The Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R is often regarded as the black sheep of the GT-R range. It didn’t have the same impact as the R32 GT-R, wasn’t as well loved as the R34, and was of course totally outclassed by the R35 GT-R. However, it is still an exceptional car and if you are looking to become part of the Nissan GT-R family, the R33 GT-R may be the best option for you.
We have put together a Nissan GT-R R33 buyer’s guide for those who are looking at this unsung hero of the JDM world. There is a lot of information to cover about buying a Nissan GT-R R33, from what to look for to how much you should pay and where to buy one.
How to Use This Nissan GT-R R33 Buyer’s Guide
Before we dive into the buyer’s guide, let’s look at the history and specifications of the GT-R R33. If you already know all there is to know about the history and specs, feel free to skip on ahead to the buyer’s guide section of this article. Following the buyer’s guide section of the article we will have more info on general car purchasing advice and then we will look at how to import an R33 GT-R from Japan.
The History of the Nissan Skyline GT-R R33
The first Nissan Skyline GT-R was launched in 1969, but it wasn’t until the GT-R R32 launched that the car got its reputation as a world beater. For the fourth generation R33 model, Nissan kept the same formula for success.
Unfortunately, when the R33 GT-R launched in 1995 many were underwhelmed by its specifications. Buyers wanted more and they were disappointed by the same RB26 engine with the same 276 bhp power figure and five-speed gearbox. There were some slight improvements to the turbocharger and gearbox, but not enough for many enthusiasts.
It was widely known that the RB26 engine in the R33 GT-R could handle much higher power loads, but due to the Japanese gentlemen’s agreement, power was limited to 276bhp. The reason for limiting power figures in Japanese cars to 276bhp was to satisfy the safety concerns of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association in the 1980’s and 90’s.
While engine performance stayed roughly the same, Nissan did make a few changes to correct problems that the R32 suffered from. Nissan installed a new wider oil pump drive collar as the old one tended to fail in higher power applications.
As Nissan’s engineers couldn’t do much to the engine, they turned to other parts of the car to improve performance. On the outside of the car, new side skirts, a rear-wing and a airdam reduced the drag coefficient from 0.4 to 0.35. This could be cancelled out however with the four-way adjustable rear wing, increasing downforce leads to higher levels of drag.
The suspension system utilised a new two-arm design for the front upper multi-link unit, and there was also more travel at the rear.
Additionally, Nissan developed a more rigid structure beneath the slipperier body. There were front and rear braces that held the suspension strut towers together, stronger sills and a stiffening panel was fitted behind the rear seats. However, all this extra strengthening lead to a weight gain of around 100kg compared to the R32 GT-R. The combination of the same power output and extra weight lead to less enthusiasm for the R33 GT-R.
With the increase in weight more stopping power was required. Nissan fitted Brembo brakes and ventilated discs measuring 324mm at the front and 300mm at the rear. This was an increase of 28mm and 3mm when compared to the R32 GT-R. These were covered by 9 x 17in rims with 245/45 R17 tyres fitted as standard.
Nissan updated the four-wheel drive (ATTESA E-TS) system to take advantage of the increase in rubber width. They also improved the four-wheel steering (Super HICAS) system, which together made the R33 GT-R perform better on rougher roads.
The Super HICAS system was developed to reduce understeer. Nissan used a small steering rack acting on the back wheels to increase the rate of turn-in by momentarily turning out of the corner and then turning back to the same direction as the front wheels.
This meant that the R33 GT-R’s rear end moves out, increasing the yaw rate and allowing the car to turn more quickly. Once the back has moved out, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels to stabilise the vehicle. During this movement, the rear wheels only turn half a degree, which is enough to make a difference.
Nissan’s high-tech ATTESA system was developed to improve performance in varying road conditions. Most four-wheel drive systems use a 50:50 or 60:40 split, but the GT-R’s system was different. The R33 GT-R’s four-wheel drive system sends 100 per cent of its power through the rear wheels most of the time. This means that the front wheels are free to steer under most conditions, with power only going to them when necessary. Sensors then monitor individual wheel rotation and decide where to send power and in what proportion.
Did Nissan Produce Any Other Versions of the R33 GT-R?
As the R32 GT-R V-Spec was such a success, Nissan released a higher performance, more expensive model of the R33 GT-R at launch. It featured improved suspension with stiffer springs and damper rates. Additionally, the car was fitted with a ‘Pro’ version of the ATTESA four-wheel drive system that included an active limited-slip differential. These cars were sold for around £50,000 each and they also featured special 17-inch alloys.
In addition to the standard and the V-Spec, Nissan released the R33 GT-R V-Spec N1. Changes were similar to the ones made in the R32 GT-R N1. The ABS system, air conditioning, sound system, boot carpet and rear wiper were removed to save weight. This car was designed for Japanese domestic racing and featured an updated N1 R33 RB26 engine.
The following year in 1996 Nissan released the LM Limited R33 GT-R. This car was launched to commemorate the GT-R coming home in tenth overall at the 1995 Le Mans race. Nissan offered the car in Champion Blue only and it featured the N1’s bonnet and front bumper ducts. There was also a carbon fibre ear wing and a “GT-R Skyline” logo under a checkered flag was placed under the C-pillars.
Nissan produced a total of 188 LM R33 GT-Rs, 86 GT-R LMs and 102 V-Spec LMs. The tenth place finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans was remarkable as the car was essentially running the same RB26 motor and was up against supercars of that time period.
What About the Nismo 400R?
The ultimate version of the R33 GT-R was launched in 1997 and was labelled the Nismo 400R R33 GT-R. Only 44 of these cars were produced before production ended in 1998.
Overall development and planning of the 400R was done by Nismo (Nissan Motorsports International). The car benefited from a range of motorsport-derived upgrades, with the engine being developed and produced by REINIK.
The RBX-GT2 engine in the 400R was essentially a bored and stroked RB26DETT power unit found in the standard GT-R. It featured a 77.7mm stroke crankshaft (73.7mm stock) and forged 87mm pistons (86mm cast stock). Additionally, the engine received upgraded rods, high lift camshafts, polished ports, an upgraded oil system, larger exhaust manifolds and higher output turbochargers.
Nismo developed an upgraded exhaust system to go along with the changes to the engine, with titanium being used from the catalytic converter back. There was also a new intercooler, air-cooled oil cooler and a twin-plate clutch.
The result of all these changes was a significant increase in power. The 400R produced an impressive 400bhp and 346lb ft of torque, which meant the car could now punch its way from 0-62mph in as little as four seconds and could go onto a top speed of 186mph. Turning up the boost could easily net a 100hp gain over the standard 400R.
Nismo didn’t stop at the engine however. They also retuned the suspension with stiffer bushes, new Bilstein dampers, a 30mm drop in ride height and more aggressive spring rates. At the end of the 50mm wider track were white, forged, lightweight three-piece alloy wheels.
The 400R received aerodynamic updates over the standard car, such as wider bumpers, side skirts, a new front bumper with big air intakes and a new rear bumper. Nismo redesigned the bonnet and rear spoiler, manufacturing them from carbon fibre.
Totoal Production Figures for the Nissan GT-R R33
- GT-R (Series 1) – 5050
- V·Spec (Series 1) – 4095
- Unknown (Series 1) – 14 (Pre-production or early cars including GT-R, V·Spec and V·Spec N1).
- GT-R (Series 2) – 2291
- V·Spec (Series 2) – 1203
- LM – 188 (86 GT-R LM, 102 V·Spec LM)
- GT-R (Series 3) – 1958
- V·Spec (Series 3) – 1270
- Autech GT-R – 416
- N1 – 86 (Series 1 = 55, Series 2 = 21, Series 3 = 10)
- UK V·Spec – 103
- 400R – 44
In total 16,674 fourth generation R33 GT-Rs were produced. Production ended in 1998, with the car’s successor the R34 GT-R launching in 1999.
Nissan GT-R R33 Specifications
|Model||R33 Skyline GT-R||Nissan Skyline GT-R 400R|
|Year of production||1995 – 1998||Late 1996 – 1997|
|Layout||Front longitudinal engine, all-wheel drive (ATTESA E-TS)||Front longitudinal engine, all-wheel drive (ATTESA E-TS)|
|Engine||2.6-litre twin-turbocharged RB26DETT Inline 6||2.8-litre twin-turbocharged RB-X GT2 Inline 6|
|Power||276 bhp bhp (280 PS/206 kW) @ 6,800 rpm||395 bhp (400 PS/295 kW) at 6,800 rpm|
|Torque||353 Nm (260 lb-ft) @ 4,400rpm||469 Nm (346 lb-ft) at 4,400 rpm|
|Gearbox||Five-speed manual||Five-speed manual|
& Pinion w/Power Assist
& Pinion w/Power Assist
|Brakes Front||Vented 324 mm (12.8 inches) discs and 4-pot calipers||Vented 324 mm (12.8 inches) discs, 4-pot calipers, and Type 2 brake pads|
|Brakes Rear||Vented 300 mm (11.8 inches) discs and 2-pot calipers||Vented 300 mm (11.8 inches) discs, 2-pot calipers, and Type 2|
|Tyres Front||Potenza RE0 10 245/45ZR||275/35 ZR 18|
|Tyres Rear||Potenza RE0 10 245/45ZR||275/35 ZR 18|
|Weight||1,530 kg (3,373 lbs)||1,550 kg (3,417 lbs)|
|Top speed||250 km/h (155.4 mph)||272 km/h (169 mph)|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||5 seconds||4 – 4.4 seconds|
Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 Buyer’s Guide
Now that we have gone through the history and specifications of the R33 GT-R, it is time to look at buying one. Finding a stock standard one of these cars is becoming more difficult, so expect to pay a premium (on top of the premium these cars already go for) to nab yourself an original condition one in good condition. If you don’t mind purchasing a modified R33 GT-R that opens up your options a bit more, but there are some things to keep in mind when doing that (more on that later).
Setting Up an Inspection of an R33 GT-R
Here are a few things to think about when setting up an inspection of a Skyline GT-R R33:
- If possible, try to look at the GT-R in person or get a reliable friend/third party to do so for you – The R33 GT-R is a fairly rare car so this may not be possible for you, but if you can it is a good idea to do a physical inspection prior to purchase. With the prices R33 GT-Rs are now going for, many of them are now appearing on specialist auction sites/services that vet their cars prior to purchase. This does reduce the risk of buying a car site unseen.
- Take a friend or helper with you to the inspection – If you do inspect a Nissan GT-R R33 in person (or any car for that matter), it is usually a good idea to take a second person along with you. They may be able to spot something you missed and can give you their thoughts on the vehicle.
- Try to view the R33 GT-R at the seller’s house or place of business – This isn’t always possible, but it can be a good idea as it will give you an opportunity to see where and how the car is regularly stored – is it kept in a nice garage or under a cover in the driveway, etc.? Additionally, by doing this you can also get the chance to check the condition of the roads. If they are really bad more suspension, tyre wear, etc. may have occurred.
- If possible, look at the Nissan GT-R in the morning rather than later in the day – This ultimately depends on you and the seller’s schedule, but we do recommend that you try and inspect an R33 Skyline GT-R earlier in the morning. This will give the seller less chance to clean up any potential issues such as a big oil leak.
- Ask the seller not to drive or warm up the car prior to your arrival if possible – A warm engine can hide a multitude of sins, so be cautious.
- Turn up unannounced if the R33 GT-R is being sold at a dealer (if possible) – This will give the dealer/seller less time to clean up any potential issues. However, with how specialist and pricey R33 Skyline GT-Rs have become this may not be possible, so keep that in mind.
- Try not to inspect a used car in the rain – Water can cover up a number of different issues with the bodywork and paint. If it does happen to be raining when you inspect/test drive an R33 GT-R, try to go back for a second viewing before making a purchase.
- Be cautious if the seller has just washed the car – This is largely for the same reason as above, but some sellers will also wash the engine bay and underside of a vehicle to hide an issue (or anywhere a leak/issue may occur).
- Get the seller to move their Nissan Skyline GT-R outside if it is in a garage or showroom– Lighting in places such as garages and showrooms can cover up issues that direct sunlight may have revealed.
Buying a Nissan GT-R R33 With Problems
The R33 GT-R is quite a rare car. While they did make nearly 17,000 of them, not all of those are on the road today. Mint condition R33s are extremely expensive and are getting harder to find with each passing year, so you might have to widen your scope of what you are happy with.
Most of the information in this guide does revolve around trying to avoid an R33 GT-R with problems, but in truth there is no problem buying one with issues as long as you know what you are getting yourself into. Additionally, if you are looking at an R33 with problems, try to figure out how much you need to spend to bring it up to satisfactory condition before purchasing the car.
For those looking for the ‘ultimate collectors’ R33 GT-R, you will probably have to front up the extra cash for a car that has good history and is in excellent condition.
Where to Find an R33 Skyline GT-R for Sale?
Once again, the R33 GT-R is a specialist motor car (always has been really) and as such many of them are now sold on specialist auction sites/services such as bringatrailer.com. However, they do pop up on more standard auction sites like eBay as well. Dealers will sometimes get their hands on GT-Rs as well, especially if they specialise in classic cars or importing vehicles.
Along with dealers, auction sites and importers, we also recommend that you check to see if there are any Nissan GT-R owners clubs in your area. The people in these sorts of clubs tend to be very knowledgeable about their cars and will usually look after them better. Somebody in the club may have a suitable R33 GT-R for sale or may be able to put you in contact with another person who is looking to sell theirs. Here are a few examples of Nissan/GT-R owners clubs:
Nissan Club – Very big club dedicated to all Nissan cars.
GTR.co.uk – One of the biggest clubs for the GT-R in the UK. Has a good active community and a for sale section.
GT-R Life – Another big community with a fairly active user base. Definitely worth checking out.
GTROC – “Founded on the 02/01/2003, the GTR Owners Club – or GTROC – is the ‘Official Owners & Enthusiasts Club’ for things Nissan Skyline, Stagea & GT-R in the world.”
Facebook Groups – There are loads of Facebook groups for Nissans and JDM cars. Check to see what is in your local area or country.
How Much Does an R33 GT-R Cost?
These days, quite a lot to extremely expensive in the case of something like a 400R. The condition, mileage, specs, etc. will factor into the cost, but expect to pay well into the five figures to bag even an average one of these cars.
To work out roughly how much you need to spend to get an R33 GT-R, we recommend that you look for ones for sale in your local area/country. You can then use the prices for these cars to work out what you need to spend to get a GT-R in a specific condition and spec level.
Beware of Fake R33 GT-Rs
What we mean by this is there are a number of normally-aspirated two and four-wheel drive GT-S Skylines, and single-turbo GTS-25t models that have been fitted out to look like full-blown GT-Rs. Here are somethings to check that can help you determine whether or not the R33 you are looking at is indeed a GT-R or another model:
- Engine – should be the RB26DETT
- Guards – All GT-Rs have flared guards
- Brakes – Original spec R33 GT-Rs should have Brembo brakes
- Seats – Original seats have a hole cut out at the top of the seats where the head rest is normally located
- Numbers in Engine Bay – Should have the code BCNR33
- Indicators – R33 GT-Rs have protruding, circular side indicators whereas on standard Skylines it is recessed. Indicators on the front are also circular.
- Attessa – The R33 GT-R has a motor for the Attessa all-wheel drive system. However, this is hidden away, but if you get the chance to look at it definitely do.
It is important to check the VIN/chassis number of any R33 GT-R you go to inspect. The original Japanese chassis number is located on the firewall at the back of the engine and should look something like this – BCNR33-XXXXXX. For cars sold new in an export market (UK for example) the VIN may look something like this – JN1GAPR33UXXXXXXX .
The car will also have a model code/VIN which will look like this – GGJPRQFR33ZDA. Below we have listed a quick rundown of the main important characters of the model code that indicate the car is indeed an R33 GT-R
- 2 and 3 – GJ indicates the car is fitted with an RB26DETT engine
- 4 – P indicates that the car is fitted with four-wheel drive
- 6 – Q or W indicates that the car’s grade is a GT-R
- 8, 9 and 10 – R33 indicates that the car is an R33 Skyline
We suggest that you check out GTR-Registry for a complete rundown of the chassis number/VIN. Additionally, check the VIN and chassis number of the R33 GT-R you are interested in on the website’s search function to see what comes up. The database is incredibly extensive and should be able to tell you the model year, colour, specification and more.
The RB26 engine found in the R33 GT-R is pretty robust. Apart from some cars getting up there in the miles, you shouldn’t find too many problems with the engine. However, proper maintenance is a biggie and you should always ask to see a car’s service history. If the seller can’t provide any service history, alarm bells should be ringing in your head.
To start your inspection of an R33 GT-R’s engine, move to the front of the car and open the bonnet/hood. Check that it opens smoothly and that the hinges and catch are in good condition. If they look like they have been replaced it could be a sign that the car has been in an accident. Following this, check the engine bay for the following:
- Cleanliness – A really dirty engine bay is probably a sign of an owner who doesn’t care much for their GT-R. On the other hand, an engine bay that looks like you could eat your dinner of it could be a sign of somebody who is trying to cover something up like a big oil leak. If the engine bay has been pressured washed, water could have made its way into some of the critical components (electrical parts, etc.) if they were not correctly sealed/covered.
- Obvious issues – This could be anything from an oil leak to broken or missing components (for example a damaged coolant expansion tank)
- Modifications – A good number of these cars have been modified, so check for any upgrades/changes to the stock setup.
- Check for stickers – Seems like a weird one but a lack of the original stickers inside the engine bay could be a sign that R33 GT-R has been in an accident and resprayed.
Checking the Fluids
Oil changes using top-quality lubricants and genuine Nissan oil filters are a must for a healthy engine. Many owners recommend that you replace an RB26’s engine oil and filter every 5,000 to 8,000 km (3,000 – 5,000 miles), so check that has been the case on the GT-R you are looking at. If the car is not driven much the oil and filter should have been replaced every six to twelve months.
Have a look for any metallic particles or grit as this could be a sign of big trouble such as bad bearings. With the price of R33 GT-Rs, we suggest that you get the oil analysed before purchase to make sure it is in good condition and there are no foreign particles that shouldn’t be there.
While you are checking for metallic particles, make sure there is no foam or froth on the dipstick or in the engine oil. If there is it could be a sign of a number of different issues from condensation problems to an engine that has been overfilled with oil, and even more worryingly, a blown head gasket.
A good general oil for the RB engine in an R33 GT-R is something like a 5W-40 or 10W-40 engine oil. Some owners will run 10W-50 or even 10W-60 engine oils if they are living in very hot environments, running lots of power and/or track their car regularly. Another option that owners like to run is 10W-30.
It is usually recommended that you use a genuine oil filter from Nissan (part number A5208-H890C/A5208-H8904/15208-60U00), but some aftermarket options are available as well. Try to find out what oil filter has been used in the R33 GT-R you are looking at. If it is a poorly reviewed one such as a low-cost Fram filter, it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
We would check with the owner to see what they run and probably keep on using the same oil if it seems like the owner has maintained the car well. Remember, thicker oils are better for hotter environments, while thinner are better for cooler places.
How Much Oil Should an R33 GT-R Consume?
A good R33 GT-R really shouldn’t consume any oil between changes, especially if the servicing is done around the 5,000 km (3,000 mile) mark. Switching to a heavier weight oil can reduce oil burning issues, but if the car is consuming a lot there is a problem. While you probably aren’t going to be able to figure out if the car does burn too much oil during a short inspection/test drive, we still recommend that you ask the seller about it.
Common Oil Leaks on an R33 GT-R
Oil leaks shouldn’t be too much of an issue if the GT-R is stock and has been cared for properly, however, they can happen and here are some of the most common areas they can occur:
- Valve/timing/rocker cover gasket – This is a common issue on many older cars. The gaskets tend to last around eight years before needing to be replaced, but it can happen earlier or later. A tiny bit of seepage is probably fine but if the leak looks more significant than that the gasket should be replaced as soon as possible. If the gasket is quite new the leak could be a result of incorrectly tightened bolts as they are known to be an issue on RB engines. The bolts can also work themselves loose if oil has worked its way into the thread.
- Oil Filter – Bad, incorrectly tightened or ruptured/damaged oil filters can lead to some pretty nasty leaks. Not a major issue to sort, but keep in mind that the car may have been driven with low oil before the seller noticed.
- Dipstick – If the dipstick has blown out it can lead to an oil leak. If the dipstick continues to do this it can be a sign of more serious issues. For example, a blocked/non-functioning PCV valve that is causing a build-up of crack case pressure can lead to a blowout of the dipstick. This problem needs to be solved as soon as possible as if it is left it can lead to some major engine damage (hunting idle is another sign of this issue). PCV issues can also lead to leaks through other seals/areas as well.
- Turbo oil tubes – The oil tubes for the turbos can become loose, leading to an oil leak. If the turbo seals are leaking you will tend to notice blue/greyish smoke during boost.
- Front crank oil seal – Not too much of an issue as it’s a relatively simple job for an experienced mechanic. The rear main seal is more of an issue however.
Make sure you check for leaks both before and after a test drive. Look for puddles of oil underneath the car and if you inspect the GT-R at the seller’s house or place of business look for any oil stains. While the stains may be from another car, they could also be from the R33 you are looking at.
We don’t suggest that you purchase an R33 GT-R that is leaking oil unless you can find out what the problem is and are happy with the costs to fix it.
Check the Oil Pressure
While the original oil pressure gauge isn’t the most accurate, it is a good idea to check it. Once warm the oil pressure should sit around the 4 bar mark and never lower when the engine is revving over 4,000 rpm. Expect the oil pressure to sit around the 6 to 8 bar mark when the car is cold and is idling. During boost when warm the idle speed should sit around 6 bar (+ or – a bit). Lots of owners fit aftermarket oil pressure gauges to get a bit more accuracy, so check to see if that has been done.
When Does the Timing Belt Need Replacing on an R33 GT-R?
It is important to make sure that the timing belt/cambelt has been replaced every 80,000 km (50,000 miles) or so. Nissan did recommend replacing the belt at 100,000 km (62,000 miles) for Japanese domestic market cars, but we feel it is better to ere on the side of caution.
The RB engine inside the R33 GT-R is an interference engine, so if the timing belt does break or slip it can lead to major engine damage. If the owner/seller or any previous owner has not kept up with this vital piece of servicing, you should be questioning where else they have cut corners. The following should have also been replaced with the timing belt:
- Water pump – part number 21010-21U26 or 21010-24U27 (N1 pump)
- Auxiliary belts
- Timing belt tensioner – part number 13070-42L00 or AY460-NS013
- Tensioner spring – part number 13072-58S10
- Idler – part number 13074-58S00 or AY660-NS001
- Crankshaft front oil seal – Not a necessity but recommended – part number 13510-19V00
A problem here could lead to some major issues, so check for the following things:
The water pump should have been replaced with every timing belt change, however, they can still fail before that. This will lead to overheating problems and in some cases, you may get coolant leaks as well.
If you suspect that the water pump is having issues, here is a bit of a test. Turn the heater on as high as possible. The heater core requires the water pump to operate as fluid needs to be forced through the system. When you first turn the heater onto full heat, you will get a blast of hot air. However, if there is a problem with the water pump the heat will gradually reduce as more hot fluid is not being cycled through the system.
A car with a bad water pump will also generally be fine during shorter trips, so if you do get the chance to go for a longer test drive make sure you do. The last thing to do is to watch out for any high-pitched whining noises or chuffing sounds that could also indicate that the water pump has gone bad.
This can be quite a common problem, so watch out for a temperature gauge that doesn’t work properly. Most of the time the needle will be on the cooler side of the temperature gauge if the thermostat has failed. If the thermostat is sitting on the higher end of the spectrum it is more likely to be another failure such as the water pump that is causing the car to overheat.
You can test the thermostat by taking it out and seeing if it opens in boiling water, but this is obviously something you aren’t going to do unless you own the car. Thermostats are pretty cheap to source, so if it is causing issues we wouldn’t worry too much (but try to make sure it is not something more serious like the water pump, radiator, etc.).
Bubbles in the Coolant
If you notice bubbles in the expansion tank it is a sign that air has made its way into the cooling system. Occasionally, this can lead to a boiling-like sound from under the bonnet as the car heats. Most of the time the air/bubbles are caused by a badly bled cooling system and a good bleed should sort the issue. However, the problem could also be a sign of something else like a bad radiator cap or more seriously a blown head gasket or cracked head.
Some bubbles after spirited driving or after you switch off the GT-R is quite normal, but be very cautious if you notice them and find that the car overheats.
Check for Coolant Leaks
Remember to check around the engine bay and under the R33 GT-R for any coolant leaks. Inspect the coolant lines and expansion tank for any leaks or crusted coolant which may indicate a past leak. Do a sniff test as well as if you notice a sweet smell around the engine bay it is probably coolant.
Some owners like to fit aftermarket expansion/overflow tanks that are made from materials such as stainless steel. These tend to be much more durable than the original OEM ones that will eventually need to be replaced.
It is usually a good idea to check for coolant leaks both before and after a test drive, and don’t forget to check the coolant level as well. After a test drive, turn off the GT-R and let it sit for around 10 to 15 minutes. Following this, recheck for any coolant leaks and watch out for that sweet smell of coolant as well.
Remember to check what coolant has been used and when it was last replaced. If Nissan Green was used it should have been replaced every 96,000 km (60,000 miles) or every 4 years. On the other hand, if Nissan Blue LLC coolant has been used that should have been changed every 120,000 km (75,000 miles) or every 5 years. You can read more about Nissan Blue vs Green coolant here.
Head Gasket Failure
Head gasket failure isn’t usually too much of an issue on standard R33 GT-Rs as the original one is known to be quite reliable. However, reliability does take a hit when boost and power is turned up above around 1.5 bar and 500 hp. If the Nissan GT-R you are looking at is running more boost, check to see if the original head gasket was replaced with an uprated metal one from the likes of Greddy. Below we have listed some of the signs of head gasket failure and/or a cracked head:
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant expansion tank
- White and milky oil
- Spark plugs that are fouled (if you or probably a mechanic can get a look at them)
- Low cooling system integrity
- Smell of coolant from the oil
- Sweet smelling exhaust
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
- Steam from the front of the Skyline R33 GT-R
Inspecting the Exhaust
Check as much of the exhaust system as you can. Watch out for any damage, repairs or rust. Corrosion shouldn’t be a problem on a good quality aftermarket exhaust system, but it does depend on the materials used and who manufactured it. You won’t have problems with a good stainless steel or titanium system, but the mounting hardware can rust, so be mindful of that. If the mounting hardware has failed it can lead to excessive exhaust vibrations and unwanted rattling noises.
If the R33 GT-R you are looking at is fitted with an aftermarket exhaust (a very large number are), note down the manufacturer/brand and check any reviews. If the exhaust is some no name brand it suggests that the owner or a previous owner has cheaped out on upgrades/maintenance. Lots of owners go for custom built exhausts as the price is often not that different to an off the shelf option.
Apart from that keep an ear out for any low rumbling, rattling or scraping noises that could indicate another problem with the exhaust system. Additionally, watch out for any ticking noises as these sorts of sounds are often a sign of a leak.
Motor Mount Failure
The engine mounts are a wear item, so they will need to eventually be replaced. If one or more of the mounts have failed you may notice the following issues:
- Engine movement – Rev the engine and see if it moves excessively
- Excessive vibrations – Often most noticeable at idle
- Clunking, banging or other impact sounds – These sorts of noises could indicate that the engine is moving slightly due to a failed mount
Replacing the engine mounts is not too much of an issue for mechanics/specialists with the right equipment, so its not a major problem if a mount has failed (the original mounts aren’t too expensive as well).
Aftermarket engine mounts are available from the likes Vibra Technics and Nismo offers some upgraded ones as well. Some owners fit solid mounts to their GT-Rs, but this is not recommended for cars that are used on the road. If the R33 you are looking at is fitted with solid mounts you may experience excessive vibrations in the cabin and/or through the steering wheel, especially at idle.
Air Flow Meter and Injector Issues
Shaking and shuddering can also be caused by a bad Air Flow Meter (AFM) and/or injector issues. If this is the case, the GT-R will usually misfire, stall and just run rough in general as well. An AFM issue usually becomes most apparent after hard revving and then coming to a traffic light where the revs drop.
Coil pack, spark plug and fuel system problems can also lead to misfiring and rough running as well, so keep that in mind.
Knocking Noise That Gets Worse Under Revs
If you notice a knocking noise that seems to get worse under revs it could be a sign of imminent big-end failure. This can often happen to GT-Rs that are running more power on the stock oil pump and/or if the R33 has been thrashed before it has properly warmed up.
What Is the Correct Idle for an R33 GT-R?
According to Nissan, the idle speed should be around 950 rpm, so a bit higher than many other cars that tend to sit around 700 to 800 rpm. Modified R33 GT-Rs will often idle a bit higher, but this does depend on the setup.
If the idle speed is sitting a couple of hundred rpm higher it could also be down to the fact that somebody has cleaned the the throttle body and removed the factory coating on the inside. Nissan apparently applied this coating to fix some sealing issues with the throttle body. The coating can be reapplied, so it is not a big problem, but one to be aware of if you are wondering what the cause of slightly high idle could be.
Hunting/rough idle or idle that is far too low or high could be caused by a range of different issues. You are probably not going to be able to determine the exact cause of the issue during a short test drive and inspection, so assume the worst and hope for the best. If the idle issue was an easy fix, the seller probably would have got it sorted before putting their Nissan GT-R R33 on the market.
Smoke from a Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R
Lots of smoke or steam from an R33 GT-R (or any car for that matter) is never a good sign and could be indicative of some expensive repair bills dep. A small amount of vapour from the exhaust upon engine start is perfectly normal, especially when it is cold, however, it should soon go away.
We recommend that you get the owner/seller of the R33 GT-R to start the car for you for the first time. This is so you can see what comes out the back and if they rev the R33 hard when it is cold you know they have probably not treated their car well. Here are what the different colours of smoke indicate:
White smoke – A few white puffs is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust. Lots of thick white/grey smoke from the exhaust of a Nissan R33 GT-R indicates that water/coolant has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant. If the smoke is very thick and doesn’t dissipate quickly it could be sign that the block or cylinder head is cracked/broken.
Blue/Greyish smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including warn pistons rings, valve stem seals, turbo issues and more. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are driving the R33 GT-R. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back (good chance to see how they drive as well).
Black smoke – This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing, problems with the injectors, and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.
Lots of modified cars experience this problem, so don’t be too worried if you notice a very small amount of black smoke from a tuned car. However, if there is lots of smoke from the modified GT-R you should proceed with caution (an ECU remap may be all that is needed, but if the car has been running too rich or lean it can sometimes lead to damage).
Valve Guide Seal Failure
This is quite a common failure on the RB26DETT engine, so we thought it would be good to include a bit more info about this problem. If the seals have failed it usually leads to short heavy bursts of blue smoke from the exhaust. This tends to happen primarily after start and at idle. Be very cautious if the smoke continues throughout the rev range as it could be a sign of a more serious problem such as turbo failure or major engine issues.
Signs of Turbo Failure on an R33 GT-R
Turbo charger failure is a definite possibility on R33 GT-Rs. The stock exhaust turbine wheels are ceramic and are known to be incredibly brittle. Excessive boost and/or detonation can cause these ceramic turbine wheels to break, so many owners recommend switching to a turbo option with metal exhaust wheels.
There are quite a few other failure points in the turbos such as the seals, so check for the following symptoms that indicate a bad turbo:
- Slow acceleration – This is probably going to be one of the most notable signs, especially if you have driven a few different R33 GT-Rs before. However, remember that tuned GT-Rs will feel different to stock ones.
- Strange rumbling, whistling or high-pitched metallic sounds – when the turbocharger is at full boost (drive at a slow speed and then accelerate moderately up to high rpms). Whistling noises could also be a sign of a loose pipe.
- Distinctive blue or grey/whitish smoke – This happens when turbocharger’s housing cracks or if the internal seals become worn. The smoke will become more apparent when the turbocharger is in use, so get somebody to follow you and check while you are test driving an R33 GT-R.
- Burning lots of oil – It will be hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner. Some oil consumption is to be expected, especially as these cars are getting on a bit, but excessive amounts indicates a problem.
- If the boost pressure comes on late – depending on whether or not the car is stock or modified, boost pressure may come on earlier or later along with peak boost. However, if there seems to be a big delay it could be a sign that the R33 GT-R you are looking at has a blown turbo charger.
Aftermarket Turbo Upgrades
There are a whole load of turbocharger upgrades available for the RB26DETT engine inside the R33 GT-R. Both single turbo and twin turbo upgrades are available, with the former usually being recommended for those who are chasing big amounts of power. You can read more about turbo upgrades and other tuning information here on Torque Cars.
Engine Rebuilds and Replacements
While some people get a bit funny about buying a car with a rebuilt or replaced engine, there is really nothing wrong with it. Rebuilds and replacements are often done for various different reasons. For example, the engine in the Skyline GT-R you are looking at may have been rebuilt due to some sort of failure or it may have been rebuilt as a result of upgrades/tuning.
If the Nissan R33 GT-R does have a rebuilt or replaced engine, try to find out the reason for the work and who did it. We would trust a rebuild or replacement that was done by a competent Nissan/GT-R specialist over some no name tuning shop that has no reviews.
If the rebuild or replacement was a home job, we would probably be a bit more cautious. While there are plenty of very competent home mechanics out there, there are also a load with more ambition than skill. You don’t want to purchase somebody else’s unfinished project (unless you want to).
It is usually best to avoid fresh rebuilds or engine swaps with only a few hundred miles on them. For example, an R33 Skyline GT-R with 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild or replacement is going to be a much safer bet than one with only a tenth of the mileage.
Should I Get a Compression Test Done Before Purchase?
With the price these cars go for now we think it is a good idea to get a compression or leak down test done prior to purchase. It isn’t completely necessary, but it does help you determine the health of a particular GT-R’s engine. If you are taking the car to a mechanic or specialist prior to purchase, you may as well get a test done while you are at it.
Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. The most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10% of each other).
Nissan’s five speed FS5R30A manual transmission fitted to the R33 GT-R is pretty strong and is known to be able to withstand power figures in excess of 900 whp. However, the synchros aren’t quite as strong as the ones on the six-speed Getrag gearbox from the R34 GT-R. With this being the case, bad synchros (particularly fourth and fifth) can be a bit of a problem on R33 GT-Rs owned by gear slammers or those that like to drive hard in general.
On a test drive make sure you test all of the gears at both high and low engine speeds. Make sure you test shifts over around 5,000 rpm and try some quick changes, especially between fourth and fifth. If you hear or feel any grinding it is probably the synchros.
Additionally, when shifting make sure that the gearbox is not overly loose or sloppy as if it is a new linkage mount may be required (not expensive). It should be reasonable tight, but not overly so. The transmission will probably be quite a bit stiffer when the R33 GT-R is first started, but it should loosen up as the car warms.
If the transmission does have any problems, it can be quite expensive to fix. This is because the gearbox will need to be removed from the car, stripped, rebuilt and then installed again. You can do a rebuild yourself if you have the tools and the knowhow, but it isn’t a job for the inexperienced (you can read more about rebuilding an FS5R30A transmission here).
Check when the last time the gearbox oil was changed and make sure it has been done regularly. Regular oil changes can help keep the transmission working correctly, which could reduce the need for a major overhaul.
Gearbox & Clutch Release Bearing Issues
If you hear a whining noise when the clutch is pressed or all the time it is probably a bearing in the gearbox. Additionally, if it is a gearbox bearing, the noise will probably decrease slightly in 4th. This is because that gear is a 1 to 1 ratio so the drive passes straight through the transmission without transferring load across the lay shaft through the other gears and bearings.
Alternatively, if you notice that the whining noise goes away when the clutch is pressed and comes back when you release the clutch it is probably the clutch release bearing. Neither of these issues are too much of an issue as long as they aren’t too bad/annoying, however, keep in mind that they may impact the value of the GT-R.
There are a whole load of transmission upgrades available for the R33 GT-R. Close ratio gear kits from OSGiken are a popular choice and some owners have even opted to switch in the six speed transmission from the R34 GT-R, however, this is a very costly option and is not really worth it unless you are looking for extremely short ratios. You can read more about the FS5R30A transmission and upgrades available for it on GTR USA Blog.
The life of a clutch with largely depend on how much power the GT-R is running, how it has been driven, what clutch it is (standard, aftermarket, etc.) and more. For example, an R33 GT-R that has been repeatedly thrashed and is running lots of power will more than likely need a new clutch before a car that has been driven relatively lightly (all things being equal). Here are some test you can do to make sure the clutch is working correctly:
Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the Skyline R33 GT-R you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.
Clutch Slippage – The best way to test for this problem is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. You should notice that the engine bogs down a bit (don’t do this on a regular basis). The next thing to do is to accelerate. If you notice that the tachometer goes up out of relation to the speedometer and/or you notice jerkiness it suggests that the clutch is slipping.
Clutch Drag – Get the Nissan GT-R R33 on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the car hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.
Clutch Shudder – This is usually noticeable when you accelerate from a stop. A small amount is perfectly normal, but an excessive amount is a sign that the release bearings need to be lubricated.
Body & Exterior
The body and exterior should be one of your primary areas of concern as a problem here can turn a great car into a nightmare of expensive repair bills. Here are some things to watch out for:
Unfortunately, Nissan wasn’t the best at rust proofing their cars around the time of the R33 GT-R’s production, so thoroughly check for the problem. If you do see rust it is usually a bigger problem than it first appears on the surface. Most rust issues can be fixed, but it does depend on how much money you are willing to shell out for.
Where Does Rust Usually Form on R33 GT-Rs?
The biggest problem with checking for rust is that most GT-R sellers aren’t going to let you remove their car’s body kit or plastic trim pieces to do a full inspection. This means that there will be a number of places that you can’t check until you own the car yourself. However, you should be able to inspect the following locations fairly thoroughly:
- Around the wheel arches and inside the wheel wells
- Front strut tops – big one on R33 GT-Rs and even if it has been repaired it can come back with a vengeance
- Sills – check under and with the doors open
- Jacking points – definitely watch out for this one as it is quite difficult and expensive to repair as so many body parts join here and it is a structural area.
- Rear boot/trunk
- Around the doors and windows
- Underneath the vehicle
Rust can occur in other places as well, so check the entire car thoroughly. If you do notice any rust it may be a good idea to take some photos and check with a competent body shop to find out roughly how much the problem will cost to fix.
Factors That Can Make Rust More Likely on a GT-R
- R33 GT-R has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (UK, Parts of North America, etc.)
- The GT-R has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
- Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
- Always kept outside (never garaged)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
- Old or no underseal – check to see if underseal was put on if the car was an import and that is has been reapplied on a regular basis
Rust can be a surprisingly bad issue on a lot of Japanese domestic cars. This is because covered parking spaces and garages come at a premium, so many R33 GT-R owners had to store their cars out in the elements. This, combined with Japan’s incredibly humid and wet summer weather can lead to rust issues on a lot of R33 GT-Rs.
Looking for Rust Repairs on an R33 GT-R
It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair (mismatched paint, paint overspray etc.). Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).
Use a magnet on steel sections of the car (cover it with a cloth so you don’t damage the paintwork and keep in mind that some parts are aluminium) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
More than a few R33 GT-Rs have been involved in accidents as they really do promote spirited driving. Here are some things that can indicate the Skyline R33 GT-R you are looking at has been in an accident at some point:
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Have a good look around the bonnet/hood and make sure everything lines up correctly. Check the panel gaps around the doors, bumper and boot/trunk. If the panel gaps on one side look quite different to the other side, it could be a sign that the Nissan GT-R R33 has been in an accident.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – Check that all of the doors open and close properly, and that they don’t drop when opened. If you do find an issue here it could be a sign the GT-R has been in an accident.
- Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
- If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – could be a sign of a bit of a front end crash.
- Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights or surrounds of the taillights – This can be very difficult to fix on any car and is a good place to check for any accident damage.
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – While inspecting the underside, check to make sure everything is straight. Look at the suspension and steering components as well. If the parts are different on one side compared to the other or much newer, it may be a sign that the R33 GT-R you are looking at has been in an accident.
- Rust in strange locations – Can be a sign of accident damage
- Paint runs or overspray – Very unlikely to be a factory issue, so likely a result of a respray job.
- Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
A lot of sellers will try and cover up the fact that their car has been in an accident or try to downplay the severity of the incident. In some cases, you may come across somebody who claims their car hasn’t been in an accident when it clearly has.
While accident damage and repairs are always something you should be concerned about, we wouldn’t necessarily walk away from a Skyline GT-R R33 that has been in a bit of a crash. Light to moderate damage repaired by a skilled panel beater/body shop is usually fine, but remember to use it to get a discount.
If the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owned the vehicle.
Signs That a GT-R Has Been Stored Outside
Here are some of the tell-tale signs that a car has been left outside in the elements:
- Heavily discoloured badges
- Faded paint
- Hard rubber window seals
- Cracking/whitening on the front bumper lip
- Cracking/yellowing on carbon fibre parts (not on all models)
- Obvious rust or corrosion
Aftermarket Bodykits and Parts
If the R33 GT-R you are looking at has an aftermarket bodykit, check with the seller to see if they still have the original parts. Sourcing the original spoiler, bumper, etc. can be very expensive, especially if you want to replace multiple parts. Additionally, make sure the aftermarket bodykit fits correctly and there is no rubbing or rattling.
Suspension and Steering
The R33 GT-R’s suspension system has no stand-out weaknesses, but the suspension bushes do wear fairly quickly. Shocks and springs will eventually wear as well, so if the car is getting up there in terms of mileage it may need a new set in the near future. Apart from that, do a general check for the following that may indicate some issues with the suspension and steering components:
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
- Tipping/looseness when cornering
- High speed instability
- Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel – could be the strut rod bushings, bad alignment or maybe even bad ball joints
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Sagging or uneven suspension
- Knocking, clunking, rattling or creaking sounds during a test drive
- Clicking sounds (especially at full lock) – CV joint, bad wheel bearing, etc.
Visually inspect as many of the suspension and steering components as possible. Watch out for any leaks, damage, or modifications. Make sure the suspension is the same on each side. For example, if the components on the right front side are much newer/different than the left front side it could indicate the R33 GT-R has been in an accident.
V-Spec GT-R’s ride will be slightly harder than the standard model thanks to its stiffer suspension setup. Some owners may have installed even stiffer suspension for track days, but we recommend you stick with the standard suspension for regular road use.
Some R33 GT-Rs out of Japan have been fitted with fancy damper kits that will make driving on the road a pain. Once again, check with the seller to see if they have the original parts as if they don’t you can use that to get a discount. Nissan’s original suspension is still available, but it does come at a price.
Remember to Check the Wheel Alignment
Find yourself a nice flat and straight section of tarmac to check the wheel alignment. Make sure the Nissan GT-R R33 runs straight with minimal wheel corrections. If the wheel alignment is bad it can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear (costing you more money) and can even lead to a less safe and enjoyable driving experience. Additionally, really bad wheel alignment could be a sign of a careless owner as they probably should have got it sorted before putting the car on the market.
Most of the time a simple realignment is all that is needed, however, in some cases bad wheel alignment can be a sign of serious suspension/steering issues or even accident damage.
Wheels and Tyres
Have a look at the wheels for any curb damage. A small amount of curb damage (scuffs, etc.) is pretty normal for a GT-R that has been well used, but would be strange on a car that has been garaged its entire life. Lots of curb damage suggests that the owner or a previous owner has been a bit of a careless driver.
Lots of owners have fitted aftermarket rims to their R33 GT-Rs, but it is a good idea to see if they still have the 17-inch originals. Owning the original rims will only add value to the Skyline GT-R if you decide to sell it in the future.
There are fake GT-R rims floating around, so watch out for those. GTR.co.uk user Nasti has some good information on some of the differences you may encounter between fake and real GT-R rims (older thread but still useful).
When it comes to the tyres check for the following:
- Amount of tread – If there is minimal tread left try to get a discount as you will need to get the tyres replaced in the near future.
- Uneven wear – Wear should be even between the right and left tyres on the Nissan GT-R R33. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself.
- Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
- Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance and may even be dangerous.
The R33 GT-R’s original brakes are very good for most use cases, but the Brembo pads and discs can be quite expensive to replace, so check their condition. Make sure the pads have plenty of life and watch out for any scoring or cracking on the discs. A small amount of surface corrosion on the discs is pretty normal, especially if the GT-R hasn’t been used in a while.
During a test drive make sure the brakes do not feel weak or spongy. Additionally, make sure the car brakes straight and remember to test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions. Do some repeated high to low-speed runs, and listen out for any rumbling, squealing or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use.
If you notice a shuddering or shaking feeling through the pedal and/or steering wheel when the brakes are applied it is probably a sign of a warped disc. This usually becomes first notable under high-speed braking, and happens to a lot of cars that have seen regular track use or those that have been driven particularly hard.
Make sure the handbrake works as intended and see how it performs on a steep incline (if you can find one).
Seized calipers can occur, so watch out for the following:
- GT-R pulls to one side (may even happen when the brakes are not in use)
- Car feels low on power as if the parking/handbrake is on (could also be a sign of diff issues)
- Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
- You find that the Skyline R33 GT-R doesn’t want to move at all
- Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time
The last thing to do is to make sure that the brake fluid has been replaced every two years or so.
Big Brake Kits
The standard brakes are more than adequate for regular driving and cars with modest boosts in power. However, it is usually recommended that you upgrade the brakes on a GT-R if it is running lots of power and/or is regularly used on a track. There are simply too many “big brake kit” options to go into in this guide (Alcon Adv., Ceika and lots more), so we suggest you look at what is available in your area.
If the R33 GT-R you are looking at is fitted with a big brake kit, make sure it is from a well-reviewed brand/manufacturer. If it is not it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on the car’s upgrades and you should be questioning where other corners have been cut.
Just like many other Japanese cars, the R33 GT-R’s electronics are fairly robust and bullet proof. Stock cars shouldn’t have too many problems if any at all, but any cars that have been modified may have a few gremlins lurking under the surface. Make sure you check any items that have been added or swapped – like the stereo system or engine electronics.
Check to see if the car has an alarm system as insurance will be more expensive without one. If the car does not have one you can try and use this as a bargaining point. Alarms are fairly easy to install so it isn’t a big problem.
If no warning lights appear during start-up it may be a sign of an issue or that they have been disconnected. Alternatively, if they stay on you need to investigate the issue further and possibly take the car to a GT-R/Nissan specialist to find out what is causing the warning light before purchase.
There is not much to the GT-R’s interior but as they are starting get a bit long in the tooth, expect some wear and tear. You may find that the seats are ripped or in poor condition (especially around the bolsters), and there will probably be wear on other trim items.
Make sure that the seats are nice and firm and that all of the adjustments work as intended. If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will be an MOT/WOF failure.
Lower mileage cars will usually be in better condition interior-wise, but don’t count on it. Seats and other trim items can be replaced, but use them as a bargaining point. You may always find that items like the steering wheel, gear shifter and seats may have been changed for aftermarket ones. If this is the case, ask the seller if they have the originals on hand.
If you notice excessive amounts of wear on the seats, steering wheel, carpets, shifter and pedals for the mileage it may be a sign that the R33 has had a particularly hard life.
Make sure you check the cabin and boot/trunk for any leaks or dampness. Water can play havoc with the electronics if it gets in the wrong place, lead to rust formation and can cause nasty smells as well. Feel around the carpets and turn over the floor mats. If you see water residue on the bottom of the floor mats it could be a sign of a past of present leak.
Have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the Nissan GT-R R33 you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.
Should You Buy a Nissan GT-R R33 with Modifications?
A large number of R33 GT-Rs have been modified to some extent and it can be hard to find a completely stock standard model. Some of these modifications may be relatively minor while some can be quite large. Modified cars can be plagued with problems and in some cases the owners may have completely ruined the original characteristics of the car.
Modified R33 GT-Rs should be gone over with a fine-tooth comb, to check for any potential problems. While the R33 can be modified relatively easily, there are many cowboys out there that have done a poor job. Always check that the work has been done correctly with the appropriate paperwork for them. You should also check that any modifications are legal, especially if you are importing a car from another country.
General Car Buying Advice for a Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R
How to Get the Best Deal on an R33 GT-R
This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.
- Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a first gen R33 GT-R, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage R33 GT-R or do you not mind one that has travelled a bit further.
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. While mass loads of these cars weren’t created, there are still plenty out there, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
- Go look at and test drive multiple R33 GT-Rs if possible – It is a good idea to test drive as many cars as possible. This will help you determine what makes a good and what makes a bad R33 GT-R.
- Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for a Nissan Skyline GT-R for sale and only go for promising looking cars (unless you are looking for a project vehicle).
- Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
- Don’t trust the owner completely – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple GT-Rs, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
- Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.
Mileage vs Condition
Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.
Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.
Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.
Service History and Other Documentation
It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Nissan/GT-R specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work). Home mechanic work is okay, but it is much harder to gauge the competence of a home mechanic than checking reviews for established businesses.
The service history will give you a good idea of how the Nissan GT-R R33 you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.
If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.
Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.
Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner
- How often do you drive the car?
- When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
- How much oil does it use?
- What oil do you use in the car?
- What parts have been replaced?
- When was the timing belt and water pump last replaced?
- When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
- What’s the compression like?
- What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
- Has the vehicle overheated at any point or has the head gasket failed?
- Have the turbos been replaced and/or upgraded
- Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
- Is there any money owing on the car?
- Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
- How are the speakers
- Is there any rust?
- Has rust been removed at any point?
- When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
- Where do you store/park the car usually?
There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.
Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a Nissan GT-R R33
Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.
- Overheating problems or blown head gasket
- Significant Crash Damage or poorly repaired roof
- Money owing on the car
- Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
- Excessive amounts of power
- Bad compression
- Bad resprays
- Significant rust problems
- Engine swaps with non-standard engines
- Significant track use
- Major engine or transmission issues
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Notes on the Owner
The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Nissan GT-R R33 (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.
- How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
- Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
- Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
- What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
- How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
- Do they know anything about the Nissan GT-R R33 and the model they are selling (V Spec, etc.)
- What can they tell you about previous owners?
- Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
- What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
- What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
- How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
- How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?
If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Skyline GT-R.
Importing a Nissan R33 GT-R from Japan
Exporting GT-Rs from Japan has been big business for a while. Numbers of R33 GT-Rs in the country are reducing, but there are still plenty available.
How to Import a Skyline GT-R from Japan
While importing an R33 Skyline from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually relatively simple. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search something like “import Nissan GT-R R33”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for one of these cars based on their age, generation, condition, price and more.
Most of the websites/companies you encounter should be based in Japan, but you may find some other ones that are located in different parts of the world.
Make sure you check reviews/feedback of any website or auction house you want to use. While you are unlikely to get completely scammed, many of these websites will be economical with the truth about a vehicle. We have listed a few examples of Japanese importers/exporters below:
JDM Expo – Is an independent subsidiary of Nikko Auto Co., which is recognized as on the most reliable exporters of Japanese cars in the country.
Car From Japan – is another large portal for connecting overseas buyers with Japanese second hand cars.
Japan Partner – Is one of the fastest growing exporters of used Japanese vehicles.
Note: many of these sorts of websites do not provide a grade or auction check sheet. The grade, auction check sheet, and car map are vital to picking a good car. Buyer beware!
Use a Private Importer
While the websites above are a handy way to give you a general idea of what to expect when importing an R33 GT-R, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find a suitable Nissan GT-R for you and import it, saving you the hassle. While it may cost you a bit more (sometimes it is cheaper) you are more likely to get a better vehicle.
You can get a full explanation of why we recommend using a private importer here.
How Does the Japanese Car Grading System Work?
The auction houses and car exporters in Japan all get their vehicles in roughly the same way. The difference between them is how much support they are willing to provide, how honest they are, and how they grade their vehicles
They will provide what is known as an ‘auction check sheet’ – a document that contains most of what you need to know about the vehicle. As you can’t see the vehicle personally, you will have to rely on the check sheet and other information on the listing to make a decision. If the seller/website is not willing to provide you with an auction check sheet or additional information on the car, don’t proceed any further.
Before you make a purchase you need to learn how to read an auction check sheet. The sheet contains information on the make, model, condition, specifications and any other notes. There will be a grade on the sheet that denotes the overall grade of the vehicle.
While the grade on a check sheet is important, you should not rely on it to make a final decision. Different companies have different methods for grading their vehicles, so a grade 4 for one company may be a grade 3.5 for another.
Some websites may use a different grading system and if you can’t view the auction check sheet, you should contact the seller/exporter.
Use the grade to reduce the number of Nissan R33 GT-Rs you are looking at and then use the check sheet and any additional information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you if possible (hence the recommendation for a private importer).
The Auction Check Sheet
Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. The grade is located in the top right corner of the check sheet. You will notice that there is both a letter and a number grade. The number indicates the overall condition of the vehicle, while the letter shows you the interior grade. At the bottom right of the check sheet is the ‘car map’. The car map tells you information about the exterior of a particular R33 GT-R and where any problems are located.
Additionally, the sheet contains information about the specs of the vehicle and any modifications (major or minor). The inspector may also write some additional notes about the car.
What Does the Number Grade Mean?
- Grade 7 to 9 or S– New car with delivery miles.
- Grade 6– Same as above but with a few more miles.
- Grade 5– Vehicle is in excellent condition with low miles.
- Grade 4.5– Overall condition is great, but may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
- Grade 4– Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
- Grade 3.5– Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
- Grade 3– Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
- Grade 2– Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
- Grade 1– Is modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
- Grade 0, A, R, RA– Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Letter Grade
As we wrote earlier, the number grade is usually accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. An ‘A’ indicates that the interior is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ indicates that the car is in average condition, while a ‘C’ displays that it is in poor condition. Grades below C show that the car’s interior is in very poor condition.
The Car Map
The check sheet will also contain what is called a “car map”, which tells you all the information you need to know about the exterior condition of the car. It will show the location of any problems or damage to the vehicle. Any problems are indicated by a letter and a number. The letter tells you what the issue is and the number indicates the severity. You can read more about the car map in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.
Our Guidelines for Importing a Nissan R33 GT-R from Japan
- Always demand to see and have the auction check sheet before making a purchase
- If you can’t read Japanese or the company won’t provide a translated check sheet, get help from somebody who speaks/reads Japanese.
- Try to go through a private importer
- Check that the chassis number on the check sheet matches the one on the frame
- Cross reference the check sheet with other websites
- Don’t rely on the grade (always check the auction sheet thoroughly)
- Investigate each website/service thoroughly (reviews, feedback, etc.)
- Be careful of heavily modified vehicles
- Get someone to inspect the car for you if possible. Ask for photos and get a good run down of the condition.
- Avoid cars with unknown mileages
- Stay away from bargains that seem to be too good to be true
- Stay away from grade 0, A, RA, R vehicles that have been involved in accidents
Know Your Country’s Importation Laws
Always make sure you check your country’s importation laws as you may find you can’t bring the vehicle you want in. For example, some countries have certain restrictions on importing cars under a certain age.
Concluding This Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 Buyer’s Guide
As with any car purchase, there is a ton of information to take in when looking at buying a Nissan GT-R R33. The R33 GT-R is undoubtedly one of the greatest cars to come out of Japan and will only increase in value.
While it is becoming more and more difficult to find good condition GT-Rs, there are still plenty out there. Always be cautious of modified cars and check that the vehicle has not been in any serious crashes. Overall, the Nissan GT-R R33 is a fairly robust motorcar, but they can be trouble if they have been neglected.
The SkyLife (08 March, 2011) – Nissan Skyline GT-R Broken Ceramic Turbocharger – Nissan Skyline GT-R Broken Ceramic Turbocharger (skylife4ever.com)
Torque Cars – The Comprehensive RB26 Engine Guide – All you need to know about RB26 DETT engine tuning (torquecars.com)
Sean Morris (March 26, 2014) – Nissan Skyline GT-R Transmissions and Upgrades – Nissan Skyline GT-R Transmissions and Upgrades – Nissan Skyline GT-R s in the USA (gtrusablog.com)
GTR-Registry – Nissan Skyline BCNR33 VIN Table – GTR-Registry.com – Nissan Skyline BCNR33 VIN Table