By on March 27, 2017

2004 Toyota Camry V6 LE - Image: © Timothy Cain

Is this the best car in the world?

Not necessarily this car, but the 2002-2006 XV30-generation Toyota Camry in general. Is this Camry better than all the rest?

It doesn’t handle like a modern Mazda 6, doesn’t stop as well as a modern F-150, doesn’t have the perceived interior quality or features of a modern Honda Fit, and has suffered greatly from the effects of alloy wheel corrosion over the last winter.

But the 2004 Toyota Camry LE V6 we told you about last fall just made its way through another harsh, Prince Edward Island winter. Another 7,000 miles were smeared across its odometer. One trip was taken all the way from Prince Edward Island to Toronto; another from Prince Edward Island to Hamilton, Ontario, and another from Prince Edward Island to Mont Tremblant, Quebec.

Credit a single oil change.

This 2004 Toyota Camry LE V6, owned by my in-laws, is one of two cars in their fleet. Their 2013 Hyundai Elantra is presumably the safer long-distance choice: theoretically more reliable, somewhat more fuel-efficient, blessed with SiriusXM and heated leather.

But on the pre-Christmas trip to Toronto, a larger trunk to haul gifts for numerous grandchildren was deemed necessary. Call up the 12-year-old Camry — 340,000 miles under its belt — for an early winter trip across great swathes of Canadian landscape, not the Elantra. Was there any reason to doubt the Camry would return my mother- and father-in-law home to Prince Edward Island (for actual Christmas with their favored grandchildren: my kids) without a glitch, a hiccup, or an ailment?

The Camry wasn’t called upon for much service while resident in Prince Edward Island, but my father-in-law’s solo trip back to Ontario (and back again to PEI) in the dead of winter likewise went off without a hitch. Was there any reason to believe it wouldn’t?

But that wasn’t nearly enough of a test for the Camry in its 13th winter, with roughly 342,000 miles displayed on its odometer. So with a ski trip planned in Mont Tremblant, my parents-in-law were forced — forced I tell you — to take the Camry to Quebec because the snowboard owned by their son who they’d be meeting there “fits better in the Camry.”

Mind you, it fits in the Elantra, too. But it fits better in the Camry, they say.

Which I believe is code for, “We would rather take the 210-horsepower V6.”

The Camry was back home in Prince Edward Island again this weekend. Having collected the weight of many months’ worth of salty highways, my father-in-law finally decided to wash it Saturday night before he once again drove the Camry out of province on Sunday. Clean inside, the Camry’s greying grey paint does a decent job of camouflaging the exterior filth. Sort of.

I drove the Camry extensively on Saturday. Less than a mile into our latest Camry experience, I was boring my wife with praise of the buttery smooth and shockingly lusty V6. But that was nothing compared to the shift quality of the five-speed automatic, which — 13 years since production — is so very much in its groove that upshifts are more easily defined as scrolls than shifts; that downshifts are only enacted once gears can be cradled by Tempur-Pedic mattresses.

Apart from an early winter oil change, the Camry has gone without maintenance. But if my wife’s parents are determined to see this car through another PEI summer and another PEI winter, the Camry will need some work done soon.

I’m no Bozi Tatarevic, capable of identifying sounds via TTAC Slack chat onomatopoeia, but I’m hearing the distinct tenor of a failed tie rod end.

Yet at more than 347,000 miles, having endured some of the continent’s harsher conditions and never having been granted the privilege of living a garage queen’s lifestyle, an oil change and a tie rod end are surely a fair price to pay for another winter.

This 2004 Toyota Camry LE V6 is not the best car in the world. No Honda Odyssey-owning, Mazda MX-5-loving soul could say so.

But in the words of TTAC’s Camry-lauding Steph Willems, “Imagine buying that car new, knowing what awaits.”

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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58 Comments on “2004 Toyota Camry LE V6 Update: Make It 13 Winters and 347,000 Miles...”


  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    People on car enthusiast sites love to knock the Camry for its overall dullness. But, it remains one of the best built and most reliable cars. The Camry is a “set it and forget it” type of car.

    I know a girl that has a ’97 Camry with around 320,000 miles on it and she just went 15,000 miles without an oil change (yeah, I know). And, honestly, the Camry couldn’t care less. It ran the same either way and still doesn’t burn any oil.

    • 0 avatar
      FordMan_48126

      + this….and why though dull and lifeless and not “fun” to drive (however, I recall Jack B. took one around a racetrack and made it fun), the Camry and it’s little sister the Corolla sell like McDonald’s burgers and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. They are truly one of the few vehicles that you can just literally keep the gas tank filled and replaces an odd tire or brake pad every now and then, and forget about it.

      As someone else mentioned, the older GM cars with the 3800 V6 were very similar…I advised a girlfriend of my to get an Olds Intrigue as new back in 1997, and that car was used up until last year by her brother….

      Personally, I hate the Camry – rented a 4 cylinder model for a vacation drive down to Knoxville and back for a trip to Smokey Mountains 3 years ago. Got good mileage, but the front seats were very uncomfortable and the plastic switch gear did not inspire confidence in long term durability. However, I can see why people like them because I could drive it for hours on end between 75 and 80 MPH through some very hilly/mountainous roads and the thing never complained…just kept on going.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        A 3800 you say?

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          @28Cars: Unfortunately looks like we may be giving up our ’05 Buick with the 3800. Only 140,000 kms. But needs a new driver side door handle, lens on the running light, some cosmetic issues including the bumpers looking like they lost a knife fight.

          No rust on the body. Had the ‘wax’ rustproofing applied 2.5 years ago but did have a rusted out fuel line.

          In the past few years have replaced all 4 tires, ECM, catalytic converter, front tie rod, the recall on the ignition, the fuel filter and had it ‘certified’and e-tested, while putting on about 35,000kms.

          Seems a shame but it is ‘worth’ less than $1k as a trade and would cost over $1,500 annually to keep on our insurance.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Just don’t idolize Camry. There were some with engine sludge too.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        The 2002-2006 Camrys were probably the best affordable car available. How they held up to the elements is nothing short of amazing. Compare that to the very next generation, the Cost Cut Camry, which weathers remarkably poorly compared the the previous generation. Still, the Camry kept its reliability up despite the poorer quality finish parts.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          golden to the true believers in Golden Age Toyotas ™, anything past the 92-96 is a cost-cut camry, just progressively worse each generation. Interior-wise, I’d definitely call the 02-06 cost cut compared to even the 99-01 refresh before it. 02-04ish 2.4L 4cyl cars of that generation had some issues with head bolts loosening, requiring an expensive repair with helicoils as I recall. But certainly 07-11 takes the cake for worst built interior. I think the 07-11 4cyl no longer had the head stud issue, however there was some not-insignificant occasional problems with oil burning. Honestly when buying a Camry, the V6 is the way to go not only from a power/smoothness standpoint, but from a reliability perspective as well. The 97-01 V6 cars that are known for the sludging issue do just fine in the hands of owners that change oil regularly and use anything half-decent (semi synthetic or full synthetic and you’re really golden). The Sludge-prone 1MZ-FE in my ’96 Lexus ES300 with 209k miles that I sold this spring ran smooth as silk, burned no oil, and no symptoms of sludge. Key to success? Previous owner got the oil changed every 5k miles (and his commute was largely highway for 20+ minutes each day).

      • 0 avatar
        B_C_R

        The reason for the oil sludging is pretty hilarious. Toyota reached out to its customer base and asked them what they wanted in their next car, and most of them wanted longer oil change intervals. Without changing oil viscosities or oil passage design in any significant way, Toyota bumped the oil change to every 10k miles. Of course nobody ever went past the 10k oil change interval right?

        The same engine with modern synthetic oil at reasonable intervals won’t suffer from sludging the way that it did on old dino oil getting the oil changed every other year.

  • avatar
    djsyndrome

    My mother-in-law has two Camrys, a 95 with 320k and an ’11 with around 100k. The ’11 has been completely trouble free; the ’95 has only required brakes, a few starters and batteries and an alternator – essentially wear items on a 22 year old car.

    These are truly the cockroaches of the automotive world, and will be around long after their drivers have disappeared.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Something has to replace the 90’s era Pontiac and Oldsmobile with the 3800 that are still running, barely, for the 8th owner. From a BHPH owners perspective the Camry has to be a boon. For the most part PW regulators last AND the drivetrain lasts as well so the weekly payments keep rolling in like clockwork.

  • avatar
    countymountie

    These cars are perfect appliances. My brother, who knows nothing about cars and doesn’t care to know, also has a 2004 Camry V6. It has something like 150k on it and runs like a top. Suits his needs perfectly and after rolling 2 upside down car loans into it, is getting his money’s worth.

    I drove it on a couple of long trips and hated the thing. The seats felt like they were tipping me out of them and the brakes just didn’t “feel” right to me. The cruise control didn’t operate very smoothly but as transportation, it did its job without complaint or issue. Personally, give me a car with personality, good or bad. But if anyone asks my advice about what kind of car to buy, I suggest a Camry since I know they are generally looking for reliability and little else.

  • avatar
    sutherland555

    Credit given where credit is due. Cheap to own and super reliable. Great highway cruiser too I would imagine. This is the one of the cars the Toyota reputation is built on.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    My boss, after several bad GM experiences, drives nothing but Camrys (Camries?). After the miles and years get racked up, he passes them on to other members of the family.

    I should really like these cars – especially with the potent 3.5L V6 engines – but the Camry just leaves me cold. Maybe it’s just how common they are, and I know I would hate myself for being absorbed in the borg of Camry ownership.

    *pats his troublesome MINI on the hood*

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    The Camry in a lot respects drives me nuts. Not a car that I want. But….

    How many of us have been around someone who has asked about ‘What car should I get?” and then the person proceeds to rattle off their long list of demands, not needs mind you, rounding out the list with some completely unrealistic price point because they have don’t have any money.

    A used rental rocket Camry, in my opinion, represents the best hands down purchase for any person or family that is working with a limited budget. Handle the payment for 5 years, and you should be able to get ANOTHER 10 years of payment free driving with little to no headache. Yes, you will have to buy a tie rod end every now and then. Big deal.

    The answer to what should I buy, almost always, is a used Camry. Unless, a Miata/MX-5 will work instead!

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      It might just be me, but I cannot countenance keeping a car as a daily driver for a decade. Road salt aside, I do not believe that having a member of my family stranded at the side of the road even once, demonstrates good life choices.

      This week we are contemplating trading the ’05 Buick with the 3800 and only 140,000kms because it would cost nearly $2k in insurance to keep it when we pick up our new vehicle.

      Despite 4 tires less than a year old, a recent catalytic converter and ECM replacement and new fuel line (salt?), we will be lucky to get $500 as a trade in. And I do not have the temperament to advertise privately.

      Our other vehicles have less mileage but are newer and both have been regularly Krowned and I know their maintenance history.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        Salt is the Unknown quantity Arthur Dailey. I live in a place that does not salt.
        My neighbors Subaru Tribeca (Yes, I know) has close to 200k on the odo and looks quite good. No rust, all the metal is straight. A Camry should have zero issue going a minimum of 200k with the correct maintenance.

        As for being stranded, knock on wood, I have been able to avoid that with my 60 year old chevy, let alone my 08′ chevy. With the advent of the cell phone, if you are stranded due to break down, you really are not ‘stranded’ in the helpless sense. Just temporarily waiting for someone to come fetch you.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          My 22-year-old, 191k mi Acura Legend has never seen salt, so it doesn’t have a speck of rust on it. But most of them are long gone from salty places.

          Any car lasting as long as the subject of this post in a salty place is most impressive.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          A life-long high miler, I’ve only been on the side of the road twice in over 700K miles of driving, and 2/3 of that was in old cars. I found that simply replacing all the hoses and belts every six years, plus a few other bits will keep you off the side of the road due to overheating. Its a comfort level thing I guess.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        Considering the fact that this is a Canadian car, 547,200 kms (347,000 miles) is impressive. (A Canadian car outside of the Vancouver/lower Mainland or Victoria/Vancouver Island).

        • 0 avatar
          Eddy Currents

          That generation of Camry is extremely good at resisting salt.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Eddy, I’d give it a “good” rather than “extremely good.” They ultimately will start to “bloom” near the rear quarter panels, on the trunklid near the chrome trim above the license plate, and near the door handles and along the bottoms of doors. Now, here in Central Indiana I can’t say I’ve seen a single rusty 02-06 Camry, but certainly in snow/salt heavy places like Cleveland you can find some rotten Camrys of this generation.

  • avatar
    ajla

    This would be more exciting if they bought a Lexus LS or GS instead.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    I am currently driving one of these. It is a 2003 V6 LE Its my commuter car. It has over 161K on ODO. It does 140 miles a day. Never complains. The V6 is sweet. It’s not a horrible handling car. It is comfortable. It has a 6 speaker stereo system that is pretty good. Big Trunk. And I have actually gotten 32 miles per gallon on a whole tank of gas with the thing. This was verified by me at the pump! It is not an estimate. (It averages around 27 MPG if you drive it with a light foot in “clean air.” 23 in heavy traffic) Yes, I derided this car when I was in my twenties but now I am a middle aged guy who just bought a house with a forever commute. The wife doesn’t want to pile on more debt. So I needed something cheap and reliable..and that is almost nonexistent these days.

  • avatar
    walleyeman57

    Our 2004 sienna has 417,000 miles and I believe the same power train as your in laws Camry. This is the original drive train and I have changed the oil every 5000 or 12,000 miles and done a few drain and fills for the tranny. 3rd set of struts and 3rd radiator. I took it from MI to the Rockies last month no problems. We bought it with 60k miles. The wife’s car for a few years now. She hated it when I passed it down to her but we have 5 grandkids now with 2more due this year so she loves having the room for everyone. It is an appliance from a to b without complaint. If you like to trade cars in because they are worn out or nickle and dime you- don’t buy a Toyota. I suggested maybe we should upgrade to something newer and she said when it dies we can. We might be stuck with her for a while-the van that is.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I’m stunned on one point – are you saying the transmission has never been serviced, or had its fluid changed?

    I change mine ever 25k, with good results, but I can’t imagine *never* changing it. Seems unwise, and I would use this car as the exception rather than the rule.

    On the other hand, this Camry has averaged around 27k miles annually, which means the transmission probably doesn’t shift much since it’s usually in high gear.

    But hey – good for them!

  • avatar
    threeer

    Reminds me of my son’s 1997 Tercel. It has well over 250k on it now. Original engine/clutch/trans. Other than normal wear and tear items, it has needed zero repairs. Is it fast and sexy? Not even remotely. And this has provided a fair amount of good-natured ribbing from his colleagues, as he is an AF Pilot and most of his pilot-buddies are all cruising around in Mustangs, Camaros or Corvettes. Meanwhile, he pulls in every morning with his trusty two-door breadbox-white Tercel, and makes zero apologies for it. While he finally broke down and bought a (used) F-150 for longer drives and his weekend outdoor activities, he steadfastly refuses to part with the little ‘Yota. The (soon to be) Captain is certainly, um, thrifty.

    • 0 avatar
      sutherland555

      Congrats to your son on his promotion. What plane(s) does he fly if you don’t mind? It’s cool if you do, no worries.

      Anyways, he must get his kicks flying. Driving a car, almost regardless of what type, must be a bit of a letdown after flying.

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        C-17 Globemaster. He was gunning for a slot as a fighter, but was assigned the C-17 and has come to dearly love the “Moose.” Having been a passenger on more than my fair share, I can’t speak highly enough of the airframe, and the fact that my kid pilots one is beyond any wish I had for him growing up.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          One of my mentors had previously served as a C-5 pilot. He, too, wanted to fly fighters at first but then came to love the big lumbering beast. Congrats to your son.

        • 0 avatar
          sutherland555

          That’s awesome. No one should ever underestimate the value of the C-17. That plane is forms the backbone of the US military. It’s arguably the USAF’s most important non-combat asset. Good on your son.

  • avatar
    4drSedan

    While driving back to Ottawa from Buffalo one cold winter night in my ’98 Accord (185,000 miles) I realized that in the event of a catastrophic break-down I could very well be in a survival situation, and I am a healthy forty-something male who likely stands a decent chance of trekking to civilization if needed.

    Don’t wish to be a keyboard quarterback but is that car best relegated to local duty?

  • avatar
    mikey

    Don’t know much about Hondas. But i know that route from Ottawa ,real well. While its tempting to drive HWY 7, and cut across 407 to avoid Toronto . Not a good plan in the cold months. Always 417 to 401 to QEW. That way if you do break down, help is readily available .

    • 0 avatar
      boozysmurf

      I prefer the 417–>7–>35–>401 route if I must Toronto (or, in my case these days, Burlington to see my brother. I’ve never had any issues seeing people – there’s houses all along 7 and where there aren’t houses, there’s food/gas plentiful.

      And I get better mileage doing 90 in an 80, rather than 115 in a 100. And you shave off a good few km’s, too.

      But, each to their comfort zone.

      WHat I would avoid in the winter is Ottawa–>Renfrew–>Bancroft–>Gravenhurst. There’s just NOTHING out there. It’d be a long time before anyone found you at night, in winter.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Eh, it still hasnt quite topped this one:
    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/town-car-comes-to-a-halt-at-490789-miles/

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Ryoku I think this segment is more interesting than just pulling random high mileage cars from the news. It’s an actual specimen owned by family that an editor has direct access to.

      If it was just numbers, there’s plenty that will shame that 490k mile Panther:

      http://www.cars.com/articles/2011/10/1990-honda-accord-owner-crosses-1-million-miles-gets-new-accord-for-persistence/

      truckyeah.jalopnik.com/heres-what-a-toyota-truck-looks-like-after-1-000-000-mi-1776141464

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I still can’t do it. I’ve been averaging 1 car every 2 years since 2002, so this thing’s ace in the hole is meaningless to me. That said, the V6 version of the one that followed is intriguing. I almost bought one, but to get it where I wanted it to be dynamically- Highlander brakes, coilovers, better tires- it just didn’t make sense. I got something else.

  • avatar
    RobbieAZ

    I would never want to own a car long enough to put anywhere near 347,000 miles on it. That just seems incredibly boring, no matter what kind of car it is.

  • avatar
    KrohmDohm

    I am closing in on my 2nd year of Camry ownership. Those are words I honestly thought I would never speak or write. I was converted when we received one as a rental after a car crash. After 2 weeks of my regular driving I was converted and got one of my own. I am fully convinced that dollar for dollar there isn’t a better car made. I only have the I4 version(I know, I know) but this car is comfortable on the road, has every feature I want but don’t need, is well built, safe and the price was fair. The XSE version makes taking on and off ramps at speed a little fun but nothing to set your hair on fire.
    I equate the Camry to a Golden Retriever. Loyal, steadfast and the obvious choice for a family pet. Are there more interesting options? Yes. But the Golden Retriever generally won’t chew your couch to shreds while you’re at work either. He will love you till the day he dies and do all the other dog stuff well enough. What else can you really ask for?

  • avatar
    Thorshammer_gp

    Better than all the rest?

    Dammit, now you’ve got Tina Turner playing in my head on loop…

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    I love the thought of high mileage vehicles that keep keepin on.. One thing that seems to be a constant (be it domestic or foreign) is the frequency with which the vehicles are used. This one, with 347k over 13 years indicates a higher than average annual mileage of 28-ish K. I think that helps. A friend who owned a limo business years ago, used to run 90s era Lincolns well into the 300s with reg maintenance.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      They do 400-500 in most fleet service.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I agree that well-made cars really like constant use. Sometimes I wonder whether I would have more or fewer problems if I put 20k mi/year on my LS460 instead of the ~4k/year (the vast majority of that on long trips) it’s averaged since I got it.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “the frequency with which the vehicles are used. ”

      I have a 1989 Camry V6 as my daily driver, and it still runs great!

      It’s been a daily driver for ‘someone’ since it was bought in 1989.

  • avatar
    arcuri

    Just passed 340,000 miles on my 2000 Protege. Tie rods need to be replaced. Radiator sprung a leak at 260,000.
    Pass side Caliper, Cam position sensor, drivers door window regulator, and an alternator. That’s it !
    It’s been in humid S Florida it’s whole life. Every winter I take her to Central Ny state. For a week. She averages aprox 28 mpg highway. She’ll do 115 mph. It takes a while.

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