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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 Toyota MR2


Nick Challoner's MR2 This 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 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.



  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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!
  5. Post-1987 models have an electric aerial - make sure it works!
  6. 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!
  7. 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!
  8. There should be a nice MR2 Eagle badge on the bonnet. These are often stolen and replacements are in excess of 30 from Toyota!


  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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 replacement.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 failure.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Floor pans are prone to corrode, pull up the carpets in the cabin to check and/or have a good feel underneath the car.


  1. 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.
  2. 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 engine block.
  3. 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.
  4. Find the throttle cable which is supported on a tripod-type bracket on top of the engine. Check the ends are not frayed.
  5. 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 on.
  6. Check the exhaust for corrosion - they do corrode quickly when used for lots of short journeys.

Cooling System

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.).

Test Drive

  1. When starting from cold it is normal for the engine to idle at around 2000rpm or so. A little disconcerting at first.
  2. Take it easy to let everything warm up, then check the heater to make sure it can blow hot air.
  3. The oil pressure guage should read about half way when idling, and somewhere around 3/4 when at higher revs.
  4. 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.
  5. Clunks and bumps from the front of the car over potholes probably mean worn bushes or tie-rods, which are very easy to replace.
  6. Clunks, bumps or strange whining noises from the rear of the car when changing direction or going round corners could well indicate worn rear wheel bearings.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 either side.
  9. 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:


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