Toyota Corolla 1998-2008 problems, engine, fuel economy, photos

Updated: May 15, 2022
The Corolla is one of the budget wonders. It's a basic car that won't cost a lot to repair or to fill up. Here we will talk about the 8th and 9th generations of this great little car.
2000 Toyota Corolla 2000 Toyota Corolla.
The 1998-2002 Corolla (eighth-gen) handles comfortably and offers a smooth and quiet ride.

The 2003-2008 Corolla is a bit longer and taller, but mechanically it's not much different. It retained the same base 1.8L engine and other components. The sporty Corolla XRS (available only for 2005 and 2006) offers a high-revving 170-horsepower 2ZZ 1.8L engine and a 6-speed manual transmission borrowed from the Toyota Celica.

2008 Toyota Corolla 2008 Toyota Corolla.
The 1998-2008 Corolla can work as a dependable commuter if you can find one that is not badly rusted. With good care, this car can easily last for over 300K miles. What are the common problems that Corolla owners report?

Reported problems: The Check Engine light with the trouble code P0171 is commonly caused by failed or dirty mass airflow sensor. Symptoms include stalling and lack of power. Some owners reported that cleaning the sensor solved the problem, others said the sensor had to be replaced. The part is not very expensive and is easy to replace. We found many Youtube videos on this issue.
The same code P0171 can also be caused by a vacuum leak from a bad intake manifold gasket. A vacuum leak can also cause stalling and rough, unstable idle, as well as a hissing noise from the intake manifold area. Replacing the intake manifold gasket is a bit more difficult but also not very expensive (1.5 hours labor plus the parts). Watch these videos to learn more.
The codes P0440 and P0446 can be caused by a bad gas cap or a leak at the EVAP canister. Mechanics do an EVAP system leak test to pinpoint the problem.

A failed starter motor can cause the engine not to start. When turning the ignition key, you might hear a single click or nothing at all.
2000 Toyota Corolla 2000 Toyota Corolla interior.
The battery must be tested first, as it's common to fail after 5-6 years. If the battery is OK, mechanics test the voltage at the starter motor control terminal. If there is 12 Volt when turning the key to start, but the starter won't crank, it's bad and must be replaced or rebuilt. Replacing a starter motor is also not very difficult (0.8-1.0 hour of labor plus the part).

Oil leaks are often reported. One common source of the oil leaks is a bad valve cover gasket. The part is not expensive and is not very difficult to replace (0,8-1,0 hour of labor in the shop). Watch these videos on the repair. If your spark plugs are old, it's a good idea to replace then at the same time, as some of the labor overlaps.
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Another source of the oil leaks is the timing chain tensioner at the back of the timing chain cover. It might need a new gasket or can simply be resealed. It's a fairly simple job (watch these videos), but the timing chain tensioner needs a special care when handling.

The drive belt tensioner is another trouble spot. The noisy bearing in the pulley can cause a squeaking noise from the drive belt area. The tensioner itself can go bad and cause a rattling/chattering noise from the belt side of the engine. Sometimes this noise is more noticeable on acceleration. The tensioner pulley can be replaced separately, but many owners simply replace the tensioner assembly. The part is from $95 to $220 and takes 0.8-1.0 hour of labor to replace in the shop. The drive belt is typically replaced at the same time. Watch these videos to hear tensioner noises.

Check for recalls at the NHTSA website.

Engines:
1ZZ-FE engine 1ZZ-FE engine in the 2000 Toyota Corolla.
The 1998-2002 Toyota Corolla offered only one engine choice: the lightweight low-maintenance 1.8-liter 4-cylinder DOHC engine model 1ZZ-FE. For the 2000 model year, the variable valve timing (VVT-i) was added for better efficiency. The 2003-2008 Corolla has retained the same 1ZZ-FE engine. The 2005-2006 Corolla XRS features the VVTL-i version of the 1.8-liter engine (2ZZ-GE) - the same as in the sporty Celica, with more high-end power achieved by variable valve lift. This means that at higher RPMs valves open wider allowing the engine to "breath" better.
2003 Toyota Corolla 1ZZ-FE engine The 2003 Toyota Corolla 1ZZ-FE engine.

Timing belt or timing chain? The 1ZZ and 2ZZ engines have a timing chain. There is no timing belt.

Fuel Economy: The 2005-2008 Corolla with a 4-speed automatic transmission is rated at 26/35 mpg city/highway, which means on one tank of gas it's expected to last for 383 miles (616 km). The 2000 Corolla automatic delivers 25/34 mpg city/highway.

Pros: Reliability, smooth ride, fuel economy, won't cost a lot to maintain/repair, availability of used parts, easy to work on DIY, rear drum brakes can last long, holds its value well, easy to sell.

Cons: Basic interior, the engine is noisy on acceleration, anti-lock brakes are not standard, lack of driver's seat adjustments, lack of headroom in models with a sunroof.

Related reviews:
Honda Civic 2001-2005
Honda Civic 2006-2011 review
Toyota Camry 2002-2006
Toyota Camry 2007-2011
Toyota Matrix 2003-2008 review
Toyota Matrix 2009-2014 review
Pontiac Vibe 2003-2010
Mazda 3 2003-2009
Mazda 3 2010-2013 review
Toyota Corolla 2009-2013

Overall: If a simple commuter is all you need, the Corolla will do well. Even if the engine or transmission need to be replaced, it won't be hard to find a used unit and any local shop can do the swap for a reasonable price. The minus is that anti-lock brakes and side airbags are optional. As of May 2022, Consumer Reports rates the 2003-2008 Corolla's reliability as 'above average'.

The model with anti-lock brakes is preferable. Given the age, the car must be checked carefully for rust damage, as brake lines and other parts could be rusted, especially if the car comes from the Salt Belt. As it's a very popular model, it's easy to sell. The engine is known to consume oil at higher mileage, which means the oil level needs to be checked regularly and topped up if needed. The transmission fluid also needs to be changed when dirty or every 60K miles.