Toyota Corolla 2009-2013: problems, engine, fuel economy, photos

Updated: October 16, 2019

The Corolla is known for its reliable, fuel-efficient 1.8L engine, simple roomy interior and soft ride. All in all it's a comfortable little "workhorse" that you can count on. The 2009-2013 Corolla is a front-wheel drive compact car.

2012 Toyota Corolla
2012 Toyota Corolla interior.

In the U.S. and Canada, it's only available as a 4-door sedan, although Toyota Matrix is a very similar hatchback.

In the U.S., the 2009 Corolla was offered in the base, S, popular LE, upscale XLE and sporty XRS trims. The XLE and XRS were discontinued for 2011 and the L trim became the base level for 2012. Overall, the Corolla has been reliable, but there are a few problems used car buyers should be aware of, read more below.

Engines: The base engine is the 132-hp 1.8L 4-cylinder DOHC, model 2ZR-FE. It's a proven simple and reliable motor. With good maintenance, it can last for well over 200K miles. The Corolla XRS comes with the 158-hp 2.4L 4-cylinder 2AZ-FE engine, shared with the Camry and RAV4.

2012 Toyota Corolla
2012 Toyota Corolla (E140)

In 2015, Toyota issued the warranty enhancement program to cover some of the issues with this engine, read more below.

Timing belt or chain: Both the 1.8L and 2.4L engines have a timing chain; there is no timing belt. A timing chain doesn't need to be replaced unless there is a problem with it.

Fuel Economy: The EPA rates the 2010-2012 1.8L automatic Corolla at 26/34 mpg (9.0/6.9 L/100 km), which means that with mostly highway driving you can get up to 380 miles (612 km) on a 13.2-gallon (50.0L) tank.
The manual transmission offers even better fuel economy: 28/35 mpg or 8.4/6.7 liters per hundred kilometers. With a manual transmission, you will be saving around 100 dollars a year in fuel cost compared to the automatic.

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Year to year changes: Toyota Corolla got a minor facelift for 2011 with new front grille, head- and taillights, updated bumpers and trunk lid. For 2012, the Corolla received a few feature upgrades, including a new standard audio system with the USB port, Bluetooth and steering audio controls for the U.S. and Canadian LE trim.

2012 Toyota Corolla
2012 Toyota Corolla interior.

The U.S. Corolla L received power windows, power door locks and remote keyless entry.

Mechanical: The Corolla XRS has disc brakes on all 4 wheels; other models come with rear drum brakes that are known to last long. The steering is electrically powered. Antilock brakes are standard. Vehicle Stability control is optional in early models; standard on all US models from 2010. The Canadian Corolla received standard Vehicle Stability Control for 2011.

Handling and ride: The Corolla is easy to drive. The ride is soft and quiet; cracks in the pavement and bumps are well absorbed by the suspension. The 1.8L engine has enough power for daily commuting and for long road trips. The electrical steering is light and feels fine in the city, but is a bit vague around the center position when driving on the highway.

Toyota Corolla interior

2012 Toyota Corolla inside

Toyota Corolla rear seat

Rear seat

Toyota Corolla rear seat folded

Rear seats folded

Toyota Corolla 1.8L 2ZR-FE engine

1.8L engine

Reported problems: There are several reports of a water pump failing. The cost to replace a water pump ranges between $250 and $550. When replacing a water pump, it's a good idea to change the drive belt as well. Symptoms of a failing water pump include pinkish coolant drops around the water pump and a whining/buzzing noise coming from the water pump area. A water pump is located on the left side of the engine when looking from the front of the vehicle. See these videos for more info.
Oil leaks from a timing chain cover are reported by several owners. See these Youtube videos explaining the repair.
A failed starter motor can cause the car not to start. The common symptom is the starter will produce a single click, but won't turn over the engine even with the fully charged battery. Replacing a starter motor will cost $250-$420. Read more about a starter motor.
The service bulletin T-SB-0087-09 for the 2009 Corolla / Matrix describes a problem where a brief knocking/rattling noise from the 2ZR engine when started cold is caused by a faulty camshaft timing gear assembly (VVT gear).

Toyota Corolla 1.8L 2ZR-FE engine
Toyota Corolla 1.8L 2ZR-FE engine.

The gear must be replaced to correct the problem. According to the bulletin, the repair labor is estimated at 1.5 hours. The part (gear assembly) is sold online for just over $200. If out of warranty, the repair could cost from $380 to $590.
Several owners mentioned changing a failed alternator ($400-$680). Aftermarket parts are cheaper.
Exhaust leaks and rattling heat shields are not uncommon too. A loose heat shield may cause a metal rattle coming from under the car that is more noticeable at certain rpm. Repairs are not very expensive.
One of the ignition coils can fail causing the engine to misfire.

2012 Toyota Corolla
2012 Toyota Corolla interior.

An ignition coil is easy to replace. When replacing an ignition coil, it's best to change all the spark plugs if they are old. An OEM ignition coil is priced between $86 and $139 online. Aftermarket parts are cheaper.
A bad wheel bearing can cause a humming noise that is more noticeable when driving at highway speeds. Replacing a wheel bearing can cost from $260 to $370.
Front struts can leak at higher mileage. Changing both front struts can cost up to $780 with an alignment.
Toyota announced the Warranty Enhancement Program ZE7 to address an excessive oil consumption in some models with the 2AZ engine. To see if the vehicle eligible, you will need to take it to a Toyota dealer. They will start by performing the oil consumption test. This forum has some information. There is also a number of complaints about stripping head bolts in the 2.4L engine. The repair is expensive.
Check for recalls at the NHTSA website.

Similar cars:

Overall: Despite the problems mentioned above, the 1.8L Corolla is one of the most reliable compact cars and can last long with good maintenance. Yes, it will need some minor repairs, but you know you can trust this car as long as you don't skip on regular oil changes. Consumer Reports rates the 2009-2013 Toyota Corolla as 'Recommended' - we checked this in October 2019. Among similar cars, we would also recommend Honda Civic, Toyota Matrix and the 2010 and newer Mazda 3. Before buying a car check for recalls at Safercar.gov. When checking a used Corolla, watch out for a low engine oil level or a blue smoke from the exhaust when the engine is started. It's an indication that an engine consumes oil.

Engine Oil Capacity (Drain and refill with filter):
1.8L 4-cylinder (2ZR-FE) engine: 4.4 US qt. (4.2 L, 3.7 Imp. qt.)
2.4L 4-cylinder (2AZ-FE) engine: 4.0 US qt. (3.8 L, 3.3 Imp. qt.)

By Samarins.com Staff