My wife and I are considering a 2003 Camry as a replacement for her Echo. It’s nicely loaded, has around 170k miles on it, and looks to be in great shape for around $3500. It has the 2.4L four cylinder, which should get pretty decent mileage. Yeah, it’s a Camry, and thus not exciting at all. But for my wife’s usage, it would be a great car on which all the components work (like the a/c).

In doing some research on the car, I’ve found reports of problems with these engines having a design defect where the middle three head bolts in the back will strip for no apparent reason, leading to a blown head gasket. If you’re lucky, it leaks out the back and is readily apparent. If you’re not, it leaks internally and you get the requisite milkshake oil and destroyed bearings.

My question is this: does anyone know how common this problem was? I don’t want to buy the car if I am just guaranteeing myself expense and a painful repair. From what I’ve read, the repair steps include using a heli-coil or similar repair kit. Not something I’d do just for fun, but certainly within my abilities.

Any experience with these cars / this engine? Should I run far and fast? Here’s a car far out of my budget for your time. (I love the 503's.)