Following on from the first gen MX-5 Miata (NA), the Mk2 (NB) had big shoes to fill. Thankfully, Mazda retained the formula that made the NA such a widely loved sports car. While some were disappointed by the lack of pop-up headlights and similar performance, the slightly more refined and modern driving experience won many over.
Today, the NB hasn’t reached quite the cult status of the first generation NA MX-5. However, it is still a fantastic option for those who want a late nineties/early 2000s two seater sports car with a bit of classic potential.
In this MX-5 Miata NB buyers guide we are going to be looking at everything you need to know about purchasing one of these fantastic Japanese cars. We will look at common problems to watch out for during an inspection, the cars history, its specifications and much more!
How to Use This MX-5 NB Buyer’s Guide
This is a big guide, so we have broken it up into a number of different sections that you can jump to via the table of contents below. To begin with we will look at the history and specifications of the Mk2 Mazda MX-5. Following those two sections, we will dive into the buyers guide where we will look at common problems, how to conduct an inspection and more. Following that, we have more general car buying advice and then we will finish up with information on how to import an MX-5 NB from Japan.
History of the Second Generation MX-5 Miata
Introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1997, the MX-5 NB hit showroom floors the next year. The new MX-5 was more refined, with a number of improvements that gave the car a more modern driving experience. However, new safety requirements meant that the MX-5 NB gained some weight and lost the much loved retractable headlights.
Unlike the previous generation model where the 1.8-litre motor came later, the Mk2 was given two engine options from the get-go. The 1.6-litre produced roughly the same power at 110 PS (109 bhp/81 kW), while the 1.8-litre saw a bump in power to 140 PS (138 bhp/103 kW). Despite an increase in power, the 1.8-litre NB featured only a slightly faster 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time than its predecessor. The 1.6-litre NB on the other hand was actually slower than the older NA, largely thanks to the car’s increased weight.
Note: the 1.6-litre MX-5 NB was not available in the United States, but was available in other markets such as Europe, Australia and Japan.
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.
A facelifted version of the second generation MX-5 was announced in July 2000 for the 2001 model year. There were a number of changes with one of the most notable being an increase in power to 154 PS (152 bhp/113 kW) for Japanese, Australian and European market models, while MX-5 Miata NBs sold in the United States produced 145 PS (143 bhp/107 kW).
Initially, Mazda quoted the North American NBs as having the same power as Japanese spec models, but it was discovered that this was incorrect. Mazda then proceeded to offer a buy back for the 2001 cars due misleading buyers. Owners that did not take up Mazda’s offer were given free servicing for the warranty period.
Along with the power changes, Mazda also introduced some visual alterations that gave the facelifted MX-5 a sportier, more modern appearance. The optional fog lights were made standard and the rear turn signal lamps were changed from amber to clear. Mazda also gave the car projector style low beam and separate high beam lenses.
On the inside, the most immediate visual change was that made to the centre console. The instrument panel was also updated with white faced and red backlit gauges. New seats were also fitted that provided a bit more comfort and support, especially for taller drivers.
Special Edition Models
MX-5 Sport (1999)
Mazda’s first special edition version of the Mk2 MX-5 came in the form of the “Sport”. Based on the standard 1.8-litre car, Mazda produced 600 units between December 1998 and December 1999, with half of those finished in Classic Red and the other half in Racing Blue.
The most noticeable change over the standard Mk2 MX-5 was the unique body kit, which boasted a new front spoiler, side skirts and boot/trunk spoiler. Changes were also made to the front fog lamps and colour coded rear mudflaps, a detachable hard top roof, and 15-inch alloy wheels were also included.
The interior also received some attention, with special black leather seats and door trims being installed. All MX-5 Sports were also fitted with a Nardi leather steering wheel and the centre console, shift knob and hand-brake grip were kitted out with a ‘wood-like’ trim material.
MX-5 10th Anniversary (2001)
The ten year anniversary of the MX-5 was celebrated with the launch of a special edition model finished in an Innocent Blue Mica colour, with a matching vinyl soft top roof. The car was also given chrome 15-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 195/50 R15 tyres and a highly-sought after Torsen limited-slip differential.
On the inside the seats were trimmed in black leather with blue suede inserts and special 10th Anniversary mats protected the blue carpet. The blue theme continued with a blue tonneau cover that was used to match the soft top. Other unique features of the special edition car included chrome instrument covers, carbon fibre trim, and a blue and black Nardi steering wheel. Lastly, each vehicle received a numbered plaque and owners were even given a pair of matching Seiko watches, a certificate and a scale model of the car they just bought.
Production Numbers of 10th Anniversary
A total of 7,500 models based on the 1.8-litre MX-5 NB were sold in the following locations:
- Japan 500
- UK 600
- USA 3000
- Canada 150
- Europe 3100
- Australia 150
Finished in British Racing Green Mica with a tan roof, the MX-5 SE was based on the 1.8-litre car. Only 500 Mk2 SEs were produced and on the inside, they sported tan leather seats with matching door trims and wind deflector. Mazda also gave the car a two-tone black over tan dashboard and the steering wheel, shifter knob and hand brake were finished in a wooden material.
MX-5 Jasper Conran
Like the MX-5 SE above, the Jasper Conran special edition MX-5 ND was limited in production to a total of 500 units, with 100 of those being finished in Platinum Silver and the remaining 400 in Classic Black. It was created in collaboration with British fashion designer Jasper Conran. Apart from the special paint finishes, the only other major visual change to the exterior was the inclusion of special 15-inch BBS alloy wheels.
While the exterior alterations were limited to the paint and wheels, the interior received quite a bit of attention. The biggest of these interior changes was the use of soft Connolly hide leather for the trim. This was the same leather that Rolls Royce and Ferrari used at the time. Platinum Silver models also received red upholstery with a matching leather hood cover and unique red Wilton carpets.
Other interior changes included aluminium lookalike inner door handles, shifter knob, hand brake and centre console, and the steering wheel was finished in two-tone aluminium and leather. Each car was also received a numbered plaque and a Sony single CD player with a Mini Disc Changer.
Finished in a bold and bright Sunburst Yellow colour, the MX-5 California was based on the 1.6-litre car and limited to a total of 500 units. On the inside the car was much the same as the standard version of the MX-5 Miata NB, but with special California floor mats.
Just like the California above, the Isola was based around the smaller engined MX-5 and only 500 cars were produced. However, rather than being finished in a bright yellow colour, Mazda used Classic Red. The wheels were also smaller at 14-inches and a detachable colour coded hard top roof was included as standard.
Based on the 1.8-litre MX-5, the MX-5 Icon was finished in a special Art Vin Mica colour. On the inside, Mazda gave the car luxurious beige leather for the seats and other trim pieces. The final styling changes were 15-inch alloy wheels and production was limited to 750 units.
Unlike many of the other special edition MX-5 NBs, the Phoenix was available in both 1.8-litre and 1.6-litre variants, with the latter costing slightly less. Only 1,200 cars were produced from 2002, with the majority being finished in a Brilliant Black colour. However, Mazda did offer a Titanium Grey Mica paint option as well, but at an additional cost. The other main exterior change was the inclusion of 15-inch Enkie alloy wheels that gave the car a sportier look.
The interior changes made to the Phoenix edition MX-5 NB were quite extensive with the most notable being heated seats trimmed in Sienna brown leather. Mazda also fitted a special two-tone steering wheel, along with a matching black shifter knob and hand-brake lever. Other interior changes included a sprinkling of alloy-lookalike trim pieces and an upgraded audio system that included two extra speakers.
The Arizona MX-5 NB was available in both engine options from June 2002 to November the same year. It had a total production run of 1,000 cars, and was available in three different colours: Eternal Red, Sunlight Silver, and Blazda Yellow Mica. All models also came with sporty looking 15-inch Enkie alloy wheels.
All black was the theme for the interior, with heated black leather seats, black steering wheel, gear shifter and hand brake lever. Just like the Phoenix edition, the Arizona also received alloy-like trim pieces for the dash, centre console and air vents, along with an upgraded speaker system. The last unique addition to the Arizona was the inclusion of special floor mats that featured colour-matched stitching to the paintwork on the exterior of the car.
The MX-5 Trilogy featured one of the smallest production runs of the NB generation, with only 333 units being produced from October 2002. All cars were finished in Brilliant Black and on the inside they were given luxury grey Medici leather seats. Other enhancements included a two-tone leather Nardi steering wheel, shifter knob and hand brake lever.
The car also included a smattering of “Trilogy” logos/badges as it was produced in cooperation with the “De Beers” diamond trading corporation. Lastly, all owners were given a solid silver key ring with three 0.5 carat diamonds embedded into it.
Available in Garnet Red and Racing Green, the Montana special edition was based on the 1.8-litre car and limited in production to 500 units. The car was given a unique mohair soft top roof, a colour coded detachable hardtop, and front fog lamps.
On the inside Mazda kitted out the Montana MX-5 with heated seats trimmed in tan leather with matching tan carpet. The steering wheel was also made from wood, along with the shifter knob and hand brake grip. Wood effect trim pieces were also used throughout the rest of the cabin as well.
The MX-5 Nevada could be bought with both engine options, with all of the cheaper 1.6-litre versions only being available with cloth trim. 1.8-litre cars on the other hand came with the option of leather or cloth for the trim.
In total, 2,050 models were produced in two different colours: Cerion Silver and Strato Blue (the former being the more popular option). The Nevada was also given 15-inch alloy wheels and a colour co-ordinated fabric soft top roof (blue for silver cars and grey for blue coloured Nevadas). This colour-co-ordinated theme continued on the inside, with Strato Blue cars getting a grey interior and Cerion Silver models a blue interior.
Other additions included a two-tone leather steering wheel and shifter knob. The door handles on the inside were also finished in a chrome material and an aluminium effect centre console and air vent bezels were included as well.
Yes, that’s right, Mazda even created a special edition model to celebrate the release of “Charlie’s Angels – Full Throttle”. Adorned with Angels logos/badging, this special edition model was available in both engine options and was limited in production to a total of 500 units.
Production of the MX-5 Angels started in July 2003 and buyers could select from two colours: Eternal Red and Sunlight Silver. The inside was trimmed in black leather and red stitching. Additionally, Mazda kitted out the car with chrome trim pieces and stainless steel scuff plates.
MX-5 Club Sport
In 2003 Mazda introduced the rarest most stripped down version of the MX-5 NB, the Club Sport. The Club Sport was essentially a stripped down MX-5 Miata with no options that was intended to be used for racing. Mazda removed the power steering, air conditioning, windblocker and stereo system to save weight. They then added Bilstein suspension and a limited-slip differential.
Interestingly, the Club Sport was priced $2,500 lower than the standard NB and Mazda even forced dealers to sell the car at the sticker price.
Based on the 1.8-litre MX-5 NB, the Indiana was limited in production to 250 units and was finished in a special Garnet Red Metallic colour. The car also sported front fog lamps and 15-inch alloy wheels.
The most immediate visual changes on the inside were the mahogany steering wheel, gear shifter and hand brake lever. The Centre console was also made from a faux wood material and the heated seats were trimmed in a luxurious beige leather.
Over 2000 of these Euphonic MX-5s were produced in either the 1.6-litre or 1.8-litre variants. Buyers had the choice of four different colours: Titanium Grey, Brilliant Black, Sunlight Silver and Velocity Red. All Euphonics also received 16-inch alloy wheels that were finished in a special Mesh Titanium paintjob.
Black and red was the theme for the interior and there was even a smattering of carbon-fibre lookalike material for some of the the trim pieces. The key feature on the inside was the Sony audio system that included the following:
- Sony CDX-MP80 MP3/CD radio head unit with remote
- Sony CDX-T69 6 disc CD-changer located in the boot
- An extra two 25w speakers in the windblocker
- A Sony tweeter and X-plod loudspeaker in each door
No, this wasn’t an offroad special with winter tyres and fluffy seats. It was much the same as the other special edition models listed above. Buyers could opt for a choice of Razor Blue, Titanium Grey or Sunlight Silver paint finishes. All cars also featured a blue fabric soft top roof and special chrome trim for the quarter window.
Blue leather seats and door panels matched the fabric roof and Mazda included a unique silver centre console trim.
This special edition MX-5 was available in both engine options and was available from March 2005. Buyers had the choice of Black Mica, Chilli Orange, Sunlight Silver and Titanium Grey colours. Front fog lamps and 15-inch Enkie alloy wheels completed the styling changes.
The upgraded speakers and luxurious black leather seats with orange stitching were the biggest changes on the inside. A special silver centre console and air vent bezels were also included.
Third Party Upgrades
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 horsepower, 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.
Mazda MX-5 NA Specifications
|Model||MX-5 NB 1.6||MX-5 NB 1.8|
|Year of production||1998 – 2005||1998 – 2005|
|Layout||Front-engine, rear-wheel drive||Front-engine, rear-wheel drive|
|Engine/Engines||B6-ZE 1.6-litre Inline 4||BP DOHC 1.8-litre Inline 4|
|Power||110 PS (109 bhp/81 kW) – (1999 1.6)||139 PS (137 bhp/102 kW) – (automatic 1.8) 140 PS (138 bhp/103 kW) – (1999 1.8) 145 PS (143 bhp/107 kW) – (2001 1.8) – United States 154 PS (152 bhp/113 kW) – (2001 1.8) – Japan, UK and Australia|
|Torque||134 Nm (98 lb-ft) @ 5,000 rpm (1999 1.6)||170 Nm (125 lb-ft) @ 5,000 rpm (automatic 1.8) 162 Nm (119 lb-ft) @ 4,500 rpm (1999 1.8) 168 Nm (123 lb-ft) @ 4,500 rpm (2001 1.8)|
|Transmission||5-speed manual 4-speed automatic||6-speed Aisin manual 5-speed manual 4-speed automatic|
|Brakes Front||Vented 254 mm (10 inch) discs||Vented 254 mm (10 inch) discs|
|Brakes Rear||Vented 251 mm (9.9 inch) discs||Vented 251 mm (9.9 inch) discs|
|Tyres Front||195/50 R15||195/50 R15|
|Tyres Rear||195/50 R15||195/50 R15|
|Suspension Front||Independent. Double Wishbones. coil springs. anti-roll bar||Independent. Double Wishbones. coil springs. anti-roll bar|
|Suspension Rear||Independent. Double Wishbones. anti-roll bar||Independent. Double Wishbones. anti-roll bar|
|Weight||990 – 1,080 kg (2,183 – 2,381 lbs)||990 – 1,080 kg (2,183 – 2,381 lbs)|
|Top speed||181 km/h (119 mph) – (1999 1.6)||190 km/h (118 mph) – (automatic 1.8) 205 km/h (127 mph) – (1999 1.8)|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||9.7 seconds (1999 1.6)||11 seconds (automatic 1.8) 8.4 seconds (1999 1.8)|
Mazda MX-5 NB Buying Guide (1998 – 2005)
The Mk2 Mazda MX-5 Miata is not a young car anymore, however, that doesn’t detract from its brilliance. A well maintained one will provide plenty of miles of trouble-free motoring and they have become somewhat of a classic (although they haven’t quite achieved the cult status of the original).
Arranging an Inspection of a Mazda MX-5 NB
Below we have listed some things to keep in mind when arranging an inspection of a second gen Mazda MX-5 Miata:
- View the MX-5 NB in person or get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you – Buying used cars sight unseen is far more popular today than it was a number of years ago, but we still recommend that you view any MX-5 NB in person first. This is because a physical inspection may reveal some hidden issues that aren’t visible in the listing photos, etc. Additionally, you can’t trust that the seller will divulge all the problems with the car over a phone call or email chat. If you can’t view the MX-5 Mk2 yourself, get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you.
- Bring along a second pair of eyes and ears to the inspection – It is a good idea to take a helper or friend to an inspection of a used Mazda MX-5 as they may be able to spot something you missed. They can also help you test the car and tell you about their thoughts on whether or not they think it is a good buy.
- Look at the MX-5 NB at the seller’s house or place of business – This isn’t completely necessary but is always something we recommend. This is because it will allow you to view where and how the MX-5 Miata is stored. If the NB MX-5 is always garaged that’s great, but if it is always stored out on the road it is more likely to suffer from problems such as rust (a big issue on these cars that we will talk about later). Additionally, when you go to the seller’s house you can also check what sort of roads the car is regularly driven on. If they are really rough and full of potholes, the suspension, wheels and tyres may have taken a beating.
- Inspect the Mazda MX-5 NB in the morning if possible – Once again this isn’t completely necessary, but it will give the seller less time to warm up their Mk2 MX-5 and clean up any potential issues such as a big oil leak.
- Ask the seller not to drive or pre-warm their Mazda MX-5 prior to your arrival if possible – A warm engine can cover a multitude of sins, so check that the motor is cold when you begin the inspection.
- If the Mazda MX-5 NB is being sold at a dealer, don’t let them know you are coming to see it – While this is not always possible depending on how the dealer operates, it can be a good idea. If the dealer knows you are coming it gives them more of a chance to clean up any potential issues and pre-warm the engine.
- Try not to inspect a used Mazda MX-5 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 MX-5, try to go back for a second viewing before making a decision on the car.
- 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 Mazda MX-5 NB 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 Used Mazda MX-5 NB With Problems
In this guide you will notice that we try to steer you in the direction of buying the cleanest, most well maintained second gen MX-5 possible. However, there is really nothing wrong with buying a Mazda MX-5 NB with problems as long as you know what you are getting yourself into. In fact, pretty much all second gen MX-5s on the road today will have some sort of issue/issues, so you are never going to get a perfect example (even a car that has been garaged its whole life will come with its own set of problems).
When buying an MX-5 Mk2 you want to try and find out what problems the car has prior to handing over the money (This guide will hopefully help you with that). If there aren’t a lot or they are relatively insignificant problems, that’s great. However, if there are more serious problems it is a good idea to work out roughly how much it will cost to fix them before purchasing the vehicle.
When you do find any issues, try to use them to get a discount, especially if they are more serious Be mindful of the fact that the problems you find could be more extensive and expensive to repair than first envisioned, so it can be a good idea to add a bit more to any quote you receive.
Where to Buy a Used Mazda MX-5?
Your usual sites such as AutoTrader, cars.com, eBay, GumTree and TradeMe are going to be your best place to start your hunt for a second generation Mazda MX-5. The vast majority of private sellers and dealers will list their cars on these sorts of sites, but they may also list them elsewhere. If you are looking for a really clean example you may be better of checking out more specialist auction/classifieds sites such as Bring a Trailer and Cars & Bids.
Another place that is worth checking is your local Mazda dealership. Sometimes they may have a good example for sale (usually at a higher price) or they may be able to point you in the direction of somebody who is looking to sell theirs.
Lastly, it is always worth checking out Mazda/MX-5 owners clubs. These sorts of clubs tend to consist of enthusiastic and knowledgeable owners who look after their cars a bit better. Here are a few examples of some clubs:
MX-5 Owners Club UK – Established in 1994 and now with over 7,000 the MX-5 Owners Club is one of the world’s largest MX-5 Club.
Mazda MX-5 Miata US Club – Facebook group dedicated to the MX-5 Miata for United States based owners. Has over 11,000 members.
Mazda Forum – Club dedicated to all Mazda cars with a section for the MX-5 Miata.
MX-5 Car Club NZ – New Zealand based club for MX-5 owners.
How Much Does It Cost to Buy an MX-5 NB?
The price of a second generation Mazda MX-5 Miata is going to depend on a number of different factors from what year the car is, to its specs (1.6 vs 1.8), condition, where it is being sold, how it is being sold (auction vs fixed price) and much more. For example, a really well maintained 1.8 NB with the optional hard top roof is going to be worth a lot more than a ragged 1.6 automatic that has seen a lot of action.
With the above being the case, we recommend that you jump on your local auction/classifieds sites and search for Mazda MX-5s for sale. You can then use these prices to work out roughly what you need to spend to get an MX-5 in a condition and spec level you are happy with. Remember, it can also be a good idea to add around 5 to 10% of the purchase price to your budget for any unexpected expenses.
We also recommend that you check out Bring a Trailer’s auction results for the MX-5 here as you can see what prices cars have sold for in the past (This is more relevant to USA based buyers).
Checking the VIN/Chassis Number
It is always a good idea to check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of a car prior to purchase. The VIN is a series of 17 characters and numbers that manufacturers such as Mazda assign to a vehicle at production. It can be used to find out information about a particular car, such as where it was manufactured, the model, year of manufacturer and more.
The VIN can also be entered into a VIN checkup/decoder website that may contain information such as whether or not the Mazda MX-5 you are inspecting has any money owing on it or if it has been written off at any point. Most of these VIN checkup websites/services are region limited, so keep that in mind.
A Mazda MX-5 NA’s VIN number should look something like this – JM1NB3534X0XXXXXX.
Japanese domestic market MX-5s have a slightly different VIN that is commonly referred to as a “chassis number”. The Japanese chassis number is 10 characters long and tends to look like this – NB6C-XXXXXX (NB 1.6) or NB8C- XXXXXX (NB 1.8).
Where are the VIN Locations on an MX-5 Miata NB?
- Back of the engine bay on the firewall
- Bonnet/hood (sticker)
- Front edge of the dashboard
- Door jamb on the driver’s side (sticker)
- Right side of the oil pan
- Left side of the back of the transmission on manual cars
- Next to latch on both doors (sticker)
- Inside front bumper, passenger side, just under the turn signal (sticker)
- Boot/trunk (sticker)
There are a few more places you can find the VIN, but the above should cover most of what you need. Additionally, keep in mind that the location and number of VIN stickers and plates might alter slightly depending on the market.
It is a good idea to try and locate as many VIN plates/stickers as possible to make sure that they match. If they don’t, it could be a sign that the MX-5 NB has had some repairs in the past (could be accident, rust, etc.) or it may have even been stolen at some point.
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). In this section we are going to be looking at all the things you need to watch out for when checking the engine in a Mazda MX-5 Miata NB.
Starting Your Engine Inspection
Move to the front of the MX-5 Mk2 and lift the bonnet/hood. Check to make sure that it opens smoothy and that there are no issues with the catch or hinges. If you do come across a problem here, or if they look new, it could be a sign of past accident damage or some other sort of repair work. Once you have looked at the hinges and catch, do a general check for the following:
- Cleanliness – How clean is the engine bay? If the MX-5 NB has a super dirty engine bay it could be a sign of somebody who hasn’t cared much for their car. On the other end of the spectrum a spotless engine could be indicative of somebody trying to cover something up (oil leak for example).
- Obvious Issues – Do a quick general check for any immediately noticeable issues such as leaks, broken or missing components and more.
- Modifications – A good number of Mk2 Mazda MX-5s have been modified in some way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a modified car, but it is important to make sure modifications have been done correctly and that they are suitable for the car. It may be worth noting down any modifications and checking online to see what other MX-5 NB owners say about them.
Check the Fluids
Make sure that the engine oil has been replaced at least every 12,000 km (7,000 miles). More fastidious owners like to do it earlier, with many carrying out changes as early as 5,000 km (3,000 miles). MX-5s that are not driven that much should receive oil and filter changes every six to twelve months. Every owner has their own recommendation for the engine oil, but Mobil 1 or Castrol 5W-30 or 0W-40 oils are often recommended.
Failure to replace the engine oil and filter regularly (along with the other fluids) can lead to premature engine/component wear and possibly even failure.
Don’t forget to check the oil level along with the other fluid levels. Additionally, watch out for a broken dipstick. This was more of an issue on first generation MX-5s but it can still occur on Mk2 models as well. If the oil level is too low or too high, we would be cautious of the MX-5 NB you are looking at as you simply won’t know how long the car has been run for like this. It can be handy to bring along some paper towels/kitchen roll when checking the oil level.
Do a visual check of the engine oil itself and any other fluids as well. If you notice any metallic particles or grit in the engine oil it could be a sign of a serious problem such as bearing failure. Metallic particles can also be a sign of other things such as a recent rebuild, so keep that in mind if the car has just had some major engine work.
Make sure you check for any foam, froth or milky looking oil. If you notice any of these issues it could be a sign of a number of different problems with the MX-5’s engine. These issues could range from an engine that has been overfilled with oil, condensation in the oil, or possibly even a blown head gasket.
It can be a good idea to get the oil analysed prior to purchase, especially if you are looking for a really good second generation Mazda MX-5. Getting the oil tested can help you determine if there are any unwanted particles in it. Additionally, it can also tell you if the vehicle needs more frequent changes or if it can go further between servicing.
Oil Leaks on a Mk1 Mazda MX-5
As the NB uses the same engines as the first generation NA MX-5, it largely suffers from the same oil leaks (although Mazda removed the CAS and replaced it with a crank sensor at the front):
Cap where the CAS used to be – Mazda added a cap/plug cover where the CAS used to be on NA models (back of the valve/timing cover). Over time, heat from the engine can make the cap less pliant, which can lead to an improper seal and oil leakage. This isn’t a major issue, but something to be aware of. You can find a bit more about the problem in this thread on miata.net. This should be fixed as soon as possible as oil can get onto the heater hoses, which can cause them to degrade and burst.
Timing/valve/cam cover gasket – This is a common leak on a lot of cars and is definitely one to watch out for. Once again it is not a major issue to fix as the parts and labour aren’t too bad. We have included another video from CashedOutCars explaining the replacement process below (for both NA and NB cars).
Front crank seal or cam seals – If you notice any oil leaking from the front of the engine it could be caused by the timing cover, but it could also be caused by the front crank seal or the cam seals. If the leak is bad enough oil can get onto the timing belt.
Rear main and half-moon seal leak – This is another one to watch out for. A leak from the rear main seal often starts out slow but will usually get quicker overtime. If the leak is quite bad the clutch disk can become covered in oil and start slipping (by this point the leak will be fairly rapid and you will probably want to get it done anyway). It is often recommended that you replace the rear main seal when installing a new clutch, so check to see if this has been done. Oftentimes if you see a leak from between the transmission and engine it is not the rear main seal, but actually the half-moon seal.
Oil pan – This isn’t a very common leak on these cars, but a number of owners have experienced it over the years. Fixing an oil pan seal leak can be quite expensive as it requires either dropping the subframe or pulling the engine.
Checking for PCV (Positive Crankcase Ventilation) Issues
Keep an eye out for the following symptoms as it could be a sign of a bad PCV valve:
- Rough/lumpy idle (this could also be spark plug issues, etc.)
- Hesitation during acceleration
- Excessive oil consumption and worse fuel/gas mileage (probably not going to be able to tell during a short test drive)
- Leaks from the PCV hose assembly
Below we have listed some steps you can take to check the PCV system:
- Try remove the oil cap with the engine running – the oil cap should be easy to remove
- Check how the engine is running – with the oil cap off the engine should start stumbling due to there being a vacuum leak. If the engine starts surging immediately it could have a PCV issue.
- Put a rubber glove, plastic/cling wrap or a post-it-note over the valve cover – If the glove inflates or other item you are using gets blown off forcibly or sucked in, the car probably has a PCV issue. A normal functioning system should provide some light suction against the valve cover.
You can find the PCV valve on the left side of the valve cover on a second generation MX-5 Miata (The video below shows and NA MX-5, but it is the same for NB versions of the MX-5 Miata as well). When buying a replacement PCV valve it is generally recommended that you either go with an original one or an upgraded one from a Mazda 323 Turbo (highly recommended for turbo/modified MX-5s). Most owners recommend avoiding PCV valves from the likes of NAPA, Advance or whatever your local shop sells.
If there is a problem with the PCV system and it is not sorted it can lead to a build-up of pressure in the engine’s crankcase. This can eventually lead to more serious problems such as failure of the engine seals (rear main seal, etc.). It can be a good idea to check when the valve was last replaced as if it was over 50,000 km (30,000 miles) ago, a precautionary replacement could be a good idea.
When Does an MX-5 Miata NB’s Timing Belt Need Replacing?
The belt should generally be replaced around the 100,000 km (60,000 mile) mark on an MX-5 Miata NB. However, some owners do leave changes a bit longer (up to around 160,000 km/100,000 miles) as the belt doesn’t usually fail that early. Mazda even recommends the 160,000 km interval for some markets, but if the car is well past this interval without a change it is a sign that it probably hasn’t been that well maintained.
If you notice a whining noise from the front of the engine it could be a sign of an overtightened timing belt (could also be a worn water pump pulley bearing as well, but more on this later).
What if The Belt Breaks on a Mk2 Mazda MX-5?
Thankfully, both engines fitted to the second generation Mazda MX-5 are non-interference engines, so a belt breakage shouldn’t cause catastrophic damage. However, this doesn’t mean it is a good idea to just wait until the belt breaks before replacing it. If the MX-5 NB is well past 160,000 km without a timing belt change it is a sign that the car has probably been poorly maintained (and we would still like to see closer to 100,000 km/60,000 miles).
Check the crank pully for any excess wobble. While there isn’t a factory issue like on early NA MX-5 Miatas, problems can eventually occur, especially if the bolt isn’t torqued properly after a timing belt replacement. If there is some crank pully wobble it will often be accompanied by an oil leak (the wobbling leads to excess wear on the seals).
Crankshaft Position Sensor (CPS)
A bad crankshaft position sensor is a common issue on these cars (so much so that some owners recommend keeping a spare and a 10mm wrench in your glovebox). If there is a problem, you will typically notice a CEL and the car may suddenly die when driving along. Alternatively, the MX-5 NB may not even turn on at all.
Issues here can lead to major engine damage, so take your time when inspecting and testing the car’s cooling system. Here are some things to watch out for:
When the engine is cold, remove the coolant tank lid and inspect the coolant (don’t do this when the engine is warm and/or running). Make sure it is in good condition and not brown or muddy in colour. Some owners fit aftermarket expansion tanks made from materials such as aluminium. These tanks won’t be transparent so you will have to take off the lid to see what is inside (once again only do this when the engine is cold).
It is recommended that the coolant be changed every 2 to 5 years (depending on what the coolant manufacturer states), so check to make sure that has been done. The mix should be 50:50 water/anti-freeze, with coolants such as Prestone conventional (change at 3 years or 48,000 km/30,000 miles) or Zerex Asian formula coming highly recommended.
Coolant Leaks & Level
Have a good look around the expansion tank, coolant lines and other areas of the engine bay for any coolant leaks. The coolant hoses can go brittle and hard, which can eventually lead to leaks, so check their condition. Watch out for cars with aftermarket hose kits as they can be more prone to leaking. Additionally, if you want to swap back to OEM ones it can be a bit of a pain (OEM are easier to install thanks to being factory formed, but still annoying to do).
It is important to check for coolant leaks both before and after a test drive. When you return from a test drive, switch the MX-5 Miata NB off and let it sit for around 10 to 15 minutes. Following this, recheck for any coolant leaks (or other leaks for that matter). If you don’t see any coolant but notice a sweet aroma, the MX-5 is probably leaking from somewhere but it just isn’t visible.
Failing Water Pump
The water pump on a second generation Mazda MX-5 Miata can fail, so keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Coolant leaks – the water pump, coolant lines or expansion tank are probably going to be your most likely cause of a leak.
- Slight knocking noise at idle
- Whining and/or chuffing sounds
- Overheating – It is a good idea to go for a reasonably long test drive as you may not notice the Mazda MX-5 NB overheating during a short test drive. Note: Overheating could also be a sign of something like a bad thermostat, radiator issues and much more, so keep that in mind. The temperature gauge shouldn’t really go above the 11:30 mark otherwise it is starting to get a bit hot.
- Steam or smoke – Be on the lookout for any steam or smoke from the front of the car. If you notice this problem, it is best to walk away.
Testing the Water Pump
Physically rock the water pump back and forth to check for excessive wear, but keep in mind it could be hot if the engine has been running.
Another test to do is to switch the heater on as high as possible. The heater core requires proper function of the water pump for it to work correctly. If the pump isn’t working, fluid won’t be forced through the system.
When you switch on the heater you should feel a blast of hot air. This hot air should continue to come out of the vents if the Mazda MX-5 NB’s water pump is functioning correctly. If the warm air stops/gradually reduces it is a sign that hot fluid is not being cycled through the system and the Mk2 MX-5’s water pump is not functioning correctly.
Removing and installing a new water pump isn’t too much of an issue, but keep in mind that the MX-5 may have overheated at some point if there is a problem with the pump.
Replacing the water pump isn’t too much of an issue, but be cautious if you notice a problem as the car may have overheated at some point in the past.
Both this generation and previous generation MX-5s suffer from the same issue when it comes to the radiator. The radiator should be black but with age they can become brittle and turn a brown/greenish colour. If this has happened the radiator will probably need to be replaced in the near future as it will eventually crack and fail.
If you notice an erratically behaving temperature gauge there is a good chance it is down to the thermostat (but don’t count on it). When the thermostat fails or sticks it often leads to issues such as the temperature gauge reading too cold or taking a long time to get up to temperature. If the temperature gauge is on the hotter end (above around the 11:30 mark on an MX-5 NB), it is probably due to some other sort of issue such as a failed water pump, low coolant, etc. (could still be the thermostat however).
Look for Air Bubbles in the Coolant
It is a good idea to check for bubbles in the coolant (once again, do not open the coolant tank when the car is running or when it is hot). A few bubbles when the engine is warming up is quite normal, but there should be none once the Mk2 Mazda MX-5 is up to temperature. Bubbles indicate that air has entered the system at some point, which can lead to overheating.
Air can get into the cooling system through several different ways from something like a bad radiator cap to air pockets in the radiator and possibly even a blown head gasket, so be cautious if you notice this problem.
Head Gasket/Cooling System Failure
Head gasket failure is a possibility on these cars, so it is important to keep an eye out for the following issues:
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant expansion tank
- White and milky oil
- Spark plugs that are fouled (if you or 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 Mazda MX-5 NB
If the head gasket has been replaced at any point try to find out what it was replaced with. The original OEM Mazda gaskets are considered to be the best for almost all engines (both naturally aspirated and turbo or supercharged). Aftermarket head gaskets can be quite “hit or miss” with these cars, but there are situations where a slightly thicker gasket may be preferable. Some aftermarket gaskets don’t have the holes needed for water passage, which can quickly lead to overheating and a blown gasket.
Inspect as much of the exhaust system as possible as problems here are quite common given the age of these cars. Sourcing OEM exhaust parts from dealers is quite expensive, but third party exhaust/muffler shops and builders should be able to sort you out with parts at a cheaper price.
Rust is definitely a killer when it comes to the stock exhaust system, especially if the car is located in somewhere like the United Kingdom or states such as Minnesota, Iowa, etc. Good quality aftermarket exhaust systems manufactured from something like stainless steel shouldn’t rust, but you may notice a bit of surface corrosion.
Rust problems on exhausts usually occur due to corrosive unburnt fuel or exhaust gases mixed with water vapour in the system. This is why cars that are driven on shorter trips tend to suffer from rusted exhausts more than those that do a lot of highway miles. The moisture and corrosive substances remain in the muffler as they are not burnt off during a short trip, leading to rust formation from the inside out.
If you hear any low rumbling, scraping or rattling noises it could be a sign of exhaust issues. Ticking noises are often a sign of a leak, especially if they change with an increase or decrease in rpms.
Catalytic Converter (CAT) Issues
Most second generation Mazda MX-5 Miatas have one catalytic converter, but cars sold in California have two (one under the car and one at the end of the exhaust manifold). If you get the codes read and it comes back with a P0421 code, the car is a California emissions vehicle. A bad second CAT will not set off the CEL, so the P0421 code indicates a problem with the first CAT (O2 sensors before and after it). The two CAT MX-5 NBs were sold in around six other states, but we are unsure if any other markets received them (let us know in the comments below if you know).
Failure of a catalytic converter can lead to the following symptoms:
- Smell of sulphur or rotten eggs from the exhaust
- Reduced acceleration and sluggish engine performance
- Excessive heat under the Mazda MX-5 NB
- Dark smoke from the car’s exhaust
- CEL (Check Engine Light)
- Emission test failure
- Louder sounding exhaust (probably won’t be able to notice this during a test drive)
Sourcing and replacing the CAT isn’t too expensive on a Mk2 MX-5s, however, owners with California spec cars have a bit more trouble finding the extra catalytic converter. Some owners run their MX-5s without a catalytic converter, but depending on where you live in the world the car may fail emissions tests and not be road legal. Additionally, if you are looking at an MX-5 with an aftermarket exhaust, check to see if it has a CAT or not for the reason we just stated.
The original Mazda exhaust is well regarded amongst most MX-5 NB owners, but this hasn’t stopped many fitting aftermarket systems. Third party exhausts tend to be fitted to improve or change the exhaust note, but some owners may have installed one as sourcing an original OEM exhaust can be expensive. Alternatively, they may have opted for a more durable aftermarket exhaust if they live in an area that causes a lot of rust issues.
There are a whole load of aftermarket options out there for the second gen MX-5 and there is no real consensus on what is best. However, some third party exhausts are better than others, so we recommend that you try to find out what aftermarket system the car is running and then check any reviews/feedback on the product to make sure it is a good one. A poor quality exhaust could be a sign that the owner or a previous owner has cheaped out on modifications.
Checking for Knocking Sounds
It is important to check for knocking noises from the engine. Once the MX-5 NB is up to temperature, pull the throttle valve or get a helper to apply some throttle. Let the rpms build slowly and listen for knocking noises that come and go as the engine climbs through the rev range. If you do hear any noises like this, it could be a sign of a problem such as main bearing failure or rod issues. This sort of knocking is a very serious issue, and it is probably best to walk away from any Mk2 MX-5 Miata with this problem.
What Should the Idle Speed Be on a MX-5 Miata NB?
Once warm you should expect the idle speed to be around 850 rpm (+ or – 50 rpm). Don’t worry if the idle is higher when the engine is first started and cold (could be as much as 1,800 rpm). This is perfectly normal, but it should soon drop to the 850 rpm range once the motor is up to the correct temperature. If the NB has had problems with stalling the owner may have adjusted the idle speed up to 900 rpm.
Misfiring, Hesitation and Stalling
Hesitation is a very common issue on second generation MX-5 Miatas and is usually caused by the factory ignition wires. These don’t tend to last around 50,000 to 100,000 km (30,000 to 60,000 miles). Failure tends to happen due to the breakdown of the insulation on the wires, which eventually leads to sparking between the wire and metal valve cover.
Misfires can also be caused by worn ignition leads and bad 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.
A problem with the Variable Tumble Control Solenoid (VTCS) can also lead to bad/sluggish performance and starts. Replacing the solenoid isn’t too much trouble (located at the rear of the engine), but the problem could also be down to disconnected or damaged hoses as well.
Another possible reason for hesitation is due to water in the engine. Cleaning the engine bay with a pressure hose can force water past the spark plugs’ rubber seals. Water than goes into the cylinders leading to trouble. Once the cylinder dries out it should be fine, but it is something you should be aware of.
A good test for these problems can be to find some stop-start traffic as problems such as engine stutter, misfiring, hesitation, etc. can often appear in this sort of situation.
While we have listed some most common reasons for poor running above, the issue could be down to another problem. You may not be able to determine the exact cause of the problem and if it was a simple fix the owner probably would have got it sorted before putting their MX-5 NB on the market.
Bad Engine Mounts
The two engine mounts and two differential mounts can go bad with time. Most of the time they typically last up to around 160,000 km (100,000 miles) before they need to be replaced, but this is only a rough guideline and they may need to be replaced earlier or they may go on for longer. Here are some signs of worn engine mounts on a second gen MazdaMX-5 Miata:
- Engine movement – As you rev the engine, check to see how much it moves. If it shakes or rocks excessively there is probably a problem with the mounts.
- Rev the engine and see if it moves excessively. Also check how the engine is at idle and check for any movement while looking from underneath the car.
- Excessive vibrations/shaking – This is typically more noticeable at idle and in really bad cases you may notice that the whole car shakes. Note: vibrations/shaking could also be caused by some other sort of issue as well (spark plugs, timing issues and more).
- Clunking, banging or other impact sounds – Watch out for these sorts of sounds as they could indicate that the engine is moving slightly due to a bad mount.
- Issues with shifting – If you notice that there is a lot of motion with the shifter and that it moves during acceleration it could be down to the mounts. Additionally, bad engine mounts can cause issues when trying to shift into different gears.
Installing new engine mounts isn’t too expensive, but make sure you try to use it to get a discount if you notice any issues. We also recommend that you check to see when the engine and differential mounts were last replaced (if ever), as you may want to factor that into the price if they are getting up there in terms of mileage.
Mazda’s Competition engine mounts (also known as Mazdaspeed mounts) are a very popular upgrade over the standard Mk2 MX-5 Miata ones for cars running more power and/or driven harder. They are around 40% stiffer than the stock ones and many owners report that they sharpen up the feel of the drivetrain.
Installing stiffer mounts such as the Competition ones or other third party performance mounts can lead to an increase in vibrations throughout the whole car when compared to the standard OEM MX-5 ones. Some owners also report higher noise levels from post installation as well. For these reasons it is generally recommended that you go with the stock mounts if the car is a daily driver, while the Mazda Competition mounts are better if it is your second car and/or you like to drive aggressively. Additionally, some owners with the hardtop roof state that the Mazda Competition mounts lead to an even greater amount of vibrations/noise with the roof installed.
A loud knocking noise when the A/C is turned on often indicates a problem with the compressor, which could be expensive to fix. If you notice a squealing sound it isn’t usually too much of a problem and typically indicates that the A/C belt is just a bit loose.
Remember to check that the two air conditioning fans behind the radiator work as intended and are in good condition. The passenger’s side fan only comes on when the A/C is turned on while the other one is activated by the engine coolant temperature. However, both fans will come on when the air conditioning is switched on, even if the coolant temp is not high enough. The left fan also operates as a backup in case the other one fails for some reason.
Cold air should come out of the vents relatively quickly once the air conditioning is turned on. If you don’t notice any cold air or the A/C seems very weak it could be caused by a range of different issues. While the system may simply need a new refrigerant, the lack of cold air could be caused by a more serious problem such as a failed compressor.
Smoke from a Mk2 Mazda MX-5 Miata
It is a good idea to get the seller to start the MX-5 Miata for you for the first time (make sure you do it yourself later). This way you can position yourself near to the exhaust and see what comes out the back. If the car smokes like an eighties rockstar it is probably best to walk away. Don’t be too concerned by a small amount of vapour when the engine is first started as this is just condensation in the exhaust and will be more noticeable during colder weather.
Another reason we recommend that you get the seller to start the car for you is so you can see if they rev it hard when it hasn’t warmed up. If they do you know the vehicle probably hasn’t been treated well. Below we have listed what the different colours of smoke may indicate:
As we have already mentioned above, a small amount of white vapour on engine start is usually just condensation in the exhaust.
If you notice lots of white/greyish smoke it is usually a sign that water/coolant has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown or 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.
White smoke can also be a sign that the turbo seals have gone bad if the MX-5 NB is fitted with one.
This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including warn pistons rings, valve seals, and more. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are driving the Mazda MX-5 NB. 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).
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. Unburnt fuel being sent through the exhaust system can also lead to premature catalytic converter failure as well, so keep that in mind.
If the Mazda MX-5 has been modified and a remap has not been done (or not done properly) it is more likely to produce a bit of black smoke.
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.
Buying a Mazda MX-5 Mk2 with a Rebuilt or Replaced Engine
Eventually, most MX-5s will need some sort of engine rebuild or replacement if they last long enough. If the Mk2 Miata you are looking at does have a rebuilt or replaced engine, try to find out who did the work and check reviews/feedback.
An engine rebuild or replacement is eventually going to be required for almost all MX-5 NAs that last a long time. While some people get a bit funny about engine rebuilds or replacements, we don’t have a problem as long as the work was carried out by somebody competent.
Home rebuild jobs are okay, but be extra cautious as many home mechanics have more ambition than skill (however, there are some very good ones out there who put professionals to shame).
We generally prefer rebuilds over replacements as there is a higher chance of knowing the history of the engine. A swapped engine could have come from any MX-5 NB and you probably won’t be able to find its history.
More extensive engine swaps with non-stock motors (V6, V8, etc.) are quite common on second generation MX-5 Miatas (just like the previous gen). However, while these can be great, you definitely want to avoid buying somebody else’s unfinished project (unless you know what you are getting yourself into).
We tend to recommend that you avoid fresh rebuilds or engine swaps with only a couple of hundred miles on them. This is because a Mazda MX-5 NB that has travelled 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild or swap is more of a known than one that has only travelled a short distance since the work was carried out.
If possible, we suggest that you get a compression test done prior to purchase. A compression test can help you determine whether or not there is problem with the engine, however, it won’t necessarily tell you exactly what the problem is. If the owner doesn’t want a compression test to go ahead it could be a sign that they are trying to hide something from you.
Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. When new, the factory spec for 1.8-litre models was 196 psi, with a minimum of 146 psi. On 1.6-litre models the factory spec is 192 psi, with around 135 being the low psi limit. However, most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10 to 15% of each other).
Transmission & Differential
MX-5 NB models with the 1.6-litre power unit were equipped with either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic. The larger engined variant was optioned with both of those transmissions as well, but it was also available with a 6-speed Aisin manual transmission. As the manual variants are the most popular, lets start by looking at them.
Manual MX-5 NBs
Some owners seem to prefer the feel of the 5-speed over the 6-speed, but this really comes down to personal preference. The main reason for the preference is that many find the 5-speed to be smoother. However, the 6-speed transmission is better for cars running more power, so keep that in mind.
Both transmissions tend to be fairly reliable if maintained well, but it is important to make sure they are not overly loose or sloppy. A loose gear shifter is usually caused by worn or failed bushes that connect the shifter to the transmission (quite a common issue, but not too much of an issue). Alternatively, if it is really hard to change gears the problem could be anything from old fluid that needs changing, to a much more serious issue that could be expensive to fix. Some owners have complained of gear over rattle on the 5-speed manual, but a fluid change tends to fix this.
Don’t forget to test the transmission at both low and high engine speeds. Make sure that none of the gears pop out under moderate to hard acceleration. If you do notice a problem, it could be caused by something relatively simple like low fluid or by a more serious issue that requires extensive transmission repairs (transmission/gear rebuild, etc.).
As mentioned in the “Engine” section of this article, if you notice that there is a lot of motion with the shifter and that it moves during acceleration it could be down to the engine mounts. Additionally, bad engine mounts can cause issues when trying to shift into different gears.
Watch out for any grinding/notchiness when changing up and down gears as this is probably caused by worn synchros. This can happen to all Mk2 Mazda MX-5s but is more likely to be a problem on cars owned by particularly heavy-footed drivers. Additionally, modified MX-5 Miata NBs running more power are more likely to suffer from transmission problems as well (part of that is due to increased power, but also the fact that owners who modify their cars tend to drive them harder).
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.
It is a good idea to see how the clutch and transmission performs during a hill start. Additionally, lift off after accelerating hard in second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. If you notice any strange rattling noises it could be a sign that the gearbox bearings are in a bad way.
Remember to check for leaks from the transmission. The drain bolt, fill bolt (pretty unlikely), front seal, and rear seal are all places where transmission fluid can leak. Additionally, fluid can also leak from where the rear section of the transmission connects to the gearbox, however, this is a pretty uncommon failure.
Listen pit for a whining or grinding noise when the clutch is engaged as this 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. Remember to check the condition and level of the clutch fluid as well. Some owners like to replace the clutch fluid with every change of the brake fluid or every 4/5 years or so, but there is no hard and fast rule on this.
The clutch itself is a wear item and will eventually need to be replaced. Depending on how the MX-5 is treated and driven, a clutch may last anywhere from as little as 48,000 km (30,000 miles) or go on more than triple that distance. Below we have listed some things to check when testing the clutch on a Mk2 MX-5 Miata:
Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the Mazda MX-5 NB 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 Mk2 MX-5 Miata 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.
Automatic MX-5 NBs
While some can’t understand the point of an automatic MX-5 NB, many owners who have them tend to like the more laid back driving experience. The 4-speed transmission tends to be quite reliable as well and as it is an automatic, there is a lower chance that it will have been thrashed to pieces.
Remember to check the fluid level. The dipstick is located on the passenger side (left hand drive) at the very back of the engine bay. The level should be checked with the MX-5 warmed up on level ground with the car running in park. Be very cautious if the level is low as serious damage may have occurred. A complete rebuild will cost you well into the four figures, so make sure everything works as intended. If maintained properly, the automatic transmission in Mk2 MX-5s should easily hit 300,000 km (186,00 miles) plus.
Another thing to check is the overdrive system. There is one relay directly related with the MX-5 Miata’s overdrive system. This Kickdown Relay is part of a fairly complex electrical system and if any one of the components in this system fails it can lead to improper function of the overdrive. Determining what is exactly at fault can require a bit of trial and error, so fixing the overdrive/overdrive button can be surprisingly expensive.
Apart from that do a general check for any clunking, jolting or strange sounds such as whining. Test all of the transmission positions and see how the car reacts under both light and hard acceleration.
The differential requires new lubricant every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) or so. If the diff does have a problem, you may notice the following symptoms:
- Whining/whirring m noises that change with road speed but not engine speed – This may also be indicative of a bad wheel bearing at the rear.
- Strange vibrations that change with road speed
- Unusual burning oil smells
- Leaking differential fluid – The video below shows you how to replace the output shaft seal on a Miata and where to look for leaks (Note: video is of an NB MX-5 Miata, but it is the same for the NA). If the fluid is leaking from the pinion seal at the front of the differential it requires a rebuild, which can be quite expensive.
The price to repair and replace a Mk2 MX-5’s differential can vary from a couple of hundred dollars for something like a seal, to upwards of four figures for a fully blown diff that needs replacement (obviously things will be cheaper if you can do them yourself).
Body and Exterior
Age hasn’t been kind to many second generation MX-5 Miatas, so finding one without bodywork issues is becoming increasingly difficult (clean examples also command a handsome premium). Here are some things to watch out for when checking out the body and exterior of a Mk2 Mazda MX-5:
Rust is arguably going to be one of your biggest concerns when inspecting any MX-5 NB. The problem can occur in a lot of different places, but here are the main ones to watch out for:
- Windscreen frame – Particularly around the lower area of the frame.
- Front fenders, wheel arches and wells – Main area to look is around the rear arches but have a good look at the front ones as well as they can rust quite badly. The problem usually occurs on the inner sections of the arches and the liner will need to be removed to have a proper look. Rust here usually occurs from the inside and often follows soon after rusted sills (see next point).
- Rocker panels and door sills – Check for dusty, bubbly or blistering paint along the sills and the rocker panels, particularly at the rear. If you hear a sloshing sound when out on a test drive or notice that the footwells are damp it is a sign of water in the sills, which will eventually lead to rust formation (if it hasn’t already). The rocker panels/sills typically rust from the inside out, so if you notice a problem it is probably already quite bad.
- Door edges – Pay particular attention to the bottom of the doors and the edge closest to the hinges, especially if you notice rust around the sills and fenders.
- Floor – This is going to be difficult to check for during a quick inspection as you really need to remove the carpets to get a proper look. If the problem is really bad you may notice holes in the floor pan. You can lift the carpet a bit by removing the door trim by the sills (requires the removal of a couple of screws).
- Boot/trunk – This is often overlooked but is definitely something to check for as if it goes unnoticed you can wind up with holes in the boot floor. What usually happens is that the boot seals fail and/or the roof rails fail to drain properly. Water then pools in the area of the spare tyre, which can eventually lead to rust. Lift up the carpets/floor to see if there is any water or rust.
- Undercarriage – While checking for rust on the bodywork and exterior, make sure you have a look at the undercarriage and suspension components. Surface rust here is quite common, but it can turn into something more serious if left unattended. If the subframe has rusted it is important to get it fixed as soon as possible as it may lead to a weakened structure. Check the frame rails as well as they can rust, especially if they have been damaged/scrapped at some point.
- Shelf behind the seat – This can be an issue if the hood/roof leaks, so pay particle attention to the roof rails (more on this later). To view this area, you will have to lift up the carpet.
- Metal parts in the engine bay – Some of the metal components in the engine bay can rust. This is usually just cosmetic but something to be aware of.
Rust can often be more serious than it first appears on the surface. If you notice any rust issues and are still keen on the car it is a good idea to get the vehicle properly checked out prior to purchase. Additionally, try to find a quote on how much it will cost to repair the problem (be mindful that the cost could easily expand over the course of the repair).
Factors That Can Make Rust More Likely on an MX-5 Miata NB
- The Mk2 MX-5 has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (UK for example)
- The vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters (often linked with the above)
- Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
- Always kept outside (never garaged)
- The MX-5 is regularly driven in winter (garaging the car and not driving it in the winter will reduce the likelihood of rust issues)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
- Rubbing body parts
- Old or no underseal
It is a good idea to check with the owner to see if rust protection has been applied at fairly regular intervals, especially if the second generation MX-5 is located in a country with salted roads. Additionally, try to find out if rust protection was applied at arrival if the car MX-5 is a Japanese import (more of a thing for UK buyers, etc.)
We also recommend that you ask the seller/owner if regular washes of the underbody have been carried out during winter if you live in a country with salted roads. This can go a long way to prevent rust formation and if they have done it, it shows that they probably care quite a bit about preventative maintenance
Looking for Rust Repairs
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) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
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 tell-tale signs of an MX-5 NB 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
Accident damage is always something to be on the lookout for when inspecting a used car. This is especially so for sports cars that promote enthusiastic driving like the second generation Mazda MX-5. Here are some things to watch out for when it comes to looking for crash damage and repairs:
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Inspect around the bonnet/hood and make sure everything lines up correctly. Check the door, bumper and boot/trunk panel gaps. If the panel gaps on one side look quite different to the other side, it could be a sign that the Mazda MX-5 NB has been in an accident.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Mk2 MX-5 you are looking at may have been in an accident or there may be some other sort of other issue with the door hinges.
- 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 – This may indicate that the MX-5 you are inspecting has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
- Steel bonnet/hood – If the bonnet is made from steel it is a sign that it has been replaced as the original ones were manufactured from aluminium. Steel bonnets are often fitted as they are cheaper.
- 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 Mazda MX-5 has been in an accident.
- Rust in strange locations – Can be a sign of accident damage.
- Paint runs or overspray – Could be a factory issue but is far more likely to be caused by a respray job. Check the seller’s shoes as well as we went to look at a used car once and the terrible respray job matched the specks of paint on the owner’s boots (more of a joke, but once you’ve seen it once you can’t help yourself during future inspections).
- 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 to cover up accident damage and repairs, so ask plenty of questions and take your time inspecting the vehicle.
If there has been some accident damage and/or repairs, try to get an idea of the severity of the incident. Light to moderate damage that has been repaired by a skilled body shop/panel beater is normally fine. However, if the MX-5 NB has been in a serious incident and received major damage it is probably best to walk away.
If the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owned the vehicle.
Other Bodywork Problems on the Mazda MX-5 Mk2
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 biggest problem is usually the material which breaks down due to sunlight, being folded/unfolded, etc. Additionally, make sure the roof goes up and down smoothly as well. If the roof needs to be replaced it can cost well into the four figures depending on where you source it from.
Another thing to check is the rain rails behind the hood (u-shaped channel). These collect water from the hood as it runs over it. Overtime they become brittle and crack and the water that should be draining out of your car goes into it instead, leading to a wet interior and possibly even rust issues (check the shelf behind the seats and in the boot/trunk).
Make sure the roof goes up and down smoothly as well. If the roof needs to be replaced it can cost well into the four figures depending on where you source it from. Check the two latches for the roof as if they release without pressing the button they are worn, which could lead to the roof coming down at higher speeds (see the video below for more).
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.
You shouldn’t find too many problems here apart from the usual wear related issues. Have a good look at the front and rear discs and pads. 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.
If the standard brakes feel weak or spongy it is a sign of an issue as they should be perfectly adequate for regular road driving and even some track day use.
Shuddering or shaking through the MX-5 NB’s steering wheel while the brakes are in use could indicate that one or more of the discs are warped. This often most noticeable under high-speed braking and is more likely to occur if the Mk2 MX-5 has been driven hard or tracked regularly.
Don’t forget to check that the handbrake works properly and see how if it holds the car well on a steep incline (if you can find one). If you can’t find an incline, apply some light throttle and see if the handbrake holds the car in place.
Seized calipers are a possibility, so watch out for the following on the Mazda MX-5 NB you are looking at:
- Car 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 MX-5 Mk2 doesn’t want to move at all
- Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time
Don’t forget to check the brake fluid condition and level. If it is dark it is a sign that it hasn’t been replaced in a long time.
Like with the first generation NA, there are a wide range of brake upgrades available for the Mk2 Mazda MX-5 Miata. The simplest method to increase braking performance is to install some aftermarket pads from the likes of EBC, StopTech or Carbotech. More extensive brake upgrades are available as well, but for this we recommend that you find out what upgrades have been done and then check online to see if they are suitable.
Suspension & Steering
Thoroughly inspect the underside of the MX-5 NB as the front wishbones as 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. Apart from that, do a general check for the following:
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration and rear end wobble over bumps
- Tipping during cornering
- High speed instability or floaty/nervous feeling through the steering wheel
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension
- Sagging or uneven suspension
- Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive – as mentioned above this is usually the shocks, top mounts and or drop links
- Rattles – drive over some bumps – there should be no noise from the suspension components (however, you may hear some rattles from something in the cabin).
- Clicking sounds (especially at full lock)
Check the Wheel Alignment
Make sure the wheel alignment is good. Find a nice flat and straight section of road to do this. If the Mk2 MX-5 pulls to one side there is a problem. Incorrect wheel alignment can lead to excessive and/or tyre wear and more frequent tyre changes. Additionally, it can make an MX-5 NB’s driving experience less enjoyable and even less safe.
Very poor wheel alignment could be a sign of an owner who probably doesn’t care much for their Mk2 MX-5 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.
Take a good look at the wheels, watching out for any curb damage. Given the age and mileage of most MX-5 NBs, we would expect to find a bit of curb damage. However, if it is a lot it indicates that the vehicle has been owned by a bit of a careless driver. Most of the time repairing curb damage isn’t too expensive, but it can add up if you have to do all four wheels.
While you are checking for curb damage, be on the lookout for any dents, cracking or buckling as these sorts of problems often require a new wheel.
A good number of second gen MX-5 Miatas are running aftermarket rims. It is generally recommended that you stick with 15 or 16-inch wheels (standard size), but 17-inch can work as well. Anything bigger is generally not recommended as it can make the ride much rougher and impact the handling (lots of owners find 17-inch wheels too harsh as well).
If the MX-5 NB you are looking at has aftermarket wheels, ask the owner if they have the originals.Having the originals will only add value to the MX-5 if you decide to sell it in the future. This is especially so for special edition models such as the Arizona or Pheonix which came with Enkie rims.
Good tyres can be expensive, so check for the following issues:
- 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 of the Mazda MX-5 NB. 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, increased wear and may even be dangerous.
- Pressure – It can be a good idea to check tyre pressures when conducting an inspection. If the tyre pressures are wrong it can cause the car to pull to the left or right during acceleration. Incorrect tyre pressures can also lead to increased wear and fuel consumption as well.
Tears and wear on the seats will be common, especially on higher mileage MX-5s or those that have not been cared for properly. The vinyl material on the sides of the seats is particularly prone to ripping and the mesh material on 2002 – 2003 model years wears quite badly. Another thing to check is the steering wheel and shifter knob, carpets and pedals for wear as it is a good indicator of how far a car has travelled (if you suspect the mileage is not legitimate).
Pay particular attention to the seat bolsters for wear and make sure the seats have not collapsed. If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will be an MOT/WOF failure.
Check to see if the circular air vents (also known as eyeball vents) stay in place as the part that keeps them in place often wears out. There are a few solutions to fix this problem from replacing like for like, using felt to hold the vents in place, or even using third-party vents that don’t seem to suffer from the problem as much.
Make sure you check the carpets and rest of the cabin for any dampness or signs of a leak, especially if you notice any problems with the roof. Water can play havoc with the electronics if it gets in the wrong place and can lead to a nasty smell 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. Make sure you check in the boot/trunk under the floor as this area can fill up with water if there is a bad leak.
Have a look at the bottom of the door cards for damage due to people climbing in and out. See if the complete toolkit and spare tyre parts are present as many MX-5 NBs are now missing them.
Electronics, Locks and Other Things
Just like the first generation car, the Mk2 MX-5’s electronics are fairly robust and shouldn’t find too many issues. Test all the switches and buttons work and check to see if the lights work as intended.
The stock radio isn’t the most reliable, with the screen, volume knob and cd player being the most problematic areas. Also check the antenna as these can commonly fail.
The electric windows can 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.
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 Mazda specialist or mechanic to find out what is causing the warning light before purchase.
A Word on Modified Mk2 MX-5s
A good number of MX-5 Miata NBs 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.
General Car Buying Advice for a Mk2 MX-5 Miata
How to Get the Best Deal on a Mazda MX-5 NB
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. Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a Mazda MX-5, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage, late model 1.8 or do you not mind an older automatic MX-5 that has travelled a bit further.
2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. While good MX-5 NBs are becoming harder to source, Mazda did sell a fair few of these cars, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
3. Go look at and test drive multiple first gen MX-5s – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad Mazda MX-5 Mk2.
4. 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 an MX-5 for sale and only go for promising looking cars (unless you are looking for a project).
5. 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 or tyres make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
6. Don’t trust the owner – 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.
7. Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple MX-5s, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
8. 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 Mazda 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 Mazda MX-5 Miata NB 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 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?
- 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?
- 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 Mazda MX-5
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 significant past overheating problems
- Poor compression
- 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 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 Mazda MX-5 NB (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 MX-5 and the model they are selling (1.8 vs 1.6, 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 second generation Mazda MX-5.
Importing a Mazda MX-5 NB from Japan
The MX-5 NB sold well in Japan and despite many already being exported, there is still quite a large number in the land of the rising sun.
How to Import a Mk2 MX-5 from Japan
While importing a Mazda MX-5 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 Mazda MX-5 NB” or “import MX-5 Mk2”. 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 a second gen MX-5, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find a suitable Mazda MX-5 NB 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 Mazda MX-5 NBs 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 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 second generation Mazda 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 Mazda MX-5 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.
Summary of Buying a First Generation 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 if you have anything to add, leave a comment below.
Marloon (06/07/2015) – Vin Location – VIN location. – MX-5 Miata Forum
Lance Schall – What About Those Crankshafts? – Miata Crankshafts
Jeff Anderson (18/06/2017)- Overdrive Doesn’t work – Overdrive Doesn’t work – MX-5 Miata Forum
Mazda – HISTORY OF THE MIATA – History of the Miata | Mazda Miata History | Biggers Mazda
Mx5life (02/01/2013) – VIN Numbers – How to understand them – VIN Numbers – How to understand them | Mazda MX5 Forum (mx5life.com)
BTMiata (08/10/2012) – Common oil leaks besides the CAS O-Ring? – Common oil leaks besides the CAS O-Ring? – MX-5 Miata Forum
Miata (02/07/2016) – Miata Ignition – Miata Ignition
Byrdmen (11/10/2009) – NB CAS Cap-Blank Leak Fix – NB CAS Cap-Blank Leak Fix – MX-5 Miata Forum
Orthonormal (07/09/2007) – TWO? Catalytic Converters in a 99? – TWO? Catalytic Converters in a 99? – MX-5 Miata Forum
Mister2 (10/08/2017) – Another NB Motor Mount thread – Another NB Motor Mount thread – MX-5 Miata Forum
Miata.net (18/02/2021) – Mazda MX-5 Miata FAQ – The Miata FAQ
Mazda – 2005 Mazda MX-5 Electrical Components -extension://bfdogplmndidlpjfhoijckpakkdjkkil/pdf/viewer.html?file=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mellens.net%2Fmazda%2FMazda-Miata-2005%2Felectrical_component_locations.pdf
Mazda – 2005 Mazda MX-5 Engine Technical Data -extension://bfdogplmndidlpjfhoijckpakkdjkkil/pdf/viewer.html?file=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mellens.net%2Fmazda%2FMazda-Miata-2005%2Fengine_technical_data.pdf
Ted Foureagles (12/01/2012) – Compression numbers 1.6 – Compression numbers 1.6 – MX-5 Miata Forum
Mx5-maxda.co.uk – Mk2 NB Models – Bourne Road Garage Ltd (mx5-mazda.co.uk)