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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
SpyderChat gets many requests from prospective buyers and first-time owners concerning problems to look for in a used Spyder. Hopefully this essay addresses the most common problems and questions.

In general, the MR2 Spyder is very reliable and largely trouble-free, but like any vehicle, a neglected or abused Spyder will develop a host of disparate problems not attributable to the manufacturer. Any modification to the car will affect its reliability, either for good or ill. Only Toyota's design decisions that have proven to be problematic are discussed. Problems are more-or-less discussed in order of most severe to almost trivial.



Pre-Cat Failure:
In order to certify the Spyder as an Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV), Toyota equipped the 1zz engine with three-way catalytic converters in the exhaust manifold. These "Pre-Cats" are composed of a ceramic material coated with various precious metals (or compounds containing precious metals). Physically, the Pre-Cats are a porous barrier often described as a honeycomb, even though the holes are square instead of hexagonal. It's more technically correct to call them a rectilinear lattice, but nobody cares. The ceramic material is brittle and crumbles easily. Overheating and mechanical shock can cause it to crack, followed soon after by complete collapse. Most of the resulting debris is forced through the exhaust piping and collects in the main catalytic converter, plugging it up, restricting the exhaust flow, and thus killing all power at higher RPMs. The Pre-Cat debris that doesn't collect in the main cat is sucked back into the engine, irreparably damaging the cylinder walls.

Symptoms of Pre-Cat failure include a dramatic loss of power, the inability to attain high engine RPMs, and incredibly high oil consumption. Some people have reported hearing a distinct sound, like a rock being kicked into the wheel well, when a damaged Pre-Cat collapses. Others did not notice any unusual sounds.

Pre-Cat failure mainly affects pre-2003 cars, but can occur in the later cars as well. It is a random event that shows no correlation with mileage or age. The cause (or causes) and mechanisms of Pre-Cat failure remain a mystery, and many hypotheses exist. The large number of threads about Pre-Cat failure on this and other sites might lead one to conclude that it is a frequent problem. In actual fact, only a small percentage of cars have experienced Pre-Cat failure, but because Pre-Cat failure is unpredictable and results in CERTAIN ENGINE DEATH, it is universally recommended that the Pre-Cats be removed.
Pre-Cat removal will have no effect upon Emissions Test results providing the car is otherwise mechanically sound and is up to operating temperature when the Emissions Test is done.

A quick, but not conclusive, test for the state of the Pre-Cats is to remove the Oxygen Sensors and peer into the holes. If a uniform gray-white honeycomb-like matrix (barrier) is visible on both sides, the Pre-Cats are in place.

If the matrix on either side has any cracks or irregularities, the Pre-Cats are in the process of disintegrating. If the matrix is visible on one side only, then the other side has failed: Do not buy the car unless you are prepared to replace the engine and main catalytic converter.
If no matrix is found on either side, a previous owner may have removed the Pre-Cats already. Anticdotal evidence suggests that the right-side Pre-Cat often fails before the left side. Failure on either side will ruin the engine and render the car undrivable, so if both sides have no matrix, it is likely that the Pre-Cats have been removed. Unfortunately, the absence of the matrix on both sides is no guarantee: One side could have failed, prompting the owner to remove the remaining Pre-Cat prior to sale. Caveat Emptor.

Many knowledgeable owners simply replaced the stock exhaust manifold with an aftermarket unit, often referred to as a 'header'. The stock manifold has two canisters which house the Pre-Cats, each one fed by two of the exhaust pipes from the head. Aftermarket manifolds do not have any canisters at all.

If the car you're considering has no canisters in the exhaust manifold, an aftermarket unit has been installed, and Pre-Cat failure is no longer possible. Alas, there is no way to tell if the aftermarket manifold was installed before or after Pre-Cat failure. Caveat Emptor. Determining if the canisters are present is difficult without removing the manifold heat shield, which may be difficult in-and-of itself.

It is not necessary to replace the stock manifold with an aftermarket unit. Similar results can be obtained at very little cost by simply removing the catalytic material from the stock manifold. Most aftermarket manifolds (especially the cheap ones) offer little, if any, benefit over a gutted stock manifold.



Oil Burning:
Toyota specifies the Spyder may burn up to 1 quart of oil in 1000 miles. Many of the early Spyders (2000-2002) begin to burn more than this amount for reasons that remain unclear. Some engines have been found to have "Oval Bore Syndrome", a slight out-of-round condition in the cylinders. The non-circular bore allows excessive oil to enter the combustion chamber, where it is burned. The early engines have small oil drain holes in the pistons. If these holes become plugged (often due to poor maintenance), the resulting excess oil around the piston rings will 'coke', causing the oil control rings to stick. Stuck oil control rings will result in increased oil consumption, but no noticeable change in performance or compression readings.

Toyota never acknowledged any problems with the engine design, but the 1zz was revised several times prior to 2003, and later cars are not as prone to burning oil as their older siblings. One hypothesis for Pre-Cat failure holds that oil smoke overwhelms the Pre-Cats, causing them to degrade and fail. This hypothesis is supported by the nature of the changes Toyota chose to implement. Toyota never gave a reason for the engine revisions, but many suspect the changes were aimed at fixing the Pre-Cat failure problem, either directly or indirectly.

Chemical treatments to free stuck rings are available and possibly effective, but it appears that the only way to clear clogged oil drain holes is to manually ream them out. As long as the drain holes remain plugged, the rings will stick again in short order. Manually cleaning the drain holes requires the pistons be removed from the engine. The cost of piston removal, cleaning, & reinstallation is nearly equal to the cost of a complete engine rebuild. If you're going to go this far, you might as well rebuild the engine while you're at it. At present, the cost of rebuilding an engine is greater than the cost of replacing it with a 2003+ low mileage used unit. In short, the only sure cure for oil burning is to replace or rebuild the engine.

Oil burning engines have been known to last a long time, if the oil is kept topped up.

Excessive oil consumption cannot be determined with a normal test drive, but if the dipstick shows a low oil level, one must ask "why?". Catalytic converters at operating temperature will eliminate oil smoke from the exhaust, but cold converters will allow the oil smoke to pass unaltered. If an oil burning engine is revved immediately after starting (before the converters get warm), an oil burning engine will emit a puff of smoke from the tailpipe. You probably won't see it from the driver's seat, so a partner should watch the tailpipe. Do not rev a cold engine any more than is absolutely necessary! Just 'goose' it and let off.



Engine Cover Release:
Pre-2003 Spyders experienced problems in releasing the engine cover. A revised (2003+) latch mechanism is available from Toyota. Also, on all years, the EngineCover & GasDoor Release Lever mounting (inside the car) is prone to bending. It can be easily fixed. Some members have installed an electic release.

Many used cars are 'detailed' prior to sale. Often, an over-zealous detailer will scrub off the icons on the EngineCover & GasDoor release levers. Custom replacements are available from dev.



Parking Brake:
The Parking Brake can become inoperable in cold weather. Water collects in the cables. When the temperature falls below 32°F, the cables freeze and the parking brake stays ON or OFF, depending upon its state prior to freezing. The only currently known cure is to replace the cables. Driving the car with the parking brake on may very well damage the brake pads and rotors.

The practical suggestion is to simply avoid using the parking brake in cold weather. Park the car on a level surface in 1st gear or reverse. If you must park on an inclined surface, park crossways on it with the front wheels turned up the incline and the steering wheel locked. If you must park with the car pointing uphill or downhill, chock the wheels.



Headlights:
The clear lens covering the headlight assembly will become cloudy or yellowish, or both, with age as a result of exposure to sunlight. If the discoloration is not too severe, the lenses can be refurbished with varying levels of sucess. Badly degraded lenses must be replaced. The lens is not available separately: The entire headlight assembly must be replaced.

Many owners prefer the revised headlights fitted to the later (2003+ facelift) cars. Physically, the later headlight assemblies are a direct bolt-in replacement for the older units, but the wiring and bulbs are different. The conversion is not difficult, but does involve some rewiring.



Soft Top:
Cars exposed to the weather may need a new top. The OEM top is vinyl, and is very expensive. Aftermarket tops are less costly and are available in both vinyl and fabric. Consensus holds that fabric is better. Vinyl is easier to care for, but must be warm to fold easily. Fabric folds easily in cold weather, but is somewhat more difficult to maintain. Both keep the water out, so take your pick!

Water shed from the top enters the body of the car and is supposed to exit through drains located on either side. If the drains become clogged, water collects in the storage bins behind the seats. Clearing the drains usually fixes this problem.

The rear window glass is permanently bonded to the top material at the time of manufacture and cannot be replaced separately. Sometimes, the glass begins to separate from the top, usually along the upper edge of the rear window. Lowering the top improperly may accelerate the damage. Owners have been known to release the latches at the windshield and simply throw the top backward. They are pleased with themselves when the top folds and latches without further effort. Properly lowering the top is a more involved process best done from outside the car.

When the top folds, a loop of material forms in the trailing edge on either side. These loops are referred to as "ears", and they aren't supposed to be there.

The corners are supposed to neatly tuck inward. There should be a strap inside the top that pulls the corners in as the top folds, but it is often missing. Replacement top straps are available from dev.

Tops that are folded roughly and/or frequently may be abraded as the support hoops slide across the inner fabric during the folding process. In the worst case, a hole is actually worn in the top material. Some owners have repaired abraded spots by gluing pieces of tough cloth (like denim) over them.

The edges of the top where it meets the door glass are reinforced with an embedded twisted-wire cable. On early cars, the end of the cable where the top meets the quarter panel has been known to break through the top material. The top design was revised, supposedly eliminating the problem in later cars.

The package tray should be suspended along its front edge by cords attached to the top bow directly above. Sometimes these cords were not installed by the dealer, but more often, they weren't reinstalled when the top was replaced.



PULL Plate:
The handle between the seats (on the rear bulkhead) that releases the top from its folded position is supposed to have a cover plate with the word "PULL" engraved into it. The plate has a tendency to fall off and get lost. A stock replacement can be gotten from a Toyota dealer. Custom replacements are available from serinaj10.



SMT (Sequential Manual Transmission):
The SMT is not an automatic transmission. It is a conventional manual transmission that changes up or down one-gear-at-a-time in response to buttons on the steeringwheel having been pressed. Gear changes can also be initiated by pushing or pulling the gear selector lever. While there is no clutch pedal in the car, there is a conventional clutch between the engine and transmission.

When the SMT system works, it works quite well, but shifts too slowly for some enthusiasts. When it fails, it's often very expensive to fix due (in part, at least) to its complexity.



Traction Control:
The Toyota repair manual [BGB] for Spyders sold in the United States has no mention of Traction Control or Stability Enhancement. Seemingly, no cars imported into the US had these features. Later SMT equipped Spyders sold in other countries do have Traction Control installed.



Front Air Dam:
Sometime in 2001 Toyota began to equip Spyders with a chin spoiler, or air dam. Cars without the air dam tend to wander at highway speeds. The wander isn't really a problem, but the constant small steering corrections can become irritating. Retro-fitting an air dam is easy, relatively inexpensive, and has remarkable results.



Limited-Slip Differential:
A helical gear limited-slip differential (LSD) was an option on later cars. Unlike a clutch type LSD, which requires periodic clutch replacement, helical units are maintenance free. The driver's side door jamb has an information sticker below the latch. In the bottom-left corner of the sticker is an inscription such as "A/TM -01A/C56". The "01A" part signifies that the car was manufactured with an open (regular) differential. Cars with a factory installed LSD have "01B". The "C56" is the type of transmission installed.

There is no outwardly visible indication that an LSD is installed, and the sticker only indicates the type of differential installed at the time of manufacture. A car originally equipped with an LSD may no longer have one if the transaxle has been serviced or replaced. Conversely, a previous owner could have installed an LSD into a car that originally came without one. Caveat Emptor.

Both helical and clutch type LSD units are available in the aftermarket.



Chassis Bracing:
Later Spyders came with more robust under-body bracing than the early cars. The desirability of additional bracing has been debated. For street driven cars, additional bracing vastly improves the feel of the car, but cars that are autocrossed or raced reportedly turn in lower lap times if no additional bracing is added. Several firms offer aditional bracing, but Corky and Che are both members here and are highly regarded.



Wheels & Tires:
Many owners install custom wheels and tires. The number of possible combinations is far too large to consider here, so only the stock configurations are discussed.

Regardless of year, the rear wheels (and tires) are wider than the front. All the tires should be of the same brand and tread pattern. Mismatched tires will compromise the Spyder's handling and may prove fatal. Many car dealers don't know or care, and if the car needs tires they will put on the cheapest tires they can find. Caveat Emptor.

2000-2002 Spyders came with 15" wheels front and rear.
The spare tire is a compact design with a vinyl dust cover.
* 185/55R15 front 26psi
* 205/50R15 rear 32psi
* T125/70D16 spare 60psi

Starting with the 2003 facelift cars, the rear wheels were enlarged to 16".
The spare is a full-sized tire.
* 185/55R15 front 26psi
* 205/45R16 rear 32psi
* 185/55R15 spare 26psi (?? I'm guessing here ??)



Suspension:
After 100K miles or so, the struts are probably worn and should be replaced.
Struts supplied & installed by a certified Toyota dealer carry a lifetime guarantee, whatever that means: How are you going to prove the guaranteed struts need replacing if they're not leaking or otherwise obviously damaged? Will OEM replacement struts even be available when the new ones wear out?

Many owners replace the original struts with "CoilOvers", a shock absorber with a surrounding spring. As delivered by Toyota, the Spyder had a space of about 3"-4" between the top of the tire and the wheel arch. CoilOvers allow the ride height to be adjusted. Lowering the car eliminates the unsightly wheel-to-fender gap and results in a theoretical improvement in handling. Some CoilOvers are adjustable for jounce and/or rebound. CoilOvers are reputed to give a vast improvement in handling.



Documentation:
Owner's Manual
Alarm & Keyless Entry
Repair Manual "BGB"
Other Documents
 

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Oldman very comprehensive write up. I vote Sticky or Library....
 

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Yup, this needs to be in the library.
 

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=][';;;;.lry.
 

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Nice info!

Don't forget... I've seen it quite often on other spyders...
The center console (near the hand brake area) tends to crack very easily for those that use that as an elbow rest.
 

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Nice info!

Don't forget... I've seen it quite often on other spyders...
The center console (near the hand brake area) tends to crack very easily for those that use that as an elbow rest.
yeah but thats very noticeable. he is letting prospectice owners know about most of the issues that are not noticeable in a visual inspection.

this is a fantastic write-up, man. good work!
 

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yeah but thats very noticeable. he is letting prospectice owners know about most of the issues that are not noticeable in a visual inspection.

this is a fantastic write-up, man. good work!
Well... I would say cloudy headlights is something noticeable right off the bat too.
I just threw that info about the center console in because in the heat of the moment, some people tend to overlook things easily.
Nothing wrong with a bit more information.
 

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Good job

Great write up Old Man, belongs in the library; would have been very helpful the two years I looked
for my Spyder brfore finding the right one.
 

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If you lived closer, I'd buy you a beer.

Very good, comprehensive, easy to understand guide. I'd give it an 11 out of 10. Extra point is for all the effort that you put into it that you didn't have to.
 

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I tried to reply yesterday but the internet went out.

First of all, nice job. I'd add a list of the model year changes including but not limited to weight differences. Example: When going from '02 to '03, Toyota added 70 lbs to the car (full size spare vs donut, extra underbody bracing, rear wheels that weigh several pounds more (rotating mass), ... ). In '04 they changed the suspension to comply with European pedestrian safety laws and added some more bracing improving side impact protection. Things like that.
 

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i dunno about the American MR2 spyders not having traction control or stability control
but my Australian MR2 spyder is a 04 and it has both it even says i have both in my manual i also have fuses for them and a cel light thats says VSC and it lights up for a few seconds when i turn car on a cel for traction control is a picture of a car sliding and flashes and beeps when the tc kicks in it also has a button to turn of tc on the lefthand side of the wheel to turn off tc and when i do it a cel on the dash lights up saying "trc off" also LSD were standard for 04+ Spyders from what i was told
 

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I can't wait to be retired and have this much time on my hands....
 

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Discussion Starter #17
I can't wait to be retired and have this much time on my hands....
Retirement Sucks!
I told that to one of my co-workers.
He didn't believe me. He retired anyway.
He was in a high-speed motorcycle accident.
He's a Vegatable now.
I told him he wouldn't like retirement.

Not that there is a causal relationship here, but too much slack time is detrimental.
I'm semi-retired, and don't fancy motorcycles.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
i dunno about the American MR2 spyders not having traction control or stability control
but my Australian MR2 spyder is a 04 and it has both it even says i have both in my manual i also have fuses for them and a cel light thats says VSC and it lights up for a few seconds when i turn car on a cel for traction control is a picture of a car sliding and flashes and beeps when the tc kicks in it also has a button to turn of tc on the lefthand side of the wheel to turn off tc and when i do it a cel on the dash lights up saying "trc off" also LSD were standard for 04+ Spyders according to Mr T but mines been tested for one to have one
Thanks for the info.
I've edited the write-up accordingly.
 

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I'm no mechanic but I know my timing chain tensioner is causing a small oil leak. I heard this is a common problem with engine so maybe adding this to your guide would be useful.
 

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I vote sticky. Went over it twice and could not find a factual error.

Might add a note that many owners go on some kind of crazed quest for weight loss and remove many parts of the car. A new owner might have to spend a lot of money replacing engine shields, frunk plastics, etc.
 
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