I’ll start this with a little back story: ever since I sold my RX-7, I’ve been looking for a cheap daily driver car. Emphasis on cheap. The main purpose of the car would be to commute around, but also to specifically transport my motorcycle… so I needed something bigger. One night I had a spontaneous thought to buy a Toyota Previa because it can fit a bike inside. When it comes to vans, the Previa is the only acceptable one to me… I just think they’re cool and classy as far as vans go. Unfortunately, after doing some craigslist searching and then some googling, I found out that Manual transmission Previas are very rare. That was my other requirement, there was no way I could stand an automatic car.

So, I gave up hope on a 5 Speed Previa, and started searching far and near for my next candidate, an older 4×4 Toyota. Either a pick-up or a 4runner. I scoured craigslist for weeks, and looked at a handful in person. There was always something wrong, either they were too out of shape and rusted, had very high mileage, or way overpriced (some of these 4×4 owners really think their 180k miles 1984 Toyota is worth 6k), etc.

I was getting tired of constantly searching for a 4×4, so yesterday evening I decided to try looking for a Previa again. The listing at the top was a ’91 Toyota Previa, and when I clicked it I was excited to find out that it was actually a 5 speed. I grabbed my phone and called the guy, after giving him an inquisition about the details on the car, I eventually decided to go for it. I asked him to drive down.

Body wise, the car was a little bit more beat up than I imagined but I didn’t really care. It drove and handled fine. After the test drive, we heard a sound that was initially passed off as a nearby sprinkler. Upon inspecting the floor, however, it was gravely obvious that there was a big leak in one of the coolant hoses. We were able to find out the location of the leak, it was coming from a steel coolant pipe at an elbow. Despite the leak, I still decided to buy it.

Some negotiating and ultimately $1250 later, I had this round thing sitting in front of my house.

Paint is oxidized on the roof and there’s a couple big dents on the rear hatch, which I think I can push out…

This morning I tried to fix the leak. It was either going to be the clamp holding on the coolant hose at the elbow, or the actual elbow is leaking. I bought a new c-clamp and tightened it down, started the car… and after a few minutes the leak started pouring out again.

No good, I decided to skip this step for now and handle the next item on the list – smog. The engine temperature actually started rising as I was driving, but luckily there was a gas station at the next block. All the coolant actually leaked away, but after topping it off with some water, the temperatures remained steady.

Once the smog test was over, the car failed. This definitely had me down, and I even impulsively put the car back for sale when I got home. I had some free time, so I drove it over to a nearby auto shop just to have a second opinion on the coolant leak.

A bit of a rough start when your car is on a lift on the first day of ownership.

The problem was identified to be the actual coolant pipe that was leaking. The welds around the elbow were rusted beyond repair. The general condition of the undercarriage wasn’t bad, but the exhaust system stood out since all the bolts on it were completely rusted to the flanges.

I went back home, grabbed some tools, and journeyed to the local Pick ‘N Pull junkyard.

Donor vehicle found.

Some dirty wrenching later while rolling in coolant fluid that was splashing everywhere, I pulled off the pipe.

Here’s a view of what it looked like underneath, that gap is where the pipe went.

I then dropped off the Previa to the auto shop to have the pipe replaced and also to change out the Alternator and Power Steering belts. Hopefully everything goes well tomorrow, I will update on its progress. I also changed my mind about selling the car, and pulled down the ads.

I figured getting this car back to shape will take some work and money, so I’m going to keep a running tally of all related expenses.

So far:

  • Purchased Vehicle: $1250
  • Smog Test (Failed): $31
  • Coolant Leak Diagnosis: $10
  • Coolant Pipe from Junkyard: $24 + $2 entrance fee

The price of the van was definitely cheap, fingers crossed the sum total will still be under budget.

4 thoughts on “Acquisition of a Giant Egg

  1. my fondest memory of a previa, was the one that was on its side in the middle of an intersection. narrow track + tall car = no bueno. luckily the motorcycle in the previa will lower your cg.

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