With well over one million units sold the Mazda MX-5 (Miata) is the world’s best-selling two-seater convertible sports car. It has defined Mazda as a company and has gone on to inspire other incredibly sports cars.
This buyer’s guide will give you all the information you need to know about buying a Mazda MX-5. We will be covering every generation of the MX-5 from the first to the latest and this guide will be continually updated.
How to Use This Guide
This Mazda MX-5 buying guide is broken up into a number of different sections. Firstly, we will be covering the entire history of the MX-5 range and then we will be looking at the buyer’s guide section. Each generation is broken up into a different section, so make sure you use the table of contents to skip to the model you want.
We will also be looking at how to import a Mazda MX-5 and how to get the best deal.
The History of the Mazda MX-5
The Origin of the MX-5 Miata
The Mazda MX-5’s story starts with a man called Bob Hall. He had a great passion for cars and took particular interest in Japanese culture, so much so that he taught himself the language.
After high school graduation, Hall enjoyed a six-week visit to Japan as an exchange student. On subsequent trips, Hall polished his Japanese language ability and absorbed the nuances of the culture.
During a break from college, Hall convinced the editor of Motor Trend to give him a job. He claimed that he knew more about Japanese cars than anyone currently working for the magazine and proved his point by submitting an unsolicited manuscript.
While working for Motor Trend and visiting Japan, Hall met with Kenichi Yamamoto, Mazda’s head of R&D and future chairman. In 1978 Hall moved from Motor Trend to AutoWeek, and Yamamoto asked him what kind of cars Mazda should make in the future.
Hall took this as an opportunity. The RX-7 was already proving to be popular, but he thought that riving the classic British, wind-in-hair sports car would be a hit. Hall wanted to do this by converting Mazda’s 323 rear-drive econobox into a fully-fledged two-seater roadster. Unfortunately, Yamamoto put on his poker face, so Hall had no idea what he thought of the idea.
To fertilise the idea he had implanted into Yamamoto’s mind, Hall wrote about the need for more sports cars in AutoWeek. After three years working for AutoWeek, Hall joined Mazda’s California R&D division as a product planner.
Hall met with Yamamoto again, who asked him to look into developing a lightweight sports car for Mazda. Without hesitation, Hall immediately started working on the project and by 1982 he submitted a position paper to Mazda’s planning department. This document detailed a car that would reuse existing components – a four-cylinder engine, manual transmission, rear axle and possibly even a floor pan – to reduce costs.
In 1983, the project was approved under the “Offline 55” program, an internal Mazda initiative that sought to change the way the company’s new models were conceived and developed. Mazda pitted two teams against each other, one in Tokyo and Hall’s one in California.
The Japanese design team focused on producing either a front-engine/front-wheel-drive car or a mid-engine/rear-wheel drive vehicle like the Toyota MR2. The USA based team stood their ground on a front-engine/rear-wheel drive sports car or nothing at all.
By early 1984, the first paper designs were ready to be judged. The mid-engined model appeared to offer more favourable characteristics, but it was known that such a design would struggle to meet the, noise, vibration and harshness requirements for the project.
It was only at the second round of the competition in August 1984, that the USA design pulled ahead. The original sketches of the car drew inspiration from Ferraris of the time, but Japanese designer Masao Yagi shifted the exterior design to be more like the Lotus Elan.
One year later, Yamamoto climbed the corporate ladder to become Mazda’s president. One of his first acts was recommending the lightweight sports car to Mazda’s board of directors for production approval. He was given the green light to go ahead with the project and Toshihiko Hirai would become the chief engineer responsible for the MX-5’s development.
The project received its final approval in 1986 and the task of producing five engineering mules was given to IAD. Following this, the project was moved to Japan for engineering and production purposes.
First Generation MX-5 Miata (NA)
In 1989, the first generation MX-5 was introduced to the world. The car featured only a few components recycled from existing models and weighed in at well under 1,000kg. It featured front and rear independent control arm suspensions, a first for Mazda, and a tidy body with smooth lines. The 1.6-litre 16-valve four-cylinder engine produced around 115bhp, enough to move the lightweight sports car with sufficient pep.
At launch, the MX-5 was highly praised for its fun driving characteristics and price. Motoring journalists appreciated the special attention paid to cockpit ergonomics, the short-throw shifter, the precise handling and its ability to be easily controlled beyond the limit of traction.
Just two years into the MX-5’s existence, Mazda introduced the first special edition version. Painted in British Racing Green, the car featured a tan leather interior and a tan tonneau cover (but still a black roof). A Nardi-branded wood gear shift knob and wood handbrake finished of the look.
The next special edition was introduced in 1993. Dubbed the LE (Limited Edition), the car stood out with its black paint job and blood-red leather interior. Mazda also fitted a neat set of BBS aluminium wheels, Bilstein dampers, a subtle body kit, polished aluminium grilles for the door speakers, red seatbelts and the company’s own Sensory Sound System.
The biggest change for the 1994 model year came in the form of a larger 128bhp 1.8-litre four banger. Larger brake rotors also became part of the deal, and the optional limited-slip differential went from a viscous unit to a more durable Torsen diff.
Along with the updates to the MX-5 in 1994, Mazda also adopted a new nomenclature for its special-edition models: the M Edition. This naming convention would go on through to 1997. The 1994 M Edition MX-5 was painted in Montego Blue Mica and came with every available option package. It also featured polished aluminium wheels, a wooden shift knob, special mats and badging.
In the same year, Mazda also introduced an R package, which was fitted with Bilstein dampers, a lower ride height, a Torsen limited-slip differential, a subtle body kit and lightweight aluminium wheels.
The 1995 M Edition received larger 15-inch BBS wheels and Merlot Mica paint. It features a tan leather interior, a fancier audio system, special doorsill kick plates, and M Edition badges.
Power was increased once again in 1996, this time to 133bhp and Mazda released another M Edition.
For the first generation MX-5’s final year before redesign, Mazda launched two special edition models: the STO and another M Edition. The former, which stands for Special Touring Option, featured Twilight Blue paint, 15-inch five-spoke Enkei wheels, a tan interior and top, and STO badging. Only 1,500 STO models were produced, making it one of the rarer special editions.
Second Generation MX-5 Miata (NB)
Introduced in 1997, the second generation MX-5 went on sale in 1998. While the car kept the same proportions as the previous gen, it gained some weight and lost the retractable headlights, which no longer passed pedestrian safety standards.
With an extra 115kg of mass on-board, the 1.6-litre engine was joined by an updated 140bhp 1.8-litre motor to counteract the added bulk. This more powerful model could reach 100km/h in as little as 7.8 seconds and could go on to a top speed of nearly 210km/h.
Mazda offered the MX-5 with a five-speed manual, a four-speed automatic and a six-speed manual for top-level models. Changes to the interior were evolutionary rather than revolutionary and more refined than the previous generation.
In 1999, Mazda celebrated 10 years of the MX-5 with the 10th Anniversary Edition. The special edition came in Sapphire Blue Mica paint with eye-catching wheels and a somewhat aggressive body kit. On the inside, the car featured a bold two-tone blue-and-black colour scheme and a six-speed manual transmission.
Ten years after they launched the first British Racing Green MX-5 special, Mazda released another one. This 2001 special edition got the same equipment as the uplevel MX-5 LS trim, as well as 16-inch aluminium wheels, a six-speed manual transmission, tan interior and a wood-rimmed steering wheel.
Additionally, thanks to variable-valve timing, the 1.8-litre MX-5 now produced 155 horsepower for the 2001 model year.
Mazda added additional special editions for the 2002 and 2003 model years. While the 2002/2003 special editions were much the same, the Club Sport package introduced in 2003 offered quite a bit more for driving enthusiasts. Only 50 of these cars were produced and all of them were intended for racing. This meant that Mazda dropped the air conditioning, radio and power steering on the Club Sport to make it the ultimate driving experience.
While the MX-5 was an enjoyable car to drive, it really didn’t set the world alight with its performance figures. Third parties had been offering turbocharging and supercharging kits for the MX-5 for years, but it wasn’t until 2004 that buyers could opt for forced induction from the factory. Customers could opt for a sportier package from Mazda’s Performance Division, Mazdaspeed.
This package included a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that made 178 ponies, a torque-sensing limited-slip differential, improved suspension, performance tyres and 17-inch Racing Hart wheels. With significantly more power than the standard car, the turbocharged model could go from 0-100km/h in as little as 6.7 seconds.
Third Generation MX-5 Miata (NC)
Introduced in 2005, the third generation MX-5 was heavily inspired by Mazda’s 2003 Ibuki concept car. The new MX-5 was decisively more modern and boasted a more aggressive look with flared wheel arches. While exterior styling resembled the original design, the third generation MX-5 shares no components with NB.
The new modern design featured an all-new unibody and running-gear. Mazda replaced the 4-wheel double wishbone setup with a front wishbone/rear multilink setup, that was shared with the RX-8.
Mazda offset the increased weight and size with a new range of engines – the most powerful of which was a 16-valve, 2.0-litre 170 horsepower (158hp in some markets) four-cylinder unit. Transmission options included either a 5-speed or a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic. At the bottom of the food chain was a new 1.8-litre engine that replaced the 1.6-litre unit, and was mated to a 5-speed transmission.
One year after launch, Mazda introduced a Power Retractable Hard Top (PRHT) version to appease drivers who did not want to drive a cloth-roof roadster all year-round. The power-folding hardtop was an impressive piece of engineering at the time and added about 40kg of weight to the car. Changes to engine-testing standards meant that power was now rated at 166 horsepower.
In 2009, the third generation MX-5 got a bit of an update. The biggest change came in the form of a new front design that brought the MX-5 more in-line with Mazda’s other offerings. Mazda also changed the side skirts, the rear bumper and the tail lights. Updates were made to the suspension and gearbox, and the engine was now rated at 167 ponies.
The next big update came in 2013 when the MX-5 gained a more aggressive front face, new 17-inch aluminium wheels, weight reduction thanks to a redesigned front bumper, and an Active Bonnet that was more pedestrian friendly. No changes were made to the powerplant, but Mazda did retune the ECU on manual transmission MX-5s to provide a more linear throttle response.
In the U.S. market, the Touring trim was replaced by the Club trim, which featured 17-inch gun metal black allows, Bilstein dampers, a limited-slip differential, rear aerodynamic splitters, rocker-panel stripes, black headlight trim and a black roof.
In the same year, Brodie Britain Racing (BBR) of Brackley, England, produced a limited run of 100 modified MX-5s. They fitted a turbocharger, remapped the ECU, and the upgraded the suspension. The modifications meant that the MX-5 now produced 268 horsepower and was good for 0-100km/h in under five seconds.
To celebrate 25 years of the MX-5, Mazda whipped up a special edition kitted out in Soul Red paint, dark-finished wheels, chrome exhaust trim, black a-pillars and limited edition badging. The seats and doors panels were covered in almond-coloured leather and 25th anniversary logos were embossed into the headrests. Only 1,099 units were produced and while the cars aren’t officially more powerful than their regular brethren, Mazda claims to have handpicked each one’s engine components to ensure they were as balanced and light as possible.
The third generation MX-5 was met with positive reviews. It was Japan’s 2005 Car of the Year and Jeremy Clarkson wrote that the MX-5 represented better value for money than any other car for sale in Britain at the time. He said “You waste your money on a Mustang or a Ferrari. The fact is that if you want a sports car, the MX-5 is perfect. Nothing on the road will give you better value. Nothing will give you so much fun. The only reason I’m giving it five stars is because I can’t give it 14.”
Fourth Generation Mazda MX-5 Miata (ND)
While the MX-5 never went away from its small, lightweight beginnings, the third generation car was quite a bit heavier and larger than those that came before it. For this reason, Mazda decided to make the fourth-generation car smaller and lighter than the NC – even managing to make it shorter in length than the original and almost as lightweight.
Unveiled in 2014, the new MX-5 would be manufactured in Mazda’s Hiroshima plant. On March 24, 2016 the MX-5 was awarded World Car of the Year and the World Car Design of the Year at the New York Auto Show.
The new design is much more aggressive and sporty than previous generations that vacillated between cute and functional.
Underneath the MX-5’s long bonnet is a 2.0-litre inline-four that produces 155 ponies. While this is less than the previous generation, the ND is the quickest MX-5 yet – thanks to the 100kg reduction in weight. A 1.5-litre 129 horsepower model sits below the bigger engined MX-5, but features the same option of six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.
Mazda stripped out all that was unnecessary for the fourth gen’s interior: there is a steering wheel, essential gauges and knobs, a screen above the dashboard for displaying infotainment functions and that’s about it.
In late 2016, Mazda unveiled a new Retractable Fastback (RF) version of the MX-5. The RF resembles a MX-5 coupe but is really a power-operated targa. On the inside, the RF is almost exactly the same as the soft-top version – expect for a few cubby holes and some basic trim. Performance of this model is roughly the same as the soft-top version and it is offered with the same engine options.
To celebrate the RF’s launch, a limited run of 500 models were made. These are known as the ‘Launch Edition’ and they were only available with the top level 155 horsepower engine. Mazda fitted these models with BBS alloy wheels, a two-tone roof, Recaro seats and a rear spoiler.
Mazda also partnered with Fiat to resurrect the 124 Spider. Fiat launched a performance version of the car known as the Abarth 124 Spider. It features a 168 horsepower 1.4-litre turbocharged engine and can go from 0-100km-h in as little as 6.8 seconds.
For the 2019 model year, Mazda’s quickest MX-5 gets even quicker. Power is now at 181 horsepower (a 17 percent increase!) and the redline is marked 700 rpm higher than before, at 7,500 rpm. Mazda also added a telescopic steering column – a first for the MX-5 – and a reverse camera as standard.
To mark 30 years of the MX-5, Mazda launched a limited edition version of the ND at the 2019 Chicago auto show – 30 years after unveiling the original MX-5 at the very same show. Painted in a striking metallic orange colour, the 30th anniversary MX-5 is available in both soft top of RF forms. The car is kitted out in Rays 17-inch wheels, orange coloured interior accents, and a numbered plaque denoting its place in the 3,000-car production run.
The fourth generation MX-5 has been extremely well received with Top Gear magazine giving the car a nine out of 10, calling it “A complete sweetie of a roadster, this is the best the MX-5 has been perhaps ever.” Jeremy Clarkson called it “an engineering” gem and “It’s a cure for depression, this car, it really is. You just can’t be in a bad mood when you’re driving it.”
Buying a Mazda MX-5
Now that we have covered the complete history of the Mazda MX-5, let’s look at buying one. We have broken this section down into each different generation. We will be going into detail about what to look for when buying a MX-5 and some common questions about the car. Let’s get started!
Mazda MX-5 NA Buying Guide
While, the first generation MX-5 is getting a bit long in the tooth it is still an excellent car. The NA MX-5 is fast becoming a classic, so prices are starting to creep up on good condition models with low mileage. Let’s take a look at some things to watch out for when looking to buy a Mk1 MX-5.
Many first generation MX-5s are well past their prime so it is important to check the overall condition of any car you are looking to purchase. Major mechanical or bodywork problems could drain your wallet fast, so it is important to inspect every NA MX-5 thoroughly.
We recommend that you inspect the vehicle yourself or get a third party to inspect it for you. If you do not inspect a vehicle yourself or get a reliable person to do so, you are opening yourself up too much more risk.
Both the 1.6-litre B6ZE and the 1.8-litre BP are very strong engines, and if maintained properly they are capable of some insane mileage (This one has travelled nearly 500,000 miles with almost no work on the engine!). However, it is important that the engine oil is changed every 8,000 to 10,000 kilometres (5-6,000 miles) or so, and that the car does not run low on oil. Something like Mobil 1 0W-40 is perfect for the first generation MX-5.
Oil leaks are fairly common, especially on older models. The o-ring on the CAS sensor on the back of the cylinder head can perish and start to leak. Additionally, the Cam Cover gasket is prone to weeping a bit of oil, especially if the gasket has been reused or the cam cover has been removed. A slipping clutch may be a sign of leaky rear main seals.
A hydraulic tappet rattle is quite common on 1.8-litre models when starting the car. While this is completely normal for the first few moments after start up, it can be a cause for concern if it continues. Changing the oil will usually solve this problem, but it can be a sign of damaged or worn lifters.
Misfires are usually caused by worn ignition leads or the coil packs. Early 1.6-litre MX-5s have the weakest coil packs, so pay particular attention to them. Additionally, whining noises from the font of the motor may indicate an overtightened timing belt or worn pump pulley bearing. A worn water pump may cause a slight knocking sound at idle, but they can be replaced cheaply and easily.
While a timing belt failure is unlikely, it is important to check the age of the belt The timing belt should be replaced every 100,000km (60,000 miles) or so, but some owners have got over 160,000km (100,000 miles) out of their belts. If the timing belt has not been replaced, you should factor this into the overall cost of the car.
Keep an eye out for a ‘short nose’ crank pulley as these are known to fail early. In addition to this, the crank pulley key and keyway can wear, and be sure to check that the crank pulley doesn’t wobble when the engine is running.
The MX-5 Mk1’s cooling hoses are prone to going hard and brittle as they age. These should be changed before they crack as it can cause leaks to appear. It’s not a major job, but will probably take you a couple of hours the first time. Additionally, if the radiator top tank is brown or showing cracks, it should be replaced. Alloy replacements can be found on eBay for a reasonable price.
It is essential that the coolant is changed on schedule and it should be drained and refreshed every five years. There should be about a 50:50 water/anti-freeze mix and it is advisable to use a top quality product.
Overheating and Other Engine Problems
After going for a test drive, make sure you check the engine temperature and have a look under the bonnet. Is everything normal, or are there any problems like fluid boiling in the overflow or any surprise coolant or oil leaks? If so, consider moving onto another MX-5 as overheating is usually a sign of a serious problem.
Turbo or Supercharger Conversions
A number of turbo and supercharger kits were offered (and are still offered) for the Mk1 MX-5. These were quite common and shouldn’t cause too many problems if the work is done correctly. If you are looking at a modified Mk1 MX-5, make sure you check any paperwork or receipts to see who carried out the work.
A loose gear shifter is usually caused by worn or failed bushes that connect the shifter to the transmission. If you hear any whines or grinding noises when the clutch is engaged, it could be a sign that the Spigot and throwout/clutch-release bearings are on their way out. While the parts aren’t expensive, the whole gearbox will need to be removed to access them.
The slave cylinder for the clutch is prone to leaking and failure, which will cause the clutch pedal to sink to the floor. Replacements are fairly cheap and will take around 30 minutes to fit.
Overall, both the manual and automatic transmissions should not cause any significant problems and are fairly robust. Automatic MX-5s are usually more difficult to sell and as a result are cheaper than their manual counterparts.
Body and Exterior
Rust is your number one enemy when it comes to NA MX-5s. It is typically found around the lower area of the windscreen frame, the rear sill sections, rear wheel arches and front chassis rails near the front subframe mounting. Rust is more common in countries that salt their roads in the winter or if the car has lived by the sea. Additionally, if the car has been stored outside rust is more likely to occur.
Signs That a Vehicle Has Suffered from Rust in the Past
Look for any signs that the vehicle has been resprayed or any discolouring in the paint, especially around the areas we mentioned above. If the plastic parts in the engine bay appear matte and have lost their shine, it could be a sign that an excessive amount of water has crept its way in. Oxidation of any of the metal parts is also a sign of the same problem. Additionally, you can use a magnet on the steel sections of the MX-5 to check for any areas where rust has been repaired.
Signs That a MX-5 NA Has Been Stored Outside
Storing a car outside will increase the chances of rust appearing. Below we have listed some tell-tale signs of an MX-5 NA being left outside:
- Faded paint
- Heavily discoloured badges
- Worn soft-top roof/faded material
- Cracking on the plastic parts
- Obvious rust or corrosion
- Hard rubber window seals
- Excess water in the engine bay or cabin
- Faded plastic rear window (on earlier models)
Crash Damage and Other Repair Work
The next thing to look out for is any crash damage or signs of repair. Any inconsistencies in the paint or finish can be a sign of crash damage. Misaligned panels and headlights can also be a sign that the car has been in an accident. Minor accident repair work is probably okay, but watch out for cars that have been in serious incidents. The underbody frame rails can take a beating on Mk1 MX-5s, so make sure you check those as well.
Other Bodywork Problems on the Mazda MX-5 Mk1
Check to see if the roof goes up and down correctly, and fits properly. The soft top latches can wear and may need adjusting. Check for any holes or tears in the roof, and if the car has a plastic rear window, check that it is still clear and not cloudy. Dampness in the cabin can be a sign that the hood needs to be replaced. The roof usually lasts about 5 years (will last much longer if it is stored inside), so ask the owner when it was last replaced.
The interior drain holes can often become clogged, which will trap water inside the rear sills and around the rear parcel area. Regular cleaning will prevent this from happening.
Water inside the boot is usually caused by a perished rain rail – the plastic channel that seals the lower edge of the roof and guides water to the drainage holes. These can be replaced easily.
Brakes and Suspension
The Brakes shouldn’t cause too many problems, but make sure you examine the front and rear discs and pads every 10,000km (6,000 miles) or so. Pay particular attention to the calipers as these can corrode and seize up with age. There are plenty of kits available to rebuild the caliper. Ensure that the dust boots are in good working order and make sure there is lube on the sliders. If the pads are at the end of their life, try to get a discount on the car.
Take a look under the car and check the front wishbones as they are prone to corroding. While you are there, make sure you check the condition of the front crossmember as well. Check for any obvious bushing failures or leaky shocks, and take a look at the ball joint boots as these can become brittle and crack. Check all swaybar endlinks as these have a bushing in them that can fail.
Wheels and Tyres
Avoid fitting aftermarket wheels larger than 15-inches as they can ruin the ride and handling balance of the MX-5. If the car has aftermarket wheels, ask the owner if they have the originals. Premium tyres are a sign that the car has been looked after well. Cheap tyres could be a sign that the car has been neglected or not maintained properly.
Tears and wear on the seats will be common, especially on higher mileage vehicles or those that have not been cared for properly. The vinyl material on the doors is known to wear and it is not uncommon to find custom trims fitted to Mk1 MX-5s. Additionally, check the steering wheel and shifter knob for wear as it is a good indicator of how far a car has travelled (if you suspect the mileage is not legitimate).
As the car ages, the electric windows may become slow or even stick. If they still go up and down completely, it may simply be a case of lubricating the runners with white lithium grease or silicone spray. Rattling from the windows is probably a sign that the bushes have failed or are failing.
The Mk1 MX-5’s electronics are fairly robust and shouldn’t cause you too many problems. Make sure all the switches and buttons work, and check to see if there are any warning lights on the dashboard.
A Word on Modified Mk1 MX-5s
A good number of Mk1 MX-5s have been modified in some way. Some of these modifications will be minor, while some will major. Turbocharger and supercharger conversions are perfectly fine if they have been carried out correctly – just remember that parts may wear out quicker due to the increase in power.
Be careful of cars that have modified suspension or have been lowered, as this usually ruins the MX-5’s handling and ride characteristics. We also recommend that you steer clear of track cars and those that have been modified by multiple owners.
Summary of Buying a First Generation MX-5
As you can see, there are a number of things you need to take note of when buying a Mk1 MX-5. Take your time inspecting every vehicle you look at and don’t rush into purchasing anything.
We have included more general car buying advice at the end of this article, so we suggest you check that out.
Additionally, we have included information on where to buy an MX-5 and how to import one from Japan.
Mazda MX-5 NB Buying Guide
While the Mk2 Mazda MX-5 was considered to be a bit bland at launch, it is now seen as a great sports car for those who want something fun. Below we have listed everything you need to know about buying one.
Like with the first generation MX-5, there are plenty of second gen lemons out there so you need to be careful. Major problems with a car you purchase could drain your wallet and leave you with massive headaches. It is important to check any second generation MX-5 you are looking at thoroughly. If you can’t inspect a vehicle yourself, get a third party to do it for you.
Both the 1.6 and the 1.8-litre engines found in the second generation MX-5 are fairly robust and shouldn’t cause too many problems if they are maintained properly (This forum post on miata.net shows that they are capable of some big miles). Still, there are a number of things you need to check and take note of.
We always suggest you start by checking the oil. Is it topped up? When was it last replaced and what engine oil has been used in the car? While some enthusiastic owners will change their car’s oil every 3,000 miles (5,000km) or so, Mazda’s recommended servicing interval is actually much higher at 7,500 miles (12,000km) for non-synthetic and 9,000 miles for synthetic (although, long intervals between services tends to suggest that the car has not been looked after properly).
We fell that a good compromise is around 5,000 miles (8,000km) for non-synthetic and 7,000 miles for synthetic. If you are going off time, then it is recommended that you change the oil every six months for hard use and once per year for moderate use.
You should always check the oil for any contaminants. It should be clean but it will go darker as the miles add up. If you see any metallic particles in the oil, walk away, it is simply not worth your time.
The recommended service schedule for the timing belt is every 60,000 miles (100,000km) or five years, but some owners push that out to 100,000 miles (we don’t recommend you do this). Check when the timing belt was replaced and if it needs to be changed soon, try to get a discount or get the current owner to change it for you.
Oil leaks from the cam cover are quite likely and are usually caused by a weeping gasket. This is not a major issue but if there are any dark or shiny patches around the area, a new cam cover gasket could be a could idea.
Misfires are usually caused by worn ignition leads or coil packs. Heat from the engine can break down the lead’s core, which will result in a weak spark. To diagnose a misfire, listen to the engine at idle. A lumpy idle is indicative of a cylinder not firing and the coil packs and ignition leads should be replaced. While you are doing this, listen for any other knocks or strange sounds.
Check that the water pump has been replaced or is in good working order (rock it back and forth to check for excessive wear – it could be hot) and make sure the coolant has been replaced. A 50:50 mix of water/coolant is recommended and it is a simple job to do. In addition to this, you should also check the brake and clutch fluid reservoirs for proper level and colour of the fluid.
White smoke is a sign that water has made its way into the cylinders, while blue smoke is usually a sign of warn valve stem seals or piston rings. A small amount of white smoke on start-up is okay, but if it persists it could be a sign of a blown head gasket.
To check for blue smoke, ask a friend to follow you as you drive the car. Accelerate hard, then lift, leaving the car to run. Blue smoke on acceleration is indicative of worn piston rings, while smoke on deceleration tends to suggest that the problem is worn valve stem seals.
Turbocharged and Supercharged Mk2 MX-5s
Like the first generation, there were a number of turbo and supercharger kits available for the second gen MX-5. Additionally, Mazda launched the first factory turbocharged MX-5 in 2004. You shouldn’t have too many problems with the factory turbocharged Mazdaspeed model, but you should watch out for modified MX-5s.
While most MX-5s fitted with third party turbochargers or superchargers will be fine, you should make sure the work has been carried out correctly. Check for any receipts and see who the work was done by.
If the MX-5 is an automatic, pull out the dipstick and check the cleanliness of the oil. If the oil smells all burnt when it is hot, then we suggest you look for another MX-5. Additionally, if there are any metallic particles in the oil you should walk away.
When test driving the vehicle, check for smooth clutch engagement (manual cars). Is there any slippage? Go through the gears several times, checking for bad synchronizers.
Check when or if the transmission and differential fluids have been changed. If the car has high mileage and they haven’t been changed, it may be a good idea to do so.
If you hear a sound like marbles rattling in a tin can on the overrun, it will probably be gear lash caused by a misaligned gearbox. Many garages do not realise it has to be aligned. Additionally, squeaking sounds from the propshaft could be a sign that the propshaft joints are on their way out.
Body and Exterior
Amazingly, rust is an even bigger problem on the second generation MX-5 than the first. Cars that have been stored outside, those located near the sea or those in countries that salt their roads are much more likely to suffer from rust.
Common Areas to Find Rust on a Mk2 MX-5
- Wheel arches
- Front chassis rails
- Around the sills (these typically rust from the inside out)
- On the underside
- Rear subframes and wishbones
- Around the windscreen
- Around stone chips
Signs of Rust Repair on a MX-5 NB
Check for any signs that the car has been resprayed or any areas that appear discoloured, especially around the areas we listed above. Check inside the engine bay. Are any of the metal parts corroded and do the plastic parts have a matte appearance? This can be a sign that excess amounts of water have made their way into the engine bay. You can also use a magnet to check the steel parts of the car for rust repair.
Signs That a MX-5 NB Has Been Stored Outside
Storing a car outside will increase the chances of rust appearing. Below we have listed some signs that an Mk2 MX-5 has been left outside.
- Faded paint
- Heavily discoloured badges
- Worn soft-top roof/faded material
- Cracking on the plastic parts
- Obvious rust or corrosion
- Hard rubber window seals
- Excess water in the engine bay or cabin
- Faded plastic rear window (on earlier models)
Signs of Crash Damage
Walk around the vehicle, inspecting all the body panels and parts – do you see any misaligned panels or inconstancies in the paint? If so, it may be a sign that the vehicle has been in a crash.
The MX-5 promotes enthusiastic driving and more than a few of them have been in contact with things they shouldn’t have been. While you shouldn’t just rely on the owner’s word, we do recommend that you ask them whether the car has been involved in an incident. Additionally, remember to check the vehicle’s paperwork for any signs of repair work.
Get under the car and check inside the engine bay – do all the clips and brackets look original? Or have they been replaced?
If the MX-5 you are looking at has been in an accident, ask the owner how serious the incident was (if they know). Minor, superficial incidents are probably fine, but any signs or talk of major crash damage should make you walk away.
Other Bodywork Problems on the Mazda MX-5 Mk2
Inspect the hood – does it go up and down correctly? Are there any holes or rips? When was it replaced? The hood catches can wear, preventing the soft-top from latching properly. Check around the hood to make sure it seals properly and look for any dampness inside the cabin and boot. Be cautious of cars with excess water inside the cabin and boot as this can quickly lead to rust.
Suspension and Brakes
The bushes will wear overtime and cheap replacements won’t last long. Look for any leaks from the shock absorbers and make sure the suspension isn’t bent. If the car feels wallowy through the corners it may be time for new dampers and remember to check for any corrosion.
Seized or sticking calipers are a relatively common problem with these cars and it is usually caused by corrosion on the pistons. If the discs get abnormally hot, there are any brake fluid leaks, abnormal sounds or the car pulls to the left or right under braking, it may be a sign that the calipers have failed or are failing. Additionally, don’t forget to check the pads and see how much life is left in them.
Wheels and Tyres
If the car is fitted with aftermarket wheels, check to see if the owner has the originals. Wheels that are too big can ruin the ride characteristics of the MX-5 NB. Check the tyres – is there plenty of tread left? Are they from a reputable brand? Do they have any cracks in them? Cheap tyres tends to suggest that the vehicle has not been looked after properly. Uneven tyre wear is probably caused by uneven wheel alignment.
What About the Interior?
Check for wear on the bolsters of the seats and take a look at the rest of the interior – Is there any wear on the steering wheel or gear knob? How is the material on the doors? And is there any dampness? As these cars are prone to rusting, any dampness or water inside the vehicle should be removed as soon as possible.
The Mk2 MX-5’s electronics are fairly robust and shouldn’t cause you too many problems. Make sure all the switches and buttons work, and check to see if there are any warning lights on the dashboard.
A Word on Modified Mk2 MX-5s
A large number of Mk1 MX-5s have been modified in some way. Modifications will range from minor to major, and it is always important to check that the work has been carried out correctly. Turbocharger and supercharger conversions are quite common – just remember that parts may wear out quicker due to the increase in power.
Be cautious of Mk2 MX-5s with modified suspension or those that have been lowered, as these modifications can ruin the vehicle’s handling and ride characteristics. In addition to this, we also recommend that you avoid any track Mk2 MX-5s or those that have been modified by multiple owners.
Summary of Buying a Mk2 Mazda MX-5
While the second generation Mazda MX-5 is a fairly reliable car, there are a lot of things you need to check before purchasing one. We hope this guide has covered most of what you need to know and we have included some general car buying advice at the end of this article.
Additionally, we have included information on where to buy a Mazda MX-5 Mk2 and how to import one from Japan.
Mazda MX-5 NC Buying Guide
If you are looking for something a bit more modern that won’t break the bank, the third generation MX-5 is an excellent buy. While some complained that it went a bit soft, the Mk3 MX-5 is still an absolute joy to drive.
2.0-litre models are much more desirable than 1.8-litre models. This means that the 1.8-litre will be cheaper to buy, but much harder to sell down the track.
It is import to check out any Mk3 MX-5 thoroughly before making a purchase. Either check the car out yourself or get a third party to do it for you. Poor maintenance or bad modifications can turn a dream purchase into a nightmare, so inspect everything thoroughly.
Both the 1.8-litre and the 2.0-litre engines found in the Mk3 MX-5 are incredibly robust and reliable – however, while this is great it can often lead to a lack of maintenance. It is incredibly important to keep the engine topped up with oil, so make sure you check that.
Mazda recommends that you change the oil every 7,500 miles (12,000km), but some enthusiastic owners will change it every 5,000 miles (8,000km). However, with modern synthetic oils it is probably not necessary to change the oil as often as every 5,000 miles. If you don’t drive that far per year, make sure you change the oil once per year.
Make sure you check the oil for any contaminants (water, etc.). It should be clean but it will go darker as the miles add up. If you see any metallic particles in the oil, walk away, it is simply not worth your time.
Thankfully, for the third generation MX-5 Mazda replaced the timing belt with a timing chain, so there is no need to worry about changing it. The timing chain should last the lifetime of the engine barring any major misfortune. However, there is a timing chain tensioner that can fail.
Check the brake and clutch fluid levels, along with the coolant level. Mazda states that the original FL22 coolant that came with the car should be good for up to 120,000 miles (190,000km) or 10 years. Replacing it is simple to do, so you may want to do it before then. The coolant/water mix should be a 50:50 ratio.
The coolant reservoir is prone to cracking, so check the area around the neck of the plastic coolant reservoir for coolant residue. If you see it, the neck of the reservoir is cracked. If you do not replace the reservoir, the coolant will rapidly drain out and you will be left with an overheating engine.
If the temperature never goes above 160°F (71°C), the car has most likely got a stuck thermostat. Not a major problem, but it should be fixed. Additionally, listen for a rumbling crankshaft and any other strange noises. There have been reports of some cars over 60,000 miles (96,000km) having rumbling crankshafts. This usually points to a lack of maintenance, so we would avoid purchasing a car with this problem.
A good Mazda MX-5 NC should not produce smoke, but it is important to recognise what each colour means.
White smoke – Is a sign that water has made its way into the cylinders and could mean that the head gasket has blown.
Blue smoke – Is usually a sign of piston wear, worn piston rings, worn valve seals, an intake manifold gasket leak, and a dirty or non-functioning PCV valve. To check for blue smoke, get a friend to follow you as you drive the car.
Black smoke – Occurs when the engine is burning too much fuel. The first things that should be checked is the air-filter and other intake components like sensors, fuel injectors and the fuel-pressure regulator.
If the vehicle you are looking at is producing any of the above, definitely walk away. It is simply not worth your time when there are plenty of good third generation MX-5s still out there.
All three transmission options are reliable and strong. When test driving the vehicle, go through all the gears multiple times to check for any problems. On manual cars, check that the clutch doesn’t slip and check the synchronisers.
Check when the transmission fluid and differential fluid has been changed (if ever), and check their levels. The five and six-speed manual gearboxes can be a little stiff when cold, but should loosen up quickly.
Body and Exterior
The first thing we would check for is any rust. While the problem with rust is nowhere near as bad on the NC, areas where there is unprotected metal will eventually succumb to it. Cars that have been stored outside, those from countries that salt their roads or those that have lived by the sea will be more prone to rusting.
When inspecting the exterior for rust, start at the front and slowly work your way towards the back. Stick your head under the front bumper and have a good look around. Use a torch (flashlight) to help you see better. Move along the sides of the car and then have a look under the rear bumper.
Locations Where Rust May Occur on a Mk3 MX-5
- Under the metal bumpers where they attach to the frame
- Around the windows
- Around the door sills
- Under the car
- Around the license plate lights
- Sway bar ends
- In the trunk
Crash Damage and Other Major Repair Work
Walk around the exterior of the vehicle, inspecting all the different parts and panels – do you see any large panel gaps, inconsistencies in the paint or poorly fitting panels? If so, the vehicle may have been in an accident. To make your job easier, make sure you check the vehicle when it is dry as water can hide a multitude of sins
Additionally, check the underside of the vehicle for any bent or broken metal, paint overspray in the wheel wells, and any missing pieces. These problems can also indicate that the vehicle has been in a serious accident.
The Mk3 MX-5 promotes enthusiastic driving and more than a few have been in accidents. Ask the owner if the car has been in a crash, but don’t expect an honest answer. Many people will lie about this until you point out evidence of the damage.
Unless there is a severe shortage of used Mk3 MX-5s in your area, reject any that show damage. Minor, superficial damage is usually okay, but anything more serious should be avoided like the plague.
Other Bodywork Issues
The MX-5 NC was sold with a soft-top and a retractable hard top. Check to make sure the top goes down and up correctly, making sure that it latches into place securely. On fabric roofs, make sure there are no rips or holes – it is worth treating the material regularly to keep it clean and make it less prone to tears.
Blocked drain holes for the hood are a common problem on these cars (much like on the earlier versions of the MX-5). To check for this, look for dampness on the parcel shelf or under the seats. Unblocking the drainage holes is an easy job and should be done regularly.
Unless the car has been stored in a garage its entire life, expect some minor scratches, dings and paint chips. Look for damage to the front and rear bumpers as this indicates that the previous owner may have been a careless driver.
Suspension and Brakes
Rear dampers wear more quickly than you might think on the third generation MX-5, so expect to replace them every 30,000 miles (48,000km) or 3 to 4 years. The front and rear anti-roll bar drop links will probably have to be replaced at around the same intervals. Check all of the other suspension components to make sure they are in good working order.
The brakes on the Mk3 MX-5 should be powerful. If the car pulls to one side it may have corroded inner discs or a seized caliper. Seized or sticking calipers can be caused by corrosion on the pistons and check to see how much life is left in the pads. Listen for any abnormal sounds under braking and check there are no brake fluid leaks or any other problems.
Wheels and Tyres
Check the wheels – Are they in good condition or have they been curbed? Damaged wheels tend to suggest the owner has been careless with the car. Additionally, if the car has been fitted with aftermarket wheels, check to see if the owner has the originals.
Take a look at the tyres, checking for any uneven tyre wear. Uneven tyre wear is usually caused by out-of-whack wheel alignment. Additionally, make sure the tyres still have tread on them and that they are of a good brand. Cheap tyres tends to suggest that the owner does not care much for the vehicle.
How About the Interior?
Higher mileage examples are bound to have some wear on the inside. Check for wear on the seats, paying particular attention to the bolsters. Additionally, take a look at the rest of the interior – Are there any cracks or scratches on the plastic parts? Does the steering wheel and shifter knob have any wear? Is there any dampness?
The electric window buttons in the centre console can fail and are annoying to replace. Additionally, the driver’s side seat belt tensioner can wear and slacken, so check that it returns properly.
There isn’t much to go wrong with the electronics. When testing the car, make sure there are no warning lights on the dashboard (ABS, Airbag, etc.), and check that all the switches and knobs work correctly.
A Word on Modified MX-5 NCs
Modified Mk3 MX-5s are fairly common and are perfectly fine if the work has been carried out correctly. A number of third parties offer turbocharger and supercharger conversions, which are great if you are looking for an NC with a bit more power. However, increased power can cause parts to wear out quicker.
Mk3 MX-5s that have been lowered or have modified suspension should be i
Be careful of cars that have modified suspension or have been lowered, as this usually ruins the MX-5’s handling and ride characteristics. We also recommend that you steer clear of track cars and those that have been modified by multiple owners.
Summary of Buying a Mk3 Mazda MX-5
Overall, the Mazda MX-5 NC is a fairly bulletproof vehicle if maintained well. Remember to go over absolutely everything when inspecting a car and don’t always trust the owner’s word. We have included more general car buying advice at the end of this article, so make sure you check that out.
In addition to this, we have also included information on how to import a MX-5 from Japan.
Mazda MX-5 ND Buying Guide
As you can purchase a Mazda MX-5 ND new, we are going to focus less on the used car buying advice and more on what options Mazda offers. We are also going to talk about how to get the best deal and what to look out for when buying one.
Buying a Mazda MX-5 ND in the United States 2019
American buyers can opt for either the MX-5 Miata or the MX-5 Miata RF. The standard MX-5 contains three different trim levels: Sport, Club and Grand Touring. The MX-5 RF with the retractable hardtop comes in two flavours: Club and Grand Touring.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
All models come with Mazda’s 181 hp 2.0-litre DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine. Mazda recommends that you use 91 octane or greater, but it can be run on 87 octane fuel if you desire. Transmission options include either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic.
The entire range comes with electric power steering, double wishbone front suspension, multilink rear suspension, 11-inch discs at the front (vented) and rear, and plenty of airbags to keep you safe.
Sport: Starting at $25,730, the Sport is the basic model in the MX-5 range. It comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, a 7-inch full colour touch screen command centre, air conditioning, 6-speaker audio system, power windows and Mazda’s i-ACTIVSENSE Sport package (lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, etc.)
Club: Starting at $29,590, the Club is targeted at those who want a more performance orientated vehicle. Compared to the Sport package, the Club has Brembo front brakes with red calipers (Mazda rear brakes), forged 17-inch BBS alloy wheels, an aero kit, Bilstein dampers, a limited-slip differential and shock tower brace. Note, some of these options are only available on the manual transmission car.
Grand Touring: Luxury orientated. Starts at $30,780. Comes with unique 17-inch alloys in Dark Silver, automatic climate control, leather-trimmed seats, Bose 9-speaker audio system. The GT-S package will also get you a Limited-slip differential, Bilstein dampers and a shock tower brace (front).
Manual transmission (city/hwy) 26/34
Automatic transmission (city/hwy) 26/35
Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
Like the standard MX-5, the RF comes with Mazda’s 181hp inline four-cylinder engine. It is available in either manual or automatic transmission options and features the same fuel economy rating. The Club starts at $32,345, while the Grand Touring model starts at $33,335.
Buying a Mazda MX-5 ND in Canada 2019
Mazda Canada offers the same trim level options as the United States, just with different names. The GS is the Sport, the GS-P is the Club and the GT is the Grand Touring. Prices are as follows
GS-P: From$36,900 ($39,900 for the RF)
GT: From$39,900 ($42,900 for the RF)
Buying a Mazda MX-5 ND in the United Kingdom 2019
British motorists have a few more options than Americans when it comes to the Mk4 MX-5. Mazda offers a range of different trim levels and they also have two engine options, a 130 hp inline four-cylinder engine and 181 hp version.
SE+: Basic model. Starts at £18,995 and comes with a 130 hp engine, a 6-speed manual transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, 4-speaker audio system, and manual air conditioning.
SE-L Nav+: Starts at £20,795. This model is available with both engine options and has 16-inch (17-inch on the 2.0-litre) alloy wheels, climate control air conditioning, a 7-inch touch-screen display, heated seats, i-stop, i-ELOOP, and integrated Bluetooth.
Sport Nav+: Starts at £24,795. Only available with the larger engine option, this trim level comes equipped with 17-inch wheels, a limited-slip differential, Bilstein dampers, strut brace, Traffic Sign Recognition and a lane departure warning system.
GT Sport Nav+: Starting at £25,795, this model is the luxury trim level. It comes with leather seats, stainless steel scuff plates, adaptive LED headlights, a reversing camera, Bilstein dampers, a limited-slip differential and a strut brace.
Note, the MX-5 RF is available in all the same trim levels except the SE+. RF models are around £2,000 more expensive than soft-top versions.
2.0-litre: Fuel Consumption (mpg / (l/100km)) (5 – Combined WLTP) – 40.9 (6.9)
1.5-litre: Fuel Consumption (mpg / (l/100km)) (5 – Combined WLTP) – 44.8 (6.3)
Buying a Mazda MX-5 in New Zealand 2019
New Zealand is a bit more limited when it comes to MX-5 options. Mazda New Zealand does offer both the roadster and RF versions, but there are only two trim levels available.
1.5L Petrol GSX: Base model that starts at $41,895. Comes with a 97kW 1.5-litre engine, six-speed manual transmission, 7-inch touchscreen display, cloth seats, 6-speaker audio system, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
2.0L Petrol Limited: Top level model that starts at $49,195 ($53,745 for the RF). Comes with leather seats, a 135kW 2.0-litre engine, automatic climate control, 9-speaker audio system, 17-inch alloy wheels and a 7-inch touch screen display
1.5L GSX – 6.2 litres per 100km
2.0L Limited – 6.8 litres per 100km
2.0L Limited RF – 7.2 litres per 100km
Buying a Mazda MX-5 ND in Australia 2019
Mazda Australia offers the same trim levels as Mazda New Zealand. The Roadster is the same as the 1.5L GSX and the Roadster GT is the same as the 2.0L Limited. Prices are as follows:
Roadster: From $39,183
Roadster GT: From $47,759 (RF GT starts from $52,010)
Australia does get one more model known simply as the RF. It starts at $44,716 and comes with the 2.0-litre engine.
Buying a Used Mazda MX-5 ND
Buying a used Mk4 MX-5 is a good way to save a bit of money. While the ND seems to hold its value pretty well, you can get yourself a good deal on a second hand one. We have quickly summarised what you need to look out for when buying a used ND below.
There are no major problems to report with either of the two engine options available at this time. Remember to check that the car has been serviced properly and that it is topped up with all the required fluids (engine oil, coolant, etc.)
A number of owners have reported issues with the transmission in their Mk4 MX-5 (stripped gears). This seems to have only been a problem in early 2.0-litre models, mainly in the United States. It is believed that the gearbox was designed for the 1.5-litre engine and under certain circumstances it couldn’t handle the additional torque of the larger engine. This problem has been addressed in later models and most early cars should have been fixed under warranty.
The most common problem with the ND seems to be a lack of clearance for the soft top when it is folded down. This causes the hood to rub on another piece of interior trim, and some owners have reported that it has caused a hole to appear in the fabric. This problem should be fixed under warranty.
Watch out for any crash damage. Check for any areas that have been resprayed and make sure everything is straight underneath the car. Any mention of crash damage should make you walk away. The paint is fairly tough, but expect to find some minor scratches and dings
Suspension and Brakes
No major issues known at the moment, just check that there is life left on the pads and tread on the tyres.
Interior and Electronics
The interior shouldn’t cause you any major issues and make sure all the electronics work. Check to see if there are any lights on the dashboard and make sure the air conditioning works.
Summary of Buying a Mazda MX-5 Mk4
The Mk4 MX-5 is an excellent addition to the range. We will be updating this section with more information as the car ages and including notes on any problems that arise with the car. Below we have included some more general car buying advice, such as how to get yourself the best deal and when to walk away from a purchase.
General Car Buying Advice for the Mazda MX-5
This section contains information that relates to all generations of the MX-5.
How to Get Yourself the Best Deal On a MX-5
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.
1. Do your research. Before you start your hunt, make sure you know what car you want. Are you happy with a bottom spec model? Or do you want the top sped? This will help you streamline the buying process and will mean you can do more research on what to look out for.
2. Shop around. Don’t limit yourself to just one dealer, seller or location. Be prepared to visit multiple dealers and sellers to get the best price and car. Additionally, if you limit yourself to one location it may be more difficult to find the exact model you want.
3. Test drive multiple cars. Try to test drive as many vehicles as possible. This way you will know what a good example should drive like and what a bad example will drive like.
4. Adjust your attitude. Be patient when you are looking at buying a car. Rushing into a purchase is never a good idea and is a quick way to get ripped off. Survey the field to get a general idea of what you should pay for the particular model you are looking at.
5. Use any issues with the car to your advantage. When you inspect and test drive a vehicle, make a mental note of any issues. Keep these issues in the back of your mind and bring them up when negotiating the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres and brake pads make a point of that and get the seller to reduce the price.
6. Don’t trust the owner. The owner of the car will undoubtedly tell you how great the it is (even if it is a complete piece of junk), so watch out for that. Just go through your process and get all the information you need to know before making a purchase.
7. Bounce between sellers/dealers. If you are looking at multiple cars, make sure you let the seller/dealer know. Try to get them to undercut the price of the other cars you are looking at, then return to the other dealers/sellers and get them to do the same.
7. 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
It is a common question with a simple answer, buy on the condition of a vehicle and then on the mileage. There are plenty of MX-5s out there with low miles but in poor condition, so you need to be careful.
Many owners make the mistake of believing that if you don’t drive a vehicle it will last much longer. In reality, this is far from the truth and not driving a car can actually cause a number of problems in itself. Short distance trips are not kind to the engine as the vehicle does not have enough time to warm up and does not get lubricated properly.
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.
Mileage will never decrease with age and you may be wasting your money by going after a lower mileage model.
Service History and Other Documentation
Make a habit of checking the service history and any other paperwork when inspecting a car. The service history will give you a good idea of how the car has been looked after and maintained. It will tell you information about how regularly the vehicle has been serviced and if any major work has been done. Receipts and paperwork for any modifications should be inspected closely.
If the owner is unable to provide the service history or refuses to do so, you should proceed with caution. A complete service history will only add value to a vehicle and will be handy if you want to sell down the track.
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?
- When was the timing belt replaced?
- What parts have been replaced?
- When was the hood replaced?
- What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
- Has the vehicle overheated at any point?
- 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?
- Is there any rust?
- Has rust been removed at any point?
- Has the car been used for track use 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 an MX-5
Sometimes, the best option is to simply walk away from a vehicle. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.
- Overheating problems
- Significant Crash Damage
- Money owing on the car
- Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
- Excessive amounts of power (too much power can lead to reliability problems down the track)
- Significant rust problems
- Engine swaps with non-standard engine
- Significant track use
- Major engine or transmission issues
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Where to Find a Mazda MX-5 for Sale?
Websites such as TradeMe, eBay, Cars for Sale, Piston Heads and Craigslist are great places to start your hunt. The majority of the vehicles on these websites will be used cars, but some of them do list new cars. You can easily camper the price of different vehicles and get a good idea of what you will need to spend.
Dealers and Importers
If you are buying new, you are going to have to go through a dealer. Almost all dealers and importers will have an online presence, so make sure you check out their website before heading down. When it comes to buying second hand MX-5s, dealers will tend to be more expensive than private sealers. However, you may be able to get a warranty deal through them.
Websites such as Reddit, Facebook and even Instagram can be excellent places to find MX-5s for sale. Join one of the many enthusiast groups and start your search. Write a post saying you are looking to buy a MX-5 and you should get some responses. These groups can also be great places to buy or sell parts and ask for advice.
This sort of ties in with the above, but many owners’ clubs have their own website or they may not even have a website at all. Look to see if there are any Mazda MX-5 clubs in your area as these are often great places to find cars for sale or ask for advice.
Importing a Mazda MX-5 from Japan
If you are looking for a specific model or there just aren’t any good MX-5s in your location, you may want to look at importing one. The MX-5 range was (and still is) sold in lots of different countries, so you can find them pretty much anywhere. In this article we are going to be focusing on importing a Mazda MX-5 from Japan as that is the most common place to find them.
Exporting cars from Japan is an enormous business as it keeps the country’s motor industry moving and older vehicles became expensive to run. Below we have outlined everything you need to know about importing a MX-5 from Japan.
How to Import a Mazda MX-5 from Japan
While importing a MX-5 from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually quite easy. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search “import Mazda MX-5” or “import Mazda Miata”. You should be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for MX-5s based on their age, model, condition, features and more.
Some of the websites you encounter will be based outside of Japan, but most of them should be located in the land of the rising sun.
Make sure you check reviews/feedback of any website or auction house you want to use. While you are unlikely to get scammed, it can happen, so be prepared. We have listed a few examples of Japanese importers/exporters below:
Always read up on any website or auction house you are thinking of using. Check for reviews and feedback from people who have used to service before. While you are unlikely to get scammed, it can happen. Here are some examples of Japanese importers/exporters.
GoonetExchange – Is one of the biggest vehicle exporters in Japan and they have head offices in Tokyo and Nagoya. They have pages and pages of MX-5s to choose from.
JapaneseCarTrade – Has been connecting overseas buyers to Japanese used vehicles since 2005. They are one of the most trusted in the business and have a good range of MX-5s on offer.
CarFromJapan – is another large portal for connecting overseas buyers with Japanese second hand cars. At the time of writing they have well over 350 MX-5s on offer.
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 whittle down the number of Mazda MX-5s you are looking at and then use the check sheet and additionally information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you.
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 the MX-5 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 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.
- 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.
Summary of this Mazda MX-5 Miata Buyers Guide
This guide should have covered most of what you need to know about buying a Mazda MX-5. We will continue to update this article with more information on all the MX-5 generations already covered and any future generations.