When I first arrived at my mechanic’s shop, gleefully parking my mid-engined supercharged 1997 Toyota Previa between an Acura NSX and a Lamborghini Murcielago, I don’t think Car Wizard was too impressed. He even made a Freudian slip with the Previa name, and mistakenly called it a Toyota Plebeian. I tried to not be offended, as I was determined to win Wizard over with my latest purchase, but I don’t think I succeeded.
His name calling continued through the oil change, but this time intentionally calling it other things like "the Prevacid." We both were confused by the external auxiliary oil tank, which could not be drained — and seems to have an electric pump to send extra oil into the engine as needed. The engine itself took 6 quarts, which is a lot for a 4 cylinder — but even stranger was the drivetrain setup.
As shown in my last video, the engine of the Previa is located directly under the front seats, followed by a normal looking transmission and drive shaft sending power to a solid rear axle, but things get really weird when you go in the other direction. Even though my Previa is rear-wheel-drive, it has a second drive shaft going toward the front of the van, but it doesn’t send any power to the pavement. Rather, the front drive shaft comes directly off the engine’s crankshaft, and leads to where most would expect the engine to live. Instead, this small space houses all the belt driven accessories, including the alternator, AC compressor– and even the supercharger. The Car Wizard had never worked on a Previa before, and said it was the strangest vehicle he’s seen in nearly 20 years of wrenching.
I took it as a compliment, even though it probably wasn’t — but the Wizard certainly brightened up when he began finding issues. All four of my shocks were blown, and the Wizard also found a few minor leaks from the engine and transmission. The only worry I had with my Previa was a steady coolant leak around the front of the engine, but that turned out to be an easy fix — a failing coolant reservoir. Still, all these issues added up to enough for the Wizard to justify wasting his time making a silly YouTube video with me.
The only "gotcha" moment was trying to find a replacement reservoir, as just one Toyota dealer in the nation was offering it for sale online — and they wanted a whopping $300 for this melon shaped piece of plastic. Since it’s a pretty simple tank, the Wizard thinks he can match it with another car easily enough — and get me back on the road for around $100. Mercifully, the engine is driven by a timing chain, so unlike most Toyota vehicles of the era, there’s no expensive timing belt service to worry about.
With new shocks, an oil change and a few other minor fixes, I should have my Previa sorted for under $500 — which is a nice break from the normal torture I usually put my wallet through. Maybe I’ll park it next to my McLaren when I get home — so it can teach a fellow mid-engine exotic car how to behave. Find a Toyota Previa for sale