Home Reliability Toyota Corolla Years To Avoid: And Which Ones To Go For?

Toyota Corolla Years To Avoid: And Which Ones To Go For?

by Kelvin Yates

As we often say here, no car is perfect in terms of reliability. No matter how good they are, there will always be flaws and troublesome model years to avoid. And that includes the Corolla, one of the most reliable cars of all time. So, what are the Toyota Corolla years to avoid?

If you’ve been thinking of buying a used Corolla, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to talk about everything about Corolla; from its history, Toyota Corolla years to avoid, and some common problems to anticipate. Here’s all you need to know:

Toyota Corolla Generations

The Corolla began life in 1966. Known internally as the KE10, it was a compact sedan with a 1,100cc engine. Its rivals all had engines under 1,000cc to avoid higher road taxes, but Toyota went all out with the ‘100cc advantage’ marketing and the Corolla became an instant hit in Japan despite the higher tax.

Toyota then brought the Corolla to the US in 1968, selling it for just a little over $13,000 in today’s money. The tiny little engine meant there wasn’t much interest initially. But if you’ve read our old muscle car post, you’d know by now that the ’70s was the end for big thirsty V8s.

1970 saw many things, but there are two relevant events to this post: the launch of the second-generation KE20 Corolla. And the end of the muscle car craze. The craze and America’s obsession with big V8s came to a screeching halt mostly due to rising gas prices, which meant running costs skyrocketed.

This is where the Corolla shines. With its tiny little engine and lightweight body, the Corolla sips fuel. Some estimates suggest that they were about 60% more efficient than most American cars at the time. Suddenly, everyone was buying Corollas—along with some other Japanese compact cars—because it was so much cheaper to run them.

It’ll take too long if we discuss each generation in detail. All you need to know is they released the third generation in 1974, then the fourth-generation E70 in 1979, and then came along the all-important E80 in 1983.

The E80 is one of the most iconic Corollas. Much like previous generations, the Corolla was available in several body styles. Including coupés, liftbacks, and wagons. And the most notable one is the ever-so-desirable AE86 with its 4A-GE engine and rear-wheel drive layout.

The Modern Corolla

Toyota unveiled three more generations of the Corolla throughout the ’80s and ’90s. And at the turn of the century, they gave us the ninth-generation E120 Corolla.

While the E80 (AE86 in particular) saw massive success in the drift and tuning scene, its iterations afterward—especially ones after 2000—became the boring compact car we know today.

It’s currently in its 12th generation. Available as a sedan, hybrid, hatchback, and even a crossover SUV. Although we won’t be discussing the Corolla Cross in this post as it’s technically a different car.

They’re all mostly quite boring to drive: engines were mostly okay, handling and driving dynamics are uninspiring, and the interiors are a little dull to be in.

However, almost all of them are reliable. Corollas often have very few techs that go wrong. And as long as you avoid some problematic model years, they will run until the sun collapses on itself. Its reliability also means that many people still like it. And sales are still in the hundreds of thousands in the US alone, despite the rising popularity of crossover SUVs.

Thankfully, you can buy an exciting Corolla. Toyota recently announced the GR Corolla. GR stands for Gazoo Racing, which is Toyota’s racing and performance division. It has a 1.6L turbo three-cylinder engine making 300 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque.

Power is transferred through an exciting 6-speed manual transmission, and onto all four wheels. With the ability to split power 30-70 between the front and rear wheels if you feel a little drifty.

All that for a reasonable price of about $36,000. But thanks to dealers price-gouging quite literally every car, you’ll be lucky to find one on sale for MSRP. Not to mention, the GR Corolla will be built in limited quantities.

Toyota Corolla Reliability

You don’t need to tell us that the Corolla is one of the most reliable cars that you can buy. RepairPal gives the modern-day Corolla a reliability rating of 4.5 out of 5. An excellent rating and puts it first out of 36 contenders in the compact car segment.

J.D. Power also gives the 2022 Corolla a reliability rating of 85 out of 100, which puts it in the ‘great’ category. And the 2019 model did particularly well and was given 92 points, putting it in the ‘best’ category.

Overall, it’s one of the most reliable cars on the market. But cars are very complex with thousands of moving parts in them. And something’s bound to go wrong with that many parts, so no car is perfect—including the Corolla. This segues us nicely to our next section…

Toyota Corolla Years To Avoid

Let’s not beat around the bush, here are the Toyota Corolla years to avoid:

  1. 2000 – 2002. These model years are plagued by excessive oil consumption. While you can always top up the oil, it can lead to catastrophic failures if neglected.
  2. 2003. The 2003 model was also bad, but this time it was because of a transmission that often fails.
  3. 2009. This is the worst model year for the Corolla. Excessive oil consumption persists, and this time it was much worse. So much so that it leads to far more complaints than in previous years.
  4. 2014. The main problem with this model year was questionable interior build quality and accessories that would stop working, such as the radio. There were engine issues, but most of the complaints revolve around poor build quality.

Toyota Corolla Years To Avoid

Those are the Toyota Corolla years to avoid. The 2000s just wasn’t a very good year for the Corolla. While the 2000 to 2003, and 2009 model years received the most complaints, many other model years from this period were oddly more problematic by Toyota standards.

We’ll discuss the best model years later on. Now, let’s take a closer look at the common problems that plague the Corolla:

Toyota Corolla Problems

We start with the most common issue of all, excessive oil burning:

1. Excessive Oil Consumption

A car engine isn’t supposed to consume oil. Sure, a bit of oil will eventually evaporate, but an engine in good shape will not lose a significant amount of oil.

The 2000s Corolla seems to be burning oil all the time though. Granted, the problem may have been exaggerated by owners that aren’t aware of car maintenance. But there are legitimate complaints that the engine would burn up to four quarts of oil every two weeks.

Of course, you can just top it up. But that means shelling out more money than necessary. And if you don’t take care of it, an oil-starved engine can eventually fail. You don’t need us to remind you that an engine rebuild is expensive.

Toyota acknowledged there was an oil consumption issue in the 2AZ-FE engine (2009) by issuing a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB). Unlike a recall, a TSB is simply a set of instructions to dealers on how to fix the problem, and which cars were covered by the warranty.

So, owners that no longer have a warranty will still have to pay out of their pocket. Additionally, Toyota never acknowledged the problem with the 2ZR-FE engine.

The problem seems to stem from defective piston rings that would allow oil to go through into the combustion chamber. This results in the oil getting burned with fuel and air, reducing the oil level. So, make sure you’re wary of how often should you check the engine oil level.

Toyota did offer to repair the problem for free but only for certain models in a limited time window. Our advice is to avoid the 2000 to 2002, and 2009 model years as these received the most complaints.

2. Transmission Problems

Many 2003 Corolla owners complained about clunking and grinding transmissions. And the car would eventually stop working altogether, thanks to a failed transmission.

The problem affects the Corolla S trim, which came with a 5-speed manual transmission. This was essentially the sporty trim that comes with a body kit, alloy wheels, and other accessories that made the Corolla look sportier. A 5-speed manual was standard, but an automatic was still available as an option.

It seems that one of the bearings inside the transmission would fail prematurely. When it’s starting to wear out, the car would produce a grinding noise while driving. In some cases, this sound may come and go.

Once the bearing finally breaks, the car would jerk and stop working completely. There have been many stories from owners saying that the car would just refuse to go after this. And as you’d expect, a transmission rebuild is necessary.

Toyota Corolla Years To Avoid

Most transmissions last around 150,000 miles before it needs major repairs, although some could last longer if properly maintained. But in the 2003 Corolla, it would fail as early as 90,000 miles. Once it fails, rebuilds or replacements may cost up to $2,500.

So, best avoid the manual transmission. The automatic also seems to be prone to slipping at once it reaches 125,000 miles. But it’s nowhere near as bad as the manual transmission.

Note that Toyota also made a Corolla XRS, which is the real sport version of the Corolla. This came with a 6-speed manual instead, and it seems to have better reliability than the 5-speed. If you want a manual Corolla, this is the one to get—although there aren’t that many of them on the market.

3. Interior Build Quality Issues

Toyota interiors don’t feel very premium, but they usually have excellent quality control. Everything fits really well, with no rattles whatsoever, and will take years before things start to fall apart and stop working. But the 2014 Corolla was an exception, hence why it’s one of the Toyota Corolla years to avoid.

Many 2014 Corolla owners complain about interior build quality issues. This ranges from radios that stopped working to rattles coming from the dashboard. One owner complained about the head unit in their Corolla being stuck in a boot loop and won’t turn on. And others have complained about minor bugs, such as not being able to delete the contacts of the previous owner.

The head unit not working doesn’t seem like a big deal. But one owner in Alexandria, VA noted that the dealer estimated a repair bill of around $1,500 to fix the problem, which is simply outrageously overpriced. You’re much better off replacing the head unit with an aftermarket system altogether.

If the radio issue isn’t enough to put you off, then maybe the rattling noises from the dashboard will. The second most common complaint for the 2014 model is rattling noises coming from various spots in the car, primarily the dashboard.

Some owners note that pressing on the center of the dashboard will get rid of the noise. However, other panels such as the doors have been reported to make a rattling noise as well. And many haven’t been able to find a solution.

There are many potential causes for a rattling noise coming from inside the car. But in this case, it’s probably some badly-fitted interior trims that are not installed firmly in place. As the car moves, these badly-fitted trims intensify the vibrations inside the car to create a rattling noise.

4. Water Pump Failure

The water pump is part of the car’s cooling system. And as the name suggests, it pumps coolant throughout the cooling system. As the coolant circulates the engine, it carries away heat from the engine. Then the radiator will dissipate the heat from the coolant. Afterward, the water pump will pump the coolant back into the engine to repeat the process.

The water pump can last anywhere between 60,000 to 90,000 miles. And in my experience, it can easily last for up to 10 years before it fails or starts having problems. However, some 2009 Corolla owners have reported their water pump failing as early as 35,000 miles. And we’ve seen reports of the pump making an annoying squealing noise before failing.

Granted, the average mileage for this complaint is around 50,000 to 65,000 miles, but that’s still considerably less than what a good and reliable water pump can theoretically handle.

In any case, you’ll need to replace the water pump once it fails. It’s the heart of the car’s cooling system, and once it fails then the system can’t keep the engine at its optimum operating temperature, i.e. it will overheat. Overheating will cause further damage to the engine, and can seize the engine.

A genuine OEM water pump for a 2009 Corolla costs around $110. Some owners report that changing the water pump takes about one and a half hours and that usually translates to around $180 in labor. So, expect a repair bill of around $290 to replace it in the 2009 Corolla. Although it may vary depending on your local labor rates.

Best Year For Corolla

So, now you know the bad model years and all about their problems. But what’s the best year for Corolla then? What are the safe model years you can buy? Thankfully, there are quite a lot of them:

  1. 1990 to 1999. These are quite old, so it’s not going to be for those who are looking for a more modern car. However, if you don’t mind your car being a bit old, they’re all very reliable with minimal complaints.
  2. 2010 to 2020. This excludes the troublesome 2014 model year. Apart from that, the 2010s Corollas are all very reliable and should last a very long time provided that you take proper care of them.

Some 2000s models are also safe to buy, such as the 2004 to 2008 models. However, there are still complaints about these model years—albeit not as many as the troublesome model years. These are safe to buy, but they’re not our first choice for a Corolla.

What you have to remember is that no car is perfect. No matter how good the model year seems to be, they’re bound to have some sort of reliability issues. The important thing is to inspect the car thoroughly before you purchase them.

We recommend that you do a VIN check and a pre-purchase inspection. VIN reports can show a detailed history of the car, such as how many owners it had and whether or not it’s been in an accident. Although a comprehensive VIN report may cost some money.

Meanwhile, a pre-purchase inspection will let you know if there are any potential problem spots in the car. You can have a trusted mechanic do this for you, or you can look for services online. It should cost no more than $250 to do a pre-purchase inspection.

FAQs About Toyota Corolla Years To Avoid

Got any more questions about the Toyota Corolla and its reliability? Check out these answers that might be helpful:

How Long Do Toyota Corolla Last

Like most other cars, the Corolla can last up to 200,000 miles before needing major powertrain repairs. But you’ll need to keep up with general maintenance and replace worn-out parts along the way. Otherwise, is more likely to fail sooner than later.

Is The Toyota Corolla A Good Car

It’s good. It’s not the most exciting and somewhat uninspiring, but it’s a car that will get you from A to B safely in relative comfort. If you’re just looking for a mode of transportation, you’ll be perfectly happy with the Corolla.

Why Are Toyotas So Reliable

Toyota implements TQM or Total Quality Management in its production line. While TQM strategy varies by company, it generally means they employ an organization-wide strategy to ensure they can make high-quality products, and Toyota seems to have gotten the hang of this. The other reason is that Toyota rarely uses novel and unproven technology in their cars. They often take their time, ensuring that it will work up to their standards and be reliable. This is why you’ll often find Toyota cars are slightly underequipped than their rivals.

Are Toyota Cars Good

Like most other car companies, there are good and bad models. Toyota generally makes good and reliable cars. Some are a little behind in technology, such as the clunky auto transmission in the Toyota Tacoma. And others are dull to drive, such as the Corolla and Prius. But almost all of them are reliable and will get you to where you need to be. The important thing is to take them for a test drive and see for yourself if you like them.

How Much Is A Toyota Corolla

There are now a total of four Corollas: the sedan, hatchback, sedan hybrid, and the Corolla Cross SUV. All of them have an MSRP between $20,000 to $29,000 depending on the trim. Note that this is the suggested price from Toyota, and the dealer price might be higher. Meanwhile, used Corollas anywhere between $7,000 to $15,000 depending on the model year.

Where Is The Toyota Corolla Made

There are multiple plants, but for the North American market, the Corolla is made in Blue Springs, Mississippi at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Mississippi, or TMMMS for short.

What Are The Best Toyota Cars

In terms of reliability, the Corolla, Camry, RAV4, Tundra, 4Runner, and Tacoma are some of the best Toyota cars you can buy. Of course, there are some bad model years, but these models generally have very good reliability.

Toyota Corolla Years To Avoid: Final Thoughts

To summarize, the Toyota Corolla years to avoid are 2000 to 2003, 2009, and 2014 model years. These are the model years that received the most complaints, and the 2009 model year has the most complaints—most of them about excessive engine oil consumption.

Despite some problematic model years, we think the Corolla is still a very reliable car. We would advise avoiding the 2000s model years altogether. Even though certain model years from this time has fewer complaints, issues like excessive oil consumption often persist. We recommend the 2010 model years upwards, except for the 2014 model.

Toyota Corolla Years To Avoid

The Corolla is hardly the most exciting car you can buy. But it’s going to be a reliable car that will get you from A to Z in relative comfort. We advise doing a pre-purchase inspection before you buy a used car, even if it’s a supposedly reliable model year.

We don’t know how the previous owner treated the car. And doing a pre-purchase inspection will help you avoid cars that have been poorly maintained and save you some money in the long run. Hopefully, this has been helpful for you, and good luck in finding your dream Corolla!

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