2002-2006 Toyota Camry: Problems, pros and cons

Updated: September 25, 2021
The 2002-2006 Toyota Camry is a spacious mid-size family sedan. The Toyota Camry Solara is a two-door version. The Camry has front-wheel drive and comes with a 4-cylinder or V6 engine.
2006 Toyota Camry interior 2006 Toyota Camry interior.
The Toyota Camry is best known for its smooth and quiet ride.

The interior is roomy and comfortable with plenty of rear-seat space. The dashboard is simple with easy to use controls. The Camry holds its value well and can last very long with good care. Of course, there were some problems that used car buyers should be aware of.

Toyota Camry problems: Suspension problems like bad sway bar links and bushings, rear control arm bushings and rear strut mounts are fairly common. The repairs are not very expensive.

Oil leaks from the valve cover gasket(s) are often reported. The valve cover gasket replacement costs $80-$150 in a 4-cylinder engine and $200-$280 in a V6.

Several owners mentioned a leaking water pump. If a bad water pump is not replaced in time, a lack of coolant may cause the engine to overheat.
A front oxygen sensor (Air/fuel ratio sensor) fails often; the replacement is not very expensive.

Lack of power, hesitation and the "Check Engine" light with the code P0171 could be caused by a bad or contaminated mass air flow sensor or a cracked intake boot (snorkel).
2006 Toyota Camry 2006 Toyota Camry (XV30).

Unstable idle and stalling (often after battery replacement) could be caused by carbon buildup inside the throttle body. Cleaning the throttle body might help with this type of problem.

A faulty A/C clutch relay in the under-hood fuse box can cause the air conditioner to cut out intermittently with the A/C light flashing. Replacing the relay solves the problem in most cases. A Toyota dealer should have the part; it's not very expensive.

An alternator might need to be replaced at higher mileage. The symptom of a bad alternator is the battery-shaped warning light coming on while driving. Replacing an alternator costs from $350 to $520.

A failed catalytic converter will cause the code P0420. The Toyota original part is expensive, but cheaper aftermarket parts are available.

The code P0442 could be caused by a bad gas tank cap, although the EVAP system must be tested to confirm this.

There have been reports about stripped threads for the head bolts in the 2.4L engine cylinder block; this repair is expensive, although the number of complaints about this issue is fairly small. Toyota issued a service bulletin describing the repair. Google 'Toyota bulletin T-SB-0015-11' to read more. Watch this great video from Eric O. explaining the repair.

Consumer Reports rates the 2002-2006 Camry as 'recommended' with 'above average' reliability scores (as of Sept, 2021).
There have been a few recalls; check at the NHTSA website.

Toyota Camry 2.4-liter engine Toyota Camry 2.4-liter engine.
Powertrain: The base engine is the 2.4L 4-cylinder DOHC, model 2AZ-FE. This engine has been used in many Toyota vehicles, including the RAV4 and Highlander SUVs. The optional 3.0-liter 24-valve 1MZ-FE V6 is smooth and powerful. From 2004, the SE V6 trims were equipped with a 3.3-liter V6 (3MZ-FE).
A manual transmission is only available with a 4-cylinder engine.

Timing belt or chain: The 4-cylinder 2.4L engine has a maintenance-free timing chain. Both 3.0L V6 and 3.3L V6 engines have a timing belt that needs to be replaced at regular intervals, read more below.

Handling and ride: The Camry is a pleasure to drive, especially on the highway. The ride is very soft and smooth; road bumps are absorbed well by the suspension. The steering is light too. The 2.4L 4-cylinder engine is pretty quick off the line and provides enough power for everyday driving; the V6 is strong and smooth.

Fuel Economy: The Camry is among the class leaders in fuel economy. The 2005-2006 automatic 4-cylinder Camry gets 21/31 mpg. This means that with mostly highway driving, you can get up to 466 miles (670 km) to a tank; the fuel tank capacity is 18.5 gallons or 70 liters.

Fuel Consumption
Toyota Camry sedan
EPA Fuel Economy:
L/100 km
2002-2006 2.4L manual 21/30 11.2/7.8
2002-2003 2.4L auto 21/29 11.2/8.1
2004 2.4L auto 20/29 11.8/8.1
2005-2006 2.4L auto 21/31 11.2/7.6
2002-2003 3.0L V6 auto 18/26 13.1/9.0
2004 3.0L V6 auto 18/27 13.1/8.7
2005-2006 3.0L V6 auto 18/26 13.1/9.0
2004-2006 SE 3.3L V6 auto 18/27 13.1/8.7
Pros: Good on gas (4-cylinder models), comfortable ride, roomy interior, spacious trunk, easy to maintain, resale value, above-average reliability.

Cons: Front seats lack lateral support, paint scratches easy, poor scores for side crash protection without side airbags, 2.4L engine issues.

Overall: The Camry is a natural choice if you are looking for a used family car. We recommend the V6 engine, considering some issues with the 2.4L motor. Of course, not all 2.4L engines had the problem with the stripped cylinder block threads and some have already been repaired. Here is the video of the Toyota Camry hitting 300,000 miles. Competitors include Honda Accord, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu. The Accord has a firmer ride. Mazda 6 offers more sporty handling but is less roomy and has a wide turning radius. The Malibu is cheaper, but is not as reliable.

What to look for when buying a used Toyota Camry: If possible check service records; avoid cars that have been previously overheated. If the coolant level is low, it might be an indication of coolant leaks. If you are buying a used Camry with a 4-cylinder engine, it must be carefully inspected for coolant leaks at the back of the engine. If you notice a blue or white smoke from exhaust, even if it's just a small amount at a startup, the car should be avoided. When test driving a used Toyota Camry, there should be no noise when driving over bumps or rough roads. Read more tips: How to inspect a used car - illustrated guide. Have the car properly inspected by your mechanic before buying. If possible we would even advise to get the cooling system pressure test done in a repair shop. The most important question is: does the engine have a problem with stripped thread of the rear head bolts? If during an inspection, coolant leaks are found at the back of the 2.4L engine, avoid the car. Read also: What mileage is OK for a used car?

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Maintenance tips: Change your oil regularly; Toyota recommends using 5W-30 oil in both the 4-cylinder and V6 engines. Watch out for coolant leaks and keep the engine coolant topped up; overheating may result in very expensive repairs. Change the transmission fluid when it gets dirty. According to the 2006 Camry owner's manual, an engine air filter and a cabin filter need to be replaced at 30,000 miles. The cabin filter is located behind the glove box. The timing belt in the 3.0L and 3.3L V6 engines needs to be replaced every 90,000 miles. Expect to pay $300-$450 to replace the timing belt only, or $500-750 if you want to replace the water pump too.