1984 Toyota Van -- We want it to live again

We are original owners of a 1984 Toyota Van Wagon (pre-Previa, called Hi Ace in parts of the world that still appreciate them) with 150k miles, an ideal car that was running until some still undiagnosed starter problem came up, and we are desperate to keep this car going and use it for camping trips. You can stop laughing now. This was the best, most functional car we have ever owned, small outside and spacious inside (the exact opposite of cars today). Besides rust and no-longer-available parts, what could possibly go wrong? We are not looking to replace it since it is irreplaceable and if we could have gotten a Hi Ace with a left-side steering wheel we would have done that. Instead, we bought a 2007 Focus wagon (both of these cars are manual transmission, BTW) and although the wagon is useful, we want to renovate the van and make it whole again. How do we go about finding the right person for the job? We have visited Toyota dealers and also local repair shops; most just say they will give it a state inspection. It gets inspected every year and passes, so having a second sticker isn?t going to help. We need someone familiar with this model car who is willing to dive in like a truffle-hunting pig and root out its most pressing problems; a trouble-shooter, a tinkerer, a genius. We are willing to spend some money to do this. Help! Where do we turn when we are swimming against the current? And how will we find the right mechanic? Is there anyone out there who knows and loves this car like we do? There must be.

I can’t recommend anyone in particular but any half-competent mechanic should not be hesitant for one bit to service a vehicle like this. Other than the rare oddball part (generally body or interior trim) anything needed to keep this car going should be readily available from most parts stores.

As to the Toyota dealer being a bit hesitant there’s a reason for that. They don’t want to risk the parts department being put into the position of (possibly) spending a lot of time rounding up some obsolete widget if a repair led that direction. They’re rather cash in on cooling system and transmission flushes.

You state the car has an undiagnosed starter problem. Automatic or manual transmission?
What are the symptoms exactly?
No engine rotation by the starter motor?
Turns over slowly?
Makes only a click sound when the key is turned?

You won’t catch me laughing at you over an '84 model Toyota van. I’d sincerely like to have a mid 80s, non-turbo Subaru Brat but it’s near impossible to find one that hasn’t been thrashed within an inch of its life. Maybe one of these days.

…an ideal car that was running until some still undiagnosed starter problem came up

Describe the way the “starter problem” exhibits itself, and maybe we can diagnose it…or at least rule some stuff out. In particular:

  1. When you turn the key to START, does the starter spin, or does it not do anything? (If it’s spinning, it’ll make a whirring sound, at the very least.)
  2. Does the starter make a grinding sound? (Suggesting worn teeth and/or not fully engaging)
  3. Does the starter engage, start the engine, but fail to disengage?
  4. Does the starter act up every time, or sporadically?

If the starter doesn’t even spin (either intermittently or regularly), I’d run current from the + battery terminal to the starter to see what happens. If it STILL fails to work, you have a starter motor problem; if it now works, you have a problem with the connection between the battery and the starter (like a loose connection or bad start switch).

Then, fix whatever is bad: either replace the starter with a rebuilt unit, or find the problem with continuity and correct it.

if we could have gotten a Hi Ace with a left-side steering wheel we would have done that.

If worst comes to worst, RHD vehicles are legal to operate in the US (ask a postman!) and not terribly difficult to drive, IMO. You do have to get used to it, but that takes less than a week. (Also makes parallel parking easier!)

The starting problem – which we’re thinking is an alternator situation (it’s happened before – get the tick-tick sound when turn the key, but can usually get the car started with a jump) – is not really our main concern.
What the point is, is that we want to get the van into as good and road-worthy a shape as possible – no fears about being out in the middle of nowhere, have it fail, and be in a place where no one knows how to fix it. (Of course, that situation could occur even if it was in good shape, but right now it seems more likely than if it were "feeling better."
We’re desperate to find someone who will love to work on it – not just guys who will put it on a lift, give it a once-over and say it looks good enough to them. (You won’t believe how superficial some of the “inspections” were going to be – like a half-hour! – and it’s frightening how little is looked at in what dealers call their "used-car inspection."
So, what’s our best bet, in your (and everybody’s) humble opinion? Is it a body shop, a car restorer, a regular mechanic, some guy who worked on the Toyota assembly line (anyone know one?), or what?
Which automotive professional will give it the best going over and know how to do the work, be trustworthy (hard to know that) … and also be honest enough to tell us that there’s no point to the doing. (So many guys we’ve talked to just say to dump it and buy a new one – that’s not the first answer we want … it’s the last.)

There’s nothing exotic about this van. It’s a 1984 Toyota. Any mechanic should be able to fix it.

If it’s been passing inspection there probably isn’t anything major wrong with it. Why don’t you just fix the starting issue and drive it?

As long as you keep the maintenance up to date (according to the owner’s manual) it should run a long time.

An established import car repair shop would be your best bet and I agree with mcparadise.

Offhand, the starter problem sounds like a corroded battery cable end/ground or possibly a failing starter motor. No matter, this is not a big deal.

As to dealer used car inspections I don’t doubt you there. I’ve worked for one dealer in my life who actually sent cars back to the service dept. for a stem to stern inspection followed by getting rid of any problem children.
I’ve often wondered who it is at the dealers who is actually performing those inspections, or allegly performing them. This includes "Certified Used Cars"
Maybe the make ready guys who do the washing and vacuuming. :slight_smile:

What’s your general location?

I remember riding in the scary, hilly, winding roads of central Jamaica in my sister-in-law’s Hi-Ace!

Mechanically you should be able to get it fixed, but what’s this about rust? If there’s much rust I wouldn’t bother.

Great vehicle; we had one in Nigeria, and the local mechanics had no trouble working on it. There were even locally made parts (of dubious quality) for it. Find a good in dependent mechanci with a sense of curiosity. This is not an exotic vehicle.

The only problem, or issue, you’ve identified is a problem with the starter. Has it been resolved or not? Otherwise, what are you looking for? You drive a car and fix the problems that come up when they come up. If there are no problems with the car then drive it, and enjoy it. If there is something that is making it unreliable, what is it? Figure out the problem, get it fixed and drive on.

Starter problems are often in the starter itself, then the starter solenoid, and sometimes the ignition switch itself. A starter problem shouldn’t be too hard for a decent mechanic to identify the real problem and fix it.

Typical starter problem for Toyota. Find the engine to body ground wire. It looks kind of useless because it just goes from engine to ground. Remove body end and scrape it and the paint where it connects. If this is the right kind of Toyota, the problem will disappear. It’s worth a try and it worked on Corollas from 76 to 79.