Mazda Miata for Non-Mechanics
Don't be Scared of Buying Used Mazda Miatas
The first and second generation Mazda Miata sport convertibles (1990-19999) make for wonderful secondhand car buys. Fun to drive, cheap (under $10000 and quite often under $5000), hold their value well, and get good gas mileage. But many people shy away from buying Miatas, and used sports cars in general, because of the worry of expensive repairs.
Those concerns do have some merit. As an owner of a secondhand 1996 Miata, I can tell you that it took a few trips to the garage to get the car ship-shape, as I bought the Miata on Ebay from an unscrupulous seller. But after spending some time researching both books and on the internet, I discovered that many repairs to Miata are simple and dirt cheap. The Miata is one of the most popular sports cards ever made, so there is a wealth of knowledge about repairs in general and a vast network of parts suppliers who offer great deals.
Stay away from Mazda dealerships and find yourself an independent garage shop. Try to buy all your Miata parts on Ebay. The markup on parts at dealerships is nothing short of ridiculous. For example, I needed to replace the front oxygen sensor and I was quoted $325 for the part at the dealership. On Ebay I was able to found a Borsch O2 sensor for the Miata for $60. When I had to replaced the catalytic converter, I found a brand new one on Ebay at half-price.
There's one book you should buy if you are a Miata owner: Mazda Miata MX-5 Performance Project by Keith Tanner. This is a great book to have even if you never plan to stick your head under the hood of the Miata because it lists the most common repairs and upgrades done to the Miata, and include the parts and estimated time of labor. This way, once you have properly diagnosed whatever wrong with your Miata, you can source the parts yourself and only ask the mechanic to quote on labor. And of course, if the mechanic tries to overcharge on labour, you have the book to doublecheck his time estimates.
Simple Repairs You Can Do Yourself... And Other Repairs
When I mean simple, this is stuff that doesn't require any special tools or getting under the car.
Engine sounds rough? Losing Power? i
Replace your ignition wires. They are the plastic thingies that rest on top of your engine block. Can't miss them, a complete set sells for under $40 on Ebay, just make sure you plug them in proper sequence. Miatas are notorious for wearing out the ignition wires every 30,000 km. If the engine doesn't quite feel right after replacing the wires, head down to the local auto parts shop and invest in some platinum spark plugs. Then go to the local oil change shop and ask them to replace the spark plugs for a small fee while they are changing the oil.
Clutch feels rough?
Replace the shifter book. Check the Miata Performance Project book to find out what this is. Again, it's quite common for shifter boots to be cracked.
The Orange Check Engine Light is Always On? Lousy Gas Mileage?
Replace the front oxygen sensor. It's attached via a wire to the engine and screwed into the exhaust. You have to reach down and screw it up with an adjustable wrench. You can do this yourself especially if you have a can of WD-40 nearby and the thing is not rusted into the exhaust.
Repairs You Can't Do But Get the Parts Yourself
Sometimes you can get an unbelievable deals on a used Miata because the owner will admit the engine is thrashed. It takes about 4 hours to take out an engine and 6 hours to install a new one. So factor in one thousand for labor at the most and and used engine will cost you no more than $900. See if it's still a good deal after adding nearly $2,000 to the price tag.
Good racing clutches from named parts manufacturers can be had for under $200. Same thing with shocks, Miata shocks usually need to be replaced at about 100,000 km. The timing belt is dirt cheap but again it take a few hours of labor.
Lastly, if you have problems with your radiator, just buy a thermostat and get it replaced for under $50. If your car is overheating, it's either your thermostat (a $15 part) or your radiator and nothing. I still shake my head at the Mazda dealer mechanic who wanted to charge $100 to just "diagnose" why my car was overheating.
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