Home of The Shuttle...
Home The Cars The Humor Contact Me
My Automotive FAQ - The All-Trac / GT-Four Buyer's Guide (A Pre-purchase Checklist)
Notice: So, you want to buy an All-Trac... Hold your horses and read-on. This document provides my general comments and suggestions that you might consider before trading your hard-earned money for that car of yours, mine and everyone else's dreams.
Production Numbers. The '88-89 All-Trac is designated a ST165, and years '90-93 are designated a ST185. Outside the USA, the All-Trac is known as the GT-Four. Unavailable in the USA, the '94-99 GT-Four is designated a ST205. I do not have production numbers for the ST165. The ST185 sales numbers for ST185's sold in the USA are: 1990: 803; 1991: 591; 1992: 271, and 1993: 81; for a total of 1746.
Price. Expect to pay anywhere from $3000 for a high-mileage '89-89 model, to $14-16,000 for a pristine 90-93 model. Yes, that's quite a range. Absolutely forget about "blue book", so don't come-off as some idiot moron by trying to use it when negotiating the price. Not all '88-89 models will be cheap and not all '90-93 models are worth more than $8-10,000. Expect to pay more for a ST185 than a ST165, and considerably more for a car with low mileage, defined as a car with 50-70,000 miles. Once a car (ANY car) exceeds 100,000 miles, it's value drops significantly. The key here is to spend plenty of time educating yourself before you make a decision. Search the web and investigate each and every All-Trac that you find for sale. Take a look at my previous black 1990 All-Trac which I sold for $12,000. I feel the only way I could have gotten more money for this car was if it had been a '92 or '93 model. Talk to enough people so you get a good feel for the market for All-Tracs. If you find a $6K for a supposedly "clean" ST185, either the car has major ailments (bad for you!) or the owner is unaware of what he/she has (very good for you!). Either way, the key is to know what you're buying. Keep in mind that purchasing an All-Trac is more than simply buying "just another car". It's a commitment. Think "I do". Although it may cost more up front, buying a well kept and properly maintained All-Trac is the preferred route over a car that been "rode hard and put up wet", i.e. ragged and shagged. Remember, you do want the honeymoon to last a while.
Previous Repairs. Ask for the service records for the car your reviewing. If the owner cannot produce them, "Next!"
Other. Find out how long the current owner has owned the car? why is he or she selling? Typically, All-Trac owners *love* their cars (that's me!)
Previous Hi-Po Mods. What can I say here that won't get me into trouble?! Buying a car that's already received numerous performance-oriented modifications is a crap-shoot. You could buy someone's prized baby, or inherit someone else's nightmare. If the car has many hi-po mods, investigate, investigate, investigate. The mods may sound cool and exciting, but you want to know about the mods: what are they, who performed them, why, how long ago, etc? The key here is that if you see hi-po mods on a car, you can reasonably expect that the car has been driven hard. You don't want to buy someone else's problem. And, while I'm not condemning all cars that have been modified, I'm merely pointing out the fact that modified cars have a potential for greater and more costly problems than a non-modified car.
Weak Areas. At anything over 100K miles, expect to put in a new clutch and timing belt if those have not been replaced already. Also, expect to rebuild the tranny with new synchros, replace the intake hoses between the AFM and turbo, install new front wheel bearings, install new/rebuilt front half-shafts, and install a new rear differential mount. Also, expect to replace or rebuild the turbo itself. Those are the major weak points. If the System 10 stereo doesn't sound quite right, or pops when changing tracks on the CD, you can have the both the head and cd units services for about $100 each at a competent radio repair facility - over time, a bank of a dozen or so capacitors fail and cause the problems I mentioned. This has happened on several of the System 10 stereos I've owned.
Suggestion - a Pre-purchase
Check-up. As for the mechanicals, a smart move is to have a mechanic check the car for you - including a check of the cylinder compression. Doing so allows for a check for oil in the intake system, a reading of the spark plugs which can give a good general indication of the condition of the engine. The key here is to know what you're buying. These cars are so expensive to repair that $300-500 spent up-front to identify problems could potentially save you thousands down the road.
Ease of Repairs. Zero to one-half out of four stars. Working on an All-Trac is not easy. It's a very complex piece of automotive engineering, and 99% of the mechanics out in the world, including at Toyota dealerships, (a) have never heard of an All-Trac and are thus (b) clueless as how to work on one and, in my opinion, unsuited for the job. In other words, search around for a mechanic that's heard of, preferably seen, and hopefully actually worked on an All-Trac. This is not a car for the average "Joe's Garage". (No offense to all Joe's out there!)
Cost of Repairs. Unfortunately, All-Tracs are generally on the expensive side of the cost to repair fence. Stated another way, if your girl-friend / wife is high maintenance, you probably cannot afford the operational maintenance costs of an All-Trac. For example, the book time for changing the clutch is 16 hours. At $50 per hour, add in another $400 for a good clutch and pressure plate (a ClutchMasters HDTZ stage 3.5), and you can see that changing the clutch is an expensive affair at $1200. And if you're thinking you'll do this job yourself, think again. This is no simple and easy task accomplishable in an afternoon... The engine and transmission both drop out the bottom of the car together as an assembly. The practice of rolling a Borg Warner / Muncie / Ford Toploader 4-speed standard trans up on your chest and bench-pressing it into place does not work on this car. Back to replacing the clutch... Since you have the engine and trans out for the clutch, you might as well as replace a bunch of other items while the engine is out, thus providing easy access to the following components: water pump, timing belt and all idlers, head gasket, might as well eliminate the T-Vis (Toyota Variable Induction System) secondary butterflies, replace all the coolant hoses of which there are many. So that $1200 clutch quickly escalated to $2000 or $2500. Unless you yourself are a very adept mechanic, I recommend new purchasers of an All-Trac keep about $2000-3000 in reserves to pay for repairs after purchasing the car. Hey, if you're after an economical car, go buy a Corolla. The cost for the exclusivity of the All-Trac is not cheap, and its not for everyone.
Insurance. The All-Trac is a symbol 17 in Texas, and I pay $550/year for full coverage, with $500 deductibles and very high policy limits. However, I'm no longer under 25, and cannot accurately estimate what the average twenty-something will pay for insurance. Rest assured, that even with a clean record (i.e. no moving violations or at-fault accidents), insurance will likely not come cheap, perhaps as low as $1500 per year, possibly more. I don't know. It's been a long time since I was in high school (my 20-yr reunion was in 2001!). As they say in business, three of the critical factors in a successful business are location, location, location. So it goes that another factor in insurance costs is the county in which you live. Some counties cost 15-30% more. I live about 5 miles outside Harris county (where the city of Houston is located). Although I commute into Houston every day for business, my insurance is about 30% less because my residence is not in Harris county. While I don't recommend moving your residence in order to afford insurance for the car, I do strongly suggest that you obtain the VIN number for the All-Trac you're looking to purchase, and start calling insurance companies for a quote. Better yet, go talk with an insurance agent and have him/her explain to you all the different aspect of insurance. It's not as simple as it may appear. There's loads of issues that can influence the amount you pay.
Title Who? Also, while you have the VIN#, run it through one of the car reporting services (i.e. Carfax) to find out the history about the title. Many states will denote whether the car has ever been totaled by an insurance company with something that's called a "salvage" title. Although, given the general rarity or All-Tracs in the USA, I would doubt to ever see one that's been repaired after having been totaled in a crash. But, you never know. A title search will also identify whether there's a lien against the car, and whether it has passed or failed any state mandated and regulated emission tests.
Net-Net. I'm not trying to scare you away from it... The All-Trac is a very fine automobile... I have owned two of 'em, and still own one which I plan to continue building up for show and racing. Simply be careful through your selection process and never be afraid to ask questions of the owner. You're the buyer. And if the seller is not forthcoming with data for any question you may present, you should think twice before buying his or her car. Move on a find another one. Be patient. In time, you'll find the car that meets your needs.