What do I look for when buying an ae86?
This is one of the most common questions for the new enthusiast, and it really only has one answer...DON'T!
Buying one of these cars is buying a money pit. Read my sr20 build if you don't believe me...there's $25K in that car that isn't going to a school fund, that isn't going to a retirement fund, that isn't going to paying off a house. Save your money...go buy a used Toyota Echo and enjoy the silence and fuel economy that comes with ownership of a "rolling library".
But, if you're like me...you've probably just taken that last statement as a challenge. It won't disuade you in the slightest, and you're annoyed that I haven't gotten to the point yet. So be it.
The single most important thing about buying an ae86 is that you, the owner are mechanically savvy enough to fix it. These cars are ridiculously easy to work on and have simple construction that almost never requires special tools. Of course, when it comes to buying one of these cars, the mechanical parts are the inexpensive end of the bargain. Everything on the car can be replaced and is mostly available from your local parts store. Make sure you buy new parts when replacing old ones. OEM Toyota is recommended. Sometimes, for larger parts like axles, strut housings etc., junk yards are prefered.
But in all seriousness, anything mechanical can be fixed or replaced...when you're shopping for an ae86, the most importanting thing to look at is the body. I can't place enough emphasis on that. These cars rust, plain and simple...and it can be a shocking revelation when you go to fix it. So, you want to make sure that you start off with a good one in that regard.
Places to look for rust: Most commonly, these cars rust on the rear wheel wells...the lips, inside along the body seam, and behind under where the bumper attaches. Cancer can also spread to and destroy the rocker panels down the undersides of the car. Under the taillights is somewhat common, as is along the edges of doors and trunk/hatch lips. Front fenders tend to rust out along the lips (on the later 86/87 models with fender trim) and at the bottom where the fender meets the door. Debris can get into the water channel that drains off the windshield base into the fender and sit at the bottom of the fender where it bolts under the car. This traps the moisture, causing that part of the car to rust out. It is common among ae86 enthusiasts to undo the fender bottoms and clean them out annually.
Less common areas for rust are usually results of poor maintenance or poor mechanical habits. Look for rust on or around the fuel door on the side of the car. Rust here usually indicates that a lot of fuel was getting spilled at the station and that the owner wasn't really good at cleaning it off in a timely manner. It is also possible for this area to rust from the inside out as debris builds up from crap shot off the rear tires sticking to the filler neck and seals. Another spot to watch is along the frame rails in the engine bay. It is not usual on the passenger side, but on the driver's side of a less-maintained car it does happen. This is usually caused by brake fluid leaking from the master cylinder during replenishment or brake fluid leaking from the diverter block attached to the inner fender in this location. Brake fluid eats paint and rusts metal, plain and simple. I've seen ae86's with rust in this location so bad that you could actually change the o2 sensor on the car without popping the hood.
Mechanically, ae86's do not have major flaws or maintenance issues. You would want to make sure that the car has been taken care of by a conscientious owner. You'll have to be prepared to replace a fair amount of maintenance items...fresh fluids, plugs, belts, filters, tires and shocks are usually required when buying any used car. Make sure to budget for it.
The car should accelerate willingly from any speed in 1st/2nd/3rd...take off like a jackrabbit. The transmission should shift willingly into every gear. It is fairly common for synchros to go on 3rd and sometimes 2nd. Brakes should also be good, stopping the car quickly...more sports car than family car.
Watch for a hum or howl coming from the back end. These cars usually wind up having rear wheel bearings go bad every 100,000-150,000km or so. Also, you may get whine out of the tranny in higher gears if the car has been consistently highway driven. Tie rods/ball joints are a regular maintenance issue like any other car.
Last piece of advice is to upgrade rather than replace. If you are going to go through the trouble of replacing the part, you should make sure it is a quality piece. Building a car takes vision and forethought...why replace the part with a maintenance item only to upgrade it a year from now while it is still good? You can save a lot of money by doing it right the first time. You have to know where you are taking your project though, and that isn't something everyone can see ahead. Most car guys look at individual parts when building, not as a total vision, and as a result the parts they purchase do not necessarily compliment each other upon purchase. This leads them to buy and sell parts over and over until they either get vision or wind up mish-mashing their way to partial success.
If you choose to ignore my advice and actually do buy one of these cars...congratulations! You're brave. Once you get it working, you'll be rewarded by a fantastic driving experience. One last warning though: Once the bug bites, it gets under your skin and you never loose it. Bring your chequebook and cancel your spare time.
The key idea here is, everything else on the car can easily be replaced except the body. Bodywork is the part where youíre going to pay thousands and thousands of dollars and get basically nothing back except a sturdy car. Ideally, youre looking for a car that has no rust, no dings, no dents, no cracking and no splitting. Look the car over thoroughly for these things. Of these, rust is the worst, followed by cracking and splitting. Rust costs the most to repair, and it can terminally weaken the car. Cracking and splitting are caused by hard driving so hard that the grip of the tires causes so much body flex that the car starts tearing itself apart. Neither of these situations are something you want to deal with but rust is by far the worst. Make sure if the car is rusty that it has cancer on removeable panels, hood, front fenders and trunk, not on rear fenders, rockers or under carriage. Panels can be removed, the rest requires expensive cutting and welding, priming and repainting. If the car does have wheel well rust and some rocker rust, I highly recommend flaring the car with a bodykit of some sort rather than going through all the trouble to restore the thing. Itíll save a hundred hours of work and thousands of dollars. Wide wheels are easy to find, and they look cool!
Anyway, once youíve established that the body doesnít suck, check the engine and its maintenance. If the owner has logs, read them over to see how the car has been treated. Check the entire car for leaks and for cleanliness. Dirty is better when buying a used car, a clean engine bay on a used car is a sign of someone trying to hide something. Unless the entire car is pristine, Iíd definitely wonder. Start the car cold and check for puffs of blue, black or greyish white smoke. This will mean the carís motor is weak, among other things. Check the electrical system before the car is moving while the car idles. Do the fan, radio, lights, wipers, a/c, power mirrors, heater switches and rear defrost all work? Better to do this now than when youre moving. Assuming there ís nothing glaring at this point, take her for a spin.
Note ease of start up. Also note clutch and transmission feel when you slip it into first. Start to drive the car at low speed, preferrably somewhere open so that attention to driving can be minimized in favour of attention to car dynamics. Watch for steering dead spots as this is a sign of a car thats had lots of violent steering. Either way, the rack can easily be replaced, but why replace if you dont have to? Listen for noises when driving in a straight line and when driving in circles in both directions. Note noises for bad rear wheel bearings, bad difs, bad trannys, bad motor noises etc. You really want to hear this before you get up to speed. Low speed = low road noise and low danger.
Once the carís warm, get the car onto a road that you can lean on it and put the hammer down in second gear at about 3000rpm. Just cruise along at 3000 in second for a bit and then put your foot down. The car should take off like a bat out of hell, easily swinging all the way to 7500rpm with no hesitation. If it hesitates or does this slowly or laboured, the motor's shot, or really out of tune. Use your judgement from other ae86s youíve test driven. Buying a shot driveline isnt a good idea unless the body or the price are worth it, and unless everything else is mint Id recommend against it. Assuming everything is good, watch the cars performance once it nears redline. I actually managed to test drive one on a local freeway in low traffic conditions and got to run it through all the gears to redline with the owners permission. That car sold ten minutes later to a friend of mine because its performance proved to us it was a catch worth taking. It helped that the car was in near-mint condition to begin with.
Lastly, watch the car for road wander. If the car follows all the grooves in the road, thatís okay. Just make sure it doesnít wander randomly around the street while pointed straight as this is a sign of bad alignments and bent suspension parts. Test the brakes. Iíd give them a few slower stops to test for confidence and then literally do a 60-0 test with the pedal mashed if the owner will let you. Ae86s have stunning brakes that are far better than those of most new cars, and it should show. My car literally saved my life the day I bought it for this very reason.
At this point, you should know if this car is for you or not. You wont find one that ís perfect, but with some smart buying you can find one that requires realistic investment for the immediate future with little chance of expensive body work. That really is the key, and I cant stress it enough. Not like it matters, because now Iím going to tell you to rip everything out and start over anyway.p> So, you were dumb enough to actually buy an ae86 despite my warnings, eh?
For starters, you did it to yourself. Donít blame me or anyone else for what is about to happen to you.
I highly recommend driving the car in as-bought condition for at least a month. The reason for this is simple: most people who buy an ae86 leap into modding it never realizing what the car is capable of in stock condition. Granted, your car wont be in stock condition when you get it either but the point remains the same. This also gives you time to plan your mods and to make a list for what has to be replaced as well as to give you an appreciation for the car in general. I cant stress this step enough. Have a plan and bang it out. Dont just randomly buy parts. A car that is systematically built really is more fun to drive than one that ís cobbled together. It also stops you from redoing work over and over (like multiple alignments, for example) which can cost time and money.
But in all seriousness, lets talk maintenance. Youve just bought a used car, and its going to need some TLC no matter what condition you got it in. The first and most basic of these steps is oil. Change your motor, transmission and rear end oil. Put something decent in the motor (unless it ís smoking), use a Toyota filter, put Redline synthetic or GM Synchromesh in the tranny and stick Redline in the dif. If you know your car is equiped with an LSD rear end, put some Canadian Tire 85-140 rock-crusher planetery gear fluid in it. The stuff is LSD-rated and easily the quietest, grippiest LSD fluid I have ever used. LSD additive is optional with this fluid in my opinion, but Id recommend it with any othere gear oil you were going to use. Iíve had great luck with the Canadian Tire Motomaster fluid so good that Id recommend it over Redline, Unocal, Castrol, Mobil even some LSD manufacturers oils like Kaaz. Ive used them all. Other nice thing is, it ís cheap and easy to find! Lately Iíve been using Unocal 85-140 with a CRC limited slip additive.
Once thatís done, Iíd recommend replacing your plugs, wires, cap and rotor with all new equipment. OEM Toyota ignitions are excellent, but keeping them in new condition is always a good idea. I would recommend using OEM caps and rotors (if you can afford them, otherwise anything will do) and aftermarket performance wires like MSD, Nology, Ultra etc. Id also recommend you change out the OEM coil for an MSD blaster 2. Theyre cheap, inexpensive upgrades that take ten minutes to install and offer some serious voltage over stock. The difference is also immediate. Lastly, Id recommend against the factory suggested platinum spark plugs. Platinum plugs are mileage plugs. Theyre designed to last forever. Theyre expensive, and they give weak sparks. Instead, Id go with some old school, copper core plugs. NGK used to make a resistorless copper core plug, but theyre getting quite hard to find. Id recommend Champion, believe it or not. Theyre cheap ($2 each?) and reliable. You just have to change them more frequently, which is the only down side. Look at it this way though, the performance gained by using fresh copper plugs is worth the hassle of having to change them, and the price of platinum plugs buys lots of copper ones, seven or eight times as many. You may also want to remove the OEM plug cover guard while youre in there. It was originally designed to seal out water, but as age sets in the seals will fail and actually allow the cover to trap water, which can give you serious misfire problems. Removing the cover means you can easily get the water out, its just saving you time. The other option is to replace the seals.
While youíre in there, Iíd recommend replacing all of your belts. The powersteering and alternator belts are easy enough to change, but what about your timing belt? Iíd recommend doing it too. It's not the easiest thing to get at, youll have to remove your timing covers. Behind the power steering bracket is one ten milimeter bolt that youíll need a ratchet wrench (sometimes called a gear wrench) to get at or youll be screaming while turning it 1/6th of a turn at a time with a traditional wrench.. Dont put it back in if you choose to reinstall your timing covers! This will save you a lot of time if you go back to do your belt again at a later date. I chose to run my belt exposed. While I dont necessarily recommennd this (it increases belt wear because of the dust getting onto the belt) I change my belt so often (about every 10,000km) because it ís so easy without the cover that I think the appearance is worth the trade of in having to buy a belt every two years. Yes this means I dont drive the car a lot, and this may not be a luxury you can afford, but either way, Id replace the belt and leave out that bolt in the cover. You may note that your cam or valve cover seals are leaking while youre doing this. Now ís the time to replace them.
While youre in there (as I like to say), it may be time to do a valve adjustment. 4ag valves really only need to be adjusted every fifty or hundred thousand kilometers. This is a good thing, because it takes hours to do unlike conventionally valved engines where it can literally be done during television commercials. While youre doing the timing belt, youre three quarters of the way through a valve job, so you might as well do them. This entails some special equipment however, so make sure youre properly prepared for whats coming. Youíll need a set of dial calipers, a sheet of paper and a set of feeler gauges. Usually doing the valve job costs nothing except a set of valve cover gaskets, so its a relatively cheap endeavor and your car will thank you.
You may also want to take this time to install a new battery. New, the ae86 uses what is called a group 27 battery. Batteries have set sizes and dimensions which are divided into ìgroup numbers, which is just a silly way of sticking batteries into car-related categories. You can certainly replace it with a similar group 27 battery but the boy racer in me recommends replacing it with a group 51R or an even smaller Odessey battery. The group 51R is a battery frequently found in Hondas and is quite small. The R designates ìreverse post. This means the positive and negative battery terminals are backwards. Because the batttery is designed for Hondas, the posts are backwards. The reversal of the posts puts them back where you can use them. These batteries are commonly available at your local parts store. You will have to brace the battery with a piece of wood or make a new bracket to hold it. Odessey batteries are a brand of very small, very powerful batteries used for racing purposes. Theyre small to the point of being almost one quarter the size of your regular ae86 battery, with almost the same power. Needless to say, theyre perfect if youre looking to shave weight.
Id also recommend replacing the air filter. Because Im a modder at heart, Id go with a cold air system or make my own. Back when I first started doing this (circa 1995) it was very very hard to find an aftermarket intake kit that didnt cost more than $300. Nowadays, with the resurgent popularity of the car, every manufacturer under the sun has a kit available. Look to companies like Weapon*R, K&N, T3 and a host of others for intakes. Be careful, you get what you pay for and not all manufacturers are as good as others. Id recommend sticking to actual name brands rather than tuning-house home jobs. Id also recommend K&N or ApexI filters as they seem to be the best ones going in terms of filtration. Surf the net for vaccuum tests of them if you dont believe me. Try to stay away from foam filters as they really just trap dirt and have no way to be cleaned. This will give you a few ponies, and more importantly add a killer sound to your everyday driving experience.
Odds are also good that your shocks are leaving something to be desired. Lets face it, shocks wear, and they may need to be replaced on a used car. You have two options. You can choose to replace the suspension at this point, or you can simply replace the shocks. Strangely enough, Id replace the shocks. Nothing fancy either. Id probably start with some Monroe sensatracs or Gabriel VSTs all around. Theyre simple, cost effective and they work well. What else did you need? I mean, if you think having coilovers is the way to go, go ahead but I think youíre better off returning it to OEM condition first. I coupled a set of Gabriel VSTís with Eibach springs a decade ago and found they went well together. Sensatracs and Eibachs were even better. That went on to become the go-to budget suspension for Canadian ae86 drivers, though it is lacking. Its budget, and it shows once youíve moved on to other things. Most people dive in to springs that are much too hard for street use, thinking that the stiff ride they get is somehow beneficial. I firmly believe the opposite.
You may also have noticed that your tires probably suck. Hell, theyíre probably holding you back from even coming close to enjoying the cars potential! But, tires are a tricky thing. Everyone has their favourite flavour of rubber, and at this point it may not be practical to upgrade. Your ae86 has probably come with the OEM pizza cutter or snowflake wheels available on the 85 and 86/87 models (respectively). These wheels are 14 inches high and 5.5 wide, not the easiest size of wheel to stick performance rubber on. It can be really hard to find serious tires in sizes to fit these wheels. Id sooner see you upgrade the whole package. Going to an 82-85 Supra wheel is always an option, though Id ask that you pass it up on the basis that its really a compromise, its tacky, ugly and everyone else has already done it to death. There are lots of great wheels out there, and Id suggest you look around and get what you really want. Tires are an important decision and its a good idea not to skimp on them. Like Michelin says, everything is riding on your tires.
The most important aspect of buying an ae86 is the braking system. The OEM brakes in this car are phenomenal. However, the ones youve just bought are well used. And because of that, they need some special attention. Unless the system was upgraded by the previous owner, Id advise almost total replacement. Make sure the car is equiped with a Toyota brake master cylinder and nothing else. Period. They make the best, and you want that and that s all there is to it. Brakes are not something to half-ass or monkey with! Id also highly recommend replacing the brake lines in the car with steel. This is quite common in the aftermarket, and Goodridge has you covered with a 5-line kit. Yes, the ae86 has five rubber brake lines and they harden and crack like all rubber. Replacing with steel insures this will never happen again, and that you get quality brakes all the time. Lastly, Id seriously inspect the rotors for thickness and straightness, and replace with brembo or some other quality brand of rotor as necessary. Theyre inexpensive at about $75 a corner, and are rotors brought to you by the same company that has brought you almost every major advancement in stopping technology ever. Lastly, change the pads. If you drive all year round, Iíd advise buying Toyota OEM pads. Theyíre inexpensive at about $80 for the whole car front and rear, and have good stopping power in all weather conditions. Unless youre only driving in happy, sunny weather, Id go this way for now. If you are only driving in good weather annd are prepared to compromise on noise, dirt and replacement times, there are a host of good brake pads for the ae86. Axxis metal master, Hawk, EBC, Endless, Image, Project Mu (my personal favourite), Acre etc, theres a billion of them out there. Be careful not to get drift pads, as these are designed to be rear-aggressive for tail happiness on corner entry. If you get metal or ceramic pads, make sure you sand them or rub them on concrete before installation, as any grains in the pads that arent lined up properly will eat your rotors alive.
In the unfortunate event that you have bad calipers, there are several things you should know. First off, you may be able to get away with lubricating the sliders that allow the caliper to move in and out. This requires special lubricants that are easily available at your local parts store. I found Permatex brake lube to be the best so far. It comes in an easy to use brush-top bottle and was only about ten dollars. If that doesnít fix it, your second option is to rebuild your brake calipers. Toyota sells rebuild kits for them, with all new seals and bits that will restore them to near-new condition. Buying new calipers from Toyota is also possible, but will literally cost more than an aftermarket brake upgrade. Lastly, as a worst-case-scenario, aftermarket calipers are available at reasonable prices. That being said, dont skimp and buy shoddy one, Ömake sure youíre getting a quality product.
Make sure you replace all of your old fluid with something in a high-boiling point that is DOT3 compatible, and that you effectively bleed the system. This means bleeding the master cylinder on a bench for ten minutes (at least) after bubbles stop showing, and that you effectively bleed every caliper. Passenger rear, driverís rear, passenger front, drivers front, in that order. There are many good brake fluids out there, hell Ive seen some that cost $170 for a 1 litre bottle! Id stick with a Ford rated DOT3. Canadian Tire used to sell one that boiled at 550f (which is huge) for a few dollars a bottle. I know of many people who use Super Blue brake fluid with happy results. It is actually a DOT5.1 fluid popular with BMW racers. I can sum up just how important your brakes are in five words: Speed kills, brakes give life. Now is also a good time to look into your ebrake cables. These tend to go bad through use, yours will have been used for about two decades and theyre probably stretched out. Theyre still available through Toyota and some of the aftermarket suppliers of rubbish parts like Canadian Tire, so you should have no trouble finding them.
There are a few other things you may want to do, though these really arent that important in the grand scheme of things. First of all, you may want to feed the car some injector cleaner for obvious reasons. Id recommend Amsoil injector cleaner if you can find it, but really anything will do. You may also want to replace your hatch struts. These are relatively cheap at between forty and eighty dollars for the pair, and will buy you years of peaceful hatch opening. Ask any ae86 hatch owner what maddens them, and opening the hatch from inside is probably one if their prop shocks are blown. This is because the hatch will release and then re-latch itself before you can reach it, just under its own weight! You may also note that some of the body seals are going, door seals or especially rear quarter window seals wear over time and let in the outside water, wind and noise. The ae86 is actually quite quiet from these elements, and if yours isnt, this is probably why.
You may also note that the car feels unsettled, like the car is loose. This means its bushings probably need to be replaced. TRD has you covered here, literally having a kit that replaces every bushing kit in the car. Its about four hundred dollars to buy and takes a weekend to install, but it is worth every single bit of effort and currency. It honestly makes the car feel like new, and it ís something I should have done years sooner than I did.
Finally, there is the issue of bearings. We are talking wheel bearings, axle bearings and driveshaft bearings here. Id recommend replacing the wheel bearings as soon as possible because its quite easy to do, and when youre doing your brakes its about another ten minutes of work. Its also quite cheap. Youll know if the rear bearings need to be done because the rear end of the car will emit a howl that goes up and down with car speed. These ones are more expensive and far more time consuming to do though they do go bad. Youre looking at between $200 and $500 to do them depending on bearing source and the DIY factor. Lastly, the driveshaft carrier bearing does go bad. These are available from Toyota for about $500 and is relatively easy to install.but Id sooner look at getting a light-weight, one piece driveshaft and just eliminate it completely. One of these shafts is available for about $400.
About the only things left are the common sense items. Replace your bulbs if theyre burned out. Fix your leaks. Get your electrical demons corrected. Replace all your broken bits. Now that your ae86 is in tip top condition, get out on the road! Drive it hard! Cars were meant to be driven, and that ís what you bought this one for. Take it out and put the hammer down, enjoy your toy. Thatís what it ís for!
Oil every 3000km - good oil with an OEM filter
Tranny oil every year (Redline or GM synchromesh)
Gear oil once a year (OEM open dif)
Gear oil every 3000km for limited slip rears (85-140 LSD approved)
Plugs (copper!) at least every year
Tire pressure (check once a month, set it where you like it)
Alignment once a year
Lubrication of all joints once a year, including all suspension parts and brake sliders
Timing check once every three months
Timing belt once a year (open) or every 50,000km (closed)
Wiper blades once a year or sooner if needed
Rain ex the windows once a year, use RainEx Yellow Wiper Fluid
Wax, polish and protect at least once a year, if not once every two months
Air filter replacement every year for non-washable filters, otherwise clean once a year
Replacement of coolant once a year
Replace radiator hoses every 5 years.
Please keep in mind that these intervals are for cars that are not driven every day, and that your opinion as to all of this may vary. Do what you need to do, its your car. Im only here telling you what I think is good.