Used Car Checklist On Buying A Mazda 3S
Thanks to my buddy nicomp who requested a Hub on what to look for in a used Mazda 3S, here is a guide to finding that Zoroastrian prize amidst the flotsam and jetsam of previously-loved Ahura... no, not Acura... never mind... let's go on...
There are a variety of sites which offer great advice on what to look for in any used car, and since they offer the authoritative information, there is no point to me just repeating it here. Check them out as they present a treasure trove of great information:
Smart Car Buying
Although these following links are from United Kingdom sites and deal with some European specific aspects, they still contain some really great general tips:
Now onto the Mazda 3S specifically:
During your test drive don't be overly concerned if the brakes squeak. Especially in the earlier 2004 - 2006 models and particularly in the wet, whenever you hit the brake pedal you hear a Mickey Mouse Symphony. Mazda has issued a revised pad and cradle and it helps a bit, but not that much. Fortunately it's not a problem that affects braking efficiency to any noticeable degree. It's just irritating.
Something else to watch for is the 3S "falling into a hole" when accelerating from a stop, (like exaggerated turbo lag) and then picking up speed again. This may be accompanied by a small puff of greyish black smoke when the car is started from cold. That is also not a serious fault, but a simple case of a dirty MAF sensor or a bad O2 sensor, both easy enough to fix.
Actually, the biggest reason to avoid a 2004 to 2006 model Mazda 3S is due to the original door assembly having one of the most curious faults ever in automotive history. If you hit the door hard enough and in exactly the right spot, the door unlocks! This is a fact that is well known to car thieves and it certainly saves jimmying the mechanism or smashing the window! Just smack it at the precise point and you're in! That's why the 2004 - 2006 3S model is such a huge target for robbery. Fortunately Mazda wisened up and reinforced the mechanism on cars manufactured from October 2006 onwards.
Also, check the door panel very carefully. If it shows signs that it's been patched or repaired in the area of the lock, you'll know that it was broken into!
Also in the pre 2007 models you should check the air conditioning system thoroughly: These have a tendency to fade to the point where they just blow barely cool air and all the recharging with all the refrigerant in the world makes absolutely no difference.
Although it is very difficult to determine this in the typical test drive, bad fuel economy significantly below the EPA standard of the high 20s MPG on the highway is a tip that the engine is on its last legs. If the 3S which is the object of your desire is guzzling gas like a Hummer H1, say thank you very much to the owner and run away.
Of course, also look for tips that the car was owned by a boy racer. The 3S is a real favorite of the pedal to the metal crowd. Is the owner a male under 25 who has that "speed demon street racer" look to him in his clothes, shoes and sunglasses? Has the car been modified under the hood or in the suspension system? If so, it's another clue pointing to your immediate exit.
So, nicomp, watch out for all these things and you'll likely find a 3S that will prove to be reliable, affordable, and a whole lot of fun! Enjoy!