Radiator Part 2

So, where was I?

Oh yes, the radiator on Alpha Previa, herein “The Green One” or “TGO.” After the unceremonious self-destruction of the original and a long, but thankfully mostly AAA covered tow home, I got to work on replacing it with a new one.

I looked on Amazon and ordered something that looked, if not OE level, at least reasonably high quality and well reviewed. It’s lucky I didn’t splurge on the best because as I would find out, my Supercharged van was one connection away from compatibility with this shiny new radiator.


See that place the red line hose goes, under the Power Steering fluid reservoir? Naturally Aspirated Previa radiators don’t have a hole there.

Now you know that.

I hadn’t even considered the possibility that this Toyota Previa radiator wouldn’t fit my Toyota Previa so I wasn’t especially careful unboxing it – more evisceration, really.

As such, I wouldn’t be able to easily return it.

I have too much faith in Toyota’s engineers of the 90s to think there wasn’t a good reason for S/C van specific radiators, but at the time, I was perturbed.

Anyways, I ordered the right radiator and put it in with new hoses. I wish I had more photos for you but it was long enough ago that they would only have existed on my old Motorola which never worked right, even before meeting its moist demise.

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Torno a te

The internet is littered with the bones of blogs that shriveled of the vine, full of dead links and, worse still, a cliffhanger for their last post. I’ve been guilty of both these things having neglected to post in….14 months (egad!).

I’ve decided I can’t let it just die for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I remembered the login and password to the admin side of the blog.

Work continued on the van, including that radiator I was telling you about. I’ll go in to more detail on that, I swear. Among other things, it got some attention paid to the ABS system, the parking brake, the previously absent windshield washer and more, likely hopeless, efforts toward a cleaner interior, so there’s material for updates, at least as well as I can do from memory.

At some point late last year, I found out the blog has at least one secret admirer who knows where I work, as I got an envelope with  the note “Hey Uri – Keep blogging! #PREVIADIARIES” as well as two stickers, one with my name, or the name of the University in Rhode Island named after me, and one with “PR” on a Puerto Rican flag. With equal parts flattery and confusion, it spurned me into resuscitating “the diaries”

photo (3)


I got more exciting news when I found out fast bike guy and general good dude Joey “Dirtybird” Clemenzi is joining the fold with an N/A TCR10 of his own.

Finally, the most exciting thing of all, and the biggest reason for the return is the addition of a second Previa to the fleet, this time a TCR20 with All-Trac all wheel drive and the twin swiveling captains chairs in the middle. Sadly it lacks the twin sunroofs, but I’ve heard those leak eventually, which I’ll keep telling myself as I look up at the non-hole in my solid roof.


Immediately, you probably noticed a few visual “enhancements” on this van, and I’ll get to that at a later post, as well as the reason I’ve gotten Previa #2, but the main point is this, the blog’s undead, undead, undead.


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Radiator Part 1

There’s a certain attitude one must take when owning old cars. Certain parts that were on the back of your mind give up the ghost without much warning. The Previa has done an admirable job of getting there whenever called upon, but on one unusually mild November day, it gave its last getting there and sadly, wasn’t up to getting back.

I had loaded up the van with bikes and bike racers to go to Plymouth, about 135 miles away. The trip was mostly smooth and quiet highway sailing, and it was decided that the Previa is more a barge than a skiff.

Shortly after rolling into the parking lot, I parked, turned off the engine, and a hiss and pop came from the front, followed by a splash and an expanding pool of sickly brown under the front of the van.

While the previous owner was handy, it’s become clear in my time with the van that he wasn’t averse to short-term budget hacks. Among other things, the cooling system was full of some amount of possibly 17 year old coolant, some other coolant of unknown origin, rust, scale, radiator leak stopper, and bits of rubber. The radiator was apparently the weakest link, since after safely getting us to the race, it self-destructed.

The wounded Previa was sent home on a flatbed (really happy I had AAA Plus for that) and waited for me until I got back.

When I got back home, I put the van up on jackstands, took off the shroud under the front of the van, and looked for a possible blown off hose. No such luck, the radiator was gone. I drained the rest of the hoses (more sickly brown) and pulled it out. A big rusty spot on the front told the whole story.

I found the new radiator on Amazon for surprisingly cheap, and placed the order for it.

To be continued next week…

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Brake Rotors

The Previa’s natural demeanor over the road leans more toward wallowy relaxation than anything else. While it’s certainly quick enough in its responses, it prefers not to be rushed. It’s very much a docile cow. When I got it, mine exhibited pretty severe pulsation under braking which took away from the relaxation, though it did make the descent into the valley feel even more like landing a plane.

The obvious culprit was warped brake rotors, so I picked up new pads and rotors at Napa. I went for their nicer offerings, since I don’t feel like replacing the parts again too soon.

Since Chris knows all sorts of tricks for brakes and I’m totally out of my element with anything hydraulic, he came over to help me out.

We took off the old rotors and pads. They came out surprisingly easily, though the left front caliper was pretty sticky, and the parts that came out didn’t look particularly worn, though notably, the left front pads were pulling apart.

While we were down there, we also rigged together the ABS wire with speaker wire since it’s all I had. I’ll know if the connection fails, since it turns out that was the reason the ABS light was staying on.

I took the van a test drive around the block and the braking was smoother and vibration free. Job done. Or not.

I drove down the road in the van to the junkyard for some interior trim piece. I got out of the car to a cloud of acrid smoke. The sticky caliper? It was actually a seized caliper.

The story that we developed was that the previous owner went through the same motions but rather than replace the seized caliper, they just drove it until the smell went away. As a result, so much heat built up that the pad compound pulled away from its base and was acting as sort of a spring against the rotor.

In any case, I limped the van back home with the smallest of fires developing in my front wheel. I got home, put the van on jackstands, took off the wheel and let it cool down.

The next morning, Chris came over again, used his brake replacement tricks, and installed the new caliper. While there’s a still pulsation under heavy braking, this time from the damage cause by the seized caliper, it’s much more subtle than the one that was there before, so hey, that’s progress.

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Supercharger Fluid

Since the Previa weighs a bit over 4000lbs, some were underwhelmed by the performance available from the 2.4 liter inline-4 they all came equipped with. The American market in particular demanded more powerful engines but a physically larger engine was out of the question given the Previa’s layout, so they opted instead for forced air induction.

Taking the SC14 supercharger from the Supra, Toyota managed to go from 135hp to 160hp and add a whole bunch of torque.

The addition was after the initial design phase, and Toyota had to find a place to put the supercharger. The engine bay (nook? cubby?) didn’t have room to spare, so they added it in the front, driven by the Supplemental Accessory Drive System (colloquially “SADS”).

Don’t take this to mean it’s “under the hood.” While technically accurate, it’s so far down under the hood that it’s nearly invisible. This is a problem when it needs mechanical attention.

Superchargers do need periodic maintenance, which is rational given that they’re basically spinning like mad in a sealed chamber when called upon. The process of changing the oil in the supercharger presents a number of challenges.

The first issue was the oil itself. I’ve made an effort to stick with the original equipment wherever possible, but it turns out the genuine Toyota Supercharger fluid (08885-80108) is made of unicorn tears and stardust, since each 50ml (1.6oz) bottle costs a bit over $50. Even worse, I’d need 2.5 bottles to refill the whole thing.

On Nick CZ’s recommendation, I picked up some GM supercharger fluid from my local Buick dealer. For $8 I got 4oz (118ml).

The other challenge revolved around the location of the part, roughly illustrated here on a different Previa:

With the front skid plate/shroud removed and the van lifted ever so slightly on jackstands, I got underneath and found the elusive supercharger dipstick!

Since it was still in a very awkward spot, I made a filling apparatus out of a syringe and a length of lawnmower fuel line.

The paltry amount of oil that came out, despite likely being just as old as the van, still looked pretty healthy. It might actually be magic. I slowly refilled the housing with the GM oil, which was a bit more difficult to measure, as it’s clear, rather than yellow like Toyota’s.

I got it all back together, and I’m looking forward to finally dipping into the top of the Previa’s power band without worrying about a dry blower.

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Toyotas, especially Toyotas of this era, are renowned for their over-engineering and attention to detail. It’s the reason early 90s Corollas and Camrys are still so common in the wild. The less endearing reputation they, and other Asian imports of the era carry is their tendency to turn into dust in the presence of road salt. It’s the reason why so many flawless examples remain on the west coast for Supcat to taunt me with.

The Previa benefitted from many corrosion inhibiting measures, which means even my 17-year-old example only has the same rust behind the rear fenders as every other Previa on the east coast.

The undercarriage was not as lucky. I suspect the van was parked on grass, but only on one side, since the tinworm seems to have attacked the left side of the van much more aggressively than the right. I took some scary looking pictures of the damage on the Previa’s belly and analyzed them with worry.

Left front 1

Frame damage has undone many otherwise mechanically sound cars, because it’s just not cost effective to repair, and in the case of rust, so hard to stop.

I brought the car over to Ed’s Auto Body (http://edsautobody.net/) in Easthampton for an assessment, since I didn’t want to put more time and money into a van that was about to split in half.

They put the van up on the lift and went to work with flashlights and screwdrivers, finding and removing Swiss cheesed metal.

When I came back for the verdict, Ed (I think) had good news for me. While there was some metal behind the front left wheel that was pretty much gone, the actual structural member was above it and in totally fine shape. He told me what he could do, with an estimate, but he also gave me instructions on how best to treat it.

Per his instructions, I picked up some POR15, (POR15) which is magical but expensive stuff and grabbed a mallet. I went to town on the cross-member and trim and a whole bunch of rusty chunks fell out transforming the van into Previa Superleggera, in my mind at least. Once it was all out in a brown pile next to the fan, I got to painting.

The POR15 goes on pretty thick, but it doesn’t drip much, which is nice when painting under the car. I got the front half nicely covered (on ramps) and hit the parts of the back that I could reach.

Now it’s wearing a nice winter coat underneath that should keep the rust that was left from spreading.


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Valve Cover Gasket

Valve cover gasket

Most Previa specific issues result from its unusual “slant midship” layout.

The forces of gravity and age mean that many Previas leak a small amount of oil from the top (effectively the side) of the engine. It’s not a big enough amount of leakage to damage the engine but the driver picks up a noticeable smell of burning oil since the engine leaks onto hot exhaust and it’s all happening directly under him.

In the worst case scenario, it could catch fire, though it hadn’t been a problem as of yet.

Because Nick CZ said to, I went strictly OE for all the replacement parts I needed. The Toyota gasket was actually pretty inexpensive on eBay, and given the complexity of the job, I don’t know why people cheap out on it.

Nick provided a tube of Genuine Toyota FIPG sealant as well, which as with the gasket, works much better than aftermarket alternatives. The forums indicate that it’s possible to do this job without the sealant, but not in a lasting way.

Since I was going into the engine anyways, I took Chris’s advice and splurged on some other parts I could use to really make the van purr. OE spark plugs, OE spark plug wires, OE distributor cap, OE distributor O-ring. I couldn’t find the OE ignition rotor anywhere, so I went with the Bosch. When it showed up, it was made in Japan, presumably by Denso, so it may well have been OE, more or less. I also went with a cheap air filter because it’s just an air filter.

People sometimes complain that the Previa is hard to work on because of the engine placement, but with the large access panel and ample ground clearance, it wasn’t actually a problem in practice. Name another car where you can reach the head from underneath.

To prep, I took out the passenger seat, the flat fixing kit, and the carpet on the right side. Then I started preemptively PB-Blasting the bolts holding on the engine cover. Only one of 10 sheared off, that’s improvement!

I sprayed the bolts on the valve cover as well and waited for Chris to arrive.

Chris has a lot of experience working on Toyotas, and I am really happy he was here to help out with the especially complicated stuff.

I managed to get the valve cover bolts off without breaking any, which is just great. The gasket and distributor O-ring broke apart into crumbs, having ceased to serve their purpose years ago.

I got to work cleaning all the crusty old oil-dirt-sludge around the engine with a rag, a big flathead, and a bunch of Clean Streak. After it was all neat and tidy, we started putting it all back together. Chris put the new distributor cap on (easiest from under the car) and I got sidetracked and put a new air filter and plugs in my daily driver, since it was a mechanical day and all the tools were already there.

When it all went back together, the engine was noticeably smoother and quicker to start and though I haven’t checked back yet, hopefully it’s now leak free as well.


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