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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hi, everyone. I bought a 2002 MR2 with 128k miles for 8k a few days before Christmas. I had been using this forum to research them for about two months before purchase. The car looks like it has spent the vast majority of its time in a garage. The headlights are clear and the top is in very good condition, with just one small beginning of a rip on the top left corner of the rear window. The seats have zero wear or tears. I bought the car as a track car, so the great appearance is just a bonus. I live in NM and I bought the car in AZ.

I also joined some MR2 FB groups and they were pretty much unanimous that the 1ZZ will probably start burning oil and also suck on track, so I budgeted to get a 2ZZ swap ASAP. I am not a mechanic and I work way too much to ever get anything done in a timely manner. Those two facts motivated me to find someone to swap in the 2ZZ. I found someone in LA to swap the engine. The deal was to get my 1ZZ and transmission in trade for a 2ZZ with a 6 speed and LSD plus 6k. That seemed reasonable to me, so I went for it.

I had a lot of maintenance items replaced and performance items added for reliability:

  • Moroso oil pan
  • MWR coated billet oil pump gear (in the stock housing)
  • Toyota oil pump gasket
  • Toyota timing chain tensioner
  • Toyota water pump
  • Toyota Timing front cover gasket set A & B
  • Toyota front crank main seal
  • Toyota rear crank main seal
  • Toyota chain guide set
  • TRD 170F thermostat and Toyota gasket
  • Toyota 2ZZ clutch kit with ARP bolts
  • MWR alternator and water pump underdrive pulleys with Gates belt
  • QRP alternator
  • Koyo radiator
  • complete HPS coolant hose kit (every hose on the car basically)



I went to go pick it up last Friday (1/20). When I picked the car up, the CEL would flash when the car hit redline. There were no other bad symptoms. The MWR pulleys seemed to be pretty noisy, though. The car was wired with the MWR harness adapter and a stock ECU. I drove it to my hotel which was about 35 miles away in Glendale, CA. I stayed the night and left the hotel around 8AM 1/21. I am not familiar with LA at all, but I have seen plenty of videos on YT with people driving the Angeles Forest highway. That looked fun. I planned on driving the whole thing and then it would dump me out to go south to San Bernardino and then continue on back home towards NM. I did essentially zero research beforehand, besides looking at the route on Google Maps.

TLDR

  • Bought 2002 with 128k for 8k in AZ and drove it to LA to get 2ZZ swapped
  • Paid $6500 for supposedly good used engine (leakdown was great) and 6 speed with LSD. Lots of preventative maintenance done and new parts added.
  • Engine blew up in less than 100 miles, stranding me in the Angeles Forest
  • Hole in engine block on passenger side below exhaust manifold. Never redlined on that drive.
  • Only solution offered so far is buying another engine. I told him I want him to pull the engine and find out what happened.

As I turned onto the AC highway, I immediately came up behind a 70's 911 driven by an old man. He was driving an ok pace and since this was only the second time of myself driving the car, I definitely didn't want to push it. The car is also on all-season tires on some ugly/heavy aftermarket wheels, unknown brakes, and a fresh engine swap. So I settled in behind him and was enjoying the drive. The shifter in my car is pretty loose, so it isn't very precise and it just wouldn't go down into second gear most of the time, so I just kept it in third gear. I would go in and out of lift to keep up with the 911, but I literally never redlined the thing.

After maybe 25-30 miles of this, I suddenly got a rubbing sound from behind me. It sounded like a belt about to come off a pulley, so I slowed my pace and the 911 disappeared within a few corners. 3-4 corners later, the squealing noise got very loud and then the engine turned off and I started getting some smoke out the back. Luckily, there was a decent size turn-out ahead, so I coasted into it and parked. I got out of the car and thought I would just see a belt that walked off a pulley. I popped the engine cover and massive amounts of smoke started to pour out. A guy in a mustang was passing by and pulled over immediately and offered an extinguisher because he thought I was on fire. Luckily, I was not, but the massive amount of smoke took a while to clear. I saw the belts were still on the pulleys, so I decided to check the oil. It was bone dry. That got me to look under the car and there was a small puddle of oil. I could see the Moroso oil pan from behind and it wasn't leaking from the drain plugs, so I didn't understand where it was coming from.

With the car dead and not turning over and no cell phone signal to call a tow truck, the guy decided to give me a ride further up the mountain. Apparently, there is a car meeting at an abandoned cabin with a big parking lot every Friday. We got there and I started asking around if anyone had cell phone signal. No one did and I happened to meet the old man I had been following up the mountain. He offered to give me a ride back down the mountain when he left the car meet. I was very grateful, so I stood by while he socialized with his friends and talked cars for probably around an hour. I actually met Stephan Papadakis at the car meet lol. The 911 the man was driving was a 1972 and had a built 2.7 that was supposed to be putting out as much power as the RS of that generation. I was impressed that my lowly 2ZZ was able to keep up, if only for 25 miles or so. The ride back down the mountain was very entertaining. Even a 1972 911 drives very solidly in this modern age and would be a fantastic canyon car.

Anyways, once I got to the bottom of the mountain, I called the swap guy once at the gas station. He was incredulous that the engine blew and called AAA to tow it back to his house. I had to wait about an hour for the tow truck, then drive all the way back up there to get the car. When the guy got the car tilted up to load it on the flat bed, all of the engine oil started pouring out. It left a very large puddle in that turn-out.

Once we get the car back to the guys house, we talked about options. It seems he is only interested in getting me to buy another engine to put in. I budgeted tightly for all of this, so I am basically out of money. I decided to just have the guy pull it apart and figure out what happened. So now we are to the point of where I need advice. I have never dealt with individuals/shop that have done this kind of work. The financials are I paid $6500 roughly for the engine to be installed with the six speed/LSD and all fluids. Should I demand all my money back? If I do, the car is at his place, so now it is a brick and I can't get it back to NM. The car has never even been registered in my name, because I drove it to the swap guy as soon as I bought it. I never even imagined that this kind of problem would happen. Please let me know what you think I should do or demand in return for paying in full and the engine blowing in less than 100 miles and leaving me stranded.
 

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Agreed, the person who did the swap should be on the hook for replacing the engine. Especially if they're part of a business and not a local doing it out of their garage like me.


Glad the few I've swapped have never had issues
 

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Weigh, Cut, Weigh, Weld, Glue, Cut, Weigh, Drill
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Glad the few I've swapped have never had issues
I had a few owners crank up the boost and pop engine swaps in less than a week (happens WAY too often). I have also seen people drain the transmission and overfill the oil a month or so after being in the shop. Not so much of an issue with the Spyder but consider yourself lucky.
 

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Weigh, Cut, Weigh, Weld, Glue, Cut, Weigh, Drill
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My guess is something crucial wasn't torqued down correctly.
Inside the engine? For it to throw a rod in less than 100 miles SOMEBODY did not properly inspect the engine. When I do these I pull the pan, change at least the rod bearings and plastigage as best I can and then replace the oil pump at a minimum. It sounds to me like the engine was not inspected at all.

100 miles is NOTHING. Heck, we required at our shop that WE drive the car at least 10 miles after a swap. With or without the driver to make sure it all seemed healthy. We even made the owners sign a document stating that they understood that shake down miles would be applied to any swap. We did video the drives just to show that the car was not being abused.
 

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Inside the engine? For it to throw a rod in less than 100 miles SOMEBODY did not properly inspect the engine. When I do these I pull the pan, change at least the rod bearings and plastigage as best I can and then replace the oil pump at a minimum. It sounds to me like the engine was not inspected at all.

100 miles is NOTHING. Heck, we required at our shop that WE drive the car at least 10 miles after a swap. With or without the driver to make sure it all seemed healthy. We even made the owners sign a document stating that they understood that shake down miles would be applied to any swap. We did video the drives just to show that the car was not being abused.
It's definitely possible. According to the list from OP, many things were replaced, and I'm sure at least the oil pan was replaced - even if we assume the builder lied and didn't do anything else - because it was visible to him/her on the engine. Shoddy applications of RTV can possibly clog the strainer and blow an engine like that. However, I also see mention of blinking CEL at higher revs, which generally means catalyst-damaging misfire in Toyota language. Things like cam or crank sensors being faulty and timing that is off can actually cause this. Whether or not that contributed to what happened is hard to say. However, I would definitely assume it's possible, seeing the timing and such was allegedly done.

Rod knock has an indistinguishable sound to it. I don't know if OP was able to hear it, but that could have also caused the obvious failure... especially if the strainer was truly clogged and the internals starved of lubrication. It wouldn't take very long for the rod to punch a hole in the block at that point.

That is exactly is why I work on my own car and rebuild motors by myself, though. You just never know of when you will come across a mechanic or builder that just doesn't give a shit. Why take the chance...
 

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My take, whether you have a Celica ECU or Apexi...flashing CEL means disaster is about to strike. The second you saw that you should've stopped driving & made the decision "am I close enough to limp back or should I get towed?" This was preventable.

Thats said, obviously not your fault. IME a flashing CEL has most often indicated a misfire. I would get this very occasionally before I realized the plugs/coils were getting wet in my 2zz after it rained. After putting on a spark plug cover the problem was solved. I agree someone paid to do this work should have test driven the car & been confident enough to stand behind their work however even if this is an established business & not an individual they may have trouble absorbing the cost of both a 'new' engine & the labor involved to change it again. Hopefully you 2 are able to come to some sort of acceptable agreement regarding that because litigation is a waste of everyone's time & money.

Ironically I went up that way on the 21st also, but I went up through Azusa Canyon to do some hiking only because in the winter the ACH is closed off just short of where they would connect. There was someone that left an oil trail looking like they blew an engine up as well unfortunately.
 

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If there is a hole in the block, you need another engine. Until a complete failure analysis is done to find the root cause of the failure, placing responsibility isn't possible. Any used engine can have many hidden issues.
 

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If you received the swap back with a hole in the block already, it would be a straightforward judgement of fault, but having taken possession and driven it, it's harder to declare things in black and white. (What guarantees were made? Warranties?)

If you've expended your budget, and you have a primary vehicle, I would pay a transportation company to trailer the car to NM, or rent one of those UHaul dollies and tow the car back until you have the funds to repair it. Depending on the failure mode, I'd rebuild with brand new OEM short block instead of sourcing another 2ZZ.
 

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Not gonna lie, if this had happened probably a year in the future I'd sell you my 2zz currently in the car since you're probably 20 mins away in Glendale. As stands, I'm waiting a bit longer to make my car California compliant.
 

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To me, it sounds like the burden of proof is going to be more with you, It might be 100% either way, but swap in an unknown motor and pivotal parts (BTW, no timing chain?) means you need to be extra attentive. 50 miles of high torque driving keeping up with a modified Porsche in mountains is not part of that equation. His evaluation of what went wrong is not going to be in your favor. I would try to get the motor swapped by the mechanic at his cost for parts and minimal or no labor. You are at the mercy of his interest in saving face. Good luck.
 

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Sounds like your spirited run went awry. Going to be hard to get anything. That being said I think that motor was not what it was cracked up to be.
 

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It is very hard to judge what went wrong, but I would have never kept on driving with a flashing CEL. Keeping on driving with this issue will not work in your favor.
Something was not right with the engine assembly and/or swap, but it can be very hard to determine the root cause after all the damage occured.

Personally I would start talking to the people in LA which did the work to see what they can do.
If they admit their fault they might cover some labour and/or parts, but if they deny any responsibility it can become very painful.
I am not sure there is any value in discussing this conflict between two parts in the open, other than getting some opinions of the failures and/or causes.

I think it also depends on your wish to keep this car. If this is the car you really wanted and you can make everything right with another 1000 dollar or a few months delay, why not fix it up?
The only issue I would have personally in that case is trusting the people in LA to do a good job. I would be inclined to have the car shipped and have the work done by someone locally you would fully trust.
If you do not want the hassle and troubles, you can always ask if the seller can take the car back and check his response.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
It's definitely possible. According to the list from OP, many things were replaced, and I'm sure at least the oil pan was replaced - even if we assume the builder lied and didn't do anything else - because it was visible to him/her on the engine. Shoddy applications of RTV can possibly clog the strainer and blow an engine like that. However, I also see mention of blinking CEL at higher revs, which generally means catalyst-damaging misfire in Toyota language. Things like cam or crank sensors being faulty and timing that is off can actually cause this. Whether or not that contributed to what happened is hard to say. However, I would definitely assume it's possible, seeing the timing and such was allegedly done.

Rod knock has an indistinguishable sound to it. I don't know if OP was able to hear it, but that could have also caused the obvious failure... especially if the strainer was truly clogged and the internals starved of lubrication. It wouldn't take very long for the rod to punch a hole in the block at that point.

That is exactly is why I work on my own car and rebuild motors by myself, though. You just never know of when you will come across a mechanic or builder that just doesn't give a shit. Why take the chance...
I am leaning towards the sound I heard being rod knock now. I have no experience with it in the past, so it was new to me. The sound was slight at first, but rapidly increased in volume and then the engine seized and shut off. It is weird it didn't dump out tons of oil all over the road, even with a hole in the side of the block. All of the oil seemed to be held in by the bottom engine bay plastics. It didn't flow out until the car was tilted up to get on the flatbed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
My take, whether you have a Celica ECU or Apexi...flashing CEL means disaster is about to strike. The second you saw that you should've stopped driving & made the decision "am I close enough to limp back or should I get towed?" This was preventable.

Thats said, obviously not your fault. IME a flashing CEL has most often indicated a misfire. I would get this very occasionally before I realized the plugs/coils were getting wet in my 2zz after it rained. After putting on a spark plug cover the problem was solved. I agree someone paid to do this work should have test driven the car & been confident enough to stand behind their work however even if this is an established business & not an individual they may have trouble absorbing the cost of both a 'new' engine & the labor involved to change it again. Hopefully you 2 are able to come to some sort of acceptable agreement regarding that because litigation is a waste of everyone's time & money.

Ironically I went up that way on the 21st also, but I went up through Azusa Canyon to do some hiking only because in the winter the ACH is closed off just short of where they would connect. There was someone that left an oil trail looking like they blew an engine up as well unfortunately.
The car drove absolutely fine with the exception of the CEL only when banging off the redline. However, on that drive, I never redlined whatsoever. If the misfire was only happening when the CEL was flashing, then it never happened on that drive.

I definitely don't think litigation is on the table, because he seems like a great guy. However, money spent is money spent. I have an inoperable car and much less money in my bank account.

After looking up prices of 2ZZ's, I am thinking about going K swap lol. I would have to sell a car and a whole bunch of parts to afford it, but I would hope a K would be more reliable.

After reading the list of parts I had replaced on the blown 2ZZ, does anyone have suggestions for what parts should I also replace on a K? I am looking at a whole swap kit from Mitch's.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
To me, it sounds like the burden of proof is going to be more with you, It might be 100% either way, but swap in an unknown motor and pivotal parts (BTW, no timing chain?) means you need to be extra attentive. 50 miles of high torque driving keeping up with a modified Porsche in mountains is not part of that equation. His evaluation of what went wrong is not going to be in your favor. I would try to get the motor swapped by the mechanic at his cost for parts and minimal or no labor. You are at the mercy of his interest in saving face. Good luck.
I really don't consider sitting in 3rd gear only and never redlining to be hard on the engine, but I am very new to the Spyder and 2ZZ world.

Changing the timing chain was not suggested to me by the mechanic, so I didn't do so. Is that a common issue?

Thanks for the advice.
 
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