Car Talk: Well-kept Camrys could be a good option for new teen drivers

Dear Car Talk,

My neighbor has a 1994 Toyota Camry with only 28,500 miles on it. The car has been garage kept, serviced according to schedule, and is in perfect condition. He’s looking to sell it to me and I’m thinking about buying it for my 16-year-old daughter.

Should I be concerned about buying a car that old? Are there certain parts of a car that deteriorate over time? It would make a great first car for my daughter and wouldn’t break the bank either. — Grif

In many ways, it’s an ideal car for a new driver. It’s cheap, it’s probably reliable, and if she does back into a telephone pole while learning to parallel park, you won’t cry too hard over it. Although your neighbor might.

It has airbags and anti-lock brakes, but obviously it lacks other modern, electronic safety features that newer cars have, like automatic emergency braking and blind spot warning.

Crash protection has also improved over the years due to more stringent testing, so it’s not the safest car you can put her in, but it’s a substantial sedan and certainly not unsafe either.

It’s an especially good car if you’re certain that your daughter is a sensible young woman. If it were for a 16-year-old son, no. I’d want him in a 2023 M1 Abrams tank, because teenage boys are numbskulls. But if she’s just going back and forth to the convent, I’d feel fine about it.

Ask your neighbor if he has the service records. He probably does. Take those, along with the car, to your mechanic, and ask him to review what’s been done already.

Then have him inspect the car from stem to stern. If the belts, hoses, or tires are degraded from age, you’ll want to replace them before you hand the keys to your kid.

Obviously, if he turns up any safety issues, you’ll want to fix those, too. But on a carefully maintained, garage-kept Toyota from that company’s bulletproof era, there may be nothing that needs to be fixed or replaced.

In which case, it’ll be a good first car. And still give her something to aspire to someday. Like a ‘98 Camry.

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