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The Japanese MR2 FAQ: Part Two

Part One : An A-Z guide to the Japanese MR2 Turbo

Part Two: A UK Buyers guide to buying the perfect MR2 Turbo

Part Three : Common reported problems, and cures


This FAQ has been compiled by Ben Formesyn, based on information provided
by other MR2 owners and the various MR2 Mailing lists. Additional information is welcome!

Part Two : A UK buyers guide to buying the perfect MR2 Turbo

[ Previous part of FAQ :: Next Part of FAQ ]

[ Importing From Dublin :: Picking the Perfect Turbo ]
[ Checking the Turbo's operation :: Sources of cars ]

Importing from Dublin

An increasingly popular way of saving money when buying an imported car is to travel to Dublin, and buy a car there direct from an Auction, and then importing the car personally back into the UK. This has the big disadvantage of 'buying before trying' 'sight unseen' is that you do not know the mechanical state of the car before you arrive to drive it back to the UK, and some cars arriving at Dublin docks are in a poor state. 

The following information has come from Tony Goose who bought his own car via this route :

-----Original Message-----
From: Tony Goose
Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 1998 10:17 PM
To: UK-MR2
Subject: Fw: imoc-uk Jap Import Question..

This message was posted to the imoc-uk list

Just put this together for David and thought others might find it useful.
David asked ..
  > 	I am looking at buying a MR2 turbo from Ireland but was thinking
 > about just going across on the ferry and looking around Dublin for one.
 > Can you help me by giving me any info on what I need to do to register
 > the car? I have been told that if I don't have all the correct documents
 > when I try to register it in the UK they will refuse and I don't want to
 > be stuck with a car I cant register.
 OK. You'll need ...
 1) Japanese de-registration form showing the original reg date etc.
 2) English translation of above.
 3) Customs C88 (SAD) form to prove car is in free EU circulation and duty / tax is paid.
 4) Invoice from wherever you buy it.
 5) Proof you owned / used it abroad - Hotel bill, credit card slips etc.
 Basically some dated receipt with your signature.
 Think that's about it.  Probably the best help i can give is to tell you what i did ...
 Chose a car.
Dealer got temporary reg (ZZ plate) to cover me driving it in Ireland. Takes a few days and i had to send him my drivers licence. This costs about 150 quid for the month including 3rd party insurance. Contrary to popular belief this ZZ reg ISN'T valid in the UK - Not even temporarily.

Got a cover note from my insurance co. using chassis no. Then went and got it. Flew out to Dublin, stayed overnight and drove down through Ireland and used the fishguard/rosslare ferry.
When you arrive in the UK, you're driving unregistered but the law allows you to travel home. Technically you should keep the car off road until registered but i have no driveway so worked on the assumption a local traffic warden would think they were just foreign plates and leave alone. 
Seemed to work :))

 Now the tricky bit. Assuming the car is over 3 years old, you just need an  mot to be able to get registered. Rear fog light + clear front sidelights
 should take care of that. Don't need to change kph speedo at the moment but  that might change in the future.
 Under 3 years old and the car needs an SVA (type approval) test which costs  160quid and is pretty thorough. Only available at certain Ministry of
 Transport test centres and they check tons of stuff - i have a copy of the  testers manual ..   
Once over this hurdle, take all your paperwork (and the car) to your local  registration office. They'll give you some forms - can't recall the
 official nos. but one is a declaration that you won't be reclaiming VAT  paid when the car was imported into the EU (in Ireland), another is a
 'personal import' declaration and finally the actual reg form. To qualify  as a 'personal import' you have to satisfy them that (a) you owned and used
 the car abroad, (b) are importing it for your / your dependents personal  use and (c) you're not planning on quitting the country in the next 12 months.
 Item (a) is the tricky bit. I had ferry/plane tickets, petrol receipts  (paid cash) but this wasn't enough. Fortunately I'd picked up some
 guinness, ketchup and crisps at a supermarket and paid with a card. My  signed visa receipt was what swung it for me :))  I'd advise buying
 everything with a card while there for this reason. 
 Hand all this paperwork over along with payment for roadtax (6 or 12 month)  plus reg fee (35quid if memory serves) and they SHOULD dish out your reg
 no. May (or may not) want to check the VIN plate on your car to confirm  details on paperwork.

 There's a leaflet your local reg office should have called 'PI3' . It's  quite a good description of all this process. Also look at the D.O.T. web
 site ...   I haven't checked this lately so may have to trawl back a few months ...
 Similar info was at ...
 > also how much does it cost to
 > change the side lights add a fog lamp etc?? 
 I did all this myself. Just bought new front lenses which were about 25quid  a side and rewired the rear clusters to incorporate fog lamps the same as
 uk cars. Most imports just have one of those tacky rectangular fog lamps  bolted under the bumper and that's sufficient. A small point but you MUST
 have a warning lamp visible while driving when the fog lamp is on - it's in  the MOT ...
 Having said that, i've seen imports with no warning lamp for the fog lamp  and even cars still with the orange side lights at the front (Ben's for
 example) - Hmmm.

 Hope this helps ...

Picking the perfect MR2 Turbo

Having decided to buy a MR2 Turbo, you need to be sure that the car that you are thinking of buying isn't a 'lemon'. Unfortunately, there are a small number of imports which are in a bad way mechanically - hopefully this guide will help you to spot them, and steer clear of them avoiding any expensive dramas.

This part of the FAQ is designed to be a checklist for use when test driving an MR2 Turbo.

Initial inspection of the car

Check appearance and condition of the car:

Inspection of engine bay :

Possibly the most useful and telling test is to check the colour of the coolant - dependant on a cars age, this can be used as an indicator showing how well a car has been serviced, and by who. 

Check the engine bay for modifications - often cars coming in from Japan are modified, sometimes extensively, by previous owners. Common modification include :

Finally, with the engine cold, if you're feeling brave and handy with a screwdriver, it is possible to check for free play in the turbo itself. You may wish to leave this to an expert though !

Trace the pipe from the airbox down to the back of the engine where it connects onto the compressor side of the turbo. If you take the inlet pipe off, and reach inside you should feel the centre of the compressor wheel - feel for the amount of free play along its axis (in & out) and the side to side (wobble). There may be a little play along the axis, but should be very little wobble present - this would indicate expensive turbo bearing failure. 

Under the Front BonnetUnder the bonnet - where I store all my car related junk ..

Taking the car for a test drive

Assuming that you are happy with the results of the above checks, you now need to take the car for a test drive for at least 30 minutes, and ideally covering a variety of speeds and roads.

Before setting off, with the engine off, check the operation of the clutch - you may find that it is heavier than most cars, but in its operation you should feel no 'mushiness' - this would indicate a leak and air in the hydraulic clutch system. The brakes should be fairly light in operation, and when driving they are very communicative and progressive.

The car should start easily, (listen to this sound clip of a standard MR2 starting from cold) without any smoke coming from the exhaust. You will find that even with a standard exhaust it is louder than most normally aspirated cars, but it makes a fantastic burbling noise due to the turbo.

Driving around, on a flat even road surface the steering should not drift, pull or vibrate to either side when cruising at constant speed or under breaking. If present, this could indicate a variety of problems including suspension mis-alignment, binding brake calipers or warped brake discs. After the test drive, check the temperature of the alloy wheels - the front and rear pairs should be a similar temperature - a single unusually hot wheel could be due to a binding brake caliper. 

Checking the Turbo's Operation

This is probably the most important test of the engine's condition. If the turbo isn't operating as described below, then walk away. Turbo and engine repairs can get seriously expensive, and there's no point buying a car it isn't 100% OK. Troubleshooting the source of any problem with a Turbo is often difficult, sometimes too difficult for Toyota.

Now you've been driving the car around, the engine should be fully warm with the temperature indicator mid way up the dial, or thereabouts. If the engine is still cold, the engine management system (ECU) will cut in to limit the maximum boost the car will reach, in order to protect the engine and the turbo as they are not up to full operating temperature.

( BTW, the Toyota ECU is very protective of the car and is setup to protect you from blowing the engine accidentally. It will limit the maximum boost under other conditions, such as when the external air is below 4OC and so little turbocharging is required. Interestingly, under full boost the engine runs very rich, keeping the combustion chamber cooler and so giving a longer life to the engine, with the trade off being that the engine develops less power than it is capable of doing.)

Turbo test runs:

You will need to take the car somewhere where you can accelerate upto 70mph safely. Starting in 2nd at 20mph plant the accelerator into the carpet - you'll feel the car accelerate, and from 2,500 rpm you will hear the turbo whistle as it spins up, followed by an enormous increase in torque and power - the speedo dial will hurtle towards 70mph, and in 2nd the car will reach the rev limiter at 7,250 at around 60mph.Dashboard, the boost gague in the top middle.

Whilst you've being hurled towards the horizon, take a couple of glances down at the boost gauge to check what it reads. The Boost gauge is in the middle of the dash.

You should see it quickly rise all the way to the + mark at the top of the scale, and stay there until you reach the rev limiter or you lift off the accelerator. 

The car's flat torque characteristics mean that between 3 and 6,000 rpms you should feel even acceleration  - beyond this you will feel the power begin to drop off. The power delivery should be completely smooth though this rev range, with no sudden increases or decreases in power, as this indicates HT electrical or turbo problems.

When accelerating under boost, check the rear view mirror for any blue or white smoke (indicating oil and water respectively getting into the combustion chamber) from the exhaust - if you repeat the run a few times (you'll enjoy it!) you can check for full boost and smoke. White smote indicates water usually meaning a blown head gasket. Thick blue or black smoke is oil - possibly from piston rings (check compression) or more likely, failed turbo oil gaskets causing blowby. Either mean expensive repairs.

And Finally.

OK, you've checked the car over, taken it for a test drive and hopefully all is well.

The next thing to consider is a Full RAC or AA inspection of the car to check if the car has ever been crash repaired, or has any mechanical problems you've not found on your test drive. If you have the opportunity, I would also suggest trying to drive at least a couple of other Turbos so you can compare one against the other.

If you are confident that the car is OK, a cheaper alternative to having a full RAC or AA inspection, would be to call out a mobile tuning mechanic (Hometune/ Cartune etc) to just inspect the engine to be sure that things like cylinder compressions, HT circuits and  charging system are all running as they should be. If the car ran smoothly during the test drive, you shouldn't find any surprises here.

Also, bear in mind that the car has been imported - you need to see proof that the relevant VAT and import duty has been paid on the car as it entered the EU, as well as the Japanese de-registration documents to prove it has been legitimately exported. These will ensure you don't so you don't end up landed with it in the future when you try to renew your tax disc.

If it all checks out OK, go ahead and buy it - Don't forget to join  the internet based IMOC-UK club and mailing lists to join in the discussions about all types of  MR2 (Mk1, Mk2, Mk3, UK and Imports) as well as the MR2 DC

Sources for MR2 Turbos

MR2 Turbos seem to be selling for around the same prices as for a UK Spec GT models of the same age - better ones go for a slight premium. Often the cars have lower mileage's than equivalent UK cars, but if this is due to stop-start low mileage with cold engines, this isn't necessarily better. The below are not listed in any specific order:

  1. Independent Importers - These operate by finding specific cars to your specification in Japan, and then shipping them over to the UK. Dealers such as New Era Imports have been recommended by owners on the IMOC-UK mailing list, as well as MVI in Northampton. Going this route should give you the very cheapest price (check UK adverts) but it will require an up front 10 - 50% payment once the car is purchased in Japan, and then a 6 - 8 week wait for the car to be shipped over to the UK, followed by the SVA test and then UK registration, taking another 2-3 weeks.  

    Sometimes these companies have a small UK stock of cars which they are keen to shift - this is another route to buying a MR2 at prices slightly lower than dealer prices.

  2. Japanese Import dealers: eg. Kew West, London - Have a stock of MR2 Turbos and regularly import Supra's, MX5's and other Japanese sportscars into the UK. Most seem OK, although I have seen one or two MR2 Turbos there that had some problems. Most appear to be modified, history is usually not available.

  3. Dublin - There is a thriving personal import industry going at the moment of cars arriving on the Docks, and UK buyers going over hoping to pick up a bargain. However, cars are very often from auctions in Japan, and condition varies wildly. There are a number of Dublin based buyers that will try to source cars for you from ships, for a small premium. The good cars are often snapped up before Joe Public gets chance to view stock. 

  4. Small startup UK companies: Here the risk is all your own - these companies are often one or two man setups, and source cars directly from Japan to your requirements. 

  5. Private Sale: There are now so many imported MR2 Turbos in the UK that they regularly come up for sale as private sales in Exchange and Mart and Autotrader.

Some URLs : : More info from, but aimed at buyers of the earlier Mk1's. : A page giving more tips on what to check when buying Mk1 and Mk2 MR2's.

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