If you are looking for a car that provides luxury motoring without breaking the bank, a twelfth generation (S180) Toyota Crown could be just what you need. The Crown is Toyota’s longest-running model and is a popular choice with Japanese buyers.
In this guide we are going to cover everything you need to know about buying one of these fantastic luxury Toyotas, including any common problems, the history, and the specifications of the car. At the end of this article, we have some general advice on purchasing a used car and how to import a Toyota Crown S180 from Japan.
How to Use This Crown S180 Buyer’s Guide?
This buyer’s guide covers a lot of information, so we recommend that you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read. To start with we will be looking at the history of the twelfth generation Crown and then we will move onto the car’s specifications. Following this we will be diving into the buyer’s guide section of the article and then we will cover more general car purchasing advice. At the end of this article, we have put together a rough guide on how to import a Crown from Japan.
The History of the 12th Generation Toyota Crown
The Crown nameplate was first introduced in Japan in 1955 to meet the demands of public transportation. It was sold under the Toyopet name and unlike its close sibling, the Toyopet Master, it was intended for private purchase and not commercial use.
Three years after the car launched in Japan, Toyota began sales in the United States. Other markets would follow with Europe receiving the nameplate in 1964, Canada in 1965, and Australia would manufacture the crown from the mid-1960s until the late 1980s.
Over the decades, Toyota continued to develop and release new versions of the Crown, however, sales in some export markets proved to be less than the company had hoped. North American exports would stop in 1973, but the nameplate still continued to be popular in markets such as Australia and New Zealand.
With the introduction of the Lexus brand in the 1980s, the Crown range was pushed to the side for the global market. The Lexus LS took over the role of Toyota’s flagship sedan in 1989 and the Lexus GS (Toyota Aristo in Japan) partially succeeded the Crown in export markets.
Despite other models taking over the Toyota Crown’s market segment, the car still proved to be popular with Japanese buyers and was widely used for commercial purposes such as taxis. By late 2003, Toyota was ready to introduce the twelfth-generation version of the car, the S180 Crown.
The Toyota Crown S180 Is Introduced
Toyota’s twelfth generation Crown made its debut in December 2003 and the car was completely redesigned from scratch. The platform and all major components including the engine and the suspension were new.
Compared to the previous generation, the S180’s wheelbase was 70 mm (2.8 inches) longer and the body width was increased by 15 mm (0.6 inches). These changes meant that the luxury Toyota now had the roomiest interior of all of its contemporaries, including the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7 Series.
The smaller version of the car with a 2.0-litre engine was no longer offered as a Crown. The Crown Comfort assumed the role of this smaller, less expensive model that still complied with the Japanese Government’s dimension regulations.
Powering the Twelfth Version of the Crown
A newly developed D-4 direct injection V6 DOHC 24-valve dual VVT-I power unit replaced the aging 1G, 1JZ and 2JZ engines fitted to the previous version of the car. Initially, Toyota offered the new engine in two different variations, a 2,499 cc 212 hp (158 kW) 4GR-FSE unit and a 2,994 cc 252 hp (188 kW) 3GR-FSE version.
The larger engine was mated to a 6-speed sequential shiftmatic Super ECT transmission, while the 2.5-litre model received a 5-speed Super ECT. Along with the choice of engine, buyers could either opt for a rear-wheel drive setup or an electronically controlled permanent four-wheel drive configuration.
Toyota’s engineers retained the four-wheel double wishbone suspension layout from the eleventh gen version of the car, however, a new multi-link system was adopted at the rear. The hydraulic power steering system was also dropped in favour of a completely electric setup.
2005 – More Engine Options
In October 2005, a V6 3.5-liter D-4S 2GR-FSE power unit was made available with the sportier Athlete model (also known as the GRS184). This new engine produced as much as 311 hp (232 kW) and 377 Nm (278 lb-ft) of torque at 4,800 rpm.
Toyota achieved the impressive results of the engine through a couple of methods. Port injection was implemented to achieve the correct mixture without having in-engine restrictions. This meant that the power unit achieved specific power near the top of all naturally aspirated gas/petrol engines in the world at the time.
The company’s engineers also developed a new type of injector for the engine. They devised a dual fan spray pattern for the injectors with wide dispersion in the cylinder. This helped to greatly increase power and efficiency. Additionally, emissions were massively improved for the first 20 seconds after engine start-up (while the catalytic converter warms).
In 2008 (2009 in China), production came to an end for the S180 Crown, with the thirteenth generation being introduced the same year.
Toyota Crown Twelfth Generation Specifications
|Year of production||2003 – 2008 (Japan)|
2005 – 2009 (China)
|Layout||Front-engine, rear wheel drive|
front-engine, electronically controlled four-wheel drive
|Engine/Engines – (Models)||2.5-litre 4GR-FSE – (GRS180/181)|
3.0-litre 3GR-FSE – (GRS182/183)
3.5-litre 2GR-FSE – (GRS184)
|Power||212 hp (158 kW) at 6,400 rpm|
252 hp (188 kW) at 6,200 rpm
311 hp (232 kW) at 6,400 rpm
|Torque||260 Nm (192 lb-ft) at 3,800 rpm|
314 Nm (231 lb-ft) at 3,600 rpm
380Nm (280 lb-ft) at 4,800 rpm
|Gearbox||5-speed Super ECT (2.5-litre models)|
6-speed sequential shiftmatic Super ECT (3.0-litre and above)
|Weight||1,550 – 1,650 kg (3,417 – 3,638 lb)|
|Top speed||Limited to 180 km/h (112 mph)|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||Roughly 6 seconds for GRS184 Athlete – lower for other models|
Toyota Crown S180 Series (Twelfth Gen) Buyer’s Guide
With the history and the specifications covered, let’s take a look at what you need to know about buying one of these fantastic luxury Toyotas. Overall, all the versions of the twelfth generation Toyota Crown are reliable and dependable, but like with any used car it is important to make sure the one you purchase has been maintained and looked after properly. Below you will find everything you need to know about inspecting and buying an S180 series Crown.
Setting Up an Inspection
Arranging when to go look at a particular vehicle is one of the most important steps in the used car buying process. Here are some things to consider when setting up an inspection of an S180 Crown:
- View the vehicle in person or get a reliable third party to do so for you – Purchasing any vehicle sight unseen, even one as robust and reliable as a Twelfth Gen Crown, is a big risk. Try to go and look at the vehicle yourself or get a reliable third party to do so for you. For those looking to import an S180 Series Crown, it is a good idea to get a trusted importer to check out and import a particular car for you (Tim from jcars comes highly recommended and he helped us write the full importing guide on this website, which you can read here).
- View the car at the seller’s house or place of business if possible – This is a good idea as you should be able to get a rough idea of how and where the Crown you are interested in has been stored. In addition to this, you can also get an idea of what sort of roads the car is regularly driven on. Rough roads may lead to increased wear on the suspension components.
- Try to look at the car in the morning – Inspecting a used car early in the morning is often a good idea as it will give the seller less chance to clean up any issues, such as a big oil leak. Additionally, it will give them less chance to pre-warm the Crown’s engine prior to your arrival. Warm engines can hide a multitude of sins, so be mindful of this.
- Bring along a helper – Taking somebody with you is a good idea. While they don’t have to be knowledgeable about cars, it does help. A second pair of eyes and ears may be able to spot something you missed on the S180 Crown you are looking at. Additionally, they will be able to give you their overall thoughts on the vehicle and whether or not they think it is a good purchase.
- Avoid inspecting a Crown S180 in the rain – Water can cover up numerous different issues with the bodywork and paint. If you do happen to inspect a twelfth gen Crown when it is raining, try to go back for a second viewing before purchase.
- Watch out for freshly washed cars – This is largely for the same reason as above, but also keep in mind that the seller may have washed the engine bay and underside of the car to hide an issue such as an oil leak.
How Much is an S180 Series Crown Worth?
Crowns are quite sought after as they provide an excellent mix of reliability, luxury and performance. Prices are largely going to depend on factors such as what condition a particular Crown is in, what spec level it is, where it is being sold and more. For example, at the time of writing, jcars.co.nz has a very low mileage Athlete for sale for just under NZ$19,000 (US$13,700), whereas one with about 80,000 more km (50,000 miles) is around NZ$6,000 (US$4,300) less. The difference between a low mileage GRS184 Athlete and a high mileage 2.5-litre GRS180 or 181 is going to be even greater.
To find out how much cash you need to have on hand to purchase a twelfth generation Crown, we recommend that you jump on your local auction/classifieds, dealers’, or importers websites to look for any cars for sale. Check the prices and make a mental note of the condition/spec level. From here you can work out roughly how much you need to spend to get the Crown you want.
Which is the Best S180 Crown?
Arguably the Crown Athlete GRS184 is going to be the most desirable of the range. It was given the most powerful engine and features the greatest performance of the lot. It also features a sportier look than the other versions of the Crown. If you are not worried about performance and just want a dependable luxury sedan, any of the models will work fine. GRS180 and 181 Crowns tend to be the cheapest, so if you are on a budget, they may be your best bet.
Is a Twelfth Gen Crown Expensive to Maintain & Own?
Overall, the different versions of the Crown S180 are all reliable machines and if you are looking for luxury without breaking the bank, they are great cars to own. However, as with any car, problems and maintenance bills can pile up if they are not maintained correctly. Purchasing a poorly maintained Crown in bad condition could be an expensive lesson, so watch out.
Luckily, the engines fitted into the twelfth gen Crown featured in a number of other Toyota and Lexus cars, so a competent specialist or mechanic should be able to look after your car. Dealers will probably charge more for work, so keep that in mind.
If something serious does go wrong or breaks you may be up for some serious expenditure as the twelfth gen Crown is a luxury vehicle and they are rarer than something like a bog standard Camry.
Where is a Good Place to Buy an S180 Series Toyota Crown?
Depending on where you live in the world, you may find it easy or next to impossible to find a twelfth gen Crown for sale. In our local market of New Zealand, Japanese import Crowns are quite popular and can be found for sale in numerous different places such as auction/classifieds websites, dealers, importers, and clubs.
Toyota/Lexus owners’ clubs are often good places to have a look as the people in these groups tend to look after their cars well. Alternatively, if nobody has an S180 Crown for sale, they may be able to point you in the direction of somebody who does.
Another good place to find a twelfth gen Crown for sale is a trusted importer. If an importer doesn’t have a car on hand, they may be able to work with you to find a suitable Crown in Japan and get it sent over. Tim at jcars.co.nz is a great option if you are based in NZ, however, jcars can also help you if you are based in another location as well.
Auction/classifieds sites such as Trademe, Craigslist, Gumtree and more are often good places to look as well and there may be a bigger range on offer. Buying private will often lead to a cheaper price than purchasing off a dealer.
Should I Get a Mechanic to Inspect the Car First?
It is usually a good idea to get a mechanic or specialist who is familiar with an S180 Series Crown to look at the car you are interested in before purchase. This isn’t always necessary, but it does help if you want to make sure the car you are thinking of purchasing is a good example.
Checking the Frame Number/VIN
It is a good idea to check the chassis/frame number to make sure that the car you are looking at is indeed the model that is being advertised. For example, a 2.5-litre GRS180 should have a VIN that looks something like this – GRS180-XXXXXXX (The Xs represent a series of numbers). If you are looking at a car that is being advertised as something like a GRS182 and it has a GRS180 code, there is obviously a problem.
The S180 series Crown was fitted with three different engines which are as follows:
- 5-litre 4GR-FSE or 4GR-FE in China – (GRS180/181)
- 0-litre 3GR-FSE or 3GR-FE in China – (GRS182/183)
- 5-litre 2GR-FSE – (GRS184)
When you first open the bonnet make sure you take a good general look at the engine bay and watch out for any obvious issues (most of the engine is covered in plastic covers, so keep this in mind). A completely spotless engine bay is probably a good sign, but keep in mind that the seller of the Crown may have washed it to cover up an issue such as a big oil leak.
Keep an eye out for any obviously damaged, worn or missing parts. Also make sure that what is being advertised is inside the car and back it up by checking the VIN/manufacture plate like we suggested above.
Checking the Fluid Levels and Conditions
Once you have had a quick general look at the engine bay, move onto checking the condition and the levels of the different fluids (oil, coolant etc.). You will notice that much of the engine is covered by plastic covers (they can crack, so check they are in good condition), but the dipstick and coolant tank should still be visible (dipstick on the left of the engine and the coolant tank just under the oil filler cap).
Incorrect fluid levels or fluids in bad condition with foreign particles in them are a sign of poor maintenance, and they can lead to excess wear and possibly even component/engine failure.
Check with the owner/seller to see when the oil was replaced and what oil they use in the vehicle. Oil changes should have been done at least every 15,000 – 16,000 km (9,300 – 10,000 miles) or so if a synthetic oil has been used. In quite a few markets Toyota recommends replacing the oil every 8,000 km (5,000 miles) for severe use cases (what most people would call normal driving), and a lot of owners like to follow this service interval. If they don’t drive that much the oil should have been replaced every 12 months. The oil filter should have been replaced with every oil change, so make sure this was done.
Some owners like to change the oil more frequently which tends to suggest that they care about their Crown. If the owner or any previous owner has not changed the oil at or before the recommended service intervals it suggests poor maintenance and you should not only worry about how the engine has been looked after, but the rest of the car as well.
Getting information on how an S180 Crown was serviced and maintained while it was in Japan may not be possible, so keep this in mind.
Oils with a weight of 0W-30 and 5W-30 are generally recommended, but some owners like to use other weight oils as well. Check with the owner to see what they use in the car.
Checking for Oil Leaks
It is important to keep an eye out for any oil leaks. The most common cause of a leak on 2GR-FSE and 3GR-FSE equipped models is from the variable valve timing (VVTi) system. A rubber hose feeds oil to the system, but this hose can eventually wear, leading to an oil leak.
Replacing the rubber hose will fix the issue, but it may eventually return. In 2010 Toyota replaced the rubber hose with a metal pipe that largely fixed the issue, but obviously no Crown S180s were fitted with this pipe from factory as production had ceased by then.
If the hose develops a serious leak it may lead to a rapid loss of oil pressure and smoke from the engine. The result of this could be complete engine failure, so make sure the S180 Crown you are looking at does not have this problem. If the leak from this hose is small it isn’t the end of the world as the part is reasonably cheap to replace. However, the job may take a couple of hours, so depending on who you take it to the labour may be expensive.
Another leak you may come across is one from the timing cover. This leak can occur on all of the engines fitted to the S180 series Crown. In some cases it may simply be the banjo bolt that comes down from the valve cover, but if the seals need replacing the engine will have to come out. Small leaks here are quite common but if there seems to be lots of oil coming out walk away.
Remember to check for oil leaks both before and after a test drive as you may find that the spotless engine bay isn’t so clean after a trip around the block. Make sure you also check for any leaks underneath the car and if you see any puddles of oil, walk away and find another Crown S180.
Does the Twelfth Gen Crown Have a Timing Belt or Chain
Luckily, all three engines fitted to the twelfth generation Crown use a timing chain instead of a belt, so you don’t have to worry about replacing them. In some rare cases owners have had to replace the chain due to stretch or some sort of other issue, but you really shouldn’t worry about this. If the chain does need to be replaced for some reason, you may notice that it produces a rattling noise.
The most critical thing for chain life is the use of good quality oil that is replaced frequently. If the Crown you are looking at has not been serviced properly it is more likely to develop an issue with the timing chain.
Generally, the cooling system in these cars is robust and reliable, however, if there is a problem it may lead to engine damage or possibly even total engine failure. Check around the coolant tank and any hoses you can get to, to make sure they are in good condition and there are no signs of leaks or any past leaks (crusted coolant etc.).
Toyota Pink (Super Long Life) Coolant should be used in these cars, so ask the seller and check the service history to see what has been used. The cheaper Red Long Life Coolant can be used but Toyota Pink is intended for newer vehicles. You can read a bit more about the difference between the two here. Other
Toyota claims that their Pink Coolant is good for up to 160,000 km (100,000 miles) or 10 years from the factory and then needs to be replaced every 100,000 km (60,000 miles). As this is the case, every Crown S180 you look at should have had the coolant replaced at least once, so make sure this has been done. If the coolant is brown or muddy in colour it suggests poor maintenance.
If you hear a gurlging noise it may be a sign that the coolant level is low or that there is a leak. Alternatively, the water pump may be on its way out (more on that down below).
Signs of Cooling Problems, Overheating & Head Gasket Failure
As we mentioned above, the cooling system in these cars is pretty robust so if you see any of the problems below you should probably walk away. Head gasket failure is very rare on the engines fitted to the twelfth generation Crown, but if for some unlucky reason it does happen, it will be extremely expensive to fix. Here are some problems to watch out for:
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
- Oil that is white and milky
- Fouled spark plugs (probably not going to get a look at these)
- Low cooling system integrity
- Engine oil that smells of coolant
- Sweet exhaust smell
- Leaking coolant
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
- High temperatures
Water Pump Failure
The water pump is prone to premature failure on all GR series engines, so check to see when it was last replaced. If the water pump is failing or has failed it should be repaired immediately and you should not purchase the car until the owner gets the work done or they give you a nice discount so you can get it done straight away.
The pump itself isn’t too costly, but the job will probably take around 3 – 5 hours to complete, so labour may be expensive depending on who you take the car to.
The main symptoms of a failing/failed water pump are coolant leaks (look out for any crusted coolant around the pump), overheating, and steam or white smoke from the engine. If you notice that the Crown you are looking at is overheating, shut the car down immediately to prevent any further damage.
Inspecting the Exhaust
Get on the ground and have a good look at the exhaust system. There really shouldn’t be any problems here, but if the exhaust looks in a bad way it may need to be replaced. Use a torch/flashlight or your phone to get a better look at hard to see areas, and you can use a mirror as well. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Accident damage – This is probably going to be your biggest concern. If somebody has gone over a speed bump a little bit too quickly or gone over a curb that is too high it may have damaged the exhaust system. A few scrapes and scratches are fine, but if you see any major damage it is a sign of a careless driver.
- Black sooty stains – This is usually a sign of a leak. Sometimes the fix is simple, but if the problem seems really bad a new exhaust may be required. Pay particular attention around any welded areas.
- Bad Repairs – Watch out for any bodge jobs if any repairs have been carried out and you can get a look at the area in question. If you can find out who did the work, try to look up their reviews to make sure they are competent.
Quite a few of these cars have been fitted with aftermarket exhausts, especially Athlete models. A previous owner may have fitted an aftermarket exhaust to change the exhaust note, increase performance, or, they may simply have done it to replace the old exhaust if it was in a bad way.
If the exhaust is non-stock, make sure that it is from a well-reviewed manufacturer or custom builder such as Zee’s. Replacing the stock exhaust will be expensive, so if you do want to purchase a car with a questionable exhaust, make sure you get a hefty discount. Cat failure is a possibility, but it seems to be a fairly rare occurrence.
Make Sure the Spark Plugs Have Been Replaced
Check to see if the spark plugs have been replaced at least every 160,000 km (100,000 miles) if iridium or platinum plugs have been used. A lot of owners like to replace the plugs much sooner at every 96,000 km (60,000 miles). If the spark plugs haven’t been replaced at or before the recommended service interval it is a sign of poor maintenance.
Premature Coil Failure
This isn’t really much of an issue but some owners with cars that feature these engines (not necessarily a Crown) have reported premature ignition coil failure, with some stating that the coils only lasted around 80,000 km (50,000 miles) and in some cases less.
Common symptoms of coil and plug issues include: misfires, stuttering, rough idle, rough starts, and even power loss. If the coils and plugs need to be replaced try to get a discount on the vehicle. The job can be done yourself, but it is a bit of a pain due to the location of the spark plugs.
Idler Pulley Problems
The idler pulley on 2GR engines can cause some issues, so keep an ear out for any squealing or rattling sounds from the engine. It is often recommended to replace the belt at around the 160,000 km (100,000 mile) mark as preventative maintenance. This problem is not an urgent repair, but try to get a discount if the car does have this issue.
Carbon Build Up
Carbon build up can be a bit of an issue on 3GR and 4GR engines (more so on the latter). If you are looking at a Crown GRS180 through to GRS 183 and you notice the following symptoms, it may be a sign of carbon build up.
- Idle that is rough/inconsistent
- Vehicle shaking and low idle (may feel like the car is about to stall)
- Surging revs when you stop at the lights
- Cylinder misfire codes
Toyota can clean up this issue, but it is worth talking to a specialist or mechanic before purchasing a Crown that is displaying the symptoms above. There is quite a bit of information about certain Lexus cars suffering from this problem and as they share the same engine it may affect the Crown S180 series.
Overheating Fifth Cylinder
The fifth cylinder on 2GR and 3GR engines can overheat. This is caused by a design flaw that leads to excessive amounts of oil consumption. With time, scratches can appear on the cylinder wall. To fix this issue you will have to replace the entire cylinder block as the thin walls of the cylinder liners make it impossible to bore the block. There isn’t much information on this problem, so it appears to be a rare issue that a very limited number of owners have experienced.
Turning on a Toyota Crown S180 for the First Time
It is a good idea to get the owner or seller to start the vehicle for you for the first time (start it yourself at a later point). We recommend this for a couple of reasons.
- So you can see if any smoke, vapour or anything else comes out the exhaust.
- To see if the seller gives it a bit too much throttle when the engine is cold. If they do this you should probably walk away from the Crown as it is a sign that they have not treated the vehicle correctly.
When you start the car yourself at some point, make sure you check to see what comes up on the dashboard. If no warning lights come up it may be a sign that they have been disconnected to hide an issue.
What Should the Idle Speed Be on a Twelfth Gen Crown?
When the vehicle is started you will notice that the idle speed will be quite high. Following this, the idle speed should drop to the 700 – 800 rpm range. Expect a slight increase in idle when you turn on the air conditioning.
As we mentioned above, idle issues could be caused by a range of issues from carbon build up to spark plug and coil issues and more. During a short inspection it may be hard to determine the exact cause of poor idle in the Crown S180 you are looking at. Keep in mind that if it was a simply fix the owner or seller probably would have got it sorted before putting the car on the market (or they simply haven’t noticed.
Crackling Sound During Start Up
Some GR series engines are known to make a crackling sound during start up. This is a commonly reported issue on Lexus vehicles from the same period as the S180 Crown (GS, IS, etc.). Cars fitted with the 4GR power unit are not reported to have this issue.
Switching from conventional oil to synthetic oil fixed the problem for some owners, so remember to check what type of oil is being used in the car. Additionally, a heavier-than-recommended oil can cause issues as well, so if the car is showing signs of this problem, switching to a thinner oil may fix it.
If it is not the oil, it may be the valve springs or VVT cam gears. Lexus did conduct a recall of third generation GS models for these issues, but it is unknown if Toyota did the same for the Crown. The only way to really determine if these issues are the cause is to take the car to a competent Toyota/Lexus specialist or mechanic.
Lastly, if the Crown S180 you are looking at is fitted with an aftermarket exhaust, that may be the cause of the crackling sound. This is completely normal and is usually more apparent in cold weather.
Checking to See What Comes Out the Back
As we mentioned earlier, get the seller to start the car for you. Move to the back of the vehicle so you can get a better look at what comes out of the back. You can hold up a white piece of paper or paper towel in front of the exhaust to see how much soot gets on it (there really shouldn’t be much at all).
A small amount of exhaust vapour is perfectly fine, especially on a cold day. This sort of vapour is usually just caused by condensation in the exhaust. If you notice lots of vapour that doesn’t go away or smoke it is a sign that the MR2 Mk1 you are looking at probably isn’t worth your time. Below we have listed what the different colours of smoke may indicate:
White smoke –Lots of white smoke from a Crown S180 may indicate that water has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant.
Blue/Grey smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things from worn piston rings, valve seals. If you see this colour smoke on startup it may be a sign of a bit of an oil burning issue or that the vehicle has been thrashed. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are in the Crown. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back.
Black smoke – This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.
Buying a Car with a Rebuilt or Replaced Engine
You may come across one of these cars with a rebuilt or replaced engine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing a Crown S180 with a rebuilt or replaced engine, as long as the work was done by a competent Toyota or Lexus specialist.
However, if you are looking at a twelfth gen Crown that has just had its engine rebuilt or replaced we would be cautious. It is safer to buy a car with say 5000 km (3,000 miles) on a rebuilt or replaced engine, than it is to buy one that has just travelled a few hundred kilometres.
Is a Compression or Leak Down Test Necessary?
Getting a compression or leak down test done is not really needed, but if you want to find a really good example it may be a good idea. A leak down test usually takes more time to perform, but it will give you a more accurate and detailed picture of the engine’s overall health and condition.
If you are planning to take a particular Crown S180 to a mechanic or specialist prior to purchase, you may as well get a compression or a leak down test done.
Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. The most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10% of each other).
Depending on what model you look at, it will either have a 5-speed or a 6-speed transmission. The 5-speed Super ECT gearbox was fitted to 2.5-litre 4GR cars, while the 6-speed sequential shiftmatic Super ECT was fitted to the other models.
There isn’t too much to worry about when it comes to the transmission, but just make sure that the shifts are smooth and that there are no big jolts, clunks, etc. when changing gears. Grinding, whining or whirring sounds could be a sign of an incoming wallet wounding experience, so watch out for those. Make sure you go through all of the gears and shift positions to make sure everything functions as intended. Additionally, try out the gearbox at both low and high speeds.
Depending on where you live in the world, Toyota may or may not recommend replacing the transmission oil. Check to see with the owner if it has been done (usually around the 96,000 km/60,000 mile mark). If it hasn’t been done it doesn’t necessarily suggest poor maintenance as it depends on what Toyota has recommended.
Steering and Suspension
Once again, there aren’t too many issues you have to worry about here, but it is important to check that the suspension and steering components are in good condition as they can be expensive to replace. Athlete models should feel a bit stiffer and tighter, but if any of the Crowns you drive have a floaty/nervous feeling there is a problem. The overall ride quality should be excellent and should not be harsh unless stiffer aftermarket suspension has been installed.
If you feel a vibration through the steering wheel it could be anything from a damaged tyre to an out of balance wheel, or even a bent wheel. Below we have put together a quick list of the main things to watch out for when it comes to the suspension and steering components.
Vibration through the steering wheel could be anything from a damaged tyre to an out of balance wheel, or even a bent wheel. We’ve put together a quick checklist below of all the things you should check for when inspecting the suspension and steering components:
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
- Tipping during cornering
- High speed instability
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Sagging or uneven suspension
- Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive (this may be caused by something else, but bad suspension and steering componentry is a common issue)
- Rattles – drive over some bumps to see if any rattling noises appear – the suspension shouldn’t make any noise but you may here some sounds from items moving about inside the cabin
- Clicking sounds – could be caused by a damaged axle boot or a bad wheel bearing
Use a torch/flashlight and a mirror to visually inspect as much of the suspension and steering components as possible. If you notice any damaged parts or components that are different/newer on one side it may indicate that the vehicle has been in an accident. If the shocks are leaking or in a bad way they will be expensive to replace.
Making Sure the Alignment is Good
To check that the wheel alignment is all good, find yourself a nice flat, straight section of road. If the Crown S180 you are test driving does not run straight with minimal wheel corrections it may be a sign that the wheel alignment needs some attention.
Incorrect wheel alignment will lead to heightened/uneven tyre wear, which can eventually make the driving experience worse and less safe. Additionally, uneven tyre wear may mean that the tyres have to be replaced earlier, meaning more expense for you.
Remember to compare the wear on the inside and outside edge of each tyre. A mirror may come in handy here.
Wheels & Tyres
Don’t forget to take a good look at the wheels as damage here may be expensive to fix. Expect to see some scratches and scuff marks, especially on higher mileage cars, but lots of curb damage is a sign of a careless owner. Also check for any corrosion as if it gets bad it can lead to a loss of pressure.
Quite a lot of Japanese buyers fitted aftermarket wheels to their Crowns. If the S180 you are looking at does have aftermarket rims, check with the seller to see if they have the originals (try to ask for a discount if they don’t).
While you are taking a look at the wheels, make sure you have a good look at the tyres for the following:
- Amount of tread – Make sure there is plenty of tread and if there is not, try to get a discount on the Crown if you still want to purchase it.
- Uneven wear – Some uneven wear is to be expected, but it should be minimal. If the uneven wear is really bad it tends to suggest that the owner has not cared for the vehicle properly.
- Brand – There are some good low-cost tyre options, but if the tyres are from some poorly reviewed, no-name brand you should be asking where else corners have been cut on maintenance.
- Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance and may even be dangerous.
- Correct tyre rotation – Seems like a silly thing to put the tyres on the wrong way, but it does happen.
Remember to check that the spare wheel is present and inflated. If it looks like it has been used, take it out to make sure it is in good condition.
Have a good look at the brake calipers, discs, etc. and check for any problems. If the pads and rotors need replacing use that to your advantage. When checking the servicing, make sure that the brake fluid has been replaced every 2 years or so. If the Crown you are looking at hasn’t been driven in a long time some surface rust may have formed on the rotors (not a biggie).
During a test drive of a twelfth gen Crown you should find that the brakes are more than adequate for road use. If they feel weak or spongy there is a problem and watch out for any squealing or rumbling noises when the brakes are applied.
Watch out for erratic braking that causes the car to pull to one sign as this may be a sign of a sticking/seized caliper. This can often happen if the vehicle has been left to sit for a while. Another sign of this issue is a loud thud when you pull away for the first time. The rear brakes are more likely to suffer from this issue.
Shuddering or shaking when the brakes are in use may be a sign that the rotors/discs are warped. This usually becomes first apparent under high-speed braking. Remember to find an incline to check that the parking/hand brake works as intended.
Body & Exterior
Along with the engine and transmission, the overall body and exterior should be your primary areas of concern. Body issues can be extremely expensive to fix and in some cases the costs may outweigh the benefits of getting them repaired.
If the Crown S180 you are inspecting is in a dealer’s showroom or somebody’s garage, move it outside to get a better look. Additionally, as we mentioned earlier in this article, watch out for any water on the bodywork as it can hide issues.
Do These Cars Rust?
While Toyota and most car manufacturers had a handle on rust by the mid-2000s, the problem can still occur, so make sure you check for it. The main areas to watch out for are the underside of the vehicle, around the wheel arches and in the wheel wells, around the sills, the windows, the window wiper blades, and just under the door mirrors.
If the Crown S180 you are looking at has been looked after properly there really shouldn’t be any rust. Rust/corrosion can also be a sign of accident damage as well, so keep that in mind. If you do find rust it is probably better to move onto another car as it is almost always a bigger problem than it first appears and there should be plenty of rust-free Crown S180s available.
Things That Can Make Rust More Likely to Occur
- Vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads
- Car has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
- Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
- If the MR2 Mk1 has always been kept outside (never garaged)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
Ask the seller if the Crown you are looking at has been rust proofed or had some sort of underseal put on the bottom. This is a good idea if you are in a country like the UK as while the Crown may have come over from Japan with no rust, it can quickly form if there is no protection due to the salted roads and increased amounts of rain.
A fresh Japanese import is probably less likely to have rust/corrosion issues, but it can still happen, so make sure you check the vehicle thoroughly.
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 (mismatched paint, paint overspray etc.). 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 (cover it with a cloth so you don’t damage the paintwork) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
This is far more likely to be an issue than corrosion or rust. Accident damage is a major issue and many sellers/owners will lie about the severity of an incident and the resultant repairs. Additionally, if the Crown you are looking at was in an accident in Japan, it may be difficult to find out the extent of the repairs.
In the section below we have listed some signs that may indicate that the twelfth generation Crown you are looking at has been in contact with something it shouldn’t have been in contact with:
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the Crown and keep an eye out for any replaced components. Inspect the suspension, steering and exhaust parts to see if they look damaged or new. If the suspension components look new on one side or corner it may indicate that the vehicle has been in an accident.
- Rust in strange locations – As we mentioned earlier, rust really shouldn’t be too much of an issue. If you do notice rust or corrosion in strange locations it may be a sign that the vehicle has been in an accident.
- Paint runs or overspray – Toyota’s quality control was excellent on the twelfth generation Crown, so paint runs or overspray are more likely due to a respray, which may have been carried out because the vehicle was involved in an accident.
- Missing badges or trim – Make sure all the badges and present as if they are not they may have been lost or damaged during an accident/repair job.
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Once again, Toyota’s quality control is excellent on the Crown, so if you notice any large or uneven panel gaps the car has probably been in some sort of incident. Look along the door lines and around the bonnet/hood and the trunk/boot. Pay particular attention around the headlights and the rear taillights as these areas are hard to get right.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – Are the doors level when you open them? Or do they drop when opened? If the doors drop the Crown may have been in an accident. Alternatively, the hinges may have gone bad.
- 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 twelfth gen Crown you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
While accident damage is a very serious issue, don’t let it completely put you off a vehicle unless the incident was obviously very serious and/or the repair job was poor. If the work was carried out by a competent panel beater/body shop and no major structural damage was done, the car is probably fine.
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.
This can happen on any car with the front headlights usually being the biggest problem area. A bit of elbow grease will sort them out, but if the lights look in a really bad way they may have to be replaced.
Overall, the interior is a nice place to be and should feel fairly luxurious. There were different trim options available, so don’t expect all Crown S180s you look at to be the same on the inside. Inspect the interior closely for any broken, damaged, or worn parts and check the seats for any rips, stains or tears.
If the seats are in a bad way it may suggest that the car has had a hard life, especially if the mileage is fairly low. Another thing to watch out for is seat movement during acceleration or braking. If this happens while you are test driving the car it is a major safety issue and will be an MOT/WOF failure.
Feel the carpets in both the cabin and the trunk/boot area for any dampness. While these cars aren’t known to have leaking issues it can happen. Remember to lift up the floor mats and if you notice any water residue it may be a sign of a leak.
If you notice excessive amounts of wear on the seats, steering wheel, carpets, shifter and pedals for the mileage it may be an indicative of a car that has had a hard life.
Remember to have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the twelfth generation Toyota Crown you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.
Electronics, Air Con, Etc.
Make sure that all of the electronics work as intended. Test the lights, infotainment system, windows, speakers, parking sensors, power seats etc. If something doesn’t work here it could be quite expensive to fix.
We recommend that you check out the video below to get an understanding of how the infotainment/navigation system works.
Another thing to check is that the air con/climate control system works properly. If it doesn’t, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a re-gas as it may be something like the compressor (expensive fix).
We mentioned this in the engine section, but don’t forget to check the warning lights on the dash both during engine start-up and while the car is running. If no lights appear during start-up the seller may have disconnected them to hide an issue. Lastly, take along an OBDII scanner or take the car to a Toyota specialist or dealer to have the codes read as there may be a hidden issue. Watch out for sellers who have cleared codes without fixing or investigating the cause.
General Car Buying Advice the For an S180 Toyota Crown
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 twelfth generation Crown, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage late model Crown Athlete or are you happy with an early 2.5-litre Crown that has a few more miles? 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 still plenty of these cars about and if you can’t find a suitable one you may want to talk to a trusted importer.
- Go look at and test drive multiple Crown S180s – 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 twelfth gen Crown.
- 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 cars 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.
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 or Lexus specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work). If the owner has done work themselves, try to get a gauge on how competent they are.
The service history will give you a good idea of how the first generation MR2 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?
- When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
- Where do you store/park the car usually?
- When was the car imported
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 a Toyota Crown S180
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 (not usually much of an issue on these cars)
- Major engine or transmission issues
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Notes on the Owner/Seller
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 Toyota Crown S180 (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 twelfth gen Crown and the model they are selling? (For example, do they know whether it is a GRS184 or one of the other models?)
- 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 S180 series Crown.
Importing a Toyota Crown S180 from Japan
The section below is more of a general guide on how to import a Toyota Crown S180 from Japan to give you a rough idea of the process and what is involved. Apart from a few markets, the twelfth generation Crown was sold almost exclusively in Japan.
How to Import a Twelfth Gen Crown from Japan
While importing a Crown S180 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 Crown” or “import Crown GRS184 (or whatever model you are interested in)”. 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 twelfth generation Crown, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find the perfect Crown 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 Crown S180s 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 Crown S180 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 Twelfth Gen Toyota Crown 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.