1989 Toyota Tercel DX 2-Door Hatch 1.5 from North America


The hottest car you'll ever buy


Required wheel bearings when upon purchase, around $400-500 with labor.

Air filter (had to buy off of ebay), $8.

At purchase, the exhaust and muffler were too rusty, a good $300 in the hole.

Drained a good battery due to previous owner's cheap wiring job.

One tire was bald.

Headlight knob fell off in my hand.

Temperature adjuster fell off in my hand.

Drivers door wouldn't open, fixed with some DIY and a dealer purchased part, only $6.

Smelled like gas at random moments.

Aftermarket radio quit working (installed by previous owner).

Brakes were going out.

Re-built transmission wouldn't downshift, or it would shift hard at times.

Paint was chipped very badly on the front hood, rust was showing up around the wheels and the back hatch.

A/C was disconnected, a very bad move by the previous owner.

General Comments:

It had a weber carb installed by the previous owner, this made the car more responsive but hard to drive at low speeds. The air filters for it were around $60 at auto parts stores.

Took bumps pretty well and rode well, despite the small size.

Decent gas mileage in the mid-30's.

Nimble handling with a small turning radius.

Neat 1980's Japanese interior and exterior styling, before jellybeans took everything over.

Good, solid build quality, if not cheap parts in a few areas.

Not much room unsurprisingly.

Black interior sucked up heat; simply touching anything would burn my hand like a fresh pizza. Opening the windows didn't help.

The transmission gearing is a joke, the first two gears are way too short for anything outside of city driving.

The car featured neat window vents in the back to let the interior air out, however they had no noticeable effect until you were travelling at high speeds.

A decent city car when it was new, but age and bad decisions screwed it up.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 3rd September, 2012

1989 Toyota Tercel Standard Coupe 1.5L carbureted I-4 from North America


Get the stick


This review is for two separate vehicles that had the same exact issues. Both vehicles were purchased for less than $300 and were expected not to run for very long, but they did.

Maroon Tercel ($175) had a bullet through the radiator and low compression when I bought it.

Replaced radiator at 145000 miles upon arriving home.

Replaced thermostat and radiator hoses at 148000 miles when overheating condition got worse.

Continued to add water several times daily while driving 100-200 miles per day for a courier delivery service.

Sold vehicle at 151000 miles to a guy who used the transmission in another Tercel whose engine he had already rebuilt twice by that point.

Silver Tercel ($300) was missing passenger side window and had low compression when I bought it.

Replaced window immediately at 150000 miles.

Replaced timing belt at 150500 miles.

Replaced carburetor with another used one at 152000 miles.

Replaced and rerouted every vacuum hose under the hood shortly thereafter (maybe 152300 miles).

Had extreme difficulty starting and keeping running during this vehicle's whole ownership period.

Engine finally refused to start at 156000 miles and I had to walk 22 miles home from work. Vehicle abandoned.

General Comments:

I think the Tercel was a great design and the car was very comfortable to drive for a small car. I'm 5'10" and the car couldn't be a more perfect fit. The trunk is very small, but it held what I needed it to.

The biggest problem I had with these two little cars is the low compression in the engine. From all the hype I've heard about Toyota products, I expected to get a lot more than I did out of these cars. But for what I paid, I think I did VERY well.

I would recommend buying a manual transmission model because the automatic transmission robs a lot of the very limited power available. If I remember correctly, these cars have about 70hp to begin with and the automatic transmission loses a lot of that. In fact, I think the cars with automatic transmissions are more likely to wear out the engine like these two I had, because you have to drive it that much harder to keep up with traffic.

In comparison, the 1989 Nissan Sentra I had in between these two Tercels was a 5-speed and a $700 car and was WAY better. Had I purchased a 5-speed Tercel I'd probably be glowing about it instead of moping about these two I had.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 12th November, 2006

14th Nov 2006, 22:19

That's usually the way it works, a 700 dollar car is better than 2 cars for 300.

14th Nov 2009, 19:48

I paid 500 for a 89 Tercel I found sitting in a field with best offer on windshield. 98K on car after a while of fixing this and that including struts, I drove it for over 2 yrs. The car now has 254k on it. Engine is out replacing head due to crack in valve port. Toughest little car I have owned. Even drove it 70 miles with a missing spark plug that blew out due to stripped hole. Will keep the car till it falls apart...

15th Nov 2009, 13:55

I agree with the OP. A four-cylinder car is always better with a manual transmission.

No argument possible. Laws of physics never change.

12th Dec 2009, 13:47

I bought the Tercel automatic 1.5 with 146,000 miles for 500 dollars in Long Beach. It could hardly run 40 miles an hour. I put in some STP Oil treatment in it and I put on another to 30,000 miles on it driving at 75 miles an hour for 12 hours! 5 day a week, working for a courier co. Engine died due to water pump breaking. New used engine, fully installed with water pump and new radiator, $950.00.

Great value, 24 to 30 miles per gallon. Burns oil. 1 quart per 100 miles.