QotW: What’s the most confoundingly engineered JNC?

Japanese cars are known to be superbly engineered, plainly logical in their construction, and easy to work on (which is weird, since they break down much less than other cars). But after reading your answers about difficult repairs from last week, we know there are exceptions so illogical they would make Spock commit seppuku.

Some are easily explained, like the Toyota 5M’s impossible-to-reach fuel filter due to its master cylinder placement in the change from right- to left-hand-drive. Some can be attributed to sheer stubbornness of philosophy, like the Honda Vigor’s forward-transmitting driveshaft. And some are the result of epic screw-ups when the company is so big that the engine and transmission engineers don’t tell each other which way the drivetrain is supposed to rotate, like on the Twin-Stick Mirage/Colt.

What’s the most confoundingly engineered JNC?

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What’s the hardest repair job you’ve done on a JNC?” 


We felt both your pain and heroism this week in your tales of accomplishing near-impossible repair jobs. Tj‘s tour through the entirety of Mitsubishi’s 1970s parts bin simply reinforced our impression that the Triple Diamond Empire is simply not that concerned with building cars. We commiserated with Greylopht‘s Subaru engine swap escapade because any sentence containing the phrase “wiring harness” is downright terrifying. And Kiran had our deepest sympathies not because of his superglued radio, but because he owns a Cordia. The winner, however, was Leon because, well, let’s just say we hope some JNC stickers can make up for a lost appendage.

’89 Toyota Corolla 2E oil pump change. Required a sump to be removed. Removing the sump required the exhaust down-pipe to be removed. Removing the down-pipe required the lower cross member to be removed, which also required the two lower engine mounts to be removed. I’m sure pro mechanics would have done it without all the strain.

Putting the lot together cost me my left index finger though when I stupidly caught it in the crank pulley (while it was idling)…..

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

JNC Decal smash

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22 Responses to QotW: What’s the most confoundingly engineered JNC?

  1. Car Nut Seattle says:

    I’m not a fan of today’s Japanese cars. They may be more reliable, better built, but they’re hideous to look at, and they’re not as easy to work on as they were 40+ yrs. ago.

    • Randy says:

      I’m with you in spades there for ANY car company… Especially after reading Ryan’s exploits, below.

      Gimme a ’67 just-about-anything.

  2. Dchil says:

    Well the 5MGE fuel filter isn’t that bad to access in RHD form, you still can’t thread anything into the filter with the minimal open space around it.

    However I have to comment on the astounding number of Toyota motors with the oil filter mounted directly over an engine mount and/or in the middle of an exhaust manifold so that every time you do an oil change you either dump oil over your engine mount, killing it slowly, or you burn your hand or both. 5MGE, 4AFE, 1MZFE to name 3.

    Or the seemingly engineered failure point that is a 7MGE head gasket. This popular to the point that I own a Cressida fitted with a 5MGE and the first comment from mechanic friends after they hear what i drive is “Have you blown a head gasket yet?”

    • Power Tryp says:

      Those all sound like perfect examples of of aftermarket remote oil filter application.

    • Frank says:

      After 20 years, I still don’t know how to remove a Toyota 22R-E or Nissan KA24DE’s oil filter without spilling a little oil. Luckily neither spill on the engine mount and both are located under the intake manifold.

    • John says:

      I have a Corolla 4AFE and a Camry 1MZFE and i do not have any problems with changing the oil filters on them. Use the proper tools.

      • Dchil says:

        I’d like to point out that I’m using the Toyota SSTs for those particular models to remove those filters. Tools designed for the removal of those filters.

        I’m not saying it’s difficult to remove these filters. Just saying it’shard to not burn your hand or drop oil onto the mounts.

  3. Troggie42 says:

    I’m fairly certain Toyota put the starter in the lifter valley of one of their V8s, 1UZ maybe?

    That always struck me as an incredibly silly idea. “Oh yeah, let me just yank the entire intake manifold off of the car to change the starter…”

    • Dchil says:

      1vd for sure (the 4.5l v8 diesel in the 200 series.)

    • Stuart Kayrooz says:

      I’ve an LS400, and guess what started to go recently….

      Decided to let my mechanic handle that one, instead of attempting it myself on a car that I needed to carry me about.

      A few days later, my mechanic informs me that it’s the last LS400 starter motor he’ll be changing, and the worst starter replacement he’s done (he’s an ex-toyota mechanic, and has classic minis he works on regularly too).

      Not only is the starter nestled in the “V” of the block, but it’s located at the back, against the firewall – and the bolts attach from the rear. an absolute bugger to change.

  4. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    My daily driver is a recent vintage Lexus. It’s not the kind of car I want to work on. I leave it to a dealer. So when I dutifully sent it in for it’s x0,000 mile “service”, I looked at the estimate and parts list. It called for, among other things, a spark plug change. On the list; sparks plugs, various fluids, and, head gasket. I thought it was a mistake. I made clear that I wasn’t questioning trying to beat down the estimate, but what is with the head gasket? He explained that the left or right bank of spark plugs require the head to be removed to access the plugs.

    Am I missing something or just plain Jurassic? It was a confounding shock as I’m used to airplanes that have motorized engine cowl cover openings and ceiling panels to change the upper anti-collision beacon so you don’t have to bring out a cherry picker.

    • Randy says:

      That is ASTOUNDINGLY stupid! You’re FORCED to spend $x00 for new SPARK PLUGS!? ($100/hr. labor?)

      Now, MAYBE they’re accessible from under the car, but then there should be a removable shield designed into the wheel wells for access… Having someone removing the heads on a regular basis makes me nervous; had problems with dealers not doing quite right on lug nuts and an alternator belt, so trusting them to repeatedly do anything with the heads sends shivers up my spine.

      So what more specifically is it (Year/Model), so the rest of us can avoid it as a future toy?

    • Dchil says:

      I know of a couple of models of Toyota aurion and kluger it is all but impossible to change spark plugs without removing the intake manifold but the head???

  5. Jim Simspson says:

    Doing the R+R of the Clutch master cylinder on a Toyota Sera is nothing short of a night mare…

    • Randy says:

      Had to look that one up – rarely mentioned.

      SuuuuuWEET ride!

      Just curious: What’s it like to live with ALL THAT GLASS?
      (BTW, the silver or green one?)

  6. Frank says:

    “easy to work on (which is weird, since they break down much less than other cars). ”

    I had to shrug at that comment. I can’t count the numbers of times while working on Japanese cars I’ve said, “if the engineers had to replace/repair this, they wouldn’t have designed it this way.”

    Luckily they are more reliable though. Otherwise, I might have owned a few US cars.

  7. Talasas says:

    I always found the Toyota 2VZFE engine found in the V6 Camry (VZV21 models) amusing. The exhaust manifold for the front bank runs over the top the gearbox rather than under it meaning it passes close to engine mounts, the starter motor, fuel lines, ignition leads and probably a myriad of other things that don’t like heat. All other Toyota transverse V6 designs ran the exhaust below so it’s a bit of a mystery why the engineers took this route, maybe to keep the engine lower in the bay?

  8. AKADriver says:

    Even though not much ever goes wrong, I always thought the vacuum mess used to control the carburetor and emissions equipment on the CVCC Hondas was confounding. It also always bothered me that they didn’t carry CVCC into the PGM-Fi era when it could have been implemented with electronics.

    • Ant says:

      Would it have had much of an effect once fuel injection and electronic ignition were introduced? It strikes me that CVCC was something designed to offset the inefficiency of carburetors, and advances in ignition, intake and fuel delivery would have rendered its benefits minimal.

      • AKADriver says:

        You’re right, to a point, which is why they abandoned it. The basic idea was just to get a more even burn and port EFI did that well already thanks to better fuel atomization and distribution. But CVCC’s underlying concept of stratified charge ignition is now ubiquitous again with direct injection engines.

  9. Greylopht says:

    I am in on this one. And I need to do this procedure soon too.

    Fuel Pump relay and Main relay in the 1990 to 1994 Legacies. Located under the dash… at the firewall, right under the corner of the windshield. The easy way is literally to pull the dash.

    Why change these relays, well besides being in a hot spot, it is also a condensation/windshield leak spot that causes the relay to fail prematurely.

    This also holds true for the first generation Imprezza

  10. Ryan Senensky says:

    Am I allowed to win since I write for JNC? haha

    Anyway literally the entire existence of the EA82 Subaru GL-10 could qualify for this.

    Let’s start with the most mundane… an oil change.
    Typical Sunday project, undo 1 bolt, drain oil, put bolt back in, remove oil filter, replace oil filter, add oil, done. Except for the fact that the engine is turbocharged and runs a bit lean because Subaru didn’t do much when they added a turbo. So hot exhaust gas, with a turbo manifold that nearly touches the oil filter and in turn cooks the oil filter gasket to the engine almost every time. Resulting in the oil filter being removed only by heating up the gasket with a butane torch then using a screwdriver jammed through the filter to break it loose, dumping what seems like a gallon of oil onto you and the ground below you and being a total disaster. Luckily DEI Exhaust wrap can remedy this problem.

    Then let’s go to the elephant in the room, Subaru head gaskets.
    Which I promise you have come a llloooooonnnngggg way since 1985. Average expected head gasket life for the NA EA82 engines are 80k-100k miles, add a turbocharger essentially mounted to the right cylinder head, literally an inch away, means the right head that is hotter than hell and can go through head gaskets as soon as 40k miles if you’re not careful. Hey, that is what coolant is for though right? Except the return line for the coolant from the turbo flows to the right cylinder head, so that coolant does just about nothing at all.

    But hey, these are no big deal since pulling the engine out is pretty simple. My girlfriend’s project car however, has one of the most confoundingly poorly engineered designs in Honda history…

    The kouki CA6 fuel injected Accord PCV Valve, and by extension the active bounty I have on the head of it’s designer.

    The CA6 was never a very loved car and people would sometimes go over on their oil changes, with that comes the sulfuric acid byproduct of old oil. Sulfuric acid hardens rubber, no big deal since most rubber seals are right there on the outside of the engine.

    NOT ON THE A20 ENGINE THOUGH! The PCV Valve has a ridiculous S shaped rubber hose which tapers from around 1″ to about 1 cm in a 1×3″ space. The hose goes from the breather box, mounted in between the arms of the bracket that supports the intake manifold and routes under the third and fourth cylinders through a hole that the PCV valve sits on. Which makes this hose pretty hard to get to.

    This hose WILL crack the second you remove the PCV valve, I promise. Honda sold the last hose in existence about 10 years ago and there is no quick fix short of completely replacing the whole PCV system with a breather box due to the absolutely short sighted and stupid design of this hose.
    Oh and if you think this won’t be a big deal and you can just clean oil off your firewall for the rest of your life, you thought wrong because the crack will completely throw off the pressurization of the PCV system causing the upper hose to dump oil from the crankcase into the intake. This not only will ruin any air filter you ever use, but will also cause the engine to suck in the puddle of oil in the intake arm creating a smoke plume that will completely clear out the highway behind you and won’t let you rev above around 4k RPM.

    This is the worst JNC design I’ve ever heard of.

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