By on February 21, 2011

Tae-Moo writes:

Sajeev! Your bottomless well of knowledge and practical opinions has turned me into a huge fan of TTAC. With all your knowledge I hope you can answer a very broad but basic question of mine:

I have owned my MR2 for the past 7 years, having been my high school love (sadly it has been more bitchy than any teenage girl I dated at the time, yet I still continue to love it more than any set of D cups). Actually all the headaches caused by the car are my own fault as my electrical skills were severely insufficient to properly install any headunit or speakers. Wisely, I let all the mechanical work to be done by professionals. The body of the car has about 200k miles on it while the engine has about 50k. I replaced my N/A with a 94 turbo and has been running beautifully for the few months after.

Unfortunately, after graduation, my life entered the abyss and has succumbed to the life of public finance and spreadsheets in San Francisco. Due to the high costs of keeping a car in SF and not actually needing one like my city of origin, LA, I have left my poor love sitting in the garage of my parents’ home. FOR THE PAST 3 YEARS! I have finally reached puberty and grown some balls so I will be quitting my job in the near future and pursue graduate school in LA. Could you please give me some general advice on what check-ups I should do for my MR2 so I can return it to a daily driver? Thanks Sajeev, keep up the great work!

P.S. True story- My dad’s 1991 Toyota Previa died just under 500k miles. He has since bought a Sienna and I’ll report how long that one lasts.


Sajeev answers:

Think about this, our long-term reactions to life altering stressors fit into three categories: positively, negatively and suicidally.  I’ve experienced the first two, and lost one of my best friends to the latter.

Kudos to you, as I know what it’s like to be in your shoes: in a dead end job back in ‘02, saw the writing on the wall and went back for my MBA. After that, a series of unfulfilling jobs, with enough money to buy (among other things) a 6-speed stick in my 1988 Mercury Cougar. Then I quit a particularly brutal job, and it left me a mental basket case.  The Cougar sat for a year behind a shop, waiting for someone to install a new dashboard/heater core.  As I regained my personal fortitude, the Cougar was reassembled and rejuvenated by me.  For me.  It was a great feeling, even if I was close to broke at the time.

And you, my good man, have plenty of time to do it right. Restoring the MR2 shall be a nice break from the tortures of grad school.  The following list is by no means comprehensive, but it will get your rolling.  You’ll find plenty more wrong (electric motors, weatherstrip, heater core, etc) none of which should stop you from attending class: it might keep you from studying as much as you…could. Not that you would.

Now that I’m done rambling, let’s list the things to check after a 3-year hiatus. Best and Brightest:  on your marks…

  1. Tires: odds are they weren’t new when the MR2 sat, so they are probably nicely rotted. And flat spotted. If traction is a problem in the wet, or when the turbo hits, get a new set.
  2. Fluids: coolant and engine oil should be changed, brakes should be bled at the bare minimum.
  3. Brakes:  once the fluid is addressed, test for proper operation. If something feels grabby or generally “wrong” about your trusted ride, consider getting the rotors turned/replaced and new calipers.
  4. Replace the battery: even if it works now, it doesn’t have the stones to keep up the good work 6 months from now.
  5. Belts, vacuum lines and hoses: same problem as tires, examine or replace.
  6. Gasoline: if the car actually runs on what’s in there (not recommended) dilute it quickly with fresh gas, and stay the hell outta the MR2’s boost until you get all of the old stuff out.
  7. Filters: Fuel filter should be changed when all the old gas is cleared out.
  8. Critters: stored inside or not, you better check inside, outside and underneath for signs of life.  I’d hate for you to get a nasty surprise when you turn on the HVAC, or get a nasty short when activating something electrical.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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25 Comments on “Piston Slap: Re-write Destiny, Re-Love The MR2...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Solid advice.  BTW to an enthusiast like me (meaning lover of all things with wheels, even if I don’t get passionate about Toyotas) that picture is more NSFW than what Bertel attaches to his articles.  MR2 – did anyone who bought one of those new believe that in 2011 the fastest Toyota (not Lexus or any other division) would be a V6 RAV4?  That’s a dirty shame.

    Good luck with the car, Amigo.  At least you have the time to love it again. 

    • 0 avatar

      If you put a ’94 turbo engine in it, I bet you have the gen2 MR2,  and not the gen1 as picture above.

    • 0 avatar

      He could have what the MR2 guys call a MK1.5, a Mk1 chassis with a Mk2 drivetrain. This is the project I would like to tackle as soon as I get some dispossible founds.

    • 0 avatar

      Good general advice in this thread.  Details on bringing your MR2 back to life can be found by asking over on MR2OC, Tae-Moo.  Such as learning how to properly burp the coolant system once you’ve flushed it several times with distilled water and filling it with Toyota Red (flame suit on).  Or learning not to flip out when you find an oil puddle in the elbow next to the turbo inlet.  Or if you’re feeling particularly bold, changing the damn timing belt and tensioner.

  • avatar

    What is the life cycle of untreated gas?  I have a ’92 Explorer (decidedly not a revvy high performasnce engine) that will have been unstarted for a year (with year and a half old gas in it) when I finally get back to where it’s sitting and try to fire it up in the spring.  Drain it, dilute it, or run it?

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      Drain it, put new gas in and have a few filters and pumps on standby in case they are/get clogged.

    • 0 avatar

      Definitely drain, had 1.5 yo gas in my vehicle, it ran but poorly, stalled and dieseled.  Drained gas was the color of beer.  Fresh gas with the rated octane (aged gas loses octane rating, hence the dieseling) and the car ran great.  Hope your tank has a drain plug, should be made mandatory

    • 0 avatar

      What do the B&B do with gas they drain from a vehicle (or other ICE powered device) that has not been run in a long time?  Fire pit?  Hazardous Material Collection Site? Stored in Pickle Jars for years, left to be dealt with by the next owner of your property?  Poured into the ground to get Superfund status and collect tax benefits?

    • 0 avatar

      Save it and put a quart of it in your gas tank every time you fill up. A quart of old gas won’t effect 16+ gallons of new.

    • 0 avatar

      You can dispose of it with used oil since they are both based on hydrocarbons.

  • avatar

    Does this country really need another f%$#ing MBA? Just saying. How about a geological engineer to find us some more water or something useful.
    Screw all you MBAs! You freak shows got us in this econimic mess and like I am supposed to believe you people will get us out? Please.

    • 0 avatar

      As someone who is in an occupation closely linked to the financial sector, I completely agree with you.

    • 0 avatar

      Um, the original poster never said he’s going after an MBA, just “Graduate school”.  For all we know, he’s going to be an architect.
      To the OP, I’d replace or at least inspect the wipers.  Finding out that they’re junk the first time you have occasion to use them in a rain storm is not something you want to experience.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m an engineer and at my former job the primary expectation was an engineer would climb the salary ladder into management which was apparently aided by attaining an MBA.  As someone who shares your opinion of MBAs, I once heard someone say they wanted to get an MBA solely so they could tell the other MBAs how to F*$< OFF in language they’d understand.

    • 0 avatar

      I have an MBA, and like many of my ilk, have never done anything related to our financial meltdown.  So on behalf of my profession(?), please pull your head out of the sand and realize that MBAs do more than whatever you think we may do.
      An MBA took the best ideas from automotive message boards and created Piston Slap for blogs, in case you missed it.

  • avatar

    Somehow, this kinda bookends the article about a 200K ride last week!

  • avatar

    Many parts of California are infested with black widow spiders.
    Seek them out and beam them elsewhere!!!
    Look before placing fingers anywhere.
    After ample poking/peeking less care needed.
    Under seats, in there, under there, anywhere, take care.

    • 0 avatar

      As Amarante Cordova said in The Milagro Beanfield War “in the outhouse, do not let your balls swing below the seat, black widow spiders.”

      That and Sonia Braga as a mechanic makes this movie a must-see.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Nice photo: reminds me of those breaching U-boat movie shots.

  • avatar

    I congratulate the poster on coming to his senses and getting back to where he can use a car… and a great car at that.  I love my MR2, especially here in FL where the weather is finally turning to top-down weather.

    Although I have a gen3, most advice I have should carry over:

    1.  Coolant.  These cars are sensitive to cooling issues, so change out the hoses and flush and fill the coolant.  Yes, changing the hoses is a b!tch, but at least they are cheap parts.  Dont pay for the labor, its insane.

    2.  If your fuel filter is in the same (dumb) place as mine, its actually in the tank.  Take the time now to change it, perhaps change the pump too as its a pain to get to.  This is a great time to drain that fuel as recommended above.

  • avatar

    “Critters: stored inside or not, you better check inside, outside and underneath for signs of life.  I’d hate for you to get a nasty surprise when you turn on the HVAC, or get a nasty short when activating something electrical.”
    Just coming back from the quick lube and was going to file the receipt when, much to my horror, I found a chipmunk feces pile in my glovebox! This is a daily driven car! I’m hoping the little bastard didn’t eat any of my wires. The car is ancient, but rust hole free. I can’t imagine how it got in there.
    Regardless, great advice…

  • avatar

    The battery will most likely be toasted and need to be replaced. Do not even try to charge it up, it will be a waste of time. Please replace all of the brake fluid. This should be done at least every two years. The consequence of bad brake fluid is !!NO BRAKES!! under a panic stop condition. Tires over 5 years old should not be on the road, as the rubber loses its flexibility. All new fuel, you can disconnect a fuel line and pump it out using the car’s pump (if working) or siphon it out through the fill pipe. The brakes will have a lot of rust on the disks. The pistons may be frozen in the calipers. The emergency brake will likely be seized, especially if left engaged.

  • avatar

    For what it’s worth…my best friend drives a Mk1.5…pulled the original engine and dropped a turbocharged 2.2l into it…and intercooled.  Very, um, interesting conversion.  We’ve surprised more than our share of heavy-hitting sports cars with this little wedge on wheels…
    And that picture?  That ALMOST made me cry as much as the friggin’ shot of the 2002 in the crusher!  What is WRONG with you people these days?  LOL…

  • avatar

    Change all belts
    Change all hoses
    Change all fluids (flush the coolant system, brake lines etc ect)
    Change filters
    Change wiper blades
    Change tires
    Check axle boots..
    Grease everything that is greasable
    Silicone spray all hinges
    Have a full set of fuses ready in the glovebox for the first couple of drives.
    Gas starts heading to crap ville not long after you fill the tank. For every month of storage, deduct octane # and add % water retained. After 3 years it is bout the quality of North Korean tap water….still flammable but you can survive on it in case China cuts off economic aid.
    If you haven’t put in fuel stabilizer every couple of months then just drain the tank completely and refill prior to starting the engine.
    or you can just say to heck with it…bump push start the car…drive it round the block for an hour only to decide that you want another car

  • avatar

    OP here. Love all the advice.
    Hopefully my baby will have a smooth resurrection followed by many successful trackdays.

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