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Mazda Miata for Non-Mechanics

Updated on January 27, 2010
My 1996 Miata
My 1996 Miata

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.

General Tips

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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    • profile image

      Armydicked 5 years ago

      I am doing a $5,000.00 overhawl on my 1999 Madza Miata and have a question about my STOCK roadster's tyres:

      1. She runs P185/60R14" which nobody makes anymore. Can I slap on P195/50R15s--two tyre shoppes said OK, one said no.

      2. My structs are leaking---what is a good brand? Kumo? Ohlin?

      3. I was toying with the idea of slapping in a RE-MANUFACTURED Engine. What is the diff between a CRATE Engine, a LONG BLOCK and a Re-Manufactured? I know what a REBUILT Engine is and I want to stay away from those!!!

    • profile image

      Danny Thompson 5 years ago

      I have a 1995 Maita. I changed the timing belt and now the car accelorates slowly? After reaching 3500 RPM's it smooths out but hesitates when it drops below 3500 RP

      M's! What to Do??

    • profile image

      Deborah Martin 7 years ago

      This is the first thing I have bought. I downloaded the book miata for the non mechanic. YuK it is terrible.

      The pages are faded,crooked,tiny and it looks like it was copied a million times. My buy from amazon and it sucks.

    • profile image

      Bruce Andrews 7 years ago

      I have a 94M Edition Miata. There is 125000 miles on this car, it has been well maintained. I have ran Mobile 1 0W-40 synthatic oil in the engine for 11,000 miles. I use the 0w-40 because it flowes better at start up and the engine has a couple lifters that take a while to pump up at start up and with 0W-40 the lifters pump up in a fiew seconds. Now to the question. I have developed a knocking noise that I have traced to the left side (looking from the front) of the timming belt/valve cover. After pulling the valve cover The belt looks good, I do not know when the belt was last changed, but the existing belt is not original. Con you give me an idea where to proceed?

      Thank you

      Bruce Andrews

    • profile image

      TP 8 years ago

      where is the throttle housing on a 1999 mazdz miata? I'm not getting gas to the engine and a repair shop suggested i spray a carb cleaner into the throttle housing. Does that make sense?

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 8 years ago from South Carolina

      Good hub. Thinking about one for my wife when she retires and it sounds like a simple engine to tinker with.


    • Voltaire profile image

      Voltaire 8 years ago

      Um, I just checked ebay and they are showing engines under $1000

      Also, if you are looking for a mechanic, get a quote on the shop rate (75$, 100$) and ask how many hours it takes to put in an engine. You might get a better price than asking "how much to swap out an engine"

    • profile image

      Kay 8 years ago

      I have a 1999 Mazda Miata and the engine is making a loud knocking noise I am told the noise is a rod knock and the egine needs to be replaced now and can not be repaired. Your article says a used engine engine should be no more than about $900. I have searched EVERYWHERE all over the United States to purchase a used engine. The lowest price I have found so far for a 1999 Mazda Miata has been $2,499 and I have been serching for 6 months now. Also the lowest labor installation I have found is not with a mechanic shop which cost more but with a mechanic who does private work from his home (which I am leaary of because of no labor warranty) is $1,200. I would like to know what reference you are using in your article that sells used Miata engines for the low price of $900

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      philup59 8 years ago

      Where can I purchase an OBD code reader for my 1990 Miata ?

      Have searched the web with very little luck. I have one for a newer Chevy truck and it has been a huge money saver for me. Trouble is, it wont work on vehicles older that 1996. Is there a cable adapter that will work with current reader?