By on June 24, 2019

1988 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon in Colorado wrecking yard, RH view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The Toyota Tercel 4WD Station Wagon, known in its homeland as the Sprinter Carib, sold very well in Colorado, where I live, and tended to be both reliable and well-loved by owners. I still see them in wrecking yards here, so many that I don’t photograph any but the most interesting. This one in a Denver yard had an impressive-even-by-Toyota-standards odometer reading, so it made the cut for a Junkyard Find.

1988 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon in Colorado wrecking yard, speedometer - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

I’m skeptical of the ’82 Volkswagen Rabbit showing 930,013 miles on the clock, because those Malaise Era VW odometers were known for flakiness — though I have no problem believing that, say, a Mercedes-Benz W201 attained 601,173 miles, or even that an ’86 Olds Cutlass Calais got to 363,033 miles. I see so many junkyard 1980s and 1990s Toyotas with better than 300,000 miles that I’m sure the odometers are just fine; these days, I need to see at least 400k to be impressed by a discarded Toyota.

1988 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon in Colorado wrecking yard, front seats - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Extremely high-mile cars tend to be well-cared-for, for obvious reasons, and you won’t find many beaten-half-to-death hoopties past the 300k mark. They tend to get junked when they get traded in, or when the rust gets really bad, or when they crash. The front seats in this car are so nice, though, that I suspect they got replaced or recovered in the not-very-distant past.

1988 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon in Colorado wrecking yard, rust - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This one doesn’t show catastrophic rust, by 1980s Japanese-car standards, but the corrosion knocked its resale value down to near zilch.

1988 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon in Colorado wrecking yard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

I’ve owned (and loved) several of these cars, both FWD and 4WD versions, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that they’re slow. Real slow. The Tercel’s carbureted 3A engine (cousin to the 4AGEs of AE86 Corolla and MR2 fame) was rated at 62 horsepower. You had to work hard to kill one of these cars, though.

1988 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon in Colorado wrecking yard, build tag - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The Corolla All-Trac wagon replaced the Tercel 4WD wagon in 1988, so I assumed that there was no such thing as a US-market 1988 Sprinter Carib. It turns out that Toyota sold a few of these cars for the 1988 model year, as proven by this build tag. If you want to come up with a real stumper of a car-trivia question, ask your victims to name two MY1988 US-market Toyotas that had factory-installed carburetors (Answer: this car and the base Toyota Truck, aka Hilux).

1988 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon in Colorado wrecking yard, 4WD selector lever - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

American car buyers never did get comfortable with the idea of manual switching between FWD and 4WD, which is why the true all-wheel-drive system on the All-Trac Toyotas sold so much better over here (and why Subaru slaughtered the competition for AWD car sales during the 1990s). If you left your Tercel 4WD wagon in the 4WD setting on dry pavement for long enough, you’d wear out the tires at the very least, and maybe bust some mechanical components if you kept it that way. Who’s got time to choose drive mode these days?

1988 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon in Colorado wrecking yard, radio - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This one has the nicest factory radio I’ve ever seen in a Tercel.

As always, the Japanese-market TV commercials entertain much better than their American-market counterparts. HAPPY CHOICE!

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30 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon with 413,344 miles...”

  • avatar

    Too bad about the rust, these are interesting and when I see them in Southern California junkyards rust and dent free I always wonder why….


    • 0 avatar

      Zero to sixty in 25.4 seconds gets old after awhile. In So. Cal., merging with freeway traffic requires an extended ride in the breakdown lane. Might as well be driving a ’52 flathead Plymouth. the rust doesn’t look too bad, not enough to take it off the road – yet. Maybe it was good for another 60k-80k?

      These are the wagons replaced by SUVs in the 1990s. All they really need to do was put a stronger engine in them – they’re more space-efficient than the SUVs and you could see traffic better. That would have been compromized by crsh- and roof strength standards, though.

      • 0 avatar

        I live in the L.A. Metro area and drive at least 1,000 miles every 7 days, often in my 4 cylinder, 2.4 Liter Mercedes Diesel sedan so I know all about merging into freeway traffic, it’s not terrible if you pay attention and know how to drive .

        I prefer a faster car but it’s not dangerous like many here pretend, not everyone needs nor can afford a race car .


  • avatar

    A Tercel with 413k? I’m not *that* surprised, but it’s still pretty amazing. And it’s got the ATM on the back. Looks like a non-a/c car, but I guess that makes sense, seeing how it’s from Denver (Aurora).

    • 0 avatar

      Lack of A/C isn’t really a Denver thing – it’s a mid-’80s thing.

      People told me for years that “you don’t need A/C in Denver.” Then I moved into a house that didn’t have it. Could I live without it? Yes. Would I live somewhere without it again? Hell, no.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, that was the attitude in most of the snow belt, but not just in the 1980s. My uncle owned a Ford dealership in Mass. in the late 1960s and cringed when Ford shipped cars with AC – they weren’t wanted in the northeast. Just open the vents, roll down the windows and sweat a little.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    “…these days, I need to see at least 400k to be impressed by a discarded Toyota.”

    My son’s ’92 Camry (purchased from my father-in-law) has 367k and is still going strong. I intend to buy it from him when he’s ready to move on, if only to see if I can get it over that magic 500k mark.
    And yeah, that stereo is pretty cool. I love the “Tape Operation” display.

  • avatar

    The brown interior looks like the same color as in the ’92 NUMMI-built Corolla sedan (base model) that my wife was driving when we met. I still miss that car.

  • avatar

    That mileage is amazing, I don’t remember Tercels being all that great

    • 0 avatar

      Mechanically they were pretty great, but anywhere that road salt was a thing they didn’t last long enough for you to find out. Lousy rust protection AND the sheet metal was paper thin.

      A friend of mine in high school’s Dad had one of these, and despite the epic lack of thrust, my friend managed to get up enough speed to lose it on a curve and roll it into some trees. He got out with bumps and bruises thankfully. But totaled the Tercel. It was replaced with one of those weird AWD Dodge Colt Vistas that looked like a hotdog. Which also rusted out in pretty short order.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Yes, this car is clearly an outlier. I wouldn’t present it as being typical of Tercel longevity.

      Although, as MRF 95 T-Bird points out below, having only 62 HP would help prolong its life in the wild. You don’t see many Mustang GTs with 400k on the clock, for instance.

      • 0 avatar

        This may be an outlier, but 200K was the norm for these when 200K was an outlier number for competitors from the Detroit brands. 4WD Tercels were loved enough by their owners that they survived quite a while after most of their FWD siblings did. By 2000, you’d have thought they were the best selling 2nd generation Tercels.

        My grandparents first Japanese cars were Tercels. They lived in Williamstown Massachusetts, where rust turned cars into winter beaters in four years. They had their Tercels treated by Rusty Jones, which I believe involved annual spraying of rust coating. They had each of their two Tercels for about five or six years, which was longer than they had their 1970 Nova, 1974 Duster, and 1979 Omni before them. They bailed on the first two because of rust-through, and the Omni because they knew it was having more problems than their neighbors’ Toyotas. After two Tercels they bought a Corolla, and they still had it with no visible evidence of rust when they stopped driving almost ten years later. I don’t know about the underside, but I do know that you could see Chevrolet and Mopar rust without putting the cars on a lift.

  • avatar

    The rust monster got all of these in my hometown by the early 2000s (along with early Wagovans and Loyales), they were the perfect conveyance for the hilly city/rural driving there. One of these would be a great farm-hauler for my parents, their ’07 Fit struggles on their grassy sloped drive in the wet.

  • avatar

    A brown wagon with a stick shift? So the legend is true!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    These were quite popular where I grew up north of NYC. For Toyota fans who grew on the brand in the 70’s but didn’t want to go for or didn’t trust a Subaru.
    With 62 horsepower maybe that’s why it lasted so long it’s the low revs.

  • avatar

    meh … I’ve got a 2000 Toy Tundra with 400+ on the clock … daily driver … no rust. Best vehicle I have ever owned! Not surprised at any Toyota out there with 100’s of miles on them.

  • avatar

    It was the Subaru Forester of its time.

  • avatar

    Needs more vacuum hoses. That’s not nearly enough.

  • avatar

    Yep, the last Toyotas with carburetors had ten cephalopods of hoses on the engine. Originally they had numbers printed on the hose every few centimeters. When the numbers rubbed off you had to rely on a diagram sticker in the engine bay. If someone had pulled off some hoses or changed parts without paying attention, it could take near forever to get the hoses back where they belonged.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    We used to go skiing at Lake Louise in one of these, when we stayed at a friend’s place in Banff. If one guy opened his front window to smoke while on the highway, the other front window had to be opened when he was done, so that they could be closed – violently – together. Five dudes with backpacks and boots fit in this thing, easily. Skis were up top.

  • avatar

    Remember, gentleman; Simple = Far greater likelihood of reliability/longevity, all things being equal.

    Compare this to the 1.5 liter turbo and 2.0 liter turbo engines HONDA is using new CR-Vs, Accords and Civics, which are frequently now showing 5% to 20% (yes, you read that correctly) fuel contamination in the engine oil within as few as 3000 miles – anything over 1% is considered problematic, over 1.5% is a oh sh!t problem – so 5% to 20% based on oil analysis, and quickly rising oil levels (that would be the fuel blowing by the piston rings unburnt and heading directly into the oil) as noticed by proud new Honda owners – is nothing short of catastrophic (and it’s a design defect, not manufacturing one, so good luck to Honda in actually, you know, fixing the problem for real).

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      Go buy one. Let us hear you share your specific experience about this catastrophic defect after spending your hard earned dollars. I would be interested.

      We have had one engine with this problem in our service department. They calibrate the psi of the direct injection with an update. Problem solved.

  • avatar

    Can anyone tell me where this car is?! I need a couple parts off of it.

  • avatar

    My friend’s mom had one of these. Metallic baby blue with silver steelies (I always wanted to rattle-can them to white). Very cool looking: I love the low beltline, high roof, acres-of-glass feeling, like a BMW 2002 or a Civic Wagovan, and the asymmetric tailgate. And a roof that bumps UP at the rear for MORE cargo room and/or headroom seems like an unimaginable luxury today, when even SUVs are adopting brain-dead fastback styling.

    But any Tercel was slow, and ones like hers with the 3-speed automatic were crap-your-tweeds slow. Like 1200 cc VW Beetle slow. Considering the the typical buyer probably was probably a hippie mom trading an old VW Beetle for one, maybe that was acceptable to them. Hers did return 40 MPG (front wheel drive version) though, which was a godsend on her single-hippie-mom budget.

  • avatar

    Man, I’d love to have that radio. AM stereo radios are as rare as hen’s teeth now.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    For the past few months, I have seen the same green Tercel everyday in traffic during my commute. In the City of Toronto where it seems the staff get a bonus based on how much extra salt they use.

    And yes I had the Honda ‘Wagovan’ (Realtime AWD Civic Wagon). Cross shopped it with the Toyota, Colt and Nissan comparable wagons of the time. And for some reason with an Isuzu Trooper, which probably would have been the ‘correct’ buy.

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