1990 Toyota Tercel Hatchback 1.5 - 12 valves from North America


A trouble magnet


Radiator changed due to major rust.

Mechanical fuel pump changed due to a leak of oil.

Exhaust seal at front keeps blowing out and causes air filter to clog.

Front calipers stopped working after a year of storage.

Emergency brake cable snapped.

Water pump leaks prestone.

Oil pan gasket leaks oil.

Rear transmission support tore apart.

A 'LOT' of rust on fenders and under-body.

Carburetor is simply stupidly built and consumes a lot of fuel (275-300 Km a tank).

Many more things...

General Comments:

First I got this car from my aunt. It was in really bad shape and I spent my summer restoring it. Even though I keep having problems with this little piece of @$#@. Especially with the carburetor that can't be cleaned without a complete overhaul. That's right, you can't shoot some carburetor cleaner in this one because it will jam the variable venturi. This is the main problem with this car right now. Toyota made this car SO cheap, never you will see me buy one of theirs again.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No

Review Date: 22nd January, 2003

1990 Toyota Tercel DX 1.5 litre from North America


The driver's side door doesn't open from the outside.

The car bogs down when I go to take off.

It tends to want to run after I've turned the ignition off.

General Comments:

I love this car. Even though I have not had it that long, I know it will be a great car for me to get through college with.

It has "no" rust!

I's a great little economic car.

If anyone has tangled with the carbureters on these cars shoot me some info on the accelerator pump.


Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 19th January, 2003

15th May 2003, 14:44

Funny! I have a 90 tercel and the door won't open from the outside. I went into it and there is a plastic link that joins the lock and door handle to work together. Fix it, I did and I have 299K miles and runs like a spotted ape

I love it, but considering the new 2004 solora next year. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is about to bang out.

9th Jun 2003, 15:06

Funny, my 90 door does not open from the outside either. In good weather I just leave the drivers window open (who would steal it?) Funny thing is truly like this car. I drive it back and forth to work daily.

1st Dec 2003, 23:36

I just put in a new fuel pump today, and it is a very quick fix since it is under the hood unlike the FI engines, where they're in the gas tank. They run about $35-40, and you can probably find one at any auto parts store or easily order one. If you don't know how to put it in yourself, a mechanic would probly charge between $50-100. Later.

1990 Toyota Tercel DX 1.6 Gas from North America


A cheap reliable alternative


The valve seals wore out on me at about 125K and resulted in lots of smoke when the car was initially started.

I suspect this is my fault as I used a Nissan carburettor cleaner and did not start the engine to 'blow' it out immediately after. My mechanic says that the cleaner attacked the valve seals and resulted in this problem.

General Comments:

This is a good car and I use it as a daily driver. It's too small to hold the kids and I may have to get rid of it soon.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 25th November, 2002

1990 Toyota Tercel DX (2-door sedan) 1.5L from North America


Solid, economical car -- good, but not great


Factory tires were poor, didn't last 60K miles.

Factory battery didn't last 4 years.

Replaced exhaust pipe/muffler/tail pipe at least 6 times.

Replaced the radiator at 100K miles.

Replaced the alternator twice.

Replaced the carburetor at 118,000 miles at a cost of $800 plus $200+ labor.

Carbon buildup a problem unless high-test gas is used exclusively.

Heater takes forever to defrost and warm the car.

General Comments:

My wife bought this car in 1991 from a Toyota dealer (a trade-in) with 13,000 miles. I "inherited" the car when we met in 1995. This was my first experience with an import econo-box, as I had always driven a V8 domestic "sport coupe" or heavy-duty pickup previously.

The car is fairly economical, although in city/town driving, it doesn't even approach 30 MPG, let alone 40 MPG. I'd characterize the engine as a strong-runner, although at 1.5L, you don't get much pick-up from the 4-cylinder. Sure, you can run this car at 75 MPH down the interstate, but try to pass or go up hill and you'll be down-shifting through 4th to 3rd fairly quickly.

One thing to keep in mind is that the 4-cylinder works hard, so it must be maintained religiously. I change oil every 1500 miles, although the car doesn't take a drop of oil, even at 130K miles.

Watch your fluid levels as well, as this model and year tends to need periodic topping off in the radiator.

In general, keep good service records and check your belts on a regular basis. I have been baffled by the way this car goes through alternators, and can speak from experience that you're better off to go with re-manufactured rather than rebuilt alternators.

All the previous comments regarding carbon build-up are dead-on. From 56,000 miles on, we have used exclusively high-test gas in the car (typically Sunoco Ultra 94) to reduce carbon build-up and eliminate engine knock and run-on. I'd also recommend split-fire or similar high-performance plugs, as I experienced some plug fouling between tune-ups.

I am slightly puzzled as to why this model seems to go through mufflers so quickly. In part, this can be attributed to a number of short trips, which fail to eliminate moisture condensation internal to the muffler, and it corrodes from the inside out. Regular (weekly or every other weeks) highway driving is useful as well.

I think one weakness of the Tercel is rather spongy braking, which shouldn't happen with such a light vehicle. Brake life is good, but car certainly won't stop on a dime.

My biggest complaint with the car is that the engine is not easy to work on, many of the plastic parts have to be treated with kid gloves or they'll snap, and replacement parts are expensive. The $800 carburetor (no rebuild on this year and model) was a shocker to me, and caused me to stop complaining about the $28 air filter.

I'll give the car an A+ for handling, though. Coupled with a good set of Michelins, this car grips the road amazingly well. Corners and moves through curves like a dream. The comment about handling like it is on rails is accurate.

This car has been an every-day driver since acquired, although many of the miles have been "in-town" driving. The car has been maintained religiously and driven reasonably; the only "abuse" has come from overloading the trunk once or twice with mulch and top soil. In its earlier years, the car was economical all-around, but as with any old car, it requires more service with age, and at 11 years of driving in upstate NY, it is scheduled to go in for body work this summer, replacing quarter panels that show rust around the wheel wells.

I like the car, especially the 5-speed transmission (wouldn't want an automatic), but the expense of replacement parts is a bit frustrating. A good-running car, but not the necessarily the cheapest unless you do much of the work yourself. You might beat some cars off the line at a green light, but only if they are driven by senior citizens.

A final plus is that insurance for this make and model are extremely affordable.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 14th January, 2002

17th Aug 2005, 11:55

Excellent review!!