1997 Toyota Tercel CE 1.5L


A great low-cost commuter


The belts (power steering and alternator) needed to be replaced at 115,000 miles.

An O2 sensor needed to be replaced at the same time as the belts, for a total cost of approx. $250.

Catalytic converter is going bad, but I chose not to replace it.

Developed a misfire at 125,000 miles, so the plugs and wires were replaced for approx. $150.

Shocks needed to be replaced at 112,000 miles.

The ride is not that great; it's similar to driving a go-kart at highway speeds.

The 2-door model (the one I have) has basically no back seat; the only people who could be comfortable back there would be double amputees.

The automatic transmission sometimes feels slow and lazy.

Starts to burn oil if you go more than 3000 miles between changes.

The lack of features on the CE model (i.e. power windows, cruise control, variable speed wipers, adequate heating/cooling) make the car feel cheap and overly simplified.

General Comments:

Let me start out by saying that this car was the best purchase I ever made. The list of faults may be long, but they are all actually minor problems. This car has been more reliable than both of my parents' brand new cars.

I bought it from a guy I knew in high school for $1000, because I knew I needed to travel a lot when I started college and my new job. I knew my '68 Chevy was not going to be able to swing about 350 miles a week. I found the Tercel in a neighbor's driveway a week after graduation with a nice price tag, and I bought it on the spot.

The Tercel is ideal for commuting; it gets around 30 MPG, which is not great, but it's a lot better than other cars. I'm sure it could do better if I gave it a tune up, but I never got around to it.

The Tercel is SLOW. The only way to accurately measure its 0-60 time is using a geologic time scale. It takes a long time to get up to speed on the interstate, and keeping it at 65-70mph can be somewhat of a challenge. In my year of ownership, I could only break 80 mph twice. It always felt like I was redlining at 70 mph, not cruising like you're supposed to. In physics class I calculated that with all of its 93 horsepower, it could not exceed 30 mph on an 18 degree hill (which I have to go up every day to school).

The ride is not great; it's pretty bumpy. The straight axle in the back contributes to the problem. The car is very small, so I feel every single pothole. Also, there is no traction control or ABS, so driving in inclement weather can be difficult.

The trunk is surprisingly spacious and the engine is easy to work on, making it easy to do-it-yourself. Parts are cheap, and so is labor if you bring it to a mechanic. Also, I believe that this engine (1.5L) is one of the only 1997-2003 Toyota engines that WASN'T prone to the oil gelling defect.

Without a doubt this is the most reliable car I've ever had, and the best $1000 I've ever spent. It got me through my first year of college, it's cheap to buy, own, insure, and maintain, and the rear spoiler attracts ALL of the ladies. It's a win-win situation. If you can find one, BUY IT because this car is one of the wisest investments you can make. I sold the Tercel about 1 year after purchase because I had enough money to buy a bigger car with a manual transmission and lower miles. I bought a Mitsubishi Lancer, which I hope I will also have good luck with.

The Tercel may not be well equipped, particularly good looking or fast, but it gets the job done and will never leave you stranded.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 15th June, 2013

1997 Toyota Tercel CE 2 door 1.5 DOHC


Reliable, fun to drive, 35 to 39 mpg at 86k!


Replaced alternator around 60k. Zero problems... none.

General Comments:

This 1997 Tercel replaced my 1993. The 1997 is a much better car. Power steering, factory air, twin cam engine, 5 speed, cloth interior, etc.

My 1993 was the entry level car; vinyl seats, 4 speed, single OHC. Great little car. Bought it new, drove it 35k.

Saw the 1997 body style and all the extra's: traded-in the 1993 and drove the new 1997 home that same day! I still own the 1997. Best car I have ever owned.

The dealer never saw it again after the 15k service. I do all my own maintenance, have a service log of every oil change, tune-up, etc. I replaced the timing belt at 53k, plus the other 2 drive belts, changed all fluids: trans. grease, anti-freeze, flushed the brake and clutch systems, new plugs, fuel and air filters.

By the way, the twin cam 1.5 uses shims to set the valves, they are not hyd. Also note: the 1993 engine has 3 valves per cylinder and they are adjustable! Two intake valves, one exhaust, with set screws and lock nuts. I have checked my valve clearance's five times over 86k, and they are always within factory spec. It's my opinion that many Tercel's have been abused and not cared for properly. Hey, people! The Tercel only holds 3 quarts of oil! There is zero room for neglect! I have always changed my oil and filter way more often than most people would, and at 86k plus there is no smoke, no leaks, and when I've had the valve cover off, it's very clean, zero sludge! No real secrets here: just use only Toyota Red Antifreeze and distilled water. Drain and fill every three years, four tops.

Bottom line for me: I rely on my Tercel, so I tune it once every year. I don't care what the miles are. A new, fresh fuel filter once a year is way cheaper than new injectors! Brake fluid absorbs water, which rusts the iron parts and pits the alum. ones. Brake fluid is cheap! I've gone through one set of front pads and 1 set of rear shoes. Re-packed the rear wheel bearings.

I'm not bragging here. I love my car. I treat it well and believe in preventive maintenance!! I will have owned it fourteen years this October 19th, 2010. And yes, my next car will be a Toyota!

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 6th October, 2010