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
Dear 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.
Dear Car Talk: In a recent article about a tire pressure warning light that wouldn’t turn off, you didn’t mention checking the spare tire.
It’s possible that it was the spare tire that was low on pressure, setting off the warning light, rather than a problem with one of the other tires. — Jeff
Dear Jeff: Good point, Jeff.
Unfortunately, we can’t know for certain whether the spare tire is included in a car’s tire pressure monitoring system. Some manufacturers do it, some don’t.
And some have systems that only monitor the four tires that are actively mounted on the car, even if there’s a TPMS sensor in the spare.
I’ll take a guess as to what the regulators were thinking when they excluded the spare from this requirement.
First, lots of spares these days (if you even have a spare) are temporary, donut spares. As such, they’re designed to be used for fewer than 50 miles, and then removed. So, the feds may have felt the cost of requiring a TPMS sensor in the spare was not worth the benefit.
Also, the purpose of the TPMS is to prevent high-speed blowouts and the collisions that result from them. If you got a flat tire, opened your trunk, and found your spare was flat, you’d be chapped, no doubt. But you wouldn’t be in danger of having a high-speed blowout.
If you rotate your tires, and include a full-size spare in the rotation, you probably do want a TPMS sensor in your spare. And it’s possible your car comes with one.
If it does, your system may monitor the spare tire pressure. So, if your TPMS light comes on, and all four of your road tires are filled, it makes sense to then check the spare.
Of course, it’s a good idea to check the pressure of your spare tire regularly anyway, so it’ll be available and ready to go when you do run over that errant Ginsu knife.
Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.