My beloved car has bled me dry, is there a way to salvage it?

Tuesday October 08 2019
Toyota Fortuner

About a year and a half ago, I stumbled on a Toyota Fortuner (1GR FE) 2009 model and was really excited even though it was a salvage car. PHOTO | COURTESY


Dear Baraza,

I hope you are doing well. I started reading your articles almost two years ago. The best one, in my view, was your review of the Fortuner V6 4L 2009 (GGN60R) Model (my dream ride — well the Fortuner and the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport or Shogun Pinin, but I digress). Anyway, about a year and a half ago, I stumbled on a Toyota Fortuner (1GR FE) 2009 model and was really excited even though it was a salvage car. It took me six months to buy the car but the struggle was worth it.

I rebuilt the car slowly, and in almost a year, I was driving it happily, despite it leaving me broke. And then the lights (ABS) in the dashboard started going on and off, and I kept wondering what it was, so I went on an elimination exercise — I replaced missing front speed sensors and airbags and fixed a loose connector on the ECU port. The fuel pump was also weak, and I had this replaced at Toyota Kenya after sourcing my own part in Dubai. I did step-by-step elimination for each light until I was able to drive with the dashboard lights all being off and super crisp clean. Let me branch off a bit.

In between the repairs, I was using the car for my city and country driving, and once while driving, the car started jerking badly. I called my mechanic to assist, and on inspection, we realised that the car was overheating. Upon dragging it to the garage, we discovered that the radiator had three holes in it, which were repaired. Unfortunately, this blew my head gasket, leading my mechanic to recommend resurfacing my two heads (v6 config, petrol engine). Upon resurfacing, the car returned with a very bad “bounce”, more like a swing when slowing down and heavy vibrations too.

Once again, I returned it, suspecting that he resurfaced the cylinder head for Bank 2 since Bank 1 was working fine. This time round, the vibrations were gone but the “bounce” was still there, so I dumped that mechanic. By this time I was tired of the shoddy work and being overcharged for new spare parts.

I consulted several mechanics before going to Toyota Kenya, who observed that the cylinder for Bank 2 seemed off. They also recommended changing the fuel pump and pre-cat O2 sensor. Eventually, after that going round and round, one of the mechanics advised that we tear down the engine. I agreed to it and we took out the Bank 2 head and returned it to the machine shop for scrutiny.


I was informed that two valves on the exhaust side had bad valve seats, a factor that was rectified. We also replaced the head, and it worked for a while as the car got back twice the power it had (not that it had lost a significant amount of power).

Just as I was getting comfortable, the car started drifting back to the power it had before and the “bounce” and the vibrations returned. Also, I noticed that when driving at highway speed and I let go of the accelerator, the car would jerk heavily before picking up. Also, when starting up, the car would not move immediately, but instead it hesitates as if I am stepping on the brakes and accelerator at the same time and then it just jerks forward as if it’s on steroids. To ease on the jerkings, I normally play with the accelerator pedal slightly until it picks on it own.

While flushing brake fluid, another mechanic found that the intake manifold was not sitting properly on the intake ports for cylinder 6, and therefore the car was running rich with heavy emissions from the exhaust.

Several mechanics later, I was advised to get the injectors tested, only to be told that they didn’t have any leakage and that I was firing perfectly at 84 each on the readings for all six injectors.

I returned to the garage, and while checking the brake drums, I thought it was the brake linings that were not running on smooth surface, but I found all was well. I would later change the brake discs but later found the stabiliser arm for the left rear tyre was broken, which I replaced. Thankfully, the bounce stopped slightly. I also need to add that I spent a whole day with a mechanic trying to check air fuel ratio balance to no avail — he concluded that can’t be resolved.

I have faith that my car’s many problems can be solved, but to be honest, this car is driving me nuts. As it is, I am weighing four options:

a. Buy another engine: It is really hard to get this type of engine at a fair price.

b. Getting a new engine, e.g. the 2GR FE with dual VVTI, but that would mean I upgrade the wiring and computer since both use longitudinal mounting.

c. Getting the 6GR FE, which is designed for the Toyota Coaster in Japan.

d. Tear down this existing engine and have it checked part by part, which is worse than buying another engine.

I seek your third opinion (or even 100th) on this issue as I’m at my wit’s end since all my sensors are okay, that is the EGR, IAC, Throttle among others. Is there something I am missing here?

Sorry for the long email, but I had to share the history for you to understand I have explored all options. The car is past the 200-kilometre mileage range and works just fine after rebuilding and repairs.

Looking forward to your most blunt and honest opinion

PS: The response in your article in DN2 of July 17, 2019 is faulted since I have been trying to resolve the same problem and I changed my ATF, all seals and even flushed the brake fluid yet the vibrations haven’t disappeared. That reader needs to get his engine checked further because I have learnt mechanics wait eagerly to hear “shida kwa engine” because it’s a jackpot for them. They will eat the guy dry! 

Note that the car doesn’t overheat, it just exhibits the problems below:

a. Vibrations at idle with slight misfires — no engine code triggered.

b. When cold, the exhaust smells heavily of fuel but when the engine gets to operating temperature, the smell disappears.

c. Occasional backfires especially when under heavy load, which rarely happens as my driving is mostly in the city.

d. The ‘bounce’ when either stopping or moving from a stop at slow speeds — below 10kph to 20kph

e. The hesitations during acceleration with engine jerks that go through the whole cabin

f. The jerks when accelerating gradually sometimes causing extremely high revs in the process then letting go all of a sudden like a rocket, but once it picks, all is well

Best regards,

Morris K

Many, many words. Wow!

Hi Morris,

First off, a small correction. I haven’t reviewed any petrol Fortuner in this column. I may have mentioned the AN50/AN60, but this was only to highlight its inherent weaknesses: polarising looks, a less-than-pleasant interior, uncomfortable ride and mismatched gearing for the manual version, but I never did a full review. I did review its successor, the AN150/AN160, which received glowing praise, so much so that it drove off shiny and chrome into the sunset of Valhalla with the 2018 Motoring Press Agency Car of the Year Award (Car Clinic, January 2, 2019). These two are not the same car: one is a massive improvement of the other.

I would also like to remind you that the solutions to mechanical issues I give here are based on descriptions by people who may neither be champions of communication contests nor are they motoring experts (which is why they are consulting in the first place).

There is a reason each and every mechanic without fail will ask you to bring a vehicle for diagnosis rather than listen to windy rhetoric spiced with a dash of onomatopoeia when a distraught end user wants their vehicular difficulties addressed. It is the same reason medics will insist on a sickly individual visiting a clinic: tests can be done, suspects investigated and other symptoms not immediately obvious to the afflicted searched for, instead of engaging in a tiring and ludicrous back and forth centred around “Have you checked for this? What about this? And this?”. It is even more ridiculous given that this column runs weekly following a chain of emails which may have a slight backlog due to demand. That back and forth cannot work. The best Car Clinic can do is give an educated guess based on the typically sketchy details that readers try to compress into a single message.

Of course the automatic answer to all these questions is “visit a garage or authorised dealer”, but there are only so many instances in which I can get away with writing that before my employer deduces I may have reached the end of my usefulness.

[Disclaimer 1 : educated guesses based on incomplete data the responses may be, but we can comfortably brag over here that Car Clinic has a very high hit rate. Some issues are obvious, some not so obvious, but we attain successful resolutions at a scale better than nine times out of 10.

Disclaimer 2: Just because a car has a certain logo on it doesn’t mean local franchises with similar logos on the walls will handle it. I know a few dealerships that are very choosy about what they service and maintain. Some will only handle vehicles they have actually sold — no imports.

Others will only deal with models they are familiar with — they will handle imported cars but only if they are of the same model that once festooned their showroom floor. Yet others will say “Bring ‘em all!” and work on whatever you throw at them irrespective of provenance or familiarity. It’s hard to say who lies where, but remember the Toyota Allion is a JDM car, it was never sold anywhere outside Asia, so it is not automatic that Toyota Kenya will take it in for extensive repair work.

I may have lamented about a dearth of details in correspondence I get, but that is not a complaint I can apply to yours. That is a lot of detail you have packed in there.

Now, when engines are sold, there are options:

— You could buy a short block, which is the cylinder block between the heads and the sump (it may or may not include camshafts and timing gear; depending on engine design).

— You could buy a long block, which is a short block plus crankshaft, heads, camshafts and valves but with no accessories (these have to be ported over from the original engine).

— You could buy a complete engine with everything, including accessories: sump, timing cover, valve covers, manifolds, emissions control kit, fuel system, alternator, starter, power steering system and air conditioner compressor.

Check out for the options you have below.

Get another engine (1GR):

Certain brands are infamous for engine replacements, top of the list being turbocharged Subarus, and yes, I too have fallen into that pit. The engine in my car is not original equipment; and no, that engine did not cost as much as a Vitz either. The logic behind the replacement is the costs and extent of repair work are horrendous and approach the asking price of a replacement engine, which is the safer bet anyway; and sometimes the initial problem and/or actual repair work leaves the afflicted engine in a severely compromised structural state, meaning it will cough its last in the foreseeable future. For this, you may need a long block because all that head skimming may have damaged or weakened those heads.

Get a different engine (2GR):

I should have put my Subaru anecdote here because this is more pertinent. The replacement engine is a single turbo unit from an Impreza WRX, replacing the original Legacy-specific twin-turbo. Anyway, for the 2GR, you will need a complete engine; but when buying it you also have to specify the ECU and wiring harness (which is what I went through with my Subaru, as a matter of fact). These are not always sold along with what they call a “complete” engine

Get yet another different engine (6GR):

It is a version of the 1GR that has caused you all this trouble, but it is in a different state of tune, so be prepared to sacrifice some power and responsiveness. Also, the ECU may have difficulties adapting to a different application; more so if the ECU is tied in to other vehicle systems. The Chinese — not Japanese — Coaster and the Fortuner are two very different vehicles.

Tear down the current engine:

This only applies if you have a lot of time and patience on your hands. I wouldn’t recommend it at all since you have already embarked halfway on this journey and it has led you to me, which, in context, is not a good thing. The possibilities of the vehicle remaining grounded for a very long time are quite high, and you are looking at potentially massive cost overruns if the problems persist or new ones keep cropping up. It is wise to know when to drop everything and run. It may be time to drop this engine.