Toyota MR2 Mark 1 Buyer's Guide
Adapted from the extensive work of Nick Challoner from Great Britain
Check out Nick's Site at: Nick's
buyer's guide is intended to help the potential purchaser of a MR2 Mark 1
thoroughly check out any vehicles he chooses to look over and test drive. It is
based on a checklist I put together using material from a number of sources: the
buyer's guide on the UK MR2 Driver's Club
website formed the basis, to which I added a whole load of material I had
gathered over a few months of being subscribed to the IMOC-UK
mailing list. Some of the guys on the latter were especially helpful -
thanks Jay, Dan and Martin! More recently I have added material from my
experience of owning a MR2 Mark 1. This guide is for the specifics of checking a
MR2 Mark 1, if you need information on checking used cars in general, check out this
list from the UK Government Office of Fair Trading.
If you have any additions or corrections to make to the text below, please
mail me at email@example.com. Better
still, if you are a member of the IMOC-UK
mailing list, post there!
This guide is produced for information only. Although every care has been
taken to produce an accurate and comprehensive guide, I cannot be held legally
responsible for any direct or indirect loss due to its use. Use of this guide
indicates your understanding of these conditions. Basically, I have produced
this to try and help people - please use it in that spirit. This page has a UK
bias as that is where I live and where I checkout out the cars. MR2s are pretty
similar the world over though, so most of what is written below should be
applicable wherever you live.
- A full service history is very desirable. The service history was 5,000
miles for the early cars, upped to 6,000 miles for later models. A big
handful of receipts is always a good sign too, particularly if they are from
a Toyota dealer.
- Another good sign of a well looked after car is the presence of the
toolkit. Open the front boot and look at the offside. The toolkit should be
there along with the jack.
- Check operation of all electrical gadgets such as electric mirrors,
electric windows, wipers and rear demister. The heater fan speed control can
be a problem, so select each position and make sure the fan speed changes
accordingly (the speeds are controlled by a resistor pack buried within the
dashboard behind the glove compartment).
- The Mk1 MR2 has a kind of central locking, in that there is a switch on
the drivers door forward of the electric window switches which will lock and
unlock both doors simultaneously. However, using the key in a door lock will
only operate the lock for that door. Strange but true - it is not a fault!
- Post-1987 models have an electric aerial - make sure it works!
- Check for sloppiness in the windscreen wiper linkage - this is caused by a
plastic bush, but the whole assembly has to be replaced and it costs over £100!
- Check the tyres. Any wear should be even, except for perhaps wear on the
insides of the rears. Make sure you negotiate something off the asking price
if some or all of the tyres are worn!
- There should be a nice MR2 Eagle badge on the bonnet. These are often
stolen and replacements are in excess of £30 from Toyota!
- Open the front boot and check the bolts that hold the front bumper to the
body. Also check the bolts holding on the trim underneath the nose of the
car. If all these bolts are corroded slightly it is a good sign because the
bumper and trim have probably not been replaced, and therefore the front of
the vehicle has not hit anything!
- While under the nose, check that the bodywork is not corroded badly in
this area. If it is, then it may mean that the vehicle has been incorrectly
jacked causing damage.
- With the front boot still open, look up and check the metal ring that
latches onto the bonnet release mechanism. The paint on it should have worn
off, and perhaps it may even be corroded slightly, indicating that the
bonnet has been in place for some time, not a recent collision damage
- Now look down at the area between the headlights. If there is a plastic
cover here, pop it off. Check that any corrosion on and around the top of
the radiator is surface only, not crumbly and deep. While you are in the
area (and with the ignition switched off to protect your fingers!) spin the
two radiator fans to make sure they are not seized.
- Check from both above and below the bodywork betweeen the radiator and the
bumper. Only light corrosion should be present - more could be an MoT
- Remove the spare wheel and anything else in the front boot. Remove the
plastic front boot liner by pressing in the two clips that hold it in place
(one on each side, mid way up). Then check all exposed bodywork for
corrosion. Check the heater piping for coolant leaks while you are here.
- Check along the front of the roof where the windscreen meets it for
corrosion. If the windscreen has ever been replaced, water can seep in and
accelerate corrosion in this area.
- Open both doors fully. Place your hand under the outer edge of each and
pull upwards. There should be very little and preferably no vertical
movement of the doors. If there is more than 5mm then the door mountings are
very worn, be sure to check the doors close properly without scraping the
body of the car.
- With the doors still open, check the body of the car at the point where
the B-pillars (pillars at the rear of the door) meet the sill (the
horizontal piece running along the bottom of the body between the wheel
arches). This is a very common place to corrode, and can be costly to repair
(my 1985 model had a receipt with it from a Toyota dealer who had carried
out this work in August 1999 for £485.00), so be sure to negotiate a lower
price to reflect this! The MoT man does not like this either, due to the
close proximity to suspension mountings.
- The headlights are also prone to corrosion. Lock them up by switching the
headlights on, then pushing the headlight switch into the dashboard and
turning it one more stop counter-clockwise. Now undo the plastic covers
either side of the headlamps by unscrewing the two bright screws that hold
each cover on. Any corrosion should be surface corrosion only. Check the
pivots at the back too for serious corrosion or you could be left with a
lop-sided light on a dark and rainy night in the middle of nowhere!
- The point where the A-pillars (pillars between door and windscreen/front
wing) meet the sill can also corrode, although this is not as common as the
B-pillar problem. It will be expensive to fix though, as again quite a lot
of work is involved.
- Check all wheel arches for corrosion. This is a very common problem and
again can be quite expensive to fix properly so be sure to negotiate a
reduction. Most Mk1s regularly driven in the UK are probably going to be
suffering from corrosion of the rear wheel arches by now, so be a little
suspicious of one that does not show any signs of corrosion. If it has not
been properly fixed, it will probably re-appear in a very short time. A
receipt from a dealer or reputable body-shop would be good evidence that it
has been taken care of properly.
- Pull up the linings in the front and rear boots and check for corrosion of
the bodywork. The front boot seal is prone to leaking, allowing water to
accumulate in the bottom of the boot space so aiding corrosion. Buckled
bodywork in either boot is a sure sign of a collision.
- If the vehicle is a T-bar, it is advisable to check these for leaks. If
possible, blast them with water from a hose and then check inside for drips
and damp spots on the seats and floor.
- Floor pans are prone to corrode, pull up the carpets in the cabin to check
and/or have a good feel underneath the car.
- The "16 Valve" inscription on the cam cover (top of the engine)
should be blue for pre-1987 models, and red for post-1987 models. 1987
models themselves can be either, as this was when the engine was changed
slightly, and the inscription colour changed from blue to red.
- Everything in the engine bay should be a bit dirty, be cautious of
sparkling steam cleaned examples as the seller might be trying to hide
something! Look for obvious oil leaks around the engine block. Be sure to
check for oil leaks underneath too. If the engine has been replaced at some
point, pay particular attention to the seal between the oil sump and the
- Open the oil filler cap on the cam cover. Only oil should be present - if
there is any cream coloured gunge present then water has found its way into
the oil system, probably due to a blown head gasket. Check the dipstick too.
Hopefully all the oil will be relatively clear indicating a recent oil
change. The dipstick can be difficult to locate - it is low down in the
engine bay on the back corner of the engine block close to the coolant
recovery bottle and alternator belt.
- Find the throttle cable which is supported on a tripod-type bracket on top
of the engine. Check the ends are not frayed.
- The cambelt should have been changed at 60,000 miles. If this has been
done by a Toyota dealer they should have attached a sticker to the top of
the cambelt cover with the date and mileage written of the change written
- Check the exhaust for corrosion - they do corrode quickly when used for
lots of short journeys.
- Check the radiator area for leaks. These can be from the radiator itself,
from the bleed valves on the radiator or from the pipes connected to it.
- Toyota recommend that a special Toyota coolant (called ForLife) be
used as it also helps prevent engine gasket failure. ForLife is a dark red
colour - check for the presence of dark red coolant in the coolant recovery
tank at the rear offside of the engine bay. You must take the cap off the
tank and look inside to do this as the tank gets stained by the coolant so
it always looks full from the outside. If it is pale red then it has
probably been diluted with water to compensate for a leak somewhere. Other
coolants are fine too, as long as they are a good ethylene glycol type, so
you may find green or blue coolant instead. If just plain water is in there,
then you may well be looking at an expensive engine repair bill in the near
future. Rusty or dirty coolant is also a sign that the car has not been
cared for very well.
- If the coolant recovery tank cap is cracked, replace it to avoid losing
coolant that should be collected. The original caps are white, the
replacements are black.
- Airlocks are common, due to a lack of understanding of the MR2's complex
cooling system. Watch for overheating and clouds of steam in the rear view
mirror! Another indication of air in the system is a 'bouncing' engine idle
when cold caused by air pockets passing the coolant temperature sensors and
fooling them and the ECU. If the car exhibits any of these problems then it
is probably best to walk away as running it in such a condition is very bad
for the engine (causing head gasket failure etc.).
- When starting from cold it is normal for the engine to idle at around
2000rpm or so. A little disconcerting at first.
- Take it easy to let everything warm up, then check the heater to make sure
it can blow hot air.
- The oil pressure guage should read about half way when idling, and
somewhere around 3/4 when at higher revs.
- On a straight section of road, preferable with only slight camber, hold
the steering wheel lightly to check that the car tracks straight and does
not drift to one side.
- Clunks and bumps from the front of the car over potholes probably mean
worn bushes or tie-rods, which are very easy to replace.
- Clunks, bumps or strange whining noises from the rear of the car when
changing direction or going round corners could well indicate worn rear
- It should be pretty easy to select all the gears (remember to check
reverse!). Fifth gear can be a good sign of worn gearbox components. Severe
wear will result in it jumping out of 5th and into neutral, particularly
when backing off the throttle. You can test this by driving as fast as
possible and lifting off the throttle quickly, letting the car slow somewhat
and then jumping back on the throttle quickly. If it jumps out of 5th then
there is obviously a problem. If it stays in gear check how much movement of
the gear lever there is when backing off the throttle. Ideally there should
be very little. Anything more than around 10mm is a sign of significant wear
and you could expect to be replacing the gearbox in the near future.
- Check the brakes by again building up speed and then applying them sharply
(consider other road users before doing this!). The car should not pull to
- If there is judder as the brakes are applied from high speed (try and test
this at speeds at or greater than 60mph) then the front brake discs are
probably warped and need replacing together with the pads. This is a common
problem on early Mk1s and was corrected in later models by the use of larger
front discs). If there is judder even when the brakes are not being used
then it is probably a simple matter of an out-of-balance wheel or two.
Once it's yours
If you follow the above then you should end up with a pretty sound motor! But
things will wear out over time - here are some tips:
- Haynes only released a Mark 1 MR2 workshop manual in the US. You can order
one online in the UK from the Haynes
website or from the UK MR2 Driver's Club.
- Toyota workshop manuals are available if you want more detail than the
Haynes manual. UK dealers do not seem supply them, but they can be obtained
through the UK MR2 Driver's Club, from
whom I bought mine.
- The alternator often dies at around 100k miles. Replace it with one from a
good motor factors, which will cost around £150.
- The gearbox can become very noisy by around 120k miles. Replace with a low
mileage second hand one from Fensport
which will cost about £285 plus fitting. If you have it rebuilt it will
probably still be as noisy because of wear on the gears.
- The 4A-GE engine in the Mark 1 MR2 is a hardy beast, but if something
major does fail it will probably be more cost effective to source a low
mileage second hand Japanese import engine from the likes of Fensport
than to have it rebuilt.
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