Toyota MR2 Buyer’s Guide & History (SW20 MR2)

The second generation MR2 is one of Toyota’s most loved cars of all time and the turbocharged version was a seriously quick car when it launched (and still is today). Toyota’s little two-seater, mid engined sports car was well received by the motoring press and enthusiasts alike when it launched, and today it has become somewhat of a classic.

As many SW20 MR2s have been looked after poorly or have been involved in accidents, it is becoming harder and harder to find good examples. That’s why we have put together this buyer’s guide for the Mk2 MR2.

This Toyota MR2 buyer’s guide will give you all the information you need to know to find your dream SW20 MR2 and avoid having a wallet wounding experience.

How to Use This Toyota MR2 SW20 Buying Guide

This is a long guide, so we recommend that you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read (or you could just read it all).

To begin with we will be taking a look at the history and specifications of the second-generation Toyota MR2. Following that we will dive into the buyer’s guide section of the article. At the end of this guide we will cover my general car buying advice, such as what to look for in a seller, where to find MR2s for sale and how to import them from Japan.

History of the Toyota MR2 SW20

The first generation MR2 was a massive success when it launched in 1984 and it would go on to become one of the best-selling sports cars of the decade. As such, the second-generation car had big shoes to fill and would need to be a major update over the razor-sharp W10 MR2.

You can read our first generation MR2 buying guide here.

The second generation of the Toyota MR2, known as the W20, was developed with the goal of making it a more premium and exotic vehicle. The chief engineer, Kazutoshi Arima, enlisted the help of designer Kunihiro Uchida, known for his work on the Lexus LS400, to create a design that would give the MR2 the look of a smaller Italian supercar, earning it the nickname “baby Ferrari” or “poor man’s Ferrari.”

The new MR2 was released in Japan in October 1989, five and a half years after the first generation, and underwent extensive testing and fine-tuning of its handling and driving characteristics. Engineers even sent prototype cars to the United Kingdom, the MR2’s second-largest market, where professional racing drivers were hired to test and improve the suspension design.

Before the launch of the SW20 MR2, there were rumors that Toyota was developing another mid-engine sports car with a 3.0-liter V6 engine to compete with the likes of the Ferrari 348. However, this car never came to fruition and it is believed that a vehicle of that nature would have been sold under the Lexus brand rather than Toyota.

The second generation of the Toyota MR2, was a larger and more refined version of its predecessor. It grew 245 mm in length, 80 mm on the wheelbase, 30 mm in width, but lost 10 mm off the top. The overall bigger size also  lead to an increase in weight. The base model now weighed in at 1,200kg, while the turbocharged and T-top models came in at 1,250kg and 1,310kg respectively.

For the Japanese market, Toyota offered four different models; the G, G-Limited, GT-S, and GT. The base G model was fitted with a 2.0-liter 3S-GE engine producing 163 horsepower, while the G-Limited added luxury features to the base model. The GT-S was a sportier version of the G-Limited, featuring a turbocharged 2.0-liter 3S-GTE engine that produced 218 horsepower. The GT was the luxury variant of the GT-S and featured alcantara/leather trim.

In the US, buyers had the option of two models, the MR2 and the MR2 Turbo. The standard MR2 model was equipped with a naturally aspirated 2.2-liter 5S-FE engine that produced 130 horsepower, while the turbocharged model featured a 2.0-liter 3S-GTE engine producing 200 horsepower.

European buyers had the choice of three different trim levels: the Coupe, GT Coupe, and GT T-Bar. All of these models came with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 3S-FE or 3S-GE engine. The Coupe models produced around 138 horsepower, while the GT models produced 152 horsepower. However, no turbocharged models were officially sold in mainland Europe, but many were imported from Japan later on.

How Fast is the Second-Generation Toyota MR2?

With well over 200 horsepower on tap, the Japanese spec turbocharged MR2 could go from 0 – 100km/h (62mph) in as little as 5.5 seconds and onto a top speed of around 250km/h (155mph). The turbocharged model sold in the United States was slightly slower with a 0 – 100km/h time of 6.1 seconds.

A stock Japanese GT-S turbo MR2 was rumoured to have completed the quarter mile in as little as 13.1 seconds, faster than many more expensive and powerful sports cars such as the Supra RZ, the Honda NSX, and the Ferrari 348 TB.

Best Motoring, a Japanese motoring show pitted an MR2 against other famous Japanese sports cars such as the Toyota Supra, the Nissan GT-R, and the Mazda RX-7. Incredibly, the little MR2 held its own against these much more expensive and powerful cars, finishing just behind the GT-R. Check out the video below.

Were There Any Revisions?

Yes, over the course of its ten-year lifespan Toyota performed a number of revisions on the W20 MR2. In total there were five different revisions that updated everything from the power output, to the suspension design and the transmission. The most notable revisions came in 1992 and 1993, when Toyota upped the power of Japanese 3S-GTE models to 242 horsepower.

Toyota made a number of changes to the MR2’s suspension geometry in 1992. These were carried out to remedy the “snap-oversteer” and unpredictable driving characteristics of the W20 that many motoring journalists complained about. However, the unpredictable handling was a common trait of other mid-engine sports cars as well and a change in the driver’s response would fix the issue.

Despite this, Toyota still pressed ahead with the changes. They elected to change the MR2’s suspension and tyres to reduce the likelihood of sudden oversteer. Unfortunately, many drivers would lament the change, claiming it had taken the sharp edge off the car’s handling.

Toyota’s response to these new complaints was that the changes were done because most drivers did not have the reflexes and driving ability of a professional racing driver.

Here’s a Quick Rundown of the Revisions

This first revision was released between 1990 and 1992, and it featured 14-inch wheels and a slightly revised suspension for improved handling. The shifter was also redesigned to provide a more precise feel. The front bumper lip was made smaller for a sleeker appearance.

The next revision (Revision 2) was released for the 1993 model year. This revision brought some of the most significant changes in the car’s production run. The suspension design was overhauled, and larger 15-inch wheels were fitted. The front bumper was also updated with a larger lip, and turbo models received larger brakes for improved stopping power and a viscous style limited slip differential. Transmission updates included improved synchronizers for smoother gear shifts and a shortened shifter.

Following on from Revision 2, the third version of the MR2 SW20 was launched for the 1994 model year. This update featured a new Gen 3 engine for Japanese models and updated taillights. The rear wing was also redesigned and the exterior trim was color-matched to the rest of the car. Inside, the steering wheel was updated, and a passenger-side airbag was added for improved safety. Unfortunately, this revision would also be the last MR2 SW20 that Toyota would sell in the United States, as the car was dropped from the Revision 4 model.

Another small revision (Revision 4) was released for the 1996 and 1997 models, this revision featured minor updates such as new raw finish wheels and indicators on the fenders.

By the late nineties and 1998 model year Toyota was ready to introduce the final revision of the MR2 (Revision 5). It featured an aggressive rear wing design that could be adjusted for more downforce, new 15-inch wheels, and a redesigned interior with red accents. The BEAMS 3S-GE engine was only available for these final two years of production. Naturally aspirated BEAMS models were only available to lucky buyers in Japan, and they were rated at a rather impressive it 197 hp and 159 ft-lbs of torque.

Special Edition Models

There were three different special edition models of the SW20 MR2 with two being produced by Toyota’s in-house motorsport division, Toyota Racing Development (TRD). These two special editions were produced for the Japanese domestic market.

TRD Technocraft MR Spider

The first of these TRD special edition models was the soft-top TRD Technocraft MR Spider. As you can probably guess, the car came with a soft-top convertible roof. It also featured a special engine cover that was unique to the model.

In total, 88 Spiders were produced with production starting in 1996 and ending in 1999. All models came with naturally aspirated engines and at least 30 came with automatic transmissions, while at least 34 came with manual gearboxes. It is unknown what the remaining cars came with.

You can view a register of some of the Spiders produced through this link here.

TRD 2000GT

In 1998, owners could opt for an official body conversion and tuning kit for their second generation MR2s. Toyota Technocraft Ltd took these regular MR2s and turned them into wide-body 2000GT replica cars. The package was offered to celebrate the TRD 2000GT’s wins in the Japanese GT-C racing series, as the race car was based off the road going MR2.

Along with the special body kit, buyers could also choose a number of other upgrades as well from engine tuning, to suspension upgrades, new wheels, and even a new interior. For this reason, no two 2000GTs are alike.

It is believed that one TRD 2000GT was created with up to 500 horsepower. However, most 2000GTs featured much more modest engine upgrades. Regardless, the 2000GT sported a much more impressive power-to-weight ratio than the standard MR2.

Only 35 official 2000GT conversions were carried out by Toyota Technocraft Ltd at significant cost to the owners. Toyota used lightweight fibreglass components for much of the bodywork and the cars themselves were reclassified and given new TRD vin plates.

TOM’S T020 MR2

Another special edition Mk2 MR2 was produced by TOM’S, a factory supported racing team and tuner of Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Much like the 2000GT above, the TOM’S version featured a new body kit and a number of performance upgrades were available.

The “T020” conversion kit featured a naturally aspirated 2.2-litre stroked 3S-GE engine that produced 235hp at 6,800rpm. This was achieved by more aggressive “F3” cams, a stroker kit, a TOM’S Hyper Induction Carbon intake kit and an upgraded “TOM’S Barrel” exhaust system. A lightened flywheel was also installed to help the engine rev easier. With these upgrades, the T020 could hit 100km/h (62mph) in as little as 4.9 seconds.

Along with upgrades made to the engine, TOM’s also offered performance modifications for the suspension and chassis. New camber kits, upgraded tie rods, strut bars, roll centre adjusters, race shock absorbers and stiffer springs were fitted.

TOM’S also reworked the brakes with new pads and the suspension modifications lowered the car’s centre of gravity.

Did the SW20 MR2 Compete in Motorsport?

Toyota’s second generation MR2 enjoyed considerable success in motorsport. It featured in various different races and events all across the globe from Japanese Grand Touring Championship (now Super GT) to the Swiss Touring Car Championship and even the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The SW20’s greatest success was in the JGTC series with five GT300 victories out of six races in the 1998 season year. It would repeat this success the next year when it won both the drivers’ and the teams’ championship again.

Read the complete history of the Toyota MR2 here!

Toyota MR2 SW20 Specifications

ModelMR2 W20
Year of production1989 – 1999
LayoutMid-engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine·         5S-FE I4 (SW21)

·         3S-FE I4 (SW20)

·         3S-GE I4 (SW20)

·         3S-GTE turbo I4 (SW20)



130 – 242

(lb ft)

145 – 200 lb-ft (196 – 271 Nm)
Gearbox·         4-speed automatic

·         5-speed manual

Weight1145 – 1310 kg (2524 – 2888 lbs)
Top speed200 – 250 km/h (125 – 155 mph)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)5.5 – 8 seconds


Toyota MR2 SW20 Buying Guide

Now that we have taken a look at the history and specifications of the second generation MR2, let’s look at buying one. In this section we will be covering specific problems with the SW20 MR2 and what to look for when inspecting one. Following this, we have more general car buying advice and information on where to purchase one and how to import a Mk2 MR2 from Japan.

It is important that you inspect any SW20 MR2 you are thinking of buying yourself, or get a reliable third party to do so for you (if it is not possible for you to inspect it). Additionally, we recommend that you take a second person with you to inspections as they may catch something you missed.

While the Toyota MR2 Mk2 is a fairly reliable car (especially for a sports car), many have been looked after poorly or been involved in accidents. A good one that has been maintained well should provide many more years of motoring enjoyment, however, a bad one could be a wallet wounding experience.

Always try to view any MR2 in the morning when the engine is cold (if possible). Warm engines can hide a multitude of sins, so be careful of any car that is pre-warmed. Additionally, try to avoid inspecting any MR2 in the rain or when they are wet. Water can hide a number of problems with the paintwork or body.

Inspecting & Condition

At the time of writing, second generation MR2s can be purchased quite cheap (although good condition models are starting to become somewhat of a classic and are desirable). As these cars can be bought at a low cost, they have wound up in the hands of people who can’t maintain them properly.

For this reason, it is important that you take your time when inspecting any second generation MR2. Do not purchase a poorly maintained example unless you are willing to spend big bucks to get it back into a satisfactory condition (even then it may not be possible).

Vin Location on SW20 MR2s

You should always check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of any MR2 you are thinking of buying. The VIN can tell you a lot of information about a vehicle and we recommend that you run it through a VIN checkup website such as Carfax, or CarJam (NZ).

The VIN can be found in a number of different places on second-generation MR2s including the following;

  • dashboard on the driver’s side (visible from the outside of the car)
  • on a sticker on the driver’s, door jamb
  • on a plate on the firewall (back of the enginebay)
  • On major body panels

This link has loads of information on the SW20’s VIN.

Engine & Exhaust

To start your inspection of a second generation MR2’s engine, open the bonnet and take a good general look at the engine bay – does anything stick out? Does it look like it has been maintained well? Is it stock or modified?

Once you have had a good look at the engine bay, move onto checking the fluid levels to make sure they are the correct height. Fluid levels that are incorrect (both too high and too low) can lead to premature wear and are a sign of a poorly maintained vehicle.

When to Change the Oil & Oil Filter?

Both the engine oil and oil filter should be changed regularly. This is because old oil that sits at the bottom of the crankcase can breakdown overtime and become diluted in the presence of contaminates. Below we have listed when the oil and oil filter should be replaced:

Engine oil – Toyota recommends that the oil be changed every 4,500 km (2,500 miles) or every 3 months for both NA and turbocharged owners. However, with modern synthetic oils many owners opt to change the oil at a higher mileage or later date. This is fine as long as the car has not gone too long between oil changes – something like 6,500 – 8,000 km (4,000 – 5,000 miles) is at the top end for these cars.

It is recommended that you use something like Fuchs 5W-40, or 10W-40 engine oils.  Other good quality oils from the likes of Motul, Mobil or even Toyota themselves will work as well. Typically, heavier weight oils (higher numbers) are better for hotter environments and thinner oils are better for cold.

When it comes to non-synthetic (dino) vs synthetic most owners seem to recommend synthetic, but you can run non-synthetic.

Oil filter – Most owners recommend that you change the oil filter with every second oil change. Some owners will change it with every oil change to be safe (sign of a good owner). The oil filter should be changed with a genuine Toyota oil filter, however there are some other alternatives that can be used.

If you notice any metallic particles or other contaminates in the engine oil, move onto another MR2. Black oil is fine and just indicates that it is probably time for a change.

You can find out more about engine oil and oil filters for the MR2 SW20 here.

Do SW20 MR2s Leak Oil?

While these cars leak nowhere near as much as old British sports cars, expect to find some leaks on most of them you inspect. It is common to find leaks in the following locations:

  • Valve Cover
  • O-ring on the distributor
  • Turbo oil line
  • Cam seals or oil pump seal on the timing side of the engine

If you notice any major oil leaks or if the car leaves a large pool of oil behind move onto another MR2. Additionally, make sure you check for leaks both before and after a test drive.

What About Oil Burning?

The SW20 MR2 is not known for burning oil but it is quite common, especially on higher mileage models. You may notice a small puff of blue smoke from the back of higher mileage models on start-up, but lots of smoke is a warning sign (we will talk about that below).

Checking the Colling System

One of the biggest failure points of internal combustion engines is usually the cooling system. It is important to check that it is in good condition and not failing or leaking. The main components of an MR2 SW20’s Cooling system include the following:

  • 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 the e-shaft pully. Pushes water/coolant through the engine
  • 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

Check for leaks both before and after a test drive, and don’t forget to check the coolant level. If any of the components above fail it can possibly lead to an engine loss.

Remember to Check the Coolant!

One of the most useful and telling tests during an inspection is to check the coolant. Depending on the age of the car, this can be an indicator of well it has been looked after and serviced. The coolant, if replaced with Toyota Forlife coolant should be a Ribena Red-like colour. Many MR2s you come across will have nonstandard coolant (not a major issue, but we recommend the original).  

If the coolant is brown or muddy it shows that it has not been changed in a long time, and therefore the vehicle has probably not been serviced according to the Toyota schedule. Additionally, oily bubbles in the coolant are a very bad sign and you should probably move onto another SW20 if you notice this.

Coolant Hoses

The High-Temperature Flexible Hose (HFH) is a crucial component of the MR2 Turbo’s cooling system that can wear out and fail over time. It is a 5-inch hose that is known to burst after the car reaches 160,000 km (100,000 miles) and is located just behind the turbocharger and under the exhaust manifold. 

While the hose is cheap to source, it is often labelled as the “Hose From Hell” due to the difficulty of actually replacing it. This is because replacing the HFH often requires the removal of the exhaust manifold, but some owners claim they have had luck doing this without that step (making the job less time consuming). 

There is also another problem hose known as the “Hose from Hell on Earth” (HFHOE). This one fails for similar reasons (heat causes it to go brittle) and connects to the oil cooler on the passenger side. Replacing the HFH requires the removal of this hose as well, as it and the oil cooler block access to the HFH. 

You can read a very fantastic and detailed guide on this problem over at This guide also gives you information on the replacement process as well. 

What are the Symptoms of this Issue?
  • Lack of heat from the eater vents
  • Coolant leaks under the engine and near the exhaust
  • High engine temeperatures
  • White smoke that originates from under the exhaust manifold (can be mistaken for a blown head gasket)

If the engine or turbocharger needs to be removed at any point these hoses should be replaced. This makes it much cheaper to replace them as they are an inexpensive part.

For those looking to buy a turbocharged SW20 MR2, check to see if these hoses have been replaced (service history, ask the owner). If they haven’t been replaced expect to change them in the future.

When Does the Timing Belt Need to be Changed on SW20s?

The timing belt (cambelt) should be changed every 100,000 km (60,000 miles) or before. Thankfully, Toyota had the foresight to make the MR2 SW20’s engine a non-interference engine. This means that if the belt snaps it won’t destroy the engine.

Still, if the timing belt is long overdue than it is a sign that the vehicle has not been looked after properly. Additionally, if the timing belt needs to be changed on the car soon and you want to buy it, try to get a discount or get the owner to carry out the work.

If the owner has carried out the timing belt replacement themselves try to get an idea of how competent they are (ask them about there experience working on cars and inspect the engine bay thoroughly). Also check out the links below and ask them about the process they went through to replace the belt. – Timing Belt SW20

3S-GTE MR2 – How to Replace the Timing Belt

Replacing the timing belt is not for the faint hearted and is not recommended for novice mechanics. It is a semi-difficult and labour-intensive task that requires a lot of steps to complete. If you are not sure about your skills, we recommend that you take the car to a competent mechanic.

What Else Should be Replace with the Timing Belt?

There are several other components that should be changed with the timing belt. We have listed these below:

  • AC Belt
  • Alternator Belt
  • Idler Pulleys
  • Belt Tensioner
  • AC Idler Pully Nut
  • Crankshaft Pully Bolt
  • Camshaft and Crankshaft Oil Seals
  • Outer and Inner Valve Cover Gasket
  • Thermostat
  • Water Pump and Housing Kit
  • Small and Large Gasket in Oil Cooker
  • Rectangle Gasket from Cooler to Base
  • Dipstick O-Ring
  • Filters (Oil, Air, etc.)
  • Spark Plugs

As you can see, it is quite a large list of things to do, so remember to check that these parts have been replaced in the service history.

Checking the Spark Plugs and Ignition System

If possible, try to get a look at the spark plugs and spark plug wires to see if they are in good condition. The appearance of spark plugs can tell you a lot of information about how an engine has been looked after and how it is running. We recommend that you check out this spark plug analysis guide.

If you are running stock boost it is recommended that you use the stock platinum spark plugs (NGK Product Code 2215 – BKR6EP-8, or Denso PK20R8). NGK Iridium Grade 7 plugs are good for those running a bit more boost in their MR2s or those with turbocharged models.

Depending on what spark plugs you use, you may have to change them at a different mileage. However, even in turbocharged models they can last a surprisingly long time (as much as 100,000 km), but it is recommended that you change them earlier. Some owners like to replace the spark plugs in their SW20 MR2s ever oil change as they are cheap to replace.

Remember to check with the owner to see when they were last replaced. If they haven’t been replaced in a long time it may be a sign of a poorly maintained vehicle.

Inspecting the Exhaust System of an SW20 MR2

It is important that you inspect as much of a MR2’s exhaust system as possible. Exhausts can be expensive to replace, so make sure they are in good condition. Below we have listed some things to watch out for:

  • Black sooty stains – indicate a leak which may be expensive to fix
  • Corrosion – Minor corrosion is probably fine, but excessive amounts of rust is a major problem.
  • Cracks or accident damage – pretty self-explanatory and can be expensive to repair
  • Dodgy repairs – Watch out for any bad repairs as this can be a nightmare to put right and is a sign of a poorly maintained car.

Exhaust manifold warping issues are a problem on some 1991 – 1992 models. A warped manifold can cause exhaust leaks, which will lead to reduced power and throttle response. This problem is usually caused by one of the seven studs braking or one of the nuts falling off. Fixing this problem can be very expensive if you don’t do the work yourself. Listen for a crackling noise when the engine is cold and you depress the throttle.

Smoke or Vapour from an MR2’s Exhaust System

Always check for any smoke or vapour coming out of an SW20’s exhaust during an inspection. Do this both on engine start-up and while the vehicle is running. Expect to see some vapour caused by condensation in the exhaust system. If you notice excessive amounts of vapour or smoke, move onto another MR2. Here are what the different smoke colours indicate:

White smoke – Is typically caused by water that has made its way into the cylinders and indicates a blown head gasket. If the smoke smells sweet, it is probably coolant. Remember, it may also be a problem with the hoses at the back of the turbo (if you are inspecting a turbocharged model).

Blue smoke – Can be caused by wear to the pistons, piston rings, and/or worn valve seals. To check for blue smoke, get a friend to follow you as you drive the car or get the owner/seller to take the car through the rev range. Blue smoke on start-up and overrun is a sign that the car has been thrashed.

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.

In cold weather you will probably see a small amount of white smoke or vapour like we outlined above. If the temperature outside is warm, you really shouldn’t see any exhaust gases.

Signs of Overheating and/or a Blown Head Gasket

Overheating is bad on any car, including an SW20 MR2. If the owner mentions anything about overheating than alarm bells should be going off in your head. We would personally avoid any Toyota MR2 that has a history of overheating issues.

During an inspection, keep an eye out for the following:

  • Coolant leaking externally from below the exhaust manifold
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
  • An engine that overheats
  • Oil that is white and milky
  • Fouled spark plugs
  • Low cooling system integrity
  • Engine oil that smells of coolant
  • Sweet exhaust smell
Start Up and Idle Speed

We recommend that you get the owner/seller to start the car for you during an inspection. There are two reasons for this:

  1. To see if any smoke comes out the exhaust
  2. To see if the owner revs the car hard on start-up. If they do, move onto another MR2

Make sure you listen for any strange noises or signs that the car is struggling to start. If the MR2 doesn’t start or struggles to start it may have a number of different issues from a bad battery to much more serious issues. Loud banging or knocking should be an instant dismissal.

The idle speed should be around the 750 – 850 rpm mark, but this will depend on a number of factors. Turn on all the electronics and the air conditioning to make sure the car doesn’t stall. Expect to see a slight increase in the idle speed when you do this. The idle speed may drop a bit after you rev the engine.

Misfires, Squeals & Other Noises

Listen out for any chugging or misfiring, especially when the vehicle is cold. These problems can be caused by low compression and/or worn injectors. A metallic whining noise may be down to a failing power steering or oil pump. Squeals coming from the timing belt area are a sign of a worn bearing in either the alternator, power steering pump or even a worn timing belt itself.


Turbochargers will wear overtime and it is important that the recommended service intervals are followed, and good lubricants are used to maximise the life of them. Unfortunately, with used turbocharged MR2s there is no guarantee that the car has been looked after properly.

Expect to replace the turbocharger at some point during an MR2’s life, however, they are fairly reliable on these cars. If the MR2 you are looking at is a higher mileage model, check to see if the turbo has been replaced at any point.

Signs of a Failing Turbocharger

Listen out for any strange rumbling, whistling or high-pitched metallic sounds when the turbocharger is at full boost. If you do hear any such sounds, the turbo is on its last legs. However it will probably fail before you notice these sounds. Below we have listed some other signs of a failing turbo:

  • Distinctive blue/grey smoke – This happens when the turbocharger housing cracks or if the internal seals become worn. The smoke will become more apparent when the turbocharger is in use, so get somebody to follow you and check while you are test driving an SW20 MR2.
  • Burning lots of oil – This one is hard to gauge during a test drive, but try to get some information from the owner about how much oil the car uses.
  • Slow acceleration – If the car feels slow it is a good indication that the turbo has failed or is failing. This is why we recommend you drive a number of different turbocharged MR2s to get a feel for how fast they accelerate.
  • If the boost pressure comes on late – Boost pressure that comes at higher than normal rpms could indicate either a worn or unbalanced turbocharger (full boost should be around 3,000 rpm or just above).
  • Check Engine Warning Light – The check engine light (CEL) can be displayed for a number of reasons, from major to minor. One of these reasons may be due to a failing/failed turbocharger. If the light is on and you notice some of the other symptoms we have listed above, then it is a good sign that the turbo has failed.
Purchasing an SW20 with a Rebuilt Engine

You may come across an MR2 with a rebuilt engine. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a car with a rebuilt engine, you need to be extra careful when inspecting them. The main reason for this is because some rebuilt engines are slapped together for a quick sale. You may also come across an owner/seller who claims that their SW20 has a rebuilt engine when in fact it does not.

When looking at an MR2 with a rebuilt engine, pay attention to the receipts and paperwork for parts and labour. Find out who did the work and make sure it was done by a trusted MR2 or Toyota specialist.

Additionally, it is better to purchase an MR2 with rebuilt engine that has done a few more miles. Freshly rebuilt engines are an unknown whereas ones with say 10,000 km on them are probably a safer bet.

Should You Do a Compression Test on a Toyota MR2 SW20?

While it is not completely necessary, we do recommend that you get a compression test done on any MR2 you are seriously considering (especially if you want a really good example). Compression tests can tell you a lot of information about the health of an engine and how it has been looked after.

If you want to do a compression test, we recommend that you take the vehicle to a mechanic (unless you know how to do one and the owner is happy for you to do the test). Remember, a compression test can indicate a problem with an engine, but it won’t necessarily tell you what that problem is.

Compression readings across all four cylinders should be somewhere in the region of 160 – 180 psi. The most important thing is that the readings across all the cylinders are similar (within 10 percent of each other). Additionally, anything below around 130 psi or over 200 psi is a bit of a worry.


The transmission on these cars is pretty robust, unless the car has been modified extensively (too much power for the transmission to handle). Turbocharged models feature a more robust transmission (E153) than the naturally aspirated models (S54).

Problems can start to appear with regular spirited driving or if the car has been used on a track extensively. During a test drive, listen out for any strange noises from the transmission such as grinding or whining. Whining can indicate a whole host of issues from incorrect transmission fluid to bearings that have been damaged from continuous high rpm shifting.

On MR2s with manual transmissions make sure you shift through all the gears at both low and high engine speeds to check for any synchro wear, graunching, etc. If the car has worn synchros it is a sign that it may have been thrashed. Many poor shifting issues are a result of a sticking or improperly functioning master cylinder or slave cylinder, so replace that first before looking at anything else.

For those testing automatic MR2s, go through all the different positions/gears while the car is stationary and while it is moving (common sense though, don’t slap it into reverse while you are moving forward). Any loud clunks, knocks or whining are a bad sign and could be an indication of wallet wounding experience.

Automatic MR2s (A241E) are probably less likely to have transmission wear as they are usually not thrashed as hard. However, if you are looking for a fun, engaging driving experience you should definitely look for a manual.

Remember to check that the transmission fluid/oil has been changed at the required intervals. Toyota suggests replacing the fluid every 24,000 km (15,000 miles) or every 24 months, but many owners leave it much longer.

Manual transmissions call for GL-5 gear oil such Redline 75W90NS (GL-5). MR2s equipped with an E153 gearbox with an LSD produced from 1993 onwards should use the Redline produce listed in the previous sentence.

Testing the Clutch

The clutch fluid should be checked every 24,000 km (15,000 miles) and topped up with standard brake fluid (anything except Dot 5). A worn clutch on a Toyota MR2 can result in an expensive bill, so make sure it is in good condition. Here are some ways to test a clutch’s health:

Clutch Engagement – Put the MR2 you are test driving 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. If it engages immediately or near the end of the pedal’s travel, there is a problem.

Clutch Slippage – Shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going and then plant your foot on the throttle. If the engine speed jumps but there is no acceleration the clutch is slipping. Clutch slippage can be caused by the following:

  • Worn clutch
  • Clutch covered in oil
  • Clutch cable is too tight and is not releasing properly

Clutch Drag – Put the MR2 on a level surface with the clutch pedal pressed to the floor (when you are stationary) and rev the car hard. If the cars moves, then the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.

Juddering or a stiff pedal also indicates that the clutch needs to be replaced. The life of a clutch will depend on how it has been treated and how the car has been driven. They can last a long time or wear quickly if the car has seen repeated high rpm shifting.

Body and Exterior of an SW20 MR2

Bodywork problems can be an even bigger problem than engine issues, so always inspect the vehicle closely for the following.


Rust was a major issue on many 80s and 90s Japanese sports cars, but thankfully it isn’t a major issue on SW20s. The problem is more likely to occur on MR2s that have lived in countries that salt their roads, cars that have lived by the sea, or those that have been stored outside for lengthy periods of time. Here are some places you may find rust/corrosion on a Toyota MR2 SW20:

  • Door Sills
  • Bottom of the doors – this is often one of the worst places for MR2s
  • Wheel arches (inside the wheel wells)
  • In the engine bay (strut towers should be your main focus here)
  • Underbody
  • Around the windows/windscreen
  • Under the bonnet and in the boot/bootlid (lift up the carpets in the boot)
  • Front cross member behind the bumper
  • Two braces at the rear – Some MR2s now have these removed as their owners don’t seem to think they do much, but you can get replacements and custom ones can be fairly easily fabricated if you have the know how. There is a good thread on this issue over at MR2OC, which we recommend that you check out. A lot of MR2s experience rust here, even if they are completely rust free elsewhere and have been kept out of the elements (you can find quite a few threads on this issue on MR2OC and other MR2 SW20 forums). 
Rust Repair

It is important to not only check the car for present rust, but also for past rust. Look for any areas where rust may have been repaired in the past (inconsistencies in the paint, non-standard parts, etc.). Additionally, check the service history and ask the owner about any past rust problems (remember that not all owners will tell you the truth).

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.

Accident Damage on a Toyota MR2 SW20

The SW20 encourages spirited driving (especially the manual version) and many of them have been in contact with things they shouldn’t have been. Ask the owner/seller about any past accident damage, but don’t always trust their word. Here are some things to watch out for.

  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps– Make sure the bonnet fits correctly and the gaps on either side are even. Look at the doors, tailgate and around the lights. 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 they don’t open/close properly the MR2 you are looking at has problems.
  • Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels– This is a good indication of crash damage or rust repair.
  • If the bonnet/hood or engine cover looks like it is popped when it is not– This is usually a sign that the vehicle has been in an accident and that the owner is careless. This problem can be fixed but can be a nightmare to get right.
  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car –Make sure everything is straight and check for any parts that may have been replaced. Take a good look at all of the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
  • Rust in strange locations –indicates that the MR2 you are looking at has been in an accident or has some other problem.
  • Paint runs or overspray –This could be a factory issue or a sign of a poor repair.
  • Missing badges –can be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.)
Leaks & Other Things

If you are looking at a T-Top model, check the rubber around the T-Top. It can start to perish and come away from the join, leading to leaks. This is quite a common problem, and it will eventually lead to leaks. There are a few options to fix this problem, but MR2 Owners Club New Zealand user, GDII, has a good DIY fix on the problem which you can read here.  

Suspension and Steering

There are no real specific faults or issues with the SW20’s steering and suspension setup, but make sure you inspect as many of the components as thoroughly as possible. If they look worn, damaged and/or corroded they will need to be replaced at some point. Replacing suspension components can be expensive so make sure they are in good condition.

Worn suspension and steering components will also ruin the handling and driving characteristics of an SW20 MR2. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
  • Tipping during turns
  • Instability at high speeds
  • Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel (could indicate alignment issues or failed ball joints) – ball joints should last around 160,000 km (100k miles), but can fail earlier
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive tyre bounce after hitting a bump
  • Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
  • Knocking or creaking sounds during a test drive (remember to drive in a tight figure 8)
Wheel Alignment

If the MR2 you are test driving does not drive straight without you correcting the wheel, the wheel alignment is probably out or it may have been in an accident. Check with owner/seller to see when the wheel alignment was last done.


The MR2 comes with more than adequate brakes for road use, so if they feel weak or spongy there is a problem. Remember to take a look at the brakes and check for the following:

  • Pad life
  • Pitted, scored or grooved discs
  • Corrosion
  • Modifications
  • Any leaks in the brake lines (get a helper to press on the brake pedal while you inspect the lines)

Replacing the calipers and/or discs can be expensive depending on where you live in the world. If anything needs to be replaced, try to get a discount on the vehicle if you intend to purchase it.

During a Test Drive of an MR2

On a test drive make sure you test the brakes both under light and hard braking conditions. If the MR2 you are driving pulls to one side it may have a sticking/seized caliper. Seized calipers can occur if vehicle has been left standing for a period of time. If a brake caliper has seized, you may notice a load thud when you pull away for the first time.

A judder through the steering wheel under braking may be an indication that the discs are warped and need replacing. This will probably first become apparent under high speed braking.

Any other loud or strange noises should be investigated closely as they can be a sign of a number of expensive issues. Additionally, if the brakes feel weak or struggle to stop the car properly there is a problem.

Intermittent Brake Light on the Dashboard

If an intermittent brake light is noticed on the dashboard, it could be an indication of a low brake fluid level. Before considering any other potential issues, it is essential to check the brake fluid level. The brake fluid reservoir can be found at the top left of the front luggage compartment, so check it while you are inspecting the rest of the engine compartment.

Excessive or Uneven Brake Wear

The SW20 is known for its high wear on brake rotors, making it important to check when they were last replaced. Some 1991 owners have reported that the rotors need to be replaced before reaching 100,000 km (60,000 miles) due to minimum tolerances. Additionally, the rear brakes may experience more wear than the front brakes, which is something to keep in mind when inspecting the vehicle. Furthermore, some owners have reported uneven wear on the brake pads, with the inside pads wearing out much faster than the outside pads. In some cases, this uneven wear can occur as early as 60,000 km (37,000 miles) or even less.

Wheels and Tyres

Check the wheels to see if they are curbed or damaged, and if they are aftermarket ones check with the owner to see if they still have the originals. Additionally, take a good look at the tyres and check for the following:

  • Enough tread
  • Uneven wear (Can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues)
  • Brand (make sure it is a good one)

Interior and Electronics

The interior on these cars is generally durable but you may hear some rattling, especially on cars that have not been maintained well. MR2s that feature a T-Top are more likely to have leaking issues.

Look out for any rips, stains or tears on the seats and other parts of the interior. Replacing the material on the seats can be expensive, so make sure they are in good condition. Take a good whiff of the interior, does it smell like somebody has smoked in it? Additionally, look at the headliner above the driver’s seat, if there is a stain or it is a slightly different colour to the rest of the headliner it indicates a smoker has owned the vehicle.

It is important to check that the seats slide on the runners correctly and that they do not move under braking or during acceleration. If they do move it is incredibly dangerous and it will lead to a MOT/WOF failure.

Remember to check the steering wheel, gear shifter, pedal and carpets/mats for wear as they can indicate how far an MR2 has travelled. Excessive amounts of wear for the distance travelled could indicate that the car’s odometer has been wound back.

During a test drive and inspection of an MR2 make sure all the buttons, switches and toggles work correctly. Inspect the dash for any warning lights. If there are none during start up the car may have an issue, or the owner may have disconnected them to hide an issue.

Aftermarket components need to be inspected closely to make sure they work and are installed correctly. Poor workmanship here can be a sign of a careless owner.

Issues with the Front Left Speaker

If you are looking at a model produced from 1990 to 1992, be aware it may have a problem with the front left speaker. This can be caused by an inadequately sealed connector located in the door, which can malfunction when exposed to wet conditions. It’s a common issue caused by the water getting inside the door and shorting out the connector. 

Broken or Bouncing Speedometer

This is quite a common issue on early 1991 to 1992 MR2 SW20s and is usually down to four different things which we have listed below: 

  • Gauge cluster
  • forward cable
  • rear speedo cable 
  • Speedo gear/sensor

If the car has cruise control you can test what the problem is by using it. If the cruise control still works it is probably the rear cable and if it doesn’t you will need to remove the sub assembly to get to the problem components. Latoilette on MR2OC posted some further information on this issue which we suggest that you check out. 

Models produced from 1993 onwards typically don’t suffer from this problem. However, you can sometimes get problems with the capacitors on the gauge itself, which causes the speedo to malfunction, so keep this in mind. 

Radio Antenna Fails to Retract or Deploy

The antenna mast can malfunction due to a stripped plastic grooved cable, preventing the radio antenna from extending or retracting. This issue can be easily resolved by replacing the cable, which can be purchased from Toyota or other parts shops.

Toyota MR2 modifications

There is an abundance of modifications for the SW20 MR2. Some owners choose simpler bolt on modifications, while others go the full distance and completely rebuild their car. With the right modifications the SW20 can be used for pretty much anything from circuit racing, to autocross and even rallying!

The stock engines are known to be able to handle quite a bit of power, especially the turbocharged power unit. Many owners have easily hit 300 hp (220 kW) on the stock internals, but some owners even claim it is capable of as much as 500 hp (368 kW) with very little changes! You can read a thread on how much power the MR2 SW20 can handle here, and there are loads of other threads on the topic on other MR2 forums as well. 

There are quite a few options when upgrading the turbocharger, so if the MR2 you are looking at is running a different one check what it is. The CT20B is a popular option and in its stock form it should get the car closer to the 300 hp (220 kW) mark, while having a lot more headroom to go further. One downside of the CT20B is that it takes longer to spool up, so MR2s fitted with the CT20B turbo will have a bit more lag during acceleration. Another option is the Garrett GT28RS. However, fitting this turbocharger will require some custom parts, so it is a lot less popular option. You can see a video of the rebuild process of the CT20B below: 

If the car you are looking at has any modifications (even if they are simple), make sure you inspect them thoroughly. Find out who did the work and see if they are competent. If the owner has carried out the work themselves, try to get an idea of their expertise and knowledge.

It is not uncommon to find modified MR2s for sale that are only half finished or have enormous issues. The seller/owner may be trying to palm their problem off to you, so watch out.

Engine Swaps on SW20s

There are quite a few SW20s out there with swapped engines. Some owners/tuners have put Honda engines in their MR2s and some have even put V6 power plants.

If you come across an MR2 with a swapped engine, make sure it has been installed correctly. The work should be carried out by a specialist and if you notice any signs of poor workmanship or problems with the car, move onto another SW20.

General Car Buying Advice for the SW20 MR2

How to Get Yourself the Best Deal On an MR2

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.

  1. Do your research. Before you start your search for an MR2 make sure you know what model and condition you are happy with. Are you okay with a highly modified SW20 or do you want something that is completely stock? Do you want a low mileage example or are you happy with a car that has travelled far?
  2. Shop around. Don’t limit yourself to just one dealer, seller or location. Check out various different dealers and sellers to find the best car and get the right price. Limiting yourself to just one area will make it more difficult to find your dream Toyota MR2.
  3. Test drive multiple cars. Don’t just take one SW20 out for a test drive and then buy it. Drive as many MR2s as you can get your hands on. This will give you a good idea of what makes a good and what makes a bad SW20.
  4. Adjust your attitude. Don’t rush into purchasing any old SW20. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time looking through all the different vehicles available and then go inspect the ones you think look promising.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 check out the vehicle thoroughly and inspect all the car’s documentation.
  7. Bounce between sellers/dealers. If you are looking at multiple SW20s, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
  8. 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 big debate, but we recommend that you should always buy on condition and then on the mileage. There are plenty of MR2s out there with low mileage but in poor condition, while some high mileage examples may be perfectly fine.

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 are not kind to an SW20’s engine as they do not have enough time to warm up and get lubricated properly.

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. The service history will give you a good idea of how the MR2 you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications 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 SW20 MR2 and will make it easier to sell the vehicle 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 (engine, catalytic converter, etc.)?
  • 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 there any rust?
  • Has rust been removed at any point?
  • Has the car been used for track use 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 SW20

Sometimes, the best option is to simply walk away from a vehicle. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.

  • Overheating problems
  • Significant Crash Damage
  • Money owing on the car
  • Stanced
  • 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 MR2 (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying a dog of a car. Below we have listed some things to consider about the owner.

  • 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 SW20 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 MR2. Toyota made quite a few so you should be able to find plenty of good examples out there.

Where to Find an SW20 MR2 for Sale

Auction/Classifieds Websites

Websites such as Craigslist, Kijiji, TradeMe, Piston Heads and GumTree are great places to start your hunt for an MR2. You will find a range of SW20s for sale at different prices and in different conditions. You can easily compare the price, specs and condition of different Toyota MR2s and you will be able to select the ones that look promising.

Dealers and Importers

Most dealers and importers will have an online presence, so make sure you check out their website for any SW20s for sale. Dealers tend to be a bit more expensive than private sellers, but sometimes you can get some extras thrown in or better protection.

Social Media

Websites such as Reddit, Facebook and even Instagram can be excellent places to find MR2ss for sale. Check out some of the many enthusiast groups or subreddits and let other users know you are interested in buying an SW20. Additionally, social media groups are often great places to find spare parts or get advice from other owners.

Owners’ Clubs

This sort of ties in with the above, but many owners’ clubs have their own website or they may not even have a website at all. Look to see if there are any Toyota or MR2 clubs in your area as these are often great places to find cars for sale or ask for advice.

Importing a Toyota MR2 SW20 from Japan 

If you are struggling to find a suitable SW20 in your country, you may want to look at importing one from Japan. A large number of MR2s were sold in Japan, so it is a great place to find them for sale.

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 Toyota MR2 from Japan.

How to Import an SW20 from Japan 

While importing an MR2 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 MR2 or import car from Japan”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for MR2s 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 an MR2, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find the perfect SW20 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 whittle down the number of MR2s 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.

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 the MR2 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 MR2 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.

Summary of this Toyota MR2 SW20 Buyer’s Guide

This guide should cover most of what you need to know about purchasing an SW20 MR2. While there are a lot of bad MR2s out there, you should definitely be able to find a good example if you follow the advice in this guide.

We will continue to update this article with more information and make sure you check out our classifieds section of the website.

Useful Links forum with knowledgeable users. Much of the information for this guide came from there. great forum with knowledgeable users related to all things Toyota and technical manuals for the SW20 MR2 – Information on how to replace the struts


  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

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2 thoughts on “Toyota MR2 Buyer’s Guide & History (SW20 MR2)”

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