1. The Camry traditionally - is an extremely reliable vehicle. But, so are a bunch of other cars.
2. Yesterday, I was driving along, and pulled over to help someone who was driving a NISSAN; and their drivers side front steering knuckle ball joint had failed. This allows the vehicle's wheel to go anywhere (camber angle has no setting; and wheel slides out on bottom and can twist, etc.)
He was 'lucky' he wasn't at a huge speed when the failure occurred; otherwise he could have easily lost the entire wheel; and had the vehicle sliding along the ground.
The car had 170K on it. He was making arrangements to have it flat trucked for repair. I suggested he not only have that specific ball joint replaced; but also the knuckle bearings; deal with the control arms, ball joints; and cv drive shafts - on BOTH sides of the vehicle. I also told him that you can acquire cv drive shafts at very reasonable prices from like AutoZone or O'Reilly's. And as long as a mechanic was going to be in the neighborhood.
No vehicle has ANY expectation of functioning correctly. They are a mechanical TOOL; with numerous bearings; supporting parts; load equalizing parts, etc. These ALL have to work correctly - or you end up causing more rapid failure in a component.
A BRAND NEW vehicle - essentially only has one other item. IF something goes wrong - the Dealer will repair it for 'free'. We have the 'expectation' that it won't have 'problems' - but you really don't have any guarantee on that regard. You have 'free' repair if something does go bad - when under warranty.
New, or OLD, and ALL Vehicles ALWAYS require maintenance. But maintenance is MUCH more than just changing the oil and fill it with gas.
I own and drive a 1988 Toyota Camry. Runs great. Owned it since new. Parts are becoming much more difficult to obtain. Toyota hasn't made parts for it in quite some time; and auto parts stores don't always carry stuff; some of them are 're-manufactured'; and quality is not always what it should be in that regard.
But, I do the vast majority of all the work (so I know what is going on); and recently replaced the bearings in the steering knuckle (requires an expensive, specialty tool); ball joints, etc. - So that my wheels have no problems. I have 182K on the car. But, I still have no guarantee that nothing bad won't happen. I am aware that I need to deal with the bearings on the rear wheels. Haven't done that yet. They are not making 'noise' - I just don't need a wheel coming off.
A 2003 still has plenty of parts available. But what maintenance has been done? The vehicle has 200K on it. Various manufacturers state the wheel bearings are 'lifetime'. REALLY? Whose 'lifetime'?
So, I would tell you that it would be a good idea to have the wheel bearings replaced (takes work; not 'cheap' unless you can do it yourself); the ball bearings, etc.
Does this make it a 'bad' choice and purchase? That would be your decision and attitude.
No matter WHAT vehicle you drive. You ALWAYS have maintenance costs. If you want your vehicle to be reliable - those maintenance costs are going to be much more than someone who is clueless and only changes the oil ; puts in gas; and sometimes gets the water pump and timing belt changed out.
From front bumper, to the rear end - the entire mass and structure is a TOOL with many moving, inter related parts - that do in fact require maintenance if you are going to have a reliable vehicle.
Hope this helps.
January, 30, 2013 AT 9:51 PM
CORRECTION - So sorry.
With your question on 200K, and the broken down vehicle yesterday which had 170K - I completely mis-wrote.
My 88 Camry has 282K on it. But I did also as previously stated - go through the ball joints, wheel bearings, etc.