My First Car

December 19, 2021
4 minutes

Lil’ Mo

I’ve always been curious about how to repair cars since debugging tends to follow similar thought processes. Today, I finally got my first car, a 1988 Toyota Pickup affectionately known as Lil’ Mo. I’m excited to learn how to work on its famous 22R-E engine and handle wiring for the electronics.

Music is my biggest priority after safety, so having a bangin’ stereo is a must. After that, the appearance of the truck is important since I tend to get smiles or thumbs up when driving it. Not to mention the four people within a month offering to buy it! After handling these easier fixes, I’ll move onto engine work.

License Plate Holders

I replaced the old holders with reflective ones. The visibility of the pickup isn’t the best, so hopefully this’ll decrease the chances of being rear-ended!


I started relatively simple: replace the rear and front lights. They were far too dim, so the updated lights are LED except for the headlights. I did upgrade the headlights so they’re bright, still. I do think I’ll move to LED headlights just to minimize battery usage.

The process was enjoyable since it seems the cars were made to be worked on in the ’80s. Every screw was easily accessible and, if I were to change the lights a second time, I’m sure I could do it in under and hour.

Reflective Tape

It seems like most of the upgrades relate to safety. I guess that’s to be expected with a car without traction control, ABS, and even airbags. I used red tape on the back, so it looks like a third rear light. Then, I put white tape along the sides to blend into the paint. Finally for the doors, I placed the tape so it’s hidden when the door is closed but shows when they’re open to other cars.

I didn’t want to detract from the appearance of the truck. It’s great having a near-mint condition pickup from the ’80s in 2022, so I wanted to preserve that aesthetic while bringing its safety more up to modern standards… although it’s still a long shot from being called safe.


The truck has two speakers, and one wouldn’t make any sound. After working through every wire from the passenger-side speaker, I figured the issue was in the stereo itself. I picked up a Panasonic at Best Buy and began setting it up. Despite Crutchfield saying I didn’t need any fit kit, I actually required one to set the storage and stereo correctly. Once I had a new stereo and fixed a few fuses, I confirmed both old speakers worked, albeit poorly.

I ordered a universal fit kit for my pickup and some 4" Polk speakers, and waited. Two days later I was able to replace the old speakers and position the stereo and new storage box (the kit came with one) perfectly. The only issue was the new speakers also sounded terrible! The heat sink on the stereo also got way too hot, so the issue was most definitely wiring. Somehow, the previous wiring job was sending negative right and negative left to the left speaker and positive left and positive right to the right one. Additionally, the wiring was set up for four speakers, so the stereo was pushing double the wattage to each speaker.

After sorting that all out with a circuit diagram, the whole system looks OEM, but the Bluetooth streaming and quality is a leap forward thirty years. I drove Lil’ Mo around and enjoyed the music for quite a bit. Subwoofers are on the list, but I don’t need huge diameters. Preferably they can be powered by the stereo so I won’t need to do too much wiring.

Windshield Wipers

The current blades are pretty old and the rubber is cracking. I ordered a windshield wiper conversion kit to use more standard of sizes and better blades!

Mud Flaps

One of the mud flaps has a chunk of rubber taken out of it, so I’ll get a new one ASAP. Actually, the cut-out might’ve been to prevent the flap from melting on the exhaust pipe. If that’s the case, I’ll leave it, but I’d like to have new flaps otherwise.

Rims and Wheels

The rims are corroded and definitely show 30 years of wear. I’m opting for a temporary solution of repainting the rims, but I’d like to get larger rims in the near future. The speedometer is fast by around 5 MPH, so larger wheels should bring that error down. Additionally, they’ll make it easier to buy performance tires in a more common size.

It took around six hours to paint all four wheels. The longest part was definitely cleaning the rims, but the coating looks great. I’m getting close to being done with external work!