Buyers Guide

A few tips on what to look for when buying a Toyota Sera.
All exterior body panels are unique to the Sera and are not shared with any other Toyota.

When considering purchasing a car, inspect the body closely for damage and signs of accident repair. If there is signs of accident repair, I would advise you to seek further advice.

Bodywork is generally the most expensive part of a car to repair.


Many panels are no longer available new, although some reproduction parts are available.      Accident damage tends to involve front end or rear end accidents and these can be checked by looking carefully at panel gaps to make sure things are straight.

Checking with a magnet would help work out whether there is excess filler in the car – a cheap way of disguising dents.

Headlamps and rear lamps are also unique to the Sera so check these are in good condition.   Dull headlamps can be be improved with polishing – see this page.


The glass on the Sera is unique – there are 6 pieces altogether – the windscreen, the rear screen, and two pieces for each door – the drop glass and the other piece curving up into the roof.

The front screen is laminated (ie two panes of glass sandwiching an adhesive, transparant plastic film), the rest of the glass is toughened (ie shatters into millions of tiny cubes.)

Check these panes for damage – the two door drop glasses should raise and lower nicely and smoothly. Is is not uncommon to find slight scores on the drop glasses caused by trapped grit particles.

Drivers window has an automatic up/down facility – press down slightly for normal operation, press fully for automatic drop, naturally the opposite direction is the same.

The rear screen has the rear demist and is supported by two struts. This glass also incorporates the radio aerial, although in some areas an external aerial is sometimes fitted to aid reception.

Originally there were two tints as standard – linked to the original paint and trim colour.   The options were a very light brown or a very light blue.


Check seats for damage to the cloth and make sure they move properly. The drivers seat also has a height adjuster. The rear seats fold to reveal a removable panel separating the car from the boot. There are two rear lap belts on early cars, later cars had 3 point belts in the rear.

In the passenger footwell, you may find two clips, or a red ‘cigar’ sized object down there. This is instead of a hazard triangle, and is in fact a small chemical flare.There is a best before date on it – Its up to you to decide if you want it in the car!

The cars originally came with two removable roof panels which cut out the glare from the sun. It would be nice if these were with the car – there should be a storage bag as well.

UK regulations call for a rear fog lamp – the dash is sometimes spoilt by people hurriedly fitting a switch. There is a blanking plate for an extra switch next to the mirror controls on the RHS of the steering wheel

The cars are originally fitted with a KM/H speedo. To convert to MPH divide by 8 and multiply by 5. There are several ways of converting to read into MPH. Both have pro’s and con’s.     It is not an MoT failure to retain the KM/H speedo and many people stick reminders at the critical speed limit points.

In the boot there should be a tool kit and a spacesaver spare wheel. Check if the car has locking wheel nuts – check that the key required to unlock these is present.


The CV joints are prone to wear – to check these, put the car in reverse and drive backwards on full steering lock. If you hear a ‘clonk’, there is some wear and should be replaced at some point in the future. Do this steering in both directions.

Put your weight on each corner of the car to test the shock absorbers – they should compress and then return to the original position quickly. If the car bounces around, maybe there is excessive wear in the dampers.

The gas struts for the doors weaken through use – the more frequently used drivers door may not support its own weight. These can be rebuilt or easily replaced.

The engine (Toyota 5E-FHE) is generally reliable, but check oil level and colour – there have been engine failures caused by low oil levels or oil starvation caused by oil deposits clogging the engine. I would recommend all Seras to have an engine flushing at each service. It is best to be on the safe side.

The cam belt should be changed at 100,000km, or sooner if there is no evidence of the last change, or a long period without use. Changing the timing belt is within the realms of an amateur mechanic providing they have the means of holding the crank pulley still.

Whilst under the bonnet, check that the brake fluid and power steering reservoirs are full.

Brakes – some cars had ABS which meant brake discs and brake pads on each wheel. Some cars had drum brakes at the rear, and hence brake shoes.

Some cars also had a drivers airbag, although this is quite rare.  Such cars can be identified with two horn pushes near the thumb position.

Brake Fluid – use DoT 4 or higher specification rather than DoT 3. DoT 3 has a lower boiling point and isn’t recommended.


There was a wide selection of extra-cost options for the Sera including ABS, body decals, protective rubbing strips, corner finder, reversing aids, door kick plates, rear spoiler, tinting, alloy wheels, dash mounted cup holder, central storage locker as well as interior telephones, navigation systems, CD-autochangers, in-car fax machines, front fog lamps and a choice of two automatic in-car fragrancers. The Super Live Sound System is also a option covered later…

Many of these were dealer fit items and can be removed and fitted to other cars at a later date.


Japan does not use miles per hour as its standard unit of speed measurement, preferring the metric kilometers per hour.

There is no regulation in the MoT test to have a speedo reading in MPH, although many people prefer the convenience.

There are several ways of doing this:

1. Modify the speedo signal

The easiest way is to fit a reduction gearbox between the speedo and the speedo takeoff on the gearbox. This is a mechanical device which converts the speedo and distance recorders to read from 0-180kmh to 0-180mph.

Another benefit of marginal use in the UK is that the 180kmh speed limiter is changed to cut in at 180mph instead.

However, only about 1/3 of the speedo face will be used in everday traffic, making it harder to judge your speed at a glance. 80mph is where 80kmh would originally have been.

Cost approx £ 90.00 plus fitting.

2. Change the speedometer face

It is possible to replace the speedometer markings with a new face with MPH markings instead.

Metal Monkey sell various stainless steel etched replacement dials for all configurations of speedo.

The speed limited device will still cut in at 180km/h (approx 112mph).

However a larger proportion of the speedo dial is used in everyday situations making it easier to judge your speed at a glance.

3. Sticky labels

Whilst it may appear a bit blue peter-ish, sticky labels is the favoured method by many.     You just need reminder stickers at the important speed limit points – eg 30mph, 40mph, 50mph, 60mph, 70mph.

Cheapest method by far!

One of the more desirable original options is the Super Live Sound System surround sound system.

SLSS comprises 10 speakers, as follows:

  • LH dashboard tweeter
  • Central dashboard tweeter
  • RH dashboard tweeter

  • LH and RH door speakers

  • rear deck speaker, comprising two tweeters and two normal speakers
  • and the ‘Acoustic Resonance Woofer’ in the boot
The SLSS system also incorporates an amplifier with a central channel, plus a Digital Sound Processor (DSP) which has three modes – off, Casual mode and Funky Mode. These different modes provide a slight differences in the sound qualities, and also the rear deck speaker rotates from reflecting the sound from the rear hatch glass incasual mode to pointing directly towards the passenger when in funky mode.

The DSP modes are controlled by a “WARP” button on the head unit. The CD has random, scan and repeat modes, the radio has 6 presets on both FM and AM bands and the cassette mechanism has Dolby and track search facilities

When the car was new you could purchase the SLSS system with either a single height CD / Radio or a dual height CD / Radio / Cassette.

It is worth considering changing the head unit to a more modern design because there have been lots of improvements over the past few years. Most hifi manufactures offer a dual height unit, although the price of dual height units does seem expensive when compared to single height units of similar specification.

A single height unit can be fitted with an oddments tray underneath.

Without modification, the rear speaker rotational facility and subwoofer are lost, although can be reinstated with a number of small wiring modifications. The central channel which the central dash speaker uses would be somewhat harder to reinstate.


Since 1998 I have used my Sera as an everyday car. I have found no particular problems with the car. Only drawbacks is the high load sill – you have to lift luggage up a long way before putting it in, but the boot is surprisingly large. The rear headroom has already been mentioned. I’m about 6′ tall, and have a couple of inches clearance in the front.

For a car of its size it performs better than many would expect, the only drawback being a high loading sill for the boot.

The doors allow easy access to the car in narrow spaces where in a car with traditional doors you would have to squeeze through a narrow gap.

The car is not a fast car in the same sense as a ‘hot hatch’, but is nippy considering its engine size (1496cc). The car is quite economical.



Insurance is the biggest problem with the Sera. Being an import, many insurance companies will not quote at all or load the premium. There are several reasons for doing this, but the main reason is that in any accident, it is the exterior which is normally damaged, and as parts have to come from Japan there is the added increased expense express air freight.

Tesco Insurance and The AA seem to consistantly return very competitive quotes, although it pays to purchase a car magazine and to phone a number of advertisers for a quote.



There is not a huge amount of headroom in the rear for tall people. The car should be regarded as a 2+2 or even a 2 seater rather than a proper 4 seater.


The market prices in the UK can vary quite a lot.

Generally – you get what you pay for, although excellent cars do sometimes sell at below market value and vice versa. It is always worth looking at cars out of your intended price range.

Generally speaking you get what you pay for.  Cheapest Seras are generally the most scruffy and needs the most TLC to get back up to standard.

The most expensive Seras are usually the nicest examples, and needs the least work doing to it.