Home » Cheap Cars With Long-Life Reputations: 1996 Toyota Camry vs 2004 Chevy Tahoe

Cheap Cars With Long-Life Reputations: 1996 Toyota Camry vs 2004 Chevy Tahoe

Sbsd 4 10 2024

Good morning! I know some of my recent choices have been of questionable use as actual transportation recently, so today we’re going to celebrate durability and look at two vehicles that are known for piling on the miles. That rabbit with the battery has got nothing on these two.

First, however, let’s look at yesterday’s results. I figured the Element was going to win, and by a lot, and I was right. Those things are way more popular now than when they were actually for sale new, it seems, especially with a manual. Just try to find a crossover SUV for sale with a stickshift these days. Sure, it has a lot of miles on it, but it’s a Honda.

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The little Fox wagon had its fans, too, and I sure like it – it reminds me of the VW Golf I drove in college, same color and everything. But I can’t deny that the Element is a way better deal. A lot of you took the VW’s seller to task for replacing the Bosch fuel injection with a carburetor. I’m no big fan of Bosch CIS, but if you’re going to switch to a carb, at least do it right and slap a Weber DCOE (or two) on there so it looks cool.

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When cars are new, it’s hard to tell which will go the distance and which will end up in neat rows at self-service junkyards within a decade. And of course, the old nature versus nurture discussion comes into play here as well; any car can be reliable if an owner fawns over it enough, and any car can be a lemon with enough neglect and abuse. But some cars have a knack for consistently achieving big numbers on their odometers. Today we’re looking at two such cars, one from Toyota and one from General Motors. Here they are.


1996 Toyota Camry LE – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2-liter dual overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Portland, OR

Odometer reading: 200,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives great


The Toyota Camry’s durability and reliability are well-known, even outside of gearhead circles. The XV10 generation, sold from 1992-96, was even famously lampooned in The Onion for being too reliable. These cars are practically perpetual-motion machines: Keep gas in them, change the oil once in a while, replace the timing belt once a decade, and they’ll just run and run.

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That durability comes at the expense of excitement and driving dynamics; the Camry is a means of conveyance and not much more. And it’s no luxury car, either. But the seats are fairly comfy, the ride is all right, and the interior materials hold up nearly as well as the mechanicals. Put the photos of this car side-by-side with a ’96 Camry brochure, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell which is which.

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I’m sure that’s partly due to the fact that this is a one-owner car. Someone obviously cared for this car ever since it was new, and it shows. A one-owner used car in this price range is rare, and definitely desirable, especially if they have all the service records. It eliminates the possibility of some nasty surprises.


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It’s pretty clean on the outside too, and it’s the best color for this generation of Camry. The headlights are cloudy, but that’s to be expected at this age. You could try to polish them, but why bother, when replacements are cheap? The aftermarket wheels aren’t a terribly welcome sight, for me anyway; I’m generally a fan of original equipment wheels. But at least these look like the right size for the car.

2004 Chevrolet Tahoe – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.3-liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Lacey, WA


Odometer reading: 203,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

In the beginning, SUVs had two doors. And they were good. But then, families started buying SUVs instead of minivans, and the SUVs grew an extra set of doors. But they were still pretty good. Chevy’s now-legendary Tahoe and its sister model the GMC Yukon came from the original full-size Blazer/Jimmy, which were put out to pasture after the 1994 model year. A two-door version of the Tahoe/Yukon limped along for a few years, but the four-doors were far more common. By the time this GMT800 Tahoe was built, the two-doors were only a memory.

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The heart of the Tahoe, and a big part of its durability, is the LS-based “Vortec” V8, here displacing 5.3 liters and putting out a stout 285 horsepower. The only transmission available is GM’s ever-present 4L60E overdrive automatic, and in this case it drives the rear wheels only. A push-button part-time 4WD system was available, and probably more common than these 2WD versions. But I guess if you don’t need 4WD, not having it is one less thing to go wrong.


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“Things going wrong” isn’t a common GMT800 occurrence anyway; with the exception of some annoying electrical gremlins, these are sturdy and reliable trucks. This one has surpassed 200,000 miles, and the seller says it runs well. The tires, battery, exhaust, and water pump are all new. The interior is a little rough; this is GM toy-quality plastic at its finest, and this one hasn’t been treated too kindly. The seller says the headliner is in rough shape too, but doesn’t include a photo.

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Outside, it’s “honestly scruffy,” with a few dents to its name, but basically in good shape. SUVs are working vehicles, and no one expects them to win any beauty pageants. But it’s not going to embarrass you either. In fact, one of the upsides to a Tahoe or Yukon is that no one is likely to notice it at all.

There’s no guarantee that either of these cars won’t conk out tomorrow, of course, but the odds are in their favor. I’ve seen examples of both of these cars closing in on half a million miles. And for the price, both of them seem worth the gamble. Which one of them would you choose?


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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2 months ago

I’d take that Camry every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I’m surprised the ad lasted as long as it did.

Jon S
Jon S
2 months ago

I’m almost falling asleep looking at the Camry but I’d rather drive that than a giant SUV, I’m voting for the Toyota.

2 months ago

Either is good. The Camry reminds me of the 1996 Camry LE wagon that was my grandmother’s last car. The thing was amazingly clean, and I was seriously annoyed that my deadbeat uncle took it when she passed, as I really wanted it.

But the Tahoe is also an easy pick for me, as I have owned many, many GM vehicles (including several GMT800s), so there are few surprises for me with them. I’m fact, I think I still have a box of stepper motors to rebuild the gauge cluster sitting in my garage after the last gauge cluster I had to rebuild…

2 months ago

This was another difficult one, I voted Camry for old time sake since my wife used to have one exactly like this when we 1st met in Florida. There were lots of fun road trips in that one. I still like the Tahoe though

Kyle F
Kyle F
2 months ago

The engine on the Tahoe is the only long lived part on it. I bought my 2004 Tahoe with a remanufactured transfer case installed at 110,000 miles and it needed all its seals replaced at 205,000 miles. In true GM fashion one seal requires the entire transfer case to be pulled apart and that’s the one when it fails fills your transfer case shift motor with transfer case fluid rendering it inoperable. So really this one is better with the 2WD.

And that was after having the transmission rebuilt at 200,000 miles so this Tahoe is also probably due for a rebuild too.

Oh and the gauge clusters always need rebuilding. You can also just buy a new or rebuilt gauge cluster and have whatever mileage you want programmed into it courtesy of Ebay, the PCM doesn’t care or keep track of the mileage so rolled back odometers abound in the market. You never really know what the mileage is on these things.

And the headliners always fall down in this generation too.

Also my Tahoe chipped a tooth pretty badly on the front diff. I found out about that during a fluid change. I used it for a couple of years like that sparingly. You could definitely hear it in 4wd lol.

You really are better off with the Camry, I sold my Tahoe after the transfer case failure knowing the front diff was one day away drom dying too.

Scott Ashley
Scott Ashley
2 months ago

Got an 05 Camry with 230K and still going strong. This one is just broken in. I am impressed that even with the 4 banger and auto the cars are pretty peppy. The 4 in mine has no timing belt to deal with.

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