there.

  • avatar

    I’d like to note that I ended up fixing the Tercel and driving it about for about a year, then I sold it. It would smoke on occasion and in the trucksuv heavy midwest it can be a bit scarey. I did pass my license test in that car, so thank you Toyota for allowing me to enjoy the road.

    When the Tercel was new it was probably a terrific buy, but the years and cheapskate ownership took its toll.

    I ended up with a low mileage Volvo 240, partially because for $1000 it was in pretty good shape and partially because I wanted to sell it for a profit in a year or two and buy a decent Panther with the earnings. But the more that I drive my Volvo the longer that I want to keep it.

    Oh, and as a fan of bad puns I have to say, great title for this article.

  • avatar

    Having just spent a week in a Crown Brictoria courtesy of Hertz’ completely twacked concept of what constitutes an “upgrade”, I repeat again – I DON’T GET IT! They are absolute dinosaurs. Completely unfit for purpose by 2012 standards. HUGE on the outside, tiny on the inside. I whacked my knee on the end of the dash about 5x getting in the miserable thing. Wretched seats. Cheap and nasty everywhere you look inside with ZERO comfort or convenience features. If you think they ride nicely, well, obviously you have never ridden in anything but 10ton trucks or schoolbusses with bad shocks. They handle like the Lusitania, and are about as handy to park. All the grip of a banana on an oiled linoleum floor. The directional stability of an arrow fired backwards. 19mpg but slow as a glacier. Not particularly quiet. Shall I go on??

    They are obviously the perfect cop car or taxi cab, but who in Gods name wants to drive a cop car or a cab unless you are, in fact, a cop or a cabbie?!? At least you would be getting PAID to drive the POS! If it hadn’t been 2:30AM when I arrived at SFO, I would have chopped it in for anything else. I would rather drive a Kia Rio – Just as cheap and nasty but a lot easier to park!

    At least the OP went to a Volvo, – which is a Panther done properly.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m glad that you posted here, it was your past posts that inspired me to consider Volvos, 940s in particular. That and their global appeal.

      I chose the 240 for its better retail, its low mileage, and if I’m honest its styling.

      The old Marquis that I drove felt soft but perhaps that was the bodyroll, it gave the impression of good size thanks to its width, but its head room and rear legroom should’ve been better.

      I do agree on the handling, driving that thing felt like playing Roulette with how the steering wheel was. The brakes were junk, but this was an old car. I didn’t like the bodyroll combined with the bench seats.

      Seeing out of the side was hard because of the width and the Brougham roof, ugh Brougham roofs suck.

      I really think that Panthers have their merits, but questionable quality shortcomings are what put me off. That and transmissions that seem to always last 90k-100k no matter the year.

      But yes, please do go on your Panther rant. Your point on cabs and taxis should be told to the many people that rave about the Panthers durability, and then point to their fleet use.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        My father has owned about six Panthers, the last one being a Grand Marquis Ultimate. I can see their merits, but every time I drive my dad’s car I can’t get past that the damn car doesn’t have a left foot rest. It truly annoys me after driving it a while, and I can’t understand why they would be so cheap as to not put one on this car. That, plus I can attest to the gradual cheapening of the interior since the first one he had. This last one’s leather feels like it’s made of plastic-coated recycled paper.

      • 0 avatar

        At Roberto:

        If my Tercel had any pleasing extra features, it was a left foot rest that was simple rubber attached with screws, it did its job.

        My Volvo doesn’t have a foot rest but the higher seating position makes up for that, I never understood the Panthers low front bench seat.

  • avatar

    My sister bought a 1997 Tercel with 120k on the clock back about six years ago. After some serious detailing, I sent it down to her in Florida, where she drove it for two years…rather enjoying the near 40 MPG she got with it. It was then sent back to me, and I drove it for about two years…also rather enjoying the mileage. We then sent the little scooter out to Colorado for my son to use in his last two years at the Academy. His graduation is coming up next May, and the fight is on between my sister and I as to who gets the Tercel back (I doubt that my up-and-coming pilot/son wants to show up to fighter training in a Tercel). Why are we fighting over a near 200k, 97-hp, manual tranny, crank window car? Because we’ve never owned a more reliable car. Period. A fresh paint job and some basic PM and we’re pretty sure to get several more years of faithful service out of it. I’m bummed that I’ll be transiting to Saudi Arabia shortly after, so it looks like my sister wins…

    Yeah…keep the Tercel! The interior of our ’97 is a much higher quality than just about any new Toyota…sadly.

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