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How many miles is too many for a Toyota?

Kamil Kaluski February 21, 2012 For Sale 27 Comments
As carguys and hoons we are often called into action when someone is in need of a car or a car repair. And then once that drama is over with we are quickly forgotten, but that is all good. We get to go on a “car hunt”; selecting the right vehicle, searching for it, offering suggestions, and some times killing our own weekends in order to go look at a car which we have zero interest in. This is what we do it and we love it, that’s our nature. 
Currently, my father-in-law is looking at a Toyota Solara convertible. Before you throw stones at me, you need to understand my father-in-law. In addition to his ’05 Highlander, which he bought three years ago after my recommendation and inspection, he wants a practical four-passenger convertible which can be driven year-round in the northeast.  He is not a car guy, does not speed, gets into accidents, and likes to get the most for his money. Therefore, in my opinion, the ’04-’08 Solara convertible is the perfect car for him, especially given his success with the Highlander. 
The Solara convertible seems to be keeping its value quite well. I have looked at a few and the one he likes is a ’05 with 125,000 miles on it. I think he likes it because it is the cheapest at $9000. I drove it; clean, one owner, no accidents, no repaints. The interior trim a little loose and the chassis isn’t exactly a Boxster S, but it seems good at first glance. Timing belt hasn’t been changed so that’s job one.

I told him to bring to mechanic to put on the lift, check for leaks, rust and suspension wear. He wants to get five years and 60,000 miles out of it. Other than rust (New England), what would prevent his from going the distance? The top works fine, A/C is cold, all windows work, no leaks, radio works, transmission shifts fine, equal wear on tires and, importantly, one owner car. Would you let your father, who knows little about cars, buy and drive that?

  • This is an ideal convertible for an older, non-car person. That description fits everyone I know who has one.

    120K is not too much, given what he wants to get out of it. However, the owner's failure to replace the timing belt at what I assume is about a 90K mile service interval concerns me. What other maintenance has been deferred? Are the service records availalbe?

    • Yes… the t-belt is the only thing they seemed to have dropped the ball on, oddly the most important thing.

      • Stu_Rock

        I almost always tell people to get the biggest engine available, but for these cars I recommend the 4 cyl. It's a hardier engine (chain-driven, and the sludge issues of its predecessor were resolved) and it has adequate power for cars this size.

      • PotbellyJoe

        The Toyota V6 is a non-interference engine. Not a devastating issue if it goes. Still wouldn't recommend experiencing it.

  • I learned my lesson the hard way with my father-in-law. He was looking to replace his Q45 and I gave him a long list of used sporty full-sized sedans to choose from. I remember specifically telling him not to get an ML SUV for a number of reasons. We visited him three months later and guess what he bought?

    I know Toyotas are reliable but between 125k and 185k, at least one semi-major repair is probably going to be required.

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      My dad has two MLs right now, loves them. He just paid $1800 in service for one and his 4-matic sedan though. I recommended against them as well, said the Volvo SUV would be better, but he has a thing for Daimler, what can you do? The older one is well north of 200K miles though at this point. Rattle can spray over rust repairs, ugly, but still going.

  • CJinSD

    Pretty much any 4 seat convertible is going to lose its starch in 185,000 miles, which is his mileage goal for this one. Some of them will have lost it in 40,000 miles, or never had it in the first place. I don't think that's a problem for the Solara, and you said this one doesn't rattle with 125,000 miles, which must have owners of Sebrings and 3-series convertibles green with envy. Still, that's a lot of miles for a 4-seat convertibles structure on any roads but Floridas. Mechanically, 185,000 miles isn't a problem for a Toyota.

  • erikgrad

    My wife's 2003 Echo has 162K Michigan miles on it. It has had new oil and air filter changes, 2 sets of front brakes, 2 sets of tires, and front bearings done once. That's it.

    That price for the ugly beast that is the Solara seems high… but I would not have doubts about it speeding down the road for many miles to come.

    Braking, of course…entirely different issue.

  • It will probably need a top within 5 years. Tops on a convertible are almost considered a wear item. My father recently bought his "old man's convertible", he got a 2003 (or so) Saab 9-3. The Saab offers no where near the reliability of the Toyota, but the thick insulated top might be better for year round use in the northeast. Nice ones can be had for a couple of grand less than the asking price of the Solra which leaves some cash for repairs. Also, the 100k+ time is when the squeaks and rattles start showing up.

    Does the Solra have an insulated top? I would consider that a must for year round use up north.

    • Maybe the cabin size makes a difference, but once the heater core is up to temperature my Miata is toasty even when is ten degrees out.

    • jeepjeff

      I was Ok in my Jeep last winter (in Truckee, CA), but that's only because it had a really burly heater. So, if it doesn't have an insulated top, you'll need a good heater. Also, I'm young and stupid and quite happy to put up with a freezing cold car for the first five minutes of a trip (heck, I drove over Donner Pass with the top down in March last year, just for full disclosure). If he's got a heated garage, the insulated top will work much better.

      And tops are definitely wear items. I'm going to need to replace mine this year (it's getting close to being more vinyl patches than top).

    • I don't know if insulated… seemed thick and lined on the inside, also rear glass.

      • Lined is probably a better term than insulated. Rear glass is a plus, probably standard on these.

      • jeepjeff

        That sounds like what we mean. Also, glass is much better than vinyl. I can barely see out of my rear window at this point. Vinyl scratches easily and it tends to get brittle below 50°F, so it's much easier to crack in winter.

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    I actually recommended this vehicle, not the exact one, of course, to a good friend of my wife who has an '01, IIRC, Sebring 'vert.

    She has had convertibles for at least the last 15 years, and she moved to Florida to enjoy the beach 'lifestyle'.

    I'd say it's a good match for your father-in-law.

  • PotbellyJoe

    As a guy who sold Toyotas and has a wife that did all of the warranty claims for them…

    The 04-06 Solaras were stout for longevity, provided the oil was changed consistently. The 3.3L was notorious for the sludging issue in Toyotas. Other than that the cars ran smooth.

    My parents have a 'Lunar Mist' 2006 Convertible and daily drive it in NJ. They love it.

    One TSB that is out there tightens up the shifting for the automatic. Made a wold of difference in how the car drove. Not that it suddenly firmed up the float, but the shifts were at least a noticeable amount quicker.

    One big bonus was the Convertible actually had more headroom than the coupe, due to the roof shape.

    It is a wonderful golf-day car as it comfortably fits the foursome and the trunk (packed correctly with carry bags) can hold 4 regular sized golf bags.

    125k wouldn't scare me. The same, or worse, damage can be done by 50k. Provided everything checks out.

  • stickmanonymous

    If he's not really interested in cars and he gets into accidents, the Solara is a very suitable car for him. He's helping to rid us of them.

  • Froggmann_

    Doesn't seem too bad to me. As long as the suspension checks out the motor/tranny should be fine. When changing out that timing belt be sure to get the ASIN TKT006 kit for it. It comes with everything you will need including the water pump. While you have everything apart you may as well go ahead and clean the IAC valve and do the plugs.

  • Timing belt/chain? is a minor thing. I wouldn't bat an eye at driving this into the ground, but push them a bit on price. You have consumables to help with this, top, timing, tires, struts, etc. Don't be afraid to look at other examples.

    I suggest Toyotas to anyone, especially if I know how they take care of their cars.

  • Jim-Bob

    If it is well maintained then I see no problem with it. Just make sure to check it thoroughly and bring all the maintenance up to spec. Have the cam seals and front main seal replaced when you do the timing belt and water pump as they are cheap and easy to access when that is being done. Besides, they usually go out around 100k miles due to wear and will start to leak at that point, possibly damaging the timing belt. However, I would balk a bit at the price. I don't know what they typically go for in your market (or in any market) but it seems a bit steep to me given it's age and mileage.

    At the end of the day, miles do not concern me as much as overall condition and maintenance on a well designed car. Toyotas are boring but they are usually well designed. Just find out what minor flaws it may have and how people mitigate those problems. Some engines have sludge issues and carbon buildup issues and the people who run them successfully usually know how to keep them at bay. I know that in my Geo Metro there is typically a carbon buildup issue that crops up and most owners just use "Seafoam" on a regular basis to keep it to a minimum.

  • Wink Martindale

    My last 2 daily drivers have been toyota avalons, same power train. First one had 263K miles on, I bought it for $1800 from a guy I worked with when it had 180K miles, totaled by some guy in an SUV on the Beltway. Insurance settlement – $3600!!

    Current one has about 140K. The engine and tranny keep going and going, change the strut mounts if they clunk, change the oil, and enjoy the anonymous mediocrity of beige until the wheels fall off or the body rusts away to nothing!

  • FЯeeMan

    For all those balking at the price, it's a Toyota. Justified or not these days, people expect more out of they Honyota at resale, and other people are willing to give it because of the perceived value, longevity, and quality of the vehicles.

    Haven't priced a Solara, but I know that you've got to get 15+ years old in my neck of the woods to get a reasonably priced Camry, Corolla, Accord, or Civic but by then they're pretty beat.

  • marmer

    I've got 325,000 on a '93 Camry Wagon. Do the timing belt and the tranny and a few other things, and don't get hit. I'd be willing to bet that accidents are the leading cause of older Toyotas being taken out of service.

  • TFD

    My wife has a 2008 Solara rag top and she loves her car.

  • wunno sev

    225,000 isn't too much for mine :]

    Unless you count all that rust creeping up on the fenders.

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  • bill jenkins

    Just purchased a 2008 toyota solara conv, love it runs like a brand new car and jusy as nice
    Bill jenkins