It’s too easy to forget this feeling, when things are too good for too long we forget how bad they can be. But the MR2 is fixed and this is your friendly Oppo reminder.
Nearly a year ago I bought an MR2. My 300ZX was broken and fixing it was dragging out. So I decided to tempt the gods, pitting all the reliability of a Toyota with a well-developed engine that was shared amongst many models, against all the unreliability of an old 4-cylinder privately-imported unconventionally-laid-out sports car. And I lost.
It broke. I made a plea on Oppo. I visited a man. I enlisted the help of my friend. And now it’s fixed.
On The Fix
The biggest problem was a rattle at certain RPM/throttle positions, and it was caused by worn crankshaft bearings. Really worn. One of them had snapped. Two were missing layers. Chunks of metal were in the oil we drained out. The general consensus is that the crankshaft will have been beating on these and also getting damaged, but we observed and measured and it’s just fine. Replaced the bearings and it’s all good. Can I blame Toyota? Maybe. It happened because the oil got too low. I checked it when I bought the car but I wasn’t monitoring it like I perhaps should have. Nevertheless, the oil pressure light never came on, and it definitely should have. Call it a draw.
Another problem that showed up was some stuttering, especially at low RPM. This was caused by bad ignition leads - probably damaged by us removing them during the work, but only because they were already old and tired. Duct tape fixed them temporarily (and surprisingly well) and confirmed the source of the problem, new leads have arrived for a permanent fix.
What The Mechanic Said
The mechanic I went to suggested it was valve clearances, that he’d have to remove the engine to fix them and it would cost $2,500. We did that and it didn’t help. Now that we’ve found and fixed the true problem I can say with authority that he was wrong. Paying him would have resulted in a destroyed bank account and a car that’s unchanged. What’s more, we’d found that unplugging the lead in cylinder 4 would remove the rattle completely, suggesting that it wasn’t valve clearances and was likely something related to certain cylinders. He completely dismissed this. I don’t think he even believed me when I said it. Clearly he didn’t test it before coming to his conclusion. I’m no expert, but he is and he was wrong.
In all it came to a few hundred dollars for the lot.
On The Feels
I drove the car as it was, engine rattling at cruising speed, hesitating at higher revs and stuttering at lower revs, for a few months. I don’t drive often, but I did go on a road trip covering a few thousand kays. I drove it fairly sedately for this time, but not like a grandma - I’d been told it was simply the valve clearances and that I couldn’t really damage the car if I kept using it. I could drown out most of the rattling with music and by having the roof off/windows down, and at least the car performed decently in the mid-range, but it was never really okay.
Driving a sick car is like having a sick child or loved one. It’s not about you anymore, it’s not about having a good time with each other. You just want them to be better and you feel guilty for being powerless to help. The MR2 is a sports car of course, and one of the pillars of enjoyment in my life. And I tried to enjoy our time together as much as I could. There were twisty roads, long trips away from home, stints with the roof off despite the weather at the moment. I threw it into roundabouts with gusto, trying to enjoy the handling of the car without exerting the engine. But it was never the same, always tainted. It was enough to get me through, and the car never let me down, but it wasn’t the fun we should’ve been having.
But now things are glorious. The engine sings towards redline, nary a stutter or hint of hesitation, all smooth revvy goodness. The power is likewise smooth, consistent and seemingly always available. It’s beautiful. It’s so easy to take this sort of thing for granted - to enjoy the feel and sound of your car without questioning whether or not it will always be this way. Next time you’re out on a nice road, take a moment to reflect.