At $7,500, Would You Give This 1996 Toyota RAV4 a RAVE Review?

Photo: Craigslist
Nice Price Or Crack PipeIs this used car a good deal? You decide!

Today’s Nice Price or Crack Pipe RAV4 has not just one, but two sunroofs for all your sky gazing pleasure. Let’s see if this rare and cute as a bug’s ear softroader’s price makes it also worth a look.

I once bought a Bentley manual for one of my cars and being the rube I was at the time, I thought it extremely egalitarian that the maker of exclusive luxury cars would go to the trouble of also creating repair manuals for other makers’ products.


I now know that Bentley the car maker and Bentley the publisher are two separate enterprises. I mean, duh. That doesn’t make them mutually exclusive however, especially when it comes to consideration of yesterday’s 1989 Bentley Mulsanne S sedan. That car was offered under a non-operation registration and, as was explained by its seller in the ad, was in in need of some TLC—hence the manual.

At a $7,500 asking price, that all seemed an onerous ask, especially on a car that requires special tools to do many of even the simplest tasks and carries part prices that could bankrupt a small country. In the end, 66 percent of you felt that the TLC-needing Bentley was really DOA, giving it a Crack Pipe loss.


Even though I agree that buying yesterday’s Bentley is probably a bad idea for anyone but the marque’s most avid adherents, I still think any big B going for five figures is an intriguing prospect. Of course there are people who look at partying with Charlie Sheen in the same way so who am I to judge?


The thing is, for the rest of us, there are probably many, many better and saner options for spending the $7,500 that was asked for that Mulsanne. As a prime example, here’s a 1996 Toyota RAV4 three-door for the exact same amount.

Maybe it’s the whiskey in my coffee talking, but I don’t think there’s much of a greater polar divide between cars and categories at this price than that of the stodgy old Bentley and this twee and seemingly still eager Toyota.


The RAV4 is currently on its fifth generation, and over the course of its nearly quarter century run has proven to be one of Toyota’s most popular models. The latest one is Toyota’s highest selling model and its hybrid edition has proven decimating to sales of the Prius, having moved more as a single model over the first six months of the year than the entire Prius lineup combined.


This three-door is an example of where it all started. It’s also an example of the model’s diversity before it settled into the dull routine of mass market appeal. As such it offers three features absent on the latest RAV. These are, in no particular order: the three door body style, a five-speed manual transmission, and a pair of removable sunroofs over the seats. That’s a triple threat.

On the downside, these early three-doors ride on such a ridiculously small 86.6-inch wheelbase that expansion joints on the highway can feel like a rodeo bull ride. Another issue here is the rear door which opens to the right, making it fine for drives-on-the-left Japan, but a pain in the neck to load from the curb here in right-sided America.


With those complaints out of the way, there’s much to like about this seemingly well preserved RAV4. Both the red paint and heavy-handed plastic cladding have held up well for its years and modest 156,000 miles. The nose features a roo bar and a Frieda Kahlo-evoking plastic bug deflector on the hood. The factory wheels have been coated in what looks like rattle can black, but a bit of TSP and some scrubbing should rectify that questionable choice. The tires wrapped around those wheels are claimed to be new, which is a significant plus.


The interior seems to have held up in typical old Toyota fashion as well. There is some griminess apparent on the headliner between the two pop-up panels, but it’s not too egregious. Seats, dash and carpet all look to be in serviceable shape, and there is a radio and A/C for your entertainment and comfort. Also comforting is the clear title and the fact that it appears to carry current Washington State registration.


The seller says in the ad that he’s collector of old Toyotas. That’s not something you hear someone admitting every day. He says the RAV is in good shape and as such is a pretty rare find. There is no mention of how the mechanicals are holding up, but the 120 horsepower 2-litre 3S-FE four and five-speed transmission are both known for fuss-free mileage.

The AWD system is borrowed from the contemporary Celica AllTrac and rides on almost eight inches of ground clearance. This is not something you’re going to be fording the Rubicon in, but it’ll get you through inclement weather and around that KOA campground just fine.


As I noted at the outset, this RAV4 carries the same $7,500 price as yesterday’s Bentley Mulsanne. Now that you’re fully acquainted with the Toyota, which one would you rather buy? Before you answer that, let’s decide if this RAV4 is even worth the comparison. Do you think that the little Toyota, as it’s presented in its ad, is worth that $7,500 asking? Or, is this a rare little trucklet that’s just not rare enough to ask so much?


You decide!


Seattle, WA Craigslist, or go here if the ad disappears.

H/T to FauxShizzlefor the hookup!

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About the author

Rob Emslie

Rob Emslie is a contributing writer for Jalopnik. He has too many cars, and not enough time to work on them all.