Junkyard Find: 1990 Toyota Camry All-Trac LE

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Here in Colorado, the self-service wrecking yards tend to be museums of four-wheel-drive cars that disappeared into obscurity a couple of decades back. When it comes to Toyota, everyone knows about the Celica All-Trac, and of course you still see the occasional mid-80s Tercel 4WD wagon. Go to a Denver junkyard, though, and you’ll see lots of Corolla All-Tracs. But a Camry All-Trac? We’ve all heard of them, but this may be the first four-wheel-drive Camry I’ve ever seen in person. It was fitting that I found this one during my freezing-cold Half Price Sale adventure on Saturday.

This was the generation of Camry that really established the car’s reputation as a cockroach-immortal, if stunningly boring, family sedan.

Just another 1,397 miles— Denver to San Francisco via Cheyenne and I-80, more or less— and this car would have made it to the magical 300,000-mile mark.

Because I’ve never been in a Camry All-Trac, nor has anyone I know, I can’t tell you what it’s like driving one in snow or mud.

Fortunately, at least one All-Trac driver has documented the experience for us.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Elsinore73 Elsinore73 on Dec 07, 2013

    I too have one. I picked up a 1988 Camry All-trac LX about a year ago. Paid $1500 with virtually no rust and only 138K on the clock and a new clutch. Its been my daily driver for the last year. SUPER DEPENDABLE car. Its fantastic in the snow. My other ride is a lifted wrangler, I picked this up as a second car to commute with. I now keep the jeep parked on snowy days and drive the Camry. I have never had to use the center locking diff, as it plows through just about anything you can throw at it in standard awd. I live in the northeast and commonly make the 260 mile trip to Vermont and back. Great winter machine. My only real issue so far is rear shocks. Because of the AWD system they are different from the 2WD models. Good luck finding them. Some auto parts stores list them, but beware, they are 2WD shocks. The only place I have found the AWD shocks is at the dealer, and im not paying the $380 each they are asking. This car was purchased to be a beater, and has become a favorite.

  • RaoulPicante RaoulPicante on Mar 21, 2021

    Just found this post, and I can tell many stories and sing the praises of our Toyota V6 All Trac. When we owned it, I drove it from Eugene over Santiam Pass to Mt. Bachelor to downhill ski (as well as drives up to Odell Lake Lodge in Willamette Pass to Xcountry ski). I had a set of separately mounted studded tires for the winter season. I can tell you this -- that car hugged an icy or snowy highway much better than either of my Nissan Frontier (true) 4WD pickups with high-end winter tires. The car was relatively heavy, with a low-center of gravity and a relatively wide wheel base. The center diff "lock" was a TRUE 50/50 power delivery lock. I mean I could fly around mountain curves in winter conditions, and it was like driving on dry pavement. I still look for a contemporary vehicle that has this kind of 4WD. Contemporary "AWD" is such a scam -- cuts out below 30 mph. I drive a 2020 Kia Sorento EX V6 AWD with top-of-the line Nokian winter tires, and I can't begin to drive above 35 mph when there are icy/snowy road conditions. Best story ever: Driving back late in the day from a trade show in south L.A. a rare hard snow was falling way down the south slope of the "Grapevine" pass. Read: https://abc30.com/is-the-grapevine-closed-open-snow-in-california-on/10403873/ As it got dark, semis and late rush hour cars were stacked up on the slick ascent to the pass. I was able to move around and past a few cars, but as I was moving ahead in the left lane, a jackknifed semi was slowly sliding down towards us. Oh Sh*t!. I had already locked the diff, but I was driving on new all-weather tires -- good tread, but no studs. I had faith! I pushed moderately on the gas pedal. ... The wheels held their grip ... and into the snow-covered grassy median. ... Woo Hoo! Drove that sweet All Trac a 100 yards or so up the median until I was passed another jackknifed semi which had all traffic stopped. I swung back into the travel lanes without a car in front of me and drove without any obstacles over the pass and down I-5 into the San Joaquin Valley. There weren't any car lights in sight for 100 miles. When we checked into a motel, we saw on TV that we were apparently the last car over the pass that night. The All Trac was in mint condition when we sold it to a lucky buyer at just over 100,000 miles. Best car ever!

  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).
  • Lou_BC There are a few in my town. They come out on sunny days. I'd rather spend $29k on a square body Chevy
  • Lou_BC I had a 2010 Ford F150 and 2010 Toyota Sienna. The F150 went through 3 sets of brakes and Sienna 2 sets. Similar mileage and 10 year span.4 sets tires on F150. Truck needed a set of rear shocks and front axle seals. The solenoid in the T-case was replaced under warranty. I replaced a "blend door motor" on heater. Sienna needed a water pump and heater blower both on warranty. One TSB then recall on spare tire cable. Has a limp mode due to an engine sensor failure. At 11 years old I had to replace clutch pack in rear diff F150. My ZR2 diesel at 55,000 km. Needs new tires. Duratrac's worn and chewed up. Needed front end alignment (1st time ever on any truck I've owned).Rear brakes worn out. Left pads were to metal. Chevy rear brakes don't like offroad. Weird "inside out" dents in a few spots rear fenders. Typically GM can't really build an offroad truck issue. They won't warranty. Has fender-well liners. Tore off one rear shock protector. Was cheaper to order from GM warehouse through parts supplier than through Chevy dealer. Lots of squeaks and rattles. Infotainment has crashed a few times. Seat heater modual was on recall. One of those post sale retrofit.Local dealer is horrific. If my son can't service or repair it, I'll drive 120 km to the next town. 1st and last Chevy. Love the drivetrain and suspension. Fit and finish mediocre. Dealer sucks.
  • MaintenanceCosts You expect everything on Amazon and eBay to be fake, but it's a shame to see fake stuff on Summit Racing. Glad they pulled it.
  • SCE to AUX 08 Rabbit (college car, 128k miles): Everything is expensive and difficult to repair. Bought it several years ago as a favor to a friend leaving the country. I outsourced the clutch ($1200), but I did all other work. Ignition switch, all calipers, pads, rotors, A/C compressor, blower fan, cooling fan, plugs and coils, belts and tensioners, 3 flat tires (nails), and on and on.19 Ioniq EV (66k miles): 12V battery, wipers, 1 set of tires, cabin air filter, new pads and rotors at 15k miles since the factory ones wore funny, 1 qt of reduction gear oil. Insurance is cheap. It costs me nearly nothing to drive it.22 Santa Fe (22k miles): Nothing yet, except oil changes. I dread having to buy tires.