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Written By Colin Graves

greatest carThe Toyota Corolla turned 50 this week.

On October 20th to be precise, according to the  Automotive News article that appeared on my Twitter feed.  This piece of news likely didn’t register with most people, simply disappearing into the Twitter abyss along with countless other morsels of information tucked neatly inside 140 characters.

But I noticed.  In fact, there was a witting smile, perhaps even a slight twinkle in my eye. You see, the staid, some might say ‘boring’ Corolla holds a high place in my personal pantheon of automobile nobility.

In short, it’s the greatest car I’ve ever owned.

In 2002, Mrs. Mystery Money and I were expecting our second child, our first daughter, and I felt as though we should replace our two door Chevy Cavalier with something of the four door variety. It had served us well, but I didn’t like the thought of my wife constantly having to reach through the driver’s door to access the car seats in the back.

As I’ve always done, I spent months researching several vehicles, finally settling on the Corolla. We were a one-income family, and for a new car, this was as practical as they came.  It was affordable, had a reputation for rock-solid reliability, and was incredibly fuel efficient.  It was a 2003 model, and had just undergone a redesign.

To say we bought the base model is putting it mildly. In fact, cars don’t come any more base. It had a standard transmission, which was our preference, and had manual roll up windows with no cruise control or (gasp) air conditioning.

To be honest, there was about a month every summer when I questioned my own sanity for opting out of A/C.  The other 48 weeks of the year, I never really noticed.

greatest carBest or Greatest?

As I began to write this article, I thought about whether I should use the adjective ‘best’, or ‘greatest’, to describe how the Corolla ranked amongst the cars I’ve owned.  Greatest seems most fitting. I will probably own a better car at some point in my life, in fact I already have. One that handles better, is more comfortable or has more passing power.

But none will ever be as great, of that I am sure. Here’s why:

For the 11 years my wife and I owned the car, we lived about 30 miles from my work. During that time, I logged just shy of 300,000 miles (over 400,000 kilometres) in the Corolla. In addition to the daily commute, it transported our family everywhere we went for the majority of those eleven years.  It endured no less than seven or eight family road trips of more than 4000 miles length.  During all of that time and over all of those miles, the car never broke down.  In fact, it never even failed to start.

As for repairs, I spent approximately $1300 11 years. That doesn’t account for oil/filter changes or replacement tires. It does include about $300 of brake work. That’s right, 300,000 miles, $300 on brakes. Aside from that, I had a bearing replaced, the serpentine belt, and a battery (sometime after 200,000 miles), because it was recommended.

I should mention, there were other repairs, but in those cases the damage was completely self inflicted. I hit two deer, causing a couple thousand dollars of damage to the car each time, which was covered by our insurance. In other words, my Corolla treated me far better than I treated it.

Regardless, it never affected the long term durability of the car. It kept driving, as quietly and as smoothly as ever. You see, that’s the thing. When the end came, the Corolla was still in great shape. I didn’t drive it into the ground. I didn’t have the chance. Actually, I’m confident it would still be running today, perhaps over 400,000 miles strong, if it wasn’t for my carelessness.

greatest carMy Corolla’s Last Day

The end came all too quickly. In early April of 2013, as I was driving through the city to work, I didn’t notice that a water main break up ahead had actually turned to ice. I braked hard and tried desperately to stop, but lost complete control. The car slid sideways into the back of a pick up truck that was stopped at the intersection in front of me. The trailer hitch on the truck punctured the sidewall of my rear tire. Under the force of the impact, the wheel buckled, damaging the axle.  I pulled over to the side of the road and stepped out to survey the damage. It didn’t seem too bad, but it was an old vehicle.

The driver of the truck I’d just slid into actually offered me a ride to the closest phone, so I could arrange to get home.

About a week later, the insurance company called and informed my wife that they were writing off the car. They offered us $4800. The adjuster mentioned that although it was a very high mileage vehicle, it was a Toyota, which added some value.

It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. We both knew we wouldn’t get more than $1000 selling the car, due to the age and the mileage. Not that we ever would have tried.  It was worth a lot more to us than anyone else.

We were sad to see it go, but the car owed us nothing. It gave us 11 years and over 300,000 miles, with only $1300 of repairs, all of which were normal wear and tear. It never left us stranded on the side of the road.  As for fuel efficiency, we got around 50 miles/gallon on the highway, where we did most of our driving.  And in the end, through some good fortune, the Toyota nameplate was worth a few thousand additional dollars, bringing the net cost of the vehicle closer to $12-13,000 over it’s lifetime.


After reading through this post, you may draw a few conclusions. First of all, I’m really not a bad driver. I swear I’m not.  The rear-ending of the pick up was the only real accident I’ve been in, and as I told the auto insurer at the time, I didn’t hit the deer, they hit me.

Admittedly, there were a few factors that contributed to the longevity of our Corolla. Most of our driving was highway driving, which is generally easier on a vehicle, the brakes in particular. That being said, we  live in a more northern climate, and the snow and cold temperatures in the winter can take a toll on vehicles over the long term.

Lastly, I hesitated for a couple of days about whether I should write this post.  After all, I typically don’t advocate for the purchase of new vehicles, as I believe buying used is usually the best way to go. I also realized that people may think I’m a bit weird to have such a strong emotional connection to a car. Well, my wife and kids would probably concur, so I guess I may as well accept it.

Shortly after I saw the article about it being the 50th Anniversary of the Corolla, I read a fantastic post written by Penny, on her blog, “She Picks Up Pennies”. The post is titled, “To Everyone Who Hates On New Cars”. I read through to the end, and caught in a moment of wistful recollection, let loose in the comment section, carrying on about my dear Corolla.  Sorry Penny. 🙂

I knew then it was time to share my story.

I would love to hear about your “favorite car” stories! Leave a comment or send me an email, trust me, I’m all tears….er, I mean ears. 😉


  1. I love, love, love my decision to buy a new Camry (back in 2011). But my Camaro will always be my favorite car. It was my dream car growing up, and my dad found a very used one (200K + miles), rebuilt the engine, and then gifted it to me on my 17th birthday. I picked up our home phone (that was still attached to wall!) and tried to call my best friend to tell her. All I could do was cry. It was very hard to part ways, but it was time.

  2. My first car was a hunk o junk I bought for $3999, a 2002 Dodge Neon. It had high miles, leaked so much I had a constant puddle of water on the back seat floorboards and could barely make it up a hill. I paid it off in 18 months, only to plow straight into a full size doe just a few months later. Fortunately, my insurance cut me a check for $4k and I used some savings to buy my current car outright! My next car I will probably finance at 0% interest and pay off before it’s due.

  3. Love it – my dad bought a new Audi 5000s in 1987. Over 15 years we put over 350,000 miles on it and the only real work ever had to do was to replace the fuel pump once. I rode in that car as a toddler and drove it as a college sophomore.

    When we put that car to rest it felt like the end of an era.

    Our current car (2012 Dodge Grand Caravan) was bought new but we anticipate buying used when we finally drive this one into the ground in the distant future.

    That said, I don’t blame anyone got buying a reasonable car new – the right purchase can pay off in the long run. Its just tough to know if what you are buying is the right one.

    • Cool! My uncle had an Audi back in the 80’s, I was pretty young but remember driving around in it with him. I don’t think his lasted as long as your Dad’s though! I definitely am an advocate for used vehicles in most situations. We currently have a 10 year old Toyota Sienna we purchased a few years ago, and it’s been incredible. I think that if done right, a new vehicle can be the right decision (affordable, reliable, fuel efficient, and being willing to own it for 10 yrs +!)
      Too many people (and I have been guilty of this as well) get new SUV’s and trucks with all the bells and whistles, way more car than they need, and the price creeps into the 30-40K + range, and that’s when it becomes pretty hard to justify.

  4. My first car was a Mini Cooper back in ’04. It was so cute, burgundy with white stripes, perfect city car. Fit into all those parking spots that no one else could. When I got pregnant with my first son in ’07 my husband was like, “The Mini has to go!” I was sad to see it go. I could never find our boring VW in parking lots after that. I was always pressing the alarm button on my key at the wrong cars. But the truth was, the Mini had all kinds of problems. The VW never had any. We have Subaru now. Luckily, we don’t do a ton of driving – we take the subway to work. Hoping to have this one for a long time.

  5. Sounds like you made a good decision on a reliable car!

    I’d still argue it’s probably better to get a slightly used (i.e. less than 3-yr-old) car, off a lease for example, and if there’s nothing mechanically wrong with it, it can still last for many years! Nonetheless, some people prefer the security of a new car with a warranty, which I can understand.

    I guess I should be glad that not everyone buys used cars and drives them into the dirt, or else there would be no used cars available for people like me! 😀

    • Great comment, Froogal! I agree with you that buying used is the best option. Personally, I think that buying a reliable brand in the 8-10 year old range is usually the best way to go. At this age of vehicle, almost all of the depreciation has been removed from the price, and if you’re smart about the make and model you are buying, they can last several years. There are simply too many things that have to go right for a new vehicle to be worth the money. My experience with the Corolla is very rare, not many people ever get that combination of reliability and longevity from their car.
      Thanks for sharing!


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