Junkyard Find: 1988 Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon With 413,344 Miles

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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.
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.
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.
This one doesn’t show catastrophic rust, by 1980s Japanese-car standards, but the corrosion knocked its resale value down to near zilch.
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.
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).
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?
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!If you like these junkyard posts, you can reach all 1,650+ right here at the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand!
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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  • CrackedLCD CrackedLCD on Jun 30, 2019

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

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Dec 06, 2021

    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.

  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...
  • CEastwood From zero there is nowhere to go but up . BYD isn't sold in the U.S. and most Teslas are ugly azz 90s looking plain jane drone mobiles . I've only seen one Rivian on the road and it 's not looking good for them . I live out in the sticks of NW NJ and EVs just aren't practical here , but the local drag strip thrives in the warmer months with most cars making the trip from New York .
  • Lorenzo Aw, that's just the base price. Toyota dealers aren't in the same class as BMW/Porsche upsellers, and the Toyota base is more complete, but nobody will be driving that model off the lot at that price.
  • Mike The cost if our busing program is 6.2 million for our average size district in NJ. It was 3.5 last year.