For those looking for a reliable and fun rear-wheel drive coupe you can’t go far wrong with the Toyota 86 (Also known as the Scion FR-S or GT86) or Subaru BRZ. Since their launch, these two jointly-developed cars have won numerous awards and developed a massive following.
In this guide we are going to be looking at everything you need to know about buying either a Toyota 86 or a Subaru BRZ. We will also be covering the history and specifications of these two cars, along with information on how to import one from Japan if you are looking to do that.
How To Use This 86/BRZ Buying Guide
As we mentioned above, this guide not only covers information on buying a GT86 or BRZ, but also information on the history and specifications of the two cars. This is a long article, so we suggest that you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you are interested in (or just read it all).
The History of the Toyota 86 & the Subaru BRZ
Before we dive into the history, let’s quickly look at the different names that these cars were/are given:
- Toyota 86 – Asia, Australia, North America (from August 2016), South Africa, and South America
- Toyota GT86 – Europe, New Zealand (also sometimes called the 86)
- Toyota FT86 – Nicaragua and Jamaica
- Scion FR-S (2012 – 2016) – United States and Canada
- Subaru BRZ – All locations
The Story of the 86 and BRZ
The story of these two cars goes all of the way back to an executive board meeting at Toyota in 2007. Toyota’s executive board was worried that people around the world were losing interest in cars and they wanted to do something to combat the problem.
One suggestion that developed from the meeting was to go back to basics with sports cars that would reignite the general population’s interest in motorcars. In the past, sports cars had been repeatedly rejected by the Toyota board for having a poor return on investment, however, this meeting was different.
Tetsuya Tada, the chief engineer of the 86, first heard about the project when he was working on a new minivan design. One month after the executive meeting he was summoned and told to forget about working on minivans and start working on the new sports car project.
To help him with his new project, Tada decided to research what customers wanted in a new sports car. He quickly discovered that most sports cars were developed around the idea of performance and fast lap times, and that was how they were judged.
When he delved further into what customers actually wanted he discovered that many car people around the world didn’t care for these expensive performance monsters. What they actually wanted was a fun, affordable sports car much like the old AE86 or Nissan Silvia.
With the wants of desires of many in his mind, Tada set about creating the initial concepts of the new sports car. When he went back to the board with this initial design concept the first question he was asked was, ‘how fast is it?’ The board members couldn’t imagine a low speed, high fun sports and still wanted a high-performance model.
Despite this, Tada continued to work on the idea. However, he hit a snag with the engine. It needed to be at the front, but low in the body to help with aerodynamics and to give the car a sportier feel. The problem with this was that all of Toyota’s engines at the time were quite high and if they were used the front end would have to be raised to pass pedestrian safety standards.
Tada and his team quickly realised that they would need a flat-four cylinder or possibly even rotary engine to make their new sports car work. Luckily, Toyota and Subaru had just announced a collaboration deal that would have the two Japanese companies working closer together.
While the deal had nothing to do with building a joint sports car, Subaru did have an engine that was perfect for Tada’s vision. Unfortunately, when Toyota first approached Subaru with the idea of a low speed sports car the idea was shot down immediately. Subaru thought that nobody would be interested in the car and discussions stalled for half a year.
Things only changed when Tada and his team decided to create a prototype, using Subaru’s Legacy as a basis. To convince Subaru of the idea, Toyota lent the prototype to the company’s management who loved it.
With Subaru on board the project was approved with the same flat four as in the prototype. However, one year into the development of the project, both Subaru and Toyota realised that the engine just wouldn’t meet the requirements of the project.
Not only did the powerplant need to reach 100bhp per litre, it also had to reach an environmental target of a maximum of 160g/km of carbon dioxide emissions, a task that Subaru’s flat four simply wasn’t up to.
To help solve this problem, Tada enlisted the help of the chief engineer from the Lexus LFA. He suggested that Toyota’s D4S (direct and port) fuel-injection system and a new bore and stroke size be implemented to hit the required power and emissions targets.
This idea introduced a new problem in itself. When Tada and his team went to the Toyota board to explain their plan they were met with some resistance. The Toyota board members didn’t want to disclose the inner workings of the company’s most advanced direct fuel-injection system to an outside company, even one that they owned part of.
Thankfully, Shinzo Kobuki, the head of Toyota’s engine development department came onboard and managed to convince the board to go ahead with the plan. However, despite this it proved to be one step forward, one step backward.
When Toyota introduced the idea to Subaru they were having none of it. Their previous experience with direct injection systems had been poor and the head of Subaru’s chief executive officer for engine development was very anti the idea.
However, once again Kobuki saved the day. He managed to convince Subaru to go ahead with the idea and that Toyota would undertake the warranty for all problems.
The final piece to the puzzle would be creating the first prototype engine in 2008. This 190bhp engine managed to convince both Toyota’s and Subaru’s engineers that the direct injection system was the right direction.
The FT-86 Concept (2009)
In October 2009, Toyota and Subaru were ready to show the result of their collaboration. The concept would be labelled the FT-86 and its body design borrowed heavily from the FT-HS concept that was first displayed at the North American International Auto Show in 2007.
The next year at the Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota launched its G Sports line of aftermarket accessories. At the same time, they also showed of a G Sports version of the GT-86 concept with carbon fibre panels, a vented bonnet, rear wing, 19-inch wheels, Recaro seats, an interior rollcage, and the D-4S boxer engine was even equipped with a turbocharger.
Production Concepts Make an Appearance (2011)
Four years after the project first started, Toyota and Subaru gave the world its first glimpse at near-production versions of their new car. The first of these near-production cars was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2011 and was labelled as the FT-86 II Concept.
Essentially, this concept was a further refined version of the original FT-86. It featured a new front and rear end, and the dimensions were overall larger.
At the same show Subaru decided to show off a transparent silhouette of the car with the D-4S engine inside and the display name “Boxer Sports Car Architecture.
One month later Scion (a now discontinued marque of Toyota) introduced the FR-S Sports Coupe Concept at the New York International Auto Show. Following this, a semi-transparent Subaru concept known as the BRZ Prologue was displayed at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November the company showed of their first full mock-up of their version of the 86, the BRZ Concept STi.
The Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ Enter Production
The first production version of the Toyota 86 was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in December 2011 with the car entering full production on the second of February 2012. Sales began in March of the same year and the first deliveries were one month later. In the first month of sale, Toyota took 7,000 orders for the 86 while Subaru acquired 3,500 orders.
In the United States the 86 was sold under Toyota’s Scion marque and the country was given an allocation of 10,000 units for the 2013 model year. Subaru’s first run of BRZs in the United States was around half that of the Toyota 86, with the company being limited to around 6,000 units.
Both the 86 and the BRZ share the same low-weight design with an aluminium hood being used to keep weight to a minimum. To improve the car’s driving dynamics and aerodynamics, Toyota and Subaru mounted the boxer engine low in the front and as far back as possible, which resulted in a weight distribution of 53% front and 47% in the rear. Weight was also kept as low as possible in other areas to help maintain a low centre of gravity.
While the naturally aspirated engine was codeveloped by Toyota and Subaru it was given a different code for each car. The engine in the 86 was labelled the 4U-GSE, while the BRZ’s engine was branded as the FA20.
With a flat-four design from Subaru and Toyota’s D-4S injection system the 2.0-litre engine produced/produces as much 197 bhp (147 kW) at 7,000 rpm and 205 Nm (151 lb ft) of torque at 6,400 rpm.
Both companies mated the punchy engine to either a six-speed Toyota TL70 manual gearbox or a six-speed Aisin-Warner A960E automatic transmission, which was based on the transmission used in the Lexus IS 250. The automatic transmission features three different modes, Sport, Snow, and Normal. Almost all models are fitted with a torsen style limited slip differential as standard.
The two cars come with 16-inch steel and alloy wheels as standard, however 17-inch alloy wheels were also available in some markets (and were standard in some locations).
On the inside the interiors are much the same on the two cars, but with some slight differences/options. The base Toyota 86 and the FR-S models feature cloth seats with all black interior trim with black patterned trim for the dash and red stitching on the shifter.
BRZ buyers were given two different options when it comes to the trim. The first being an almost identical one to the FR-S/base 86 but with silver dash trim, black gauge faces and a touch-screen navigation head unit. Cars fitted with the second option came with leather and Alcantara heated seats, automatic HVAC control and a push-to-start button. Top of the range 86 models are fitted with the same options as the BRZ, but Japanese models can be purchased in both black and red interior trim or full black trim.
FR-S Re-Branded as the Toyota 86
Due to the discontinuation of the Scion marque, the FR-S was re-branded to the Toyota 86 for the 2017 model year onwards.
Special Edition Models/Packages
There were a range of different special edition packages and versions of the Toyota 86, the Subaru BRZ and the Scion FR-S.
Toyota TRD GT86 (2013)
This limited-edition Toyota Racing Development model features 18-inch forged aluminium wheels with Yokohama Advan Sport tyres (Michelin in some areas), a full TRD bodykit with new side skirts, a new rear spoiler, a new front bumper and a new diffuser. The car was also given quad-exhaust tailpipes and TRD branding.
TRD models were also equipped with an upgraded braking system. The front was given six-pot 355 mm front calipers and 345 mm four-pot rear calipers (compared to the GTS’ 294mm and 290mm calipers and GT’s 277mm and 286mm, respectively).
Subaru BRZ tS (2013)
Toyota wasn’t the only one to launch a special edition model in 2013. Subaru decided to introduce the BRZ tS for the Japanese market that was tuned by Subaru Tecnica International (STI). This upgraded model was given improved suspension, 18-inch BBS wheels finished in silver, an STI bodykit, Brembo brakes, a larger drive shaft and some interior changes as well.
A tS GT package was also introduced with Recaro seats, black BBS wheels and an adjustable carbon fibre rear wing. Subaru limited production of the tS spec BRZ to a total of 500 units with half of them being equipped with the GT package. In 2015, Subaru produced another 300 units with sales being limited to Japan once again.
Toyota GT86 Aero (2014)
This model was given a full bodykit and 18-inch OZ Ultraleggera alloy wheels in anthracite grey. Toyota limited the sale of this model to the UK market.
Toyota GT86 Giallo (2014)
Another UK only model, the Giallo, was launched in 2014 and was limited to 86 units only. The Giallo features double black stripes along the sills and all models were equipped with a manual gearbox and plush quilted leather seats. All Giallos were finished in the same lively shade of metallic yellow
This model was known as the Limited Edition in some other European markets.
Toyota 86 14R-60 (2014)
The same year that the Aero and Giallo models were launched in the UK, Toyota introduced the 14R-60 into the Japanese market. This special edition model was limited to 100 units and features changes such as twin central exhausts, a TRD mechanical LSD, a short-shifter, and revised gearing for the six-speed manual transmission.
Toyota also gave this model extra body reinforcement, variable-height coil-over suspension and more rigid suspension bushings. To complement the sporty upgrades, the 14R-60 was also given a TRD bodykit with custom carbon fibre components, 18-inch magnesium wheels, race-style bucket seats with four-point belts, an Alcantara-clad steering wheel, and other sporty trim pieces.
Scion FR-S Release Series 1.0 (2014)
Mirroring the Giallo in the United Kingdom, the Scion FR-S Release Series 1.0 was given a bright yellow paint job (Yuzu Yellow). The car also features a bodykit from TRD, a quad-tip exhaust system. TRD suspension, TRD interior trim pieces and a numbered commemorative plaque near the gear shifter.
Subaru BRZ Series.Blue (2015)
Introduced for the 2015 model year, the BRZ Series.Blue features aerodynamic enhancements, special STI-branded black wheels and red brake calipers. Despite the name, buyers could opt for either a ‘Blue Pearl’ or ‘Crystal Pearl White’ paint finish. A similar model was launched in Australia and was simply known as the “Special Edition”.
Toyota 86 Blackline (2016)
Limited to 450 cars – 250 manual and 200 automatics – the 2016 Toyota 86 Blackline was released in celebration of Australia’s Toyota 86 racing series. Toyota based the special edition model exclusively on the top-spec GTS, but gave it a raft of aerodynamic additions such as a unique black-accented front lip extension, black-accented side skirts, a model-specific three-piece rear spoiler, and a TRD lower bumper.
Subaru BRZ Series.HyperBlue (2016)
Much like the Series.Blue before it, there weren’t that many changes with the HyperBlue. Subaru gave the car a Hyper Blue finish, special interior trim pieces and Alcantara on the seats. Production was limited to 500 units.
Subaru BRZ Series.Yellow (2017)
For those sick of blue, Subaru introduced a special edition model finished in yellow for the 2017 model year. The Series.Yellow is based on the Limited trim package of the BRZ and also features the optional performance package that Subaru offered at the time. This package came with 4-piston Brembo brakes in the front, 2-piston Brembo brakes in the rear, Sachs dampers and special yellow accents and logos.
Toyota 86 Apollo Blue (2018)
When the Toyota 86 reached an impressive sales figure of 20,000 units in Australia, Toyota decided to mark the occasion by launching a bright Apollo blue colour version of the car. The sales milestone was a big moment for the brand as the last sports car from Toyota to sell over 20,000 units in Australia was the Celica in 1975.
The Apollo Blue was not only given a special paintjob, but was also kitted out with the 86 performance pack, which added Sachs sports suspension, Brembo brakes, and anthracite 10-spoke 17-inch wheels.
Subaru BRZ 50th Anniversary Edition (2018)
Based on the limited trim level, the 50th Anniversary Edition was finished in Heritage Blue and was offered by Subaru America. It was also given satin chrome exterior trim pieces and badging, along with an SOA 50th Anniversary emblem. On the inside, the car was given black upholstery with contrasting silver stitching and silver seatbelts.
Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ, and Scion FR-S Specifications
|Model||86, BRZ, FR-S|
|Year of production||2012 – 2000|
|Layout||Front-engined, rear-wheel drive|
|Engine||Naturally-aspirated Flat-4 – 4U-GSE (Toyota 86 & Scion FR-S) / FA20 H4 (Subaru BRZ)|
|Power||197 – 205 bhp (147 – 153 kW) at 7,000 rpm|
|Torque||205 – 212 Nm (151 – 156 lb-ft) at 6,400 rpm|
|Gearbox||6-speed Toyota TL70 (Aisin AZ6) manual or 6-speed A960E automatic|
|Suspension||Double Wishbone Rear Suspension|
|Weight||1,190–1,298 kg (2,624–2,862 lb)|
|Top speed||225 km/h (140 mph)|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||7.6 seconds manual / 8.2 seconds automatic|
Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ & Scion FR-S Buyer’s Guide
With the history and specifications of these cars out of the way, lets take a look at what you need to know about buying one of them.
All variants are manufactured at Subaru’s Gunma Plant in Japan, so they should all have roughly the same build quality and reliability. Speaking of reliability, the 86/BRZ/FR-S is about as reliable as a modern sports car can get, however, a badly maintained one can still cause more than a few headaches and wallet wounding experiences.
With this being the case, it is incredibly important that you thoroughly inspect any car you are interested in as thoroughly as possible (as with any vehicle). There are plenty of these cars available, so don’t settle for one in less than adequate condition.
How to Set Up an Inspection
While organising an inspection of a car may seem like a fairly straightforward process, there are several different things you need to consider.
We always recommend that you arrange an inspection at the seller’s house or place of business (dealership, etc.) for a time in the morning. This way you not only get to see what sort of area the car lives in, but the vehicle shouldn’t be warmed up as well (unless the seller has preheated it or taken it out for a drive).
Remember, a pre-warmed engine can hide a number of different issues, so if the seller has preheated the vehicle they may be trying it hide an issue. Still, if the engine is warm when you get to the inspection point it doesn’t necessarily mean that the seller is trying to hide something from you.
Another tip is to find a reliable friend or third party who can go and look at the car with you. They may be able to see something you missed during the inspection and they can give their own thoughts on the vehicle you have just seen.
The last tip to setting up an inspection is to avoid going to look at a car when it is raining. Water can hide numerous different issues with the bodywork such as accident damage, so watch out. This also applies if the owner/seller washes the car just before you get there and there is still water on the bodywork.
What Should You Pay for an 86/BRZ/FR-S?
This is a really tricky question as it depends on where you plan to buy the car, what sort of condition the vehicle is in, what sort of specifications it has, and what its mileage is. For example, a late model Subaru BRZ in good condition with low mileage is going to be worth more than an earlier model in poor condition.
While we can’t give you can exact figure you should pay, we suggest that you go on your local dealer or auction/classifieds websites and see what 86/BRZ/FR-Ss go for. You can then use the prices from these cars and get a rough idea of what you should pay for a specific model/condition level.
86 vs FR-S vs BRZ, Which is Better?
As you’ve probably worked out by know there really isn’t much difference between these cars. However, Subaru sold the BRZ with a higher quality interior and more features as standard when compared to the FR-S, so keep that in mind. When Toyota dropped the Scion name in North America and renamed the FR-S to the 86, buyers could get much of the same high-end interior and equipment features as the BRZ.
Another slight difference is in the suspension/ spring rates. Many drivers find the FR-S to be a bit more compliant than the BRZ, with the latter being a bit stiffer. Newer generation (2017 and later) 86 and BRZ models have improvements to the chassis and additional seam welds for better rigidity.
On the outside there are a few cosmetic differences between the cars with the main one being of course the badge.
Overall, there really isn’t a “best car” out of these three. If you are looking for the highest-spec model with all the bells and whistles you are more likely to find a BRZ with the features you are looking for. However, BRZs do tend to be a bit more expensive because of this.
We recommend focusing on finding the best possible 86/BRZ/FR-S you can find at a good price, rather than going for a specific brand/model. However, if you want a specific brand/model there is no problem with that as well (just remember you will be more limited in your options).
One other thing to remember is that early models (2012 and 2013) seem to suffer from a lot more issues.
86/BRZ/FR-S Inspection Guide
In the following section you will learn everything you need to know about inspecting one of these cars.
Checking the VIN
The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a series of numbers and characters that manufacturers like Subaru and Toyota assign to a vehicle. The VIN can tell you quite a lot of information about a car such as its model year, engine size, place of manufacturer and more. In some circumstances the VIN can be used to check if the car has been in an accident or if it has been recalled at any point. Below we have listed Toyota and Subaru’s recall checkers.
The VIN can be found on the majority of the body panels on these cars with the easiest one to see probably being the one on the inside of the door jam. If you notice any other VIN plates/numbers while you are inspecting the car, we recommend that you check that they all match.
If the VINs are different it may suggest that the car has been in an accident. Alternatively, if the VINs are scratched off/removed it may suggest that the vehicle has been stolen.
There are loads of different VIN checkup/decoder websites and services available online, so we suggest you check the VIN of the car you are inspecting on one of those. However, it is important to remember that many of the websites are location/country specific.
The engine is always going to be one of your primary areas of concern when looking at any car, including an 86/BRZ/FR-S. While the 2.0-litre boxer engine in these cars is fairly bulletproof, poor maintenance can always lead to problems.
When you first open the bonnet of an 86/BRZ/FR-S you should check for the following:
- Broken or damaged components – this is a major issue, especially if the owner has not mentioned anything about it. If the damage occurred a long time ago it suggests poor maintenance.
- Cleanliness – how clean is the engine bay?
- Modifications – are there any obvious modifications? While not always a problem, modifications can lead to a whole host of problems if the are not suitable or installed correctly.
If you notice that the engine bay is completely spotless it could either mean that the seller is really good at maintaining their vehicle or it may be a sign that they are trying to cover a problem up (an oil leak for example). If the engine bay and underside of the car is still wet when you inspect the vehicle it is a good indication that the car has been washed to hide a problem.
Another thing to check when you first open the bonnet of an 86/BRZ/FR-S is that the engine is cold. If the engine is not cold when you first open the bonnet and the owner has not driven to the inspection point, it may suggest that they have heated up the vehicle to hide an issue.
Checking the Fluid Levels
The next thing to do is to make sure that the fluid levels are the correct height. If they are either too low or too high, it suggests that the Subaru or Toyota you are inspecting has not been maintained correctly.
We suggest that you check the fluid levels both before and after a test drive to make sure they are around the same height (however, a slight change is to be expected).
Service Intervals for the Engine Oil & Oil Filter on an 86/BRZ/FR-S
As with any internal combustion engined car it is incredibly important to make sure that the engine oil and oil filter are changed regularly. Remember to check with the owner/seller that this work has been carried out regularly and when the last service was done. Back up any claims by checking the service history, however, if the seller has serviced the car themselves there may not be any documentation, so will just have to trust their word.
If the engine oil and oil filter are not changed regularly it is a major issue. Old oil can become contaminated and diluted overtime, leading to poor engine performance and possibly even engine damage.
There is quite a bit of conflicting information on when to change the engine oil on these cars as Toyota and Subaru seem to give different recommendations. This is only made even more confusing by the fact that owners give their own opinions on when to change the oil.
Subaru recommends replacing the engine oil every 10,000 km (6,000 miles) at maximum, while Toyota recommends doing it every 16,000 km (10,000 miles) for the 86 or every 12,000 km (7,500 miles) for the FR-S.
Most owners would recommend that you follow Subaru’s service interval (it is a Subaru engine after all) and some change it even earlier at 8,000 km (5,000 miles). We feel that following Subaru’s service schedule (or doing it even earlier) is a good idea as replacing it every 16,000 km just seems too far between changes.
What is the Correct Engine Oil for an 86/BRZ/FR-S?
Both manufacturers recommend a synthetic 0W-20 oil for their cars. Some owners suggest a 0W-30 for warmer climates (around the 37C/100F mark), but for most climates a 0W-20 will be more than adequate for both summer and winter. There are a range of good 0W-20 synthetic engine oils that are perfect for these cars from the likes of Mobil, Castrol or this one from Pennziol.
It is recommended that you replace the oil filter with every oil change and use an OEM filter (Subaru 15208AA130). A range of aftermarket oil filters from the likes of Mobil 1 and K&N are available as well. If you do plan to use an aftermarket oil filter make sure you check that it fits correctly and is well reviewed.
Remember to Check the Condition of the Oil
While you are checking the oil level, don’t forget to inspect the condition of the oil itself. If you notice any metallic particles or grit on the dipstick or in oil you should move onto another car. Alternatively, if the dipstick is frothy it may be a sign that the 86/BRZ/FR-S you are inspecting has overheated and/or is suffering from a blown head gasket.
Oil Leaks from an 86/BRZ/FR-S
While oil leaks aren’t that common on these cars, there are a few things to watch out for. We have listed the main areas where leaks can occur below:
- front cam cover
- Cam plate (this is quite a common issue and is believed to be a factory issue)
- front main seal
- rear main seal
- head gasket
- intake valve seal
- exhaust valve seal
- PCV valve
- oil filter
- oil dip stick
- oil pressure sensor
- intake manifold gasket and exhaust manifold gasket (only minor)
If the Toyota or Subaru you are inspecting has an oil leak try to work out the severity of the issue if you can. Remember to check for oil leaks both before and after a test drive, especially if the engine bay and underside of the car looks freshly cleaned. If the car leaves a big puddle of oil on the ground move onto another vehicle.
Oil Starvation & Spun Bearings
A number of owners of early model 86/BRZ/FR-Ss (before 2014) have reported oil starvation issues that in some cases causes bearing or engine failure. This seems to be more of an issue on cars that are regularly driven on a track.
Does the Engine in an 86/BRZ/FR-S Have a Timing Belt or Chain?
Thankfully, the engine in these cars uses a timing chain instead of a belt, so you don’t have to worry about replacing it at a certain interval. However, while the timing chain should last the lifetime of the motor, the chain can stretch overtime. Chain wear can be accelerated if the oil is not changed regularly or kept at the correct level, so keep this in mind if you suspect the car has not been serviced adequately.
If the chain has stretched or been damaged you may hear a rattling noise (could also be something else). Alternatively, the timing chain tensioner may need replacing. If the timing chain does need to be replaced it will be expensive to do so.
If you can, try to get a look at the spark plugs as they can tell you quite a bit of information about how the engine in the 86/BRZ/FR-S you are inspecting is running. We recommended that you check out this guide for more information on spark plug analysis.
When Should the Spark Plugs Be Replaced?
The spark plugs should be replaced every 80,000 – 100,000 km (50,000 to 60,000 miles).
What Are the Correct Spark Plugs?
It is recommended that you use the OEM spark plugs like these Toyota ones with a part number of SU003-04931. Below we have you can find all the OEM plugs suitable for the engine in these cars:
- Subaru – 22401AA801
- Subaru – 22401AA800
- Toyota/Scion – SU003-00416
- Toyota/Scion – SU003-04931 (the ones listed above)
Inspecting the Cooling System
If there are any problems with the cooling system on the car you are inspecting it could spell major trouble for you if you decide to purchase it. We have listed the different components that make up an 86/BRZ/FR-S’s colling system below and if any one of these parts fail it can lead to overheating and possibly even total engine failure.
- Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
- Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
- Water Pump – belt that is driven from a pulley. Pushes water/coolant through the engine (should be replaced with the timing belt).
- Overflow or Expansion bottle – removes air from the system and provides a filling point
- Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system
It is a good idea to check the cooling system both before and after a test drive to make sure it is working as intended and there are no leaks. If the coolant height changes drastically following a test drive there is a problem (however, a slight change is to be expected).
What are the Signs of an Overheating 86/BRZ/FR-S?
Remember to keep an eye out for the following signs that indicate the car you are inspecting is getting a bit too hot:
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
- Oil that is white and milky
- Fouled spark plugs
- Low cooling system integrity
- Engine oil that smells of coolant
- Sweet exhaust smell
- Coolant leaking externally from below the exhaust manifold
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
If you notice that the temperature gauge is behaving erratically or is always on the low side it may be a sign that the thermostat is not functioning correctly. Alternatively, if the temperature gauge is on the high side it is a sign that the cooling system is struggling or failing. Another thing to watch out for is if the gauge reads a worryingly high temperature, but then drops down to a normal level.
Inspecting the Exhaust System
It is always a good idea to check as much of the exhaust system as you can see. While there are no specific problems with the exhausts fitted to these cars there are a few things to watch out for:
- Black sooty stains – This is a sign of a leak which may be expensive to repair.
- Corrosion – While this really shouldn’t be a problem on modern Toyotas and Subarus, it is always a good idea to keep an eye out for it. If the car you are looking at does have bad rust problems on the exhaust you should move onto another 86/BRZ/FR-S as there is probably lots of rust elsewhere on the vehicle.
- Cracks or accident damage – This is often a sign of a careless owner. Lowered cars will be more susceptible to damage.
- Bad repairs – There is nothing wrong with a repaired exhaust, but if the work was done on the cheap it is an issue.
- Removed catalytic converter – This is done to help the engine breath. Owners who have done this report that the car still passes the required emissions tests in most countries, however, this is not a certainty. It is worth asking the owner if they still have the parts if they have done this (ask for a discount if they do not have them).
- Aftermarket systems – Replacing the original exhaust with an aftermarket one is a popular upgrade that combined with an ECU update/upgrade can net a small increase in power. There are too many aftermarket exhausts out there to cover in this article, so we recommend noting down the brand/where it was made and checking reviews.
Starting Up an 86/BRZ/FR-S
We suggest that you get the owner to start the vehicle for you for the first start (you can start the vehicle later yourself). There are a couple of reasons for this:
- So, you can see what comes out the back (smoke, vapour, etc.)
- To see if the owner revs the car hard when it is still cold (if they do that pass on the vehicle)
If the car struggles to start or fails to do so at all it may be suffering from a number of different issues from major to minor (a bad battery for example).
What Should the Idle Speed be on One of these Cars?
Once warm, the idle speed should hover around the 650 rpm mark without the air conditioning on. With the air conditioning on and once the compressor kicks in the idle speed will jump to around 800 rpm. If the car stalls or runs rough when all the electronics and air conditioning are turned on there is a problem.
Keeping an Eye Out for Smoke
Any signs of smoke or large amounts of vapour coming from the exhaust should set of alarm bells in your head. We recommend avoiding any 86/BRZ/FR-S that is suffering from serious smoke issues as the car probably isn’t worth your time or money.
While large amounts of vapour coming from the exhaust signals an issue, a little bit on engine start-up is perfectly normal on a cold day and is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust. If the vapour doesn’t disappear after a short time it signals an issue. Below we have put together some information on what the different colours of smoke indicate:
- White smoke– This is usually caused by water in the cylinders and could indicate a blown head gasket. If the smoke smells sweet, it is probably coolant. A burning smell and white/greyish smoke may also be caused by an oil leak that drips on the exhaust manifold (leaking cam plate seal or timing cover, etc.).
- Blue/Grey smoke– Can be caused by wear to the pistons, piston rings, and/or worn valve seals. To check for blue smoke, ask a friend to follow you while drive the vehicle and take it through the rev range. Alternatively, get the owner to drive the car for a bit and watch out the back. Blue smoke on start-up and overrun is a sign that the car has been thrashed. If the car is fitted with an aftermarket turbo the smoke may be caused by worn/failed seals in the turbocharger.
- Black smoke – Usually occurs when the engine is running too rich (burning too much fuel). The first things you should check is the air-filter and other intake components.
Misfiring & ECU Problems
There was a factory issue with these cars where the boxer engine suffered from rough idle and occasional stalls. According to Subaru and Toyota the issue was related to a software problem with the ECU (engine control unit).
The ECU on these cars picks up how the owner drives the car for the first 160 km (100 miles), and then sets the engine to perform accordingly. If the owner then drives outside of these tolerances, the ECU can send out an error code that causes the engine to idle roughly or stall.
When Toyota commented on the problem, they stated that it was simply down to the ECU’s software and had nothing to do with the mechanicals of the engine. Toyota mostly replaced the ECUs in their branded cars, while Subaru simply re-flashed them as a permanent fix.
In a small number of cases, the problem lead to other parts needing to be replaced as well such as the oil-control valve, thee camshaft sprockets and some of the other variable valve-timing componentry.
Failing Coil Packs
Failing coil packs is a common issue on models produced until 2014 and the problem usually manifests itself as a noticeable lack of power, drop in RPMs when accelerating or idling for no apparent reason and an active Check Engine Light (CEL). The CEL will give of P0351 or P0353 warning codes if this is the problem.
Misfiring, popping and/backfire is a sign that the Direct Injectors have gone bad and they need to be replaced immediately. If this is happening to the car you are driving the engine is probably on its way out. A replacement of the injectors may or may not fix the issue, so avoid cars with this problem. Once again this problem is most commonly found on earlier models.
Fuel Pump Issues
A noisy fuel pump is an issue that affect quite a few of these cars, so keep an ear out for that. If the fuel pump is making strange noises it will probably have to be replaced in the near future.
There are quite a few of these cars out there with swapped engines as many owners find the power levels produced by the original engine inadequate. Be very cautious of any 86/BRZ/FR-S with a non-stock engine as they can be a real nightmare if things go wrong or have been installed incorrectly. If you are interested in a car with a swapped engine or plan to do it yourself we suggest that you check out this forum.
Another alternative that you may come across is a car with a swapped engine due to the original dying. If the new engine is the same as the old one it should be perfectly fine as long as it was installed correctly.
It is important to thoroughly inspect the service history for any receipts or paperwork relating to an engine swap. Replacing an engine is a very time consuming and expensive process, and it should be done by a specialist. Try to find out who did the work and see if they seem competent (find reviews, etc.).
We also recommend that you ask the owner why the engine was replaced. Was it because of engine failure or did they do it to get an increase in performance?
While finding one of these cars with a rebuilt engine is fairly unlikely (even early models are still relatively new), there are still some out there. A rebuild done be a competent specialist or mechanic should cause no problems, but be cautious of ones done on the cheap.
We suggest that you avoid any car that has just had a freshly rebuilt engine as they are a bit of an unknown. A rebuilt engine with 5,000 – 10,000 km on it is a much safer bet.
Should I Get a Compression Test Done
While a compression test is never necessary when purchasing a used car, they can be a very useful tool in your arsenal when conducting an inspection. However, doing a compression test will only indicate that there is a problem and won’t necessarily tell you what that problem is.
Toyota/Scion and Subaru both offered their version of the car with either a manual or an automatic gearbox.
The manual transmission in the 86/BRZ/FR-S is fairly robust and reliable, and can take quite a bit more power than the stock engine puts out.
Toyota recommends inspecting the manual transmission fluid every 36,000 km (22,500 miles) or every 22 months and replacing as necessary with API-GL-3 75w90. The differential oil should be inspected every 7.5 months or 12,000 km (7,500 miles) and replaced with API GL-5 Toyota Genuine Differential Gear oil as necessary.
During a test drive make sure the transmission shifts smoothly and there are no graunching or grinding sounds. Synchro wear is a fairly common occurrence as many owners of these cars like to drive them hard and slam through the gears (especially if they are a regular on track days).
Remember to pay particular attention to second as if it does not go into gear without any resistance when cold it may suggest that a fluid change is needed or that the clutch needs to be realigned.
Clutches usually last anywhere from 48,000 – 65,000 km (30,000 – 40,000 miles) but can go further or go bad earlier depending on how the car is driven. If the clutch pedal feels excessively heavy or you feel shuddering when you take of the clutch is probably on its way out.
Below we have listed some methods that will help you determine the condition of the clutch in the Toyota or Subaru you are inspecting.
Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the car you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.
Clutch Slippage – The way to check for this is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. Once you have done this, plant your foot on the throttle and watch the revs. If the engine speed goes up but the car doesn’t accelerate the clutch is slipping. Here are some things that can cause slippage
- Worn clutch
- Clutch covered in oil
- Clutch cable is too tight and is not releasing properly
Clutch Drag – Get the vehicle on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the car hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.
Clutches on these cars are quite expensive to get replaced if you go to Toyota or Subaru, so if the car you are inspecting has an issue with the clutch try to get a big discount or move onto another vehicle.
When it comes to an automatic transmission the main thing to watch out for is smoothness. If the automatic gearbox feels rough or doesn’t kick down properly you could be in for a world of expense if you purchase the car. Any banging, knocking or jumping during gear changes is a major problem that should be an instant dismissal.
The fluid in the automatic transmission should be inspected every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) or every 30 months, and replaced every 96,000 km (60,000 miles) or every 60 months. Replacement should be done with Toyota Specific World Standard fluid with capacities of 7.9 quarts.
Steering & Suspension
There aren’t really any specific issues with the original steering and suspension components on these cars. Toyota’s version of the car has a slightly softer setup with more oversteer, so keep this in mind if you are looking at both brands’ models.
Modifications are very common, just remember to make sure that any aftermarket parts are from a good brand and that they have been installed correctly. If the owner has modified the car ask them if they have the original components as they will only add value to the vehicle if you decide to sell it in the future.
Below we have listed some things to watch out for that indicate worn suspension and steering componentry:
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive tyre bounce after hitting a bump
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Sagging or uneven suspension.
- Knocking or creaking sounds during a test drive (don’t forget to drive in a tight figure 8) – often a problem with the steering rack or bushes
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
- Tipping during turns
- High speed instability
- Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel (could indicate alignment issues or failed ball joints)
While you are at the front of the car, push down on the suspension. The front suspension should be hard, and you should have to use a bit of force to push it down. If it moves easily or bounces to much on return, then the suspension is probably a bit worn.
Checking the Wheel Alignment
Find yourself a nice straight and flat section of road to check the wheel alignment. If the Toyota or Subaru you are test driving doesn’t drive straight without wheel corrections the alignment is probably out. Alternatively, it may be a sign of another problem such as accident damage.
Worn brakes can be an issue as these cars as they often get driven hard. Upgraded brakes are quite common and both Toyota and Subaru sold special edition versions of these cars with Brembo brakes. Before a test drive look for the following:
- Condition of the pads
- Pitted, scored or grooved discs
- Any leaks in the brake lines (get a helper to press on the brake pedal while you inspect the lines)
- Fluid level in the brake fluid reservoir
- Brake fluid changes every 12 – 24 months (check the service history and with the owner for this)
During a Test Drive
The standard brake set-up should be more than adequate for road use, so if the brakes feel weak or spongy there is an issue. Remember to test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions. Additionally, if it is safe to do so try to do an ‘emergency stop’ to really test the braking system.
Erratic braking such as pulling to one side is usually caused by a sticking/seized caliper. This usually happens if the car has been left unused for a long period of time. Another sign of this problem is a loud thud when you pull away for the first time.
Watch out for shaking or juddering through the steering wheel when the brakes are applied as this suggests that the discs are warped. This problem usually becomes first apparent under high speed braking.
Other than the above, keep an ear out for any loud bangs, knocks, grinding or other strange sounds when the brakes are applied. A squealing sound could indicate that the pads are near the end of their life.
Pay particular attention to the brakes on cars that have been used on a track as the components can take a real beating.
Wheels & Tyres
Lots of owners will have replaced the original wheels with aftermarket ones. A rim with 225-section tyres is believed to be the best combination for retaining the car’s fun driving character with improved grip.
Remember to check the wheels for any damage as getting rims repaired can be expensive (especially if they are high-end aftermarket ones). If the wheels aren’t original, check with the owner to see if they have the originals as they will add value to the car when it comes time to sell it in the future.
The standard tyres are also quite controversial. Some people love them for their predictable oversteer, while others hate them for their lack of grip. While you are inspecting the rims take a good look at the tyres and check for the following:
- Amount of tread
- Uneven wear (Can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues)
- Brand (they should be from a good or well-reviewed brand)
- Same tyre in terms of tyre make, type, size and tread patter on each axle (preferably on all four wheels)
Bodywork/Exterior of an 86/BRZ/FR-S
Bodywork issues can be very, very expensive to put right and they can really lower the value of a car or make it difficult to sell. These cars encourage enthusiastic driving, so many of them have been in contact with things they shouldn’t have been. Below you will find some things you need to watch out for when it comes to the bodywork.
This is going to be your biggest worry when it comes to the exterior (and possibly even the whole car). Accident damage is often much more serious than it first appears and many owners/sellers will lie about the severity or even claim that the car was never in a damage when it obviously was. Always assume the worst and hope for the best!
Below we have listed some signs that the Toyota or Subaru you are inspecting may have been in an accident:
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the vehicle and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
- Rust in strange locations – Could be a sign that the Toyota or Subaru you are looking at has been in an crash or has some other sort of issue.
- Paint runs or overspray – Sometimes a factory issue but can also be a sign of a respray due to crash damage.
- Missing badges or trim – Can be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Additionally, check the bonnet catches as if they look new the car has probably been in an accident. You should also check the doors, boot/tailgate and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage. If the panels are uneven it could suggest an accident has occurred.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Toyota or Subaru you are inspecting may have been in a crash.
- Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
- If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the 86/BRZ/FR-S you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
Accident damage isn’t always an instant dismissal as minor damage that is repaired by a competent panel beater/mechanic is perfectly fine. If the damage is serious move onto another car.
If the owner/seller tries to cover up or lie about the accident it suggests that the problem is worse than first appears. Alternatively, if the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.
Corrosion isn’t a significant problem on these cars, however, there are a couple of areas where it does occur quite frequently.
- Near the front quarter light (fixed on later cars)
- Under the bonnet strip (some protection can solve this issue)
We also recommend that you check for rust in other areas as accident damage can lead to the problem occurring in places where you think it wouldn’t. You should also check around the wheel arches, wheel wells, sills and underside of the car as well.
If you do happen to come across rust during your inspection try to get a gauge on how bad the issue is. While corroded body panels & parts can be fixed, the problem is usually much more serious than it first appears on the surface. If the Toyota or Subaru you are inspecting has major rust problems move onto another car.
Things That Can Make Rust More Likely to Occur
- If the car has spent time in countries or areas that salt their roads
- If the car has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
- If the car has lived by the sea for significant periods of time
- If the car has always been kept outside (never garaged)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
Looking for Rust Repairs
It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair. Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).
Use a magnet on steel sections of the car or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
Condensation in the Rear Lights
This is an issue that affects many cars including the 86/BRZ/FR-S. This issue can be fixed and Toyota and Subaru will do it under warranty, but many owners have replaced the originals with aftermarket ones to solve the problem permanently.
As with many cars the seat bolsters can wear quite a bit, especially if the vehicle has seen lots of use or the owner is of a larger persuasion. If the seats move under braking or acceleration it is a major problem and will be a WOF/MOT failure.
Excessive amounts of wear on the seats, steering wheel, carpets, shifter and pedals for the mileage may be an indication that the odometer has been wound back (or it may simply be that the car has had a hard life). Remember to check all of the other interior trim pieces for wear as while they can be replaced if necessary, costs can add up quickly.
A rattle from the gear lever above 4,000 rpm is a well-known issue on earlier models and the issue should have been fixed under warranty. Interestingly, squeaks, rattles and creaks are a common issue throughout the interior when compared to much of Toyota and Subaru’s competition.
Electronics, Lights & Air Conditioning
Electronic issues aren’t too common on these cars but they can occur. During an inspection make sure that all the switches, knobs and buttons work as intended. Make sure that you check that the warning lights come on when the engine is started. If they don’t it may suggest that the owner/seller has disconnected them to cover up an issue.
If the air conditioning/climate control doesn’t work don’t let the owner convince you it just needs a re-gas. While a re-gas may simple be what is needed, it may also be a much more serious issue such as a compressor failure.
General Car Buying Advice the For an 86/BRZ/FR-S
How to Get the Best Deal on One of these Cars
This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.
- Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a Toyota or Subaru, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage example or are you happy with a car that has travelled far? Are modifications okay or do you want a stock model.
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. There are loads of different 86/FR-S/BRZs out there in different levels of condition and spec, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
- Go look at and test drive multiple 86/FR-S/BRZs – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad 86/FR-S/BRZ.
- Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for one of these Toyotas or Subarus and only go for promising looking cars.
- Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
- Don’t trust the owner – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple cars, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
- Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.
Mileage vs Condition
Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.
Short distance trips do not allow the engine in an 86/FR-S/BRZ to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.
Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.
Mileage will never decrease with age, so go out and drive your car!
Service History and Other Documentation
It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Toyota/Subaru specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work).
The service history will give you a good idea of how the Toyota or Subaru you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.
If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.
Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.
Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner
- How often do you drive the car?
- When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
- How much oil does it use?
- What oil do you use in the car?
- What parts have been replaced?
- When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
- What’s the compression like?
- What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
- Has the vehicle overheated at any point?
- Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
- Is there any money owing on the car?
- Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
- Is the car tracked regularly or at all?
- Is there any rust?
- Has rust been removed at any point?
- When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
- Where do you store/park the car usually?
There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.
Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from an 86/FR-S/BRZ
Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.
- Overheating problems
- Significant Crash Damage
- Money owing on the car
- Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
- Excessive amounts of power
- Bad compression
- Bad resprays
- Significant rust problems
- Engine swaps with non-standard engines
- Significant track use
- Major engine or transmission issues
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Notes on the Owner
The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their 86/FR-S/BRZ (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.
- How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
- Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
- Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
- What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
- How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
- Do they know anything about the 86/FR-S/BRZ and the model they are selling?
- What can they tell you about previous owners?
- Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
- What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
- What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
- How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
- How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?
If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Subaru BRZ, Toyota 86 or Scion FR-S.
Importing a Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ from Japan
If you are struggling to find a suitable one of these cars in your country, you may want to look at importing one from Japan. Subaru and Toyota sold lots of these cars in Japan, so it is a great place to find one
Exporting vehicles from Japan is a big business as it keeps the country’s motor industry moving and older vehicles become more expensive to run. Below we have outlined everything you need to know about importing a Subaru BRZ or Toyota 86 from Japan.
How to Import a Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ
While importing an 86 or BRZ from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually quite easy. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search “import Toyota 86” or “import Subaru BRZ”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for one of these cars based on their age, generation, condition, price and more.
Most of the websites/companies you encounter should be based in Japan, but you may find some other ones that are located in different parts of the world.
Make sure you check reviews/feedback of any website or auction house you want to use. While you are unlikely to get completely scammed, many of these websites will be economical with the truth about a vehicle. We have listed a few examples of Japanese importers/exporters below:
JDM Expo – Is an independent subsidiary of Nikko Auto Co., which is recognized as on the most reliable exporters of Japanese cars in the country.
Car From Japan – is another large portal for connecting overseas buyers with Japanese second hand cars.
Japan Partner – Is one of the fastest growing exporters of used Japanese vehicles.
Note: many of these sorts of websites do not provide a grade or auction check sheet. The grade, auction check sheet, and car map are vital to picking a good car. Buyer beware!
Use a Private Importer
While the websites above are handy to give you a general idea of what to expect when importing a Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find the perfect 86 or BRZ for you and import it, saving you the hassle. While it may cost you a bit more (sometimes it is cheaper) you are more likely to get a better vehicle.
You can get a full explanation of why we recommend using a private importer here.
How Does the Japanese Car Grading System Work?
The auction houses and car exporters in Japan all get their vehicles in roughly the same way. The difference between them is how much support they are willing to provide, how honest they are, and how they grade their vehicles
They will provide what is known as an ‘auction check sheet’ – a document that contains most of what you need to know about the vehicle. As you can’t see the vehicle personally, you will have to rely on the check sheet and other information on the listing to make a decision. If the seller/website is not willing to provide you with an auction check sheet or additional information on the car, don’t proceed any further.
Before you make a purchase you need to learn how to read an auction check sheet. The sheet contains information on the make, model, condition, specifications and any other notes. There will be a grade on the sheet that denotes the overall grade of the vehicle.
While the grade on a check sheet is important, you should not rely on it to make a final decision. Different companies have different methods for grading their vehicles, so a grade 4 for one company may be a grade 3.5 for another.
Some websites may use a different grading system and if you can’t view the auction check sheet, you should contact the seller/exporter.
Use the grade to reduce the number of Toyota 86s or Subaru BRZs you are looking at and then use the check sheet and additionally information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you if possible (hence the recommendation for a private importer).
The Auction Check Sheet
Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. The grade is located in the top right corner of the check sheet. You will notice that there is both a letter and a number grade. The number indicates the overall condition of the vehicle, while the letter shows you the interior grade. At the bottom right of the check sheet is the ‘car map’. The car map tells you information about the exterior of a Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ and where any problems are located.
Additionally, the sheet contains information about the specs of the vehicle and any modifications (major or minor). The inspector may also write some additional notes about the car.
What Does the Number Grade Mean?
- Grade 7 to 9 or S– New car with delivery miles.
- Grade 6– Same as above but with a few more miles.
- Grade 5– Vehicle is in excellent condition with low miles.
- Grade 4.5– Overall condition is great, but may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
- Grade 4– Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
- Grade 3.5– Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
- Grade 3– Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
- Grade 2– Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
- Grade 1– Is modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
- Grade 0, A, R, RA– Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Letter Grade
As we wrote earlier, the number grade is usually accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. An ‘A’ indicates that the interior is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ indicates that the car is in average condition, while a ‘C’ displays that it is in poor condition. Grades below C show that the car’s interior is in very poor condition.
The Car Map
The check sheet will also contain what is called a “car map”, which tells you all the information you need to know about the exterior condition of the car. It will show the location of any problems or damage to the vehicle. Any problems are indicated by a letter and a number. The letter tells you what the issue is and the number indicates the severity. You can read more about the car map in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.
Our Guidelines for Importing a Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ from Japan
- Always demand to see and have the auction check sheet before making a purchase
- If you can’t read Japanese or the company won’t provide a translated check sheet, get help from somebody who speaks/reads Japanese.
- Try to go through a private importer
- Check that the chassis number on the check sheet matches the one on the frame
- Cross reference the check sheet with other websites
- Don’t rely on the grade (always check the auction sheet thoroughly)
- Investigate each website/service thoroughly (reviews, feedback, etc.)
- Be careful of heavily modified vehicles
- Get someone to inspect the car for you if possible. Ask for photos and get a good run down of the condition.
- Avoid cars with unknown mileages
- Stay away from bargains that seem to be too good to be true
- Stay away from grade 0, A, RA, R vehicles that have been involved in accidents
Know Your Country’s Importation Laws
Always make sure you check your country’s importation laws as you may find you can’t bring the vehicle you want in. For example, some countries have certain restrictions on importing cars under a certain age.