The Mazda RX-7 FD was the third and final generation of the RX-7 line. It is one of the most loved Japanese cars of all time and has appeared in all kinds of different movies, video games and much more.
Like many other Japanese sports cars, the RX-7 FD has become a real classic. Good examples are getting harder and harder to find, and the price of them is increasing (or going to the moon as some would say). There are more than a few money pits out there, so if you are looking for a RX-7 FD you need to know what to look out for. In this buyer’s guide we hope to give you all the info you need to find yourself the perfect third generation RX-7
How To Use this Mazda RX-7 FD Buyer’s Guide
This is a long guide, so we will be breaking it up into a number of sections. To start with we will cover the history and specifications of the Mazda RX-7 FD and the different versions that were sold. Following this, we will dive into the buyer’s guide section of this article. We then have more general car purchasing advice and to finish up we have included some information on importing a third gen RX-7 from Japan.
We would like to give a big thank you to Blackwells Mazda in Christchurch New Zealand for letting us come down and photograph the mint condition RX-7 FD (red) in the photos in this guide. Blackwells Mazda has a number of exciting cars on the way, so keep up to date with what they have in stock.
The History & Specifications of the Mazda RX-7 FD
As an alternative to larger engined cars, the rotary-powered Mazda RX-7 made its debut in 1978. It featured a real-wheel drive layout with the power plant mounted slightly behind the front axle, which Mazda labelled as “front mid-engine”.
The RX-7 replaced Mazda’s previous rotary powered car, the RX3. Both of these cars were sold in Japan as Savanna. In 1985, Mazda launched the second generation RX-7, the FC. The FC differed to the first gen SA22C/FB as it was softer and less of a pure sportscar.
Following the RX-7 FC’s production end, the Japanese manufacturer launched the third and final RX-7. The RX-7 FD was launched in 1992 and returned to the lightweight design philosophy of the first generation.
Mazda’s new RX-7 was the work of designer Yoichi Sato and is one of the most striking and impressive designs to ever come out of Japan. It looked space-age in 1992, with its low-slung, shrink-wrapped body. The smooth lines of the FD were a complete contrast to the boxy shape of the previous RX-7.
With a curb weight under 1,300kg, a low centre of gravity and increased power, the FD was a car Mazda could be proud of. It was a true return to the sportscar feel of the original and was highly praised by motoring journalists from all over the world.
The car featured the impressive 1.3-litre 13B-REW power unit. This engine was the first mass-produced sequential twin-turbocharged system to be exported from Japan. Initially, the car produced 252hp when it launched in 1993, which was increased to 276hp by the time production ended in Japan in 2002.
The first turbo (10 psi) kicked in at around 1,800rpm, while the second (10 psi) kicked into life at 4,000rpm. Mazda offered a tight and precise feeling 5-speed manual transmission for those who wanted to feel involved with the car. A 4-speed automatic version was also available at launch as well.
Mazda continued to use the rotary engine for a few different reasons. The engine had an unusually high output for such a compact engine and it could hit an impressive 8,000rpm. In addition to this, the rotary had no need for a big heavy flywheel since the engine’s cylinders rotated around the crankshaft and there were no reciprocating components that would cause engine vibration.
Series 6 (1992 – 1995)
Exported throughout the world, this series of RX-7 had the highest sales of the FD model. It was also sold under Mazda’s luxury brand, ɛ̃fini as the ɛ̃fini RX-7. ɛ̃fini operated between 1991 and 1997. In North America, Mazda only sold the series 6 from 1993 to 1995.
RX-7 SP (1995)
The Australian market received a special version of the RX-7, the RX-7 SP. The SP was launched in 1995 and was created to meet homologation requirements for the Australian GT Production Car Series and the Eastern Creek 12 Hour production car event.
Only 25 were built initially, but Mazda produced another 10 models due to high demand. The SP made an impressive 274hp and 357Nm of torque, which was significantly higher than the standard RX-7 at the time.
Along with the power increase, Mazda made a number of other changes. A custom made 120-litre carbon fibre fuel tank was fitted, which was much larger than the 76-litre tank in the standard car. There was also a new race-developed carbon fibre nose cone and spoiler, 17-inch wheels, a 4.3:1-ratio rear differential, larger brake callipers and rotors, a new exhaust and a modified ECU. New Recaro seats were also fitted and the total weight of the car came in at 1,218kg.
The modifications to the RX-7 SP meant it was a serious road-going racer. It could easily match or beat the Porsche 911 RS CS and won a number of racing events; including the 1995 Eastern Creek 12 Hour race and gained podiums at the International tarmac rally Targa Tasmania.
To commemorate the RX-7 SP, Mazda developed the Bathurst R RX-7. This was exclusive to Japan and was launched in 2001.
Series 7 (1996 – 1998)
For the 1996 RX-7, Mazda made some slight changes. A new 16-bit ECU and improved intake system were fitted, along with a simplified vacuum routing manifold. These changes increased power by about 10 horsepower, however, this was only noticeable on the manual version as it only came into effect above 7,000rpm. Mazda also fitted larger brake rotors to the Type RX model and 17 inch BBS rims.
Series 8 (1998 – 2002)
The final series of the RX-7 was only available in Japan and it featured a number of changes over the previous model. New, more efficient turbochargers were fitted and a new front fascia improved the intercooler and radiator performance.
Moving to the inside of the car, the instrument cluster, steering wheel and seats were changed for the final RX-7. There was also a new adjustable spoiler on the back and the ABS system was updated to improve cornering while braking.
The series 8 RX-7 was available in three power levels; with the automatic version getting 251hp, the Type RB with 261hp and the top end models getting 276hp. Mazda fitted the Type RS with Bilstein suspension and 17-inch wheels. It also featured a reduced weight of 1,280kg. The Japanese manufacturer also launched the Type RZ, which was essentially a Type RS that was 10kg lighter in weight. It also featured a gun-metal grey BBS wheels and a custom red racing themed interior.
Power was increased for the series 8 model by installing more efficient turbos with abradable compressor seals and a less restrictive muffler. The changes meant that the car could now produce 276hp and 333.8Nm of torque which was the maximum allowed in Japan at the time. Mazda increased the length of fifth gear to increase fuel efficiency and reduce cruising rpm.
The most collectable RX-7 produced was the named the “Spirit R”. These were the last 1,500 run out specials and they combined all the features of the previous limited-edition RX-7s. They also featured cross drilled brakes. According to Mazda “The Type-A Spirit R model is the ultimate RX-7, boasting the most outstanding driving performance in its history.”
Mazda RX-7 FD Specifications
|Year of production||1992 – 2002|
|Layout||Front-engine, rear-wheel drive|
|Engine/Engines||1.3-litre Wankel Rotary (13B-REW) mounted longitudinal with twin sequential turbochargers|
|Power||252 – 280 bhp (188 – 209 kW)|
|Torque||294 – 334 Nm (217 – 246 lb-ft) @ 5000rpm|
|Brakes Front||Ventilated discs with 4-piston, floating calipers|
|Brakes Rear||Ventilated discs with single-piston|
|Tyres Front||225/50VR16 (Base)|
235/45ZR17 (RS, RZ, Spirit R)
|Tyres Rear||225/50VR16 (Base)|
235/45ZR17 (RS, RZ, Spirit R)
|Suspension Front||Independent, double-wishbones by unequal length upper and lower arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Suspension Rear||Independent, double-wishbones by upper A-arms, lower transverse I-arms, transverse toe-control links, trailing links, coil springs, telescopic dampers. anti-roll bar|
|Weight||1,270 – 1,290 kg (2,800 – 2844 lbs)|
|Top speed||250 km/h (155 mph)|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||4.9 – 5.4 seconds|
For more information on the Mazda RX-7 FD’s specifications, check out this website.
Mazda RX-7 FD Buying Guide
With all that out of the way, let’s take a look at what you need to know about buying a third generation RX-7.
Arranging an Inspection of a RX-7 FD
Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up an inspection of a third gen RX-7.
- Look at the RX-7 in person or get a reliable friend or third party to have a look for you – Purchasing a car sight unseen can be okay, but it is usually a lot riskier than inspecting the vehicle first. Additionally, these cars now go for some serious coin and many of them have been thrashed beyond belief or have had poor quality modifications fitted to them. If you can’t physically inspect the car yourself, try to get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you. Alternatively, if you can’t even do that, try to purchase off a trusted dealer (official Mazda dealer for example) or platform (bringatrailer.com for example)
- Bring a friend or helper with you – It is always a good idea to take along a friend or helper with you to a used car inspection as they may be able to spot something you missed. Additionally, they can also give you their thoughts on the RX-7 FD you are looking at and whether or not they think it is a good purchase.
- View the RX-7 FD at the seller’s house or place of business – We recommend this as you can get a bit of an idea of how and where the RX-7 is stored. If the car has always been garaged there are probably going to be less bodywork issues such as rust, paint fade, etc. Another reason we recommend this is so you can check the roads that the vehicle is regularly driven on. Rough roads with lots of potholes could lead to more suspension, steering, and wheel and tyre issues.
- If you can, try to look at the RX-7 in the morning rather than later in the day – This will give the seller less time to clean up any potential issues such as a big oil leak. Additionally, it is also a good idea to tell the seller that you don’t want the car driven or warmed up prior to your arrival (if possible).
- Avoid inspecting a used car in the rain – Water on the bodywork can hide numerous different issues and make the paint look better than it really is. If it does happen to be raining when you go to look at a particular third gen RX-7, try to go back for a second viewing in the dry (if you are still interested in the vehicle).
- Watch out if the RX-7 has just been washed – This is largely for the same reason as above and some less honest sellers will clean the engine bay and any other problem areas to hide an issue.
- Get the seller to move their RX-7 FD 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.
Where to Buy a Third Generation Mazda RX-7?
If you are looking for a really prime example of one of these cars, we suggest that you have a look at specialist auction sites such as bringatrailer.com. These sorts of sites vet their cars prior to listing, which weeds out the bad examples. Another great place to look is Mazda or specialist classic dealerships as sometimes they get really good examples that are imported/sold to them. For example, Blackwells Mazda near us occasionally brings in RX-7s, RX-8s, and other specialist Mazdas from Japan. These vehicles are usually prime examples, and you know you aren’t going to get ripped off (the red RX-7 FD in the photos in this guide was sold by Blackwells).
RX-7 or Mazda owners clubs are another great place to look for these cars for sale. The people in these sorts of clubs tend to be very knowledgeable about their cars and often go the extra mile when it comes to maintenance and repairs. Here are some examples of clubs for the third gen RX-7:
RX7 Club – Dedicated to all generations of the Mazda RX-7. The third generation RX-7 section is extensive and is also great if you need advice on a specific problem/modification or if you need help finding a specific part that is difficult to come by now.
FD OC – UK based group that has meetups and lots of information on the third generation RX-7. Definitely check it out if you are based in the United Kingdom.
Mazda Forum – Club/forum dedicated to all things Mazda, including the third generation RX-7.
Normal dealerships and auction/classifieds websites are also good places to look, but you are probably more likely to come across a bit of a lemon (however, most good dealers will often list their cars on these sorts of sites as well).
How Much Does a Mazda RX-7 FD Cost?
Gone are the days when you could get these cars cheap. Even models in poor condition will go for significant sums of money, with unmodified, low mileage examples in excellent condition going for eye watering sums. For example, the red RX-7 FD in the photos in this guide sold for around NZ$100,000 (US$71,000 at the time of writing).
Bringatrailer has some good info on third gen RX-7s that have been sold in North America, with prices hovering around the US$25,000 to $50,000 mark. To work out how much money you need to have on hand, we suggest that you jump on your local auction/classifieds and dealers’ websites and check for RX-7 FDs for sale. You can then use these prices to work out roughly what you need to spend to get a specific model in a condition you are happy with. Remember to add around 5 to 10% of the purchase price to your budget for any unexpected expenses.
Additionally, remember that more sought after versions of the third gen RX-7 are going to command higher prices. For example, a Spirit R in excellent condition is going to be worth a lot more than an early automatic RX-7 that has seen some serious action.
You can find out what the RX-7 FD originally cost new in Japan and what that is in today’s money here.
Checking the VIN
If the RX-7 you are looking at is a Japanese important, it should have a Japanese VIN/Chassis Number. This should start with the characters FD3S and then be followed by a series of six numbers. The Japanese VIN should be located at the back of the engine bay on a plate that says Mazda (see image above for reference).
There should also be a 17-digit VIN (not on the same plate) if the car was sold new in your country or if it was imported and registered (this may differ in some locations around the world). This VIN can be entered into a check up website/service to see if you can find out any more information about the vehicle (whether or not it has been written off, etc.).
The 13B-REW rotary engine inside the third generation RX-7 gets a bit of a hard time. While it is commonly mocked for its reliability, a well maintained one of these engines is actually incredibly reliable (well-maintained being the key couple of words here). For example, A 13B engine that has been looked after should be good for well over 200,000 km, however, a poorly maintained one might need a rebuild in half of that mileage.
To begin your inspection of the power unit, move to the front of the third gen RX-7 and lift the bonnet/hood. Check that the bonnet catch and hinges are in good condition and that the bonnet opens smoothly. If they look like they have been replaced the vehicle may have been in an accident.
Once you have done this, give the engine bay a good general look over, watching out for any standout issues such as leaking fluid, damaged or missing components, or modifications.
A completely spotless engine bay is usually a sign of a good owner, however, it may also be a sign of somebody who is trying to cover something up (especially if it looks like the engine bay has just been washed.
Inspecting the Fluids
It is always a good idea to check the engine oil and other fluids as they can give you a bit of an idea of the current condition of the car and how it has been maintained. Regular oil changes are important for any internal combustion engined car, but they are even more important for the rotary engine inside the RX-7 FD. Old, poor quality or the wrong type of oil can lead to increased wear and possibly even engine failure in extreme circumstances.
Oil changes should have been done around every 5,000 to 8,000 km (3,000 to 5,000 miles) or less, with some owners opting to replace the oil at even half these distances. If the RX-7 FD you are looking at has not been driven much, the oil should have been replaced every 6 to 12 months.
The most popular weight of oil for the engine is 20w-50 in warm climates and 10w-30 in colder climates. Thinner oils used in newer cars are not recommended for the RX-7, because the fuel causes them to become even thinner.
Watch out for RX-7 FDs that have been run on synthetic oil. Synthetics don’t burn, and by design rotaries need to burn oil. Synthetic oils will produce deposits and will damage the apex seals as well as the soft seals inside the motor. It is common for FD owners to use mineral oil because of this. Mineral oil with a high zinc content is better for the rotary engine’s longevity.
Check the engine oil/dipstick for any metallic particles or grit as that can be a sign of a serious issue. Additionally, watch out for any foam in the oil or on the dipstick. Foam on the dipstick is usually a sign of either condensation in the oil or coolant in the oil. If the oil is drained and it looks like a mocha milkshake, it is time for a rebuild (obviously not going to do this during a test). Another test is to take the radiator cap off and check for bubbles as this combined with the foam/froth is a bad sign (do this when the engine is completely cold).
Another thing to check is whether or not the oil (or any other fluids for that matter) is overfilled or underfilled. Both overfilling or underfilling can kill the rotary engine inside a third generation RX-7, so make sure this is not the case on the Mazda you are looking at.
Common Oil Leaks on a Third Gen Mazda RX-7
A really good example of a third generation RX-7 shouldn’t leak any oil, however, many of the cars you come across will probably have some sort of leak (major or minor). Here are some common places that RX-7 FDs leak from:
- Oil pan – this is a common oil leak and is often caused by improper torquing/placement of the engine mount bolts. The motor mounts bolt through the pan and essentially help seal the pan. It is quite a bit of an artform to properly fit and torque these bolts, so it is a common problem and RX-7 FDs were leaking even under warranty because of this issue. There are some aftermarket options to help fix or reduce this issue, and some owners recommend swapping out the original motor mounts for polyurethane ones and fitting an oil pan brace. If the RX-7 you are looking at has this issue, a new oil pan is probably called for (luckily not too expensive) as while the old one can probably be reused, there is a good chance that it is warped/bent. Check out this thread for more info on this issue.
- Internal turbo seals – The turbo seals can fail and leak, so check under and around the turbo housing. We will talk a bit more about this a bit later in this guide.
- Turbo Line Leak – The oil return lines for the turbos can often leak, especially for the secondary (rear) turbo. Check for any dripping oil under the turbocharger area.
- Oil filter mount leak – This leak usually appears on the driver’s side (left-hand drive) near the firewall. If the leak is combing from between the oil filter mount and the rear housing machined plate, the two O-rings that sit in between will need to be replaced. Alternatively, a leak in this area may be from the oil filter gasket. What happens is that the gasket can come of the old filter and stick to the pedestal. The new oil filter with a new gasket is then accidentally installed on top of this old gasket and a leak occurs.
- Rear Stationary Gear O-ring – A leak from around the O-ring seal behind the stationary gear is a common leak and can often be mistaken for a rear main seal leak. This leak will appear at the rear of the engine and can be quite fast, so it needs to be sorted as soon as possible. The stationary gear and O-ring is located right behind the flywheel and can be replaced without dropping the engine. Do keep in mind that it will be difficult to determine whether or not it is a rear main seal or a stationary gear O-ring leak (or both) during a short inspection. Check when these seals/O-rings were last replaced as if it was a while ago, new ones may be needed in the near future.
As we mentioned above, the 13B rotary engine inside the RX-7 FD burns oil as part of the combustion process, so if the seller claims the car doesn’t use a drop of oil you know they are talking a whole load of crap. If the owner doesn’t know that the engine burns oil and the oil servicing records are lacklustre, be very cautious. Up to around a quarter of a litre of oil usage per 1,600 km (1,000 miles) is perfectly normal on these cars. Any more than that could be a sign of trouble.
Oil Pressure Gauge Issues
If you notice that the oil pressure gauge reads zero it is probably the wire that goes from the oil pressure sending unit to the gauge, rather than some catastrophic failure. The wire can become loose and a simple clean and re-install should fix the problem.
The cooling system is vital for proper function of the engine and a failure of any one of the components can lead to serious damage to the power unit. Mazda did have some issues with the cooling system in the third gen RX-7 early in the production run. The original design specified a 19 psi (1.3 bar) pressure cap that would allow the engine to run at high temperatures without boiling the coolant. Unfortunately, this put additional stress on the hoses and seals of the cooling system, leading to failure of these components.
To fix this issue, Mazda carried out a recall in 1994 that involved replacing a number of cooling system components such as the water hoses above the engine, the water level sensor, etc. They also replaced the pressure cap with a 13 psi (0.9 bar) unit. All RX-7s affected RX-7s on the road today should have had this recall work done, but it is always worth checking in the service history.
With that out of the way, the main thing to watch out for is maintenance. The coolant should have been flushed and replaced yearly (Mazda’s service schedule is a bit different, but with the age and price these cars have reached it is best to. Mazda generally recommends a 50/50 water/coolant mix, but this ratio can change depending on the climate the car is in (for instance 70/30 is often recommended for warmer climates). Check to see what ratio the current owner uses.
All the coolant hoses should be replaced every five to ten years on a third gen RX-7. These hoses are prone to developing small cracks or splits that are incredibly hard to see, so it is better to replace them periodically than wait for a catastrophic failure.
When the engine is cold, open the thermostat housing and check the coolant. It should be clean with no signs of any oil. Additionally, there should be no oil in the coolant overflow battle, however, you may see some brown material. Take a look at the engine oil dipstick and look for any signs of water.
Blown Coolant Seal
If you notice that the RX-7 FD you are looking at is losing coolant but there is no obvious sign of an external leak, it is probably the coolant seals. Some other signs of this problem include clouds of sweet smelling smoke on startup, bubbles in the coolant neck and the overflow tank filling very quickly. Luckily, these seals aren’t too expensive to replace, but we would be very cautious about purchasing a car that is displaying these symptoms as it could be down to another problem. Coolant seals tend to fail anywhere from around 50,000 to 75,000 miles, but they can fail outside of this range as well.
Air Separation Tank (AST)
From factory, Mazda bolted a small black air separation tank to the intercooler. The tank’s job is to remove air bubbles in the cooling system. This tank is known to crack and dump all the car’s coolant all over the engine bay, so make sure that it is in good condition.
With the air separation tank being a common failure point, a number of third generation RX-7 owners have removed it from the system. RX-7 FD owners seem to be a bit divided on whether or not removing the air separation tank is a good idea, with those against the idea having the following two main concerns:
- The main purpose of the tank is to remove air bubbles, so removing it can lead to air bubbles reappearing in the engine chambers. This can then lead to hot spots and premature engine failure.
- It creates a bypass to the radiator that is not cooled
We personally don’t like the idea of removing the AST and believe that installing an aftermarket aluminium tank is a much better idea. If the tank has been removed, we would be cautious and get the advice of your local RX-7/Mazda specialist before purchasing the car (seeing as a correctly operating cooling system is so important on these cars).
Checking for Coolant Leaks
As we mentioned just above, the coolant pipes are prone to cracking over time, so it is important to keep an eye out for any coolant leaks. Here are some tips when doing this:
- Check the coolant height both before and after a test drive
- Check the engine bay and ground underneath the car for leaks or puddles of coolant before a test drive
- Following a test drive, let the RX-7 FD sit for around 10 to 15 minutes and recheck for any coolant leaks
- Do a smell test – a sweet smell is a sign of leaking coolant even though you may not be able to see it
- If the car is leaking a lot of coolant or you can’t find the source of the leak, walk away (definitely do not drive the car if you notice this before or during a test drive)
If you notice a “low Coolant” alarm warning the coolant needs to be topped up. You may find this alarm occurs even when the coolant looks like it is high enough, but a quick top up should fix the issue. If the warning occurs during a test drive, stop the car immediately and check the coolant height. Make sure you check for any coolant leaks as well.
Check the Coolant Tank Itself
With time, the coolant tanks can crack and leak. Not a specific problem with the third generation RX-7, but something you should always check during an inspection of a used car.
Check the Condition of the Intercooler
Have a look at the intercooler and make sure it is in good condition as a damaged one can lead to a number of issues. If the car is original and is running the stock intercooler, it should be located in the front right of the engine bay. Alternatively, if the third gen RX-7 you are looking at is modified and is running an aftermarket intercooler, try to find out what the brand is as a poor quality one suggests the owner has cheaped out on modifications/maintenance.
Cooling System Quick Checklist
We have discussed the main things to watch out for when it comes to the cooling system, but here is a quick checklist of things to watch out for when conducting an inspection of a third gen Mazda RX-7. If the notice any of the symptoms below, be very cautious and don’t purchase the car until you can find the exact cause of the problem.
- Temperature gauge on that is on the high side (constantly on the low side or erratic behaviour of the gauge is also a sign of trouble)
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
- White and milky oil
- Spark plugs that are fouled (if you can get a look at them)
- Low cooling system integrity
- Smell of coolant from the oil
- Sweet smelling exhaust
- Leaking or crusted coolant
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
Poor Running and Apex Seals
One of the key things to watch out for on any RX-7 is failure of the apex seals. These seals are a constant source of frustration for many owners and they are often regarded as the weakest link in a design that is surprisingly reliable and robust.
The “piston” on a 13B Wankel rotary engine is vastly different to that on a standard internal combustion engined car. It is triangular in shape with seals at the tips. These seals are known as apex seals, and they are the only part that directly contacts the rotor housing. As you can imagine, a failure of one of these seals is not good and can lead to the following symptoms:
- Irregular/lumpy idle when the vehicle is stationary
- Engine cuts off and can’t maintain proper idle speed
- Reduction in power (usually significant)
- Hard starts when the engine is cold
If you notice the above symptoms and the car is running like an absolute dog, switch it off as soon as possible. When an apex seal goes it is a bit like losing a piston ring in a normal engine. With a single seal gone you lose two combustion faces, hence why the car runs like crap.
The seriousness of the failure can vary, but if it goes catastrophically it will take many of the engine components with it. Even worse, the inside of the housing can score and the rotor itself can be damaged.
The symptoms of an apex seal failure are really down to a lack of compression, so it is always a good idea to get a compression test done prior to purchase (in fact, we would not purchase a third gen RX-7 without getting a compression test done first). Some sellers will include this information in the listing, which is a good sign. If the seller has got a compression test done on the RX-7, try to find out who did the test as you want to make sure they are reputable.
The factory manual specifies 100psi (690 kPa) for each chamber (manual for earlier cars), with a maximum variance of 21 psi (150 kPa) between the four. If you find anything lower than 85 psi, an engine rebuild could be on the cards. Poor compression can also be a sign of a problem with the apex seal springs and the side seals as well.
The most common cause of broken or failed Apex seals is because of detonation (from running too lean during boost). During detonation a shock wave shatters the apex seals.
If you notice a smell of fuel on the passenger’s side of the engine bay (left hand drive cars), chances are that it is the fuel pulsation dampener (or possibly the injectors as well). It is not a good idea to drive the vehicle if this is the problem, so check for this prior to heading out on a test drive. Replacing the fuel pulsation damper isn’t too difficult and any competent home mechanic should be able to do it with a bit of spare time.
If the smell comes from a different area it could be the fuel lines. These are located on the driver’s side and the leak/smell is usually noticeable from underneath the intake manifold. Once again, do not drive the car if there is a fuel leak as it is a fire hazard.
Have a Look at the Exhaust
Don’t forget to have a good look at the exhaust system, checking for any damage, poor quality repairs, or modifications. Make sure the exhaust is securely attached to vehicle and the hangers/fixtures are in good condition.
When driving the Mazda RX-7 FD, listen out for any rumbling, scraping or rattling noises that may indicate a problem with the exhaust system. Additionally, if you smell fumes inside the cabin, it could be another sign of exhaust issues.
Many of these cars are running aftermarket exhausts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this as long as it is from a reputable brand/builder (There are simply too many to cover in this guide, so note down the brand/builder and check any reviews). If the exhaust on the car is a poor quality one, you should be thinking where else the owner has cut corners with any other modifications and/or repairs.
Rust can be an issue if the RX-7 has been fitted with a cheap mild steel exhaust, but there should be no problems if the exhaust is manufactured from stainless steel or titanium.
If the third gen RX-7 you are looking at has still got its catalytic converters (lots of owners remove them when replacing the exhaust and modifying their car or if there is an issue with them), check for the following:
- Smell of sulphur or rotten eggs from the exhaust
- Reduced acceleration and sluggish engine performance
- Excessive heat under the car
- Dark smoke from the RX-7’s Cayenne’s exhaust
- CEL (only some markets received cars with a Check Engine Light for some reason – USA yes, Europe No for example)
The RX-7 FD exhaust system consists of two catalytic converters, with the front unit (pre-cat) often being the one to fail first. When it does fail it will disintegrate and can clog up the rest of the exhaust system, resulting in uncomfortably high exhaust temperatures and back pressure. If left this can eventually lead to an engine replacement. The problem was so bad that Mazda removed the pre-cat from Japanese domestic market models later in the production lifecycle. Failure of the pre-cat tends to occur around the 100,000 km (62,000 mile) mark.
If the catalytic converters have been removed, it is important to be aware of the fact that the RX-7 may fail emissions tests. The catalytic converters are often removed or replaced as it sucks power from the engine.
Check the Turbochargers
The turbochargers can (and will) eventually need to be replaced, usually around the time the car needs an engine rebuild, but this can vary quite a bit. Here are some things to watch out for when it comes to the turbochargers:
- Strange rumbling, whistling or high-pitched metallic sounds – when the turbochargers are at full boost (drive at a slow speed and then accelerate moderately up to high rpms).
- Distinctive blue/grey smoke– This happens when turbocharger’s housing cracks or if the internal seals become worn. The smoke will become more apparent when the turbocharger is in use, so get somebody to follow you and check while you are test driving a Mazda RX-7 FD.
- Burning lots of oil – It will be hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner. As we mentioned earlier the Wankel rotary engine inside the third gen RX-7 does burn a bit of oil, but if it is an excessive amount it could be a sign that more or both of the turbochargers needs replacing.
- Slow acceleration – Does the RX-7 FD you are test driving feel particularly slow? If it does it could be a sign that the turbochargers are failing or have failed. It is important to note that modified and unmodified cars can feel vastly different in terms of speed, but it should be pretty obvious if there is something wrong with the power output of the particular RX-7 you are driving.
- If the boost pressure comes on late – All FD RX-7s came fitted with twin-turbochargers from factory, so if you see one with a single turbo it will be aftermarket. The turbos run at 10psi in sequential mode and you should be able to feel them from around 2,000 rpm, all the way to the redline. You may also notice a slight pull at around 4,500 rpm when the second turbocharger kicks in.
- Check Engine Warning Light – Once again, check engine lights (CEL) were only fitted to third gen RX-7s in some markets. If the RX-7 FD you are looking at has a CEL and is showing some of the above symptoms, there is a good chance that one or both of the turbos have an issue.
A common test that is done on test drives for the FD includes hooking up a boost gauge to the intake manifold and getting the passenger to check that the turbos are working correctly. You should see no more than 80 kPa (10 psi) until around 4,500 rpm, where it will briefly drop to 55kPa (8 psi) as the second turbo kicks in.
Other Turbo Related Issues
In some circumstances the solenoids that operate the turbochargers can fail. This will result in somewhat erratic turbo behaviour which should be pretty obvious. The failure is usually down to heat under the bonnet.
Another fairly common failure is of the rubber pipes for the turbochargers. These can succumb to the heat of the engine bay as well and don’t forget to check the condition of the clips.
Lack of Boost Over 4,500 rpm
If you notice that there is a distinct lack of boost above around 4,500 rpm it is probably the vacuum line. It can sometimes pop off the charge control solenoid while under boost, leading to the issue. This isn’t a major problem and some sealant or clips should prevent it from occurring again.
Hesitation at 3,000 rpm
This is a well known issue with the third gen RX-7 and a number of owners have experienced it. The hesitation usually appears around 2,900 to 3,000 rpm, especially when accelerating lightly from 2,000 rpm. There is no real known fix for this problem, but some owners have found that cleaning the injectors does the trick. Some owners have also had luck with replacing the ground wires between the engine and body with heavier duty ones.
Most owners find that the hesitation only occurs when the engine is cold and disappears once the car is up to temperature. You can read a bit more about the problem here (other article but worth a read).
Smoke From a Mazda RX-7 FD
Lots of smoke or steam from the exhaust (or anywhere else for that matter) is a major problem and we would personally walk away from the car if it has this problem. We suggest that you get the seller to start the vehicle for you for the first time, so you can have a look at what comes out the back.
It can be a good idea to hold up a white piece of paper or towel in front of the exhaust to see how much soot gets on it during start-up. A lot of soot could be a sign that the engine is running a bit rich.
A small amount of whitish vapour from the exhaust on start up is perfectly fine, especially on a cold day. This is usually just condensation in the exhaust. If the vapour is very thick and white or you notice lots of smoke, walk away. Here are what the different colours of smoke indicate:
White smoke – As we mentioned above, a few white puffs is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust. Lots of thick white/grey smoke from an RX-7 indicates that coolant has made its way into the combustion chamber due to a failed seal. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant.
Blue/Grey smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including turbo issues and more. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are in the Mazda RX-7. 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.
Black smoke – This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing, problems with the injectors, and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.
What About Flooding?
If you find that the Mazda RX-7 you are inspecting does not start, it may be a sign of a flooded engine. This occurs when there is too much fuel in the combustion chamber. Generally, this issue only really happens when the driver attempts to start the RX-7, but the engine doesn’t start immediately.
The ECU pumps fuel into the engine while it is cranking, and if the engine does not start up quickly enough the fuel soaks the spark plugs and fills the housing. This keeps the ignition from firing, so the car can’t start.
Flooding is only a concern if the car has a weak ignition system, failing compression, a failing battery, and/or a failing starter. Most floods can be traced to the following:
- Plug Wire/Wires
- Spark Plug/Plugs
- Engine Compression
More than a few RX-7 FD owners have complained that the batteries in their cars fail prematurely. The cause of the failure seems to be excessive amounts of heat under the bonnet.
Idle Speed & Other Things to Check
When you first start the RX-7, the tachometer should go up to around 1,500 or 3,000 rpm depending on whether or not you started the car when it was cold or a bit warm. Once the engine is warm, expect the idle speed to drop to around 800 rpm, but it may drop a bit further with some throttle application.
Remember to turn off everything (air conditioning, headlights, etc.) and then check the vacuum/boost gauge. It should read at least 16 inches of vacuum (inHG), however, good examples will read up to 19 (any less than 16 is a sign of trouble).
Poor idle can be caused by a range of different things including the dreaded apex seal failure as we mentioned above. If the idle issue was a simple fix the seller probably would have got it sorted before putting the third gen RX-7 on the market.
Tips During an Inspection/Test Drive
Get the seller to start the RX-7 for you for the first time. This is recommended for the following two reasons:
- So you can see what comes out the back
- If the seller gives the car a whole load of throttle when it is cold you know to walk away
When heading out on a test drive, do not thrash the car until it is warm. Remember to start and stop the engine a number of times (after you have driven a while) to make sure everything is okay.
It is also a good idea to keep the windows down for a period of the test drive, so you can listen to the engine and any other issues that may be covered up by the cabin. Don’t let the seller distract you while driving the car.
A Quick Word on Rebuilds
An engine rebuild will eventually be necessary, so don’t be put off a Mazda RX-7 FD with one. However, be aware that it is usually better to purchase a car that has a few more miles on a rebuild rather than a fresh one. For example, a rebuilt engine that has travelled 10,000 km (6,200 miles) is far more of a known than one that has only done a few hundred kilometres since the rebuild.
Should I Get a Compression Test Done?
As we mentioned earlier when talking about failing apex seals, we feel that it is 100% a good idea to get a compression test done prior to purchase. If the owner/seller has done it that is perfectly fine, but just try to find out who did the test and make sure they are well reviewed.
The third generation Mazda RX-7 was only fitted with a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic gearbox, so if you see anything like a 6-speed manual one, it is an aftermarket modification. While 6-speed RX-7s are rare, some owners have done it. An RX-7 with a 6-speed transmission will produce more noise, have harsher shifter, and will require more frequent servicing. Here is a rundown of the things to watch out for on the stock transmission options:
The stock manual gearbox is known to be pretty bullet proof, so it shouldn’t cause you too many issues. Check that gearshifts are smooth and that no gears ‘pop’ out of their position. Fifth gear is usually the main area of concern when it comes to popping gears (and other issues), but it can happen with other ones as well. Additionally, the problem is more likely to occur when accelerating hard. It is quite a rare issue, but one worth checking for.
If you notice any grinding or graunching sounds it is probably synchro wear, especially if you try to shift quickly. Sourcing replacement synchros isn’t too expensive, but installing them can be pretty wallet wounding. Synchro wear can occur on any car, but things like repeated hard driving hasten the wear. If the gearbox is really bad, do not purchase the car until you can get it checked out and find an estimated repair cost. This sort of problem will only get worse with time, so you will eventually have to get it done.
Some owners have experienced a problem where their RX-7 FD gets stuck in gear (often something like second). This problem is thought to be caused by a linkage problem that is aggravated as the car warms. The issue should go away after a couple of hours of non-use, but servicing of the shift reservoir, ball and lower bushings is a good idea to prevent the problem from occurring.
The transmission fluid should be replaced every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) for a stock car, but many owners will do it much earlier (often as part of their yearly service). If the transmission fluid has not been changed in a long time, be very cautious as it is a sign that the car hasn’t been cared for properly.
Checking the Clutch
The life of the clutch components can vary greatly depending on how the Mazda RX-7 FD has been treated and driven. If the RX-7 has seen a lot of miles since the last clutch replacement, expect to replace it in the relatively near future (factor this into the overall price and use it to get a discount if you want to purchase the car). Here are some things to watch out for when checking the clutch:
Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the Mazda RX-7 FD 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 third gen R-7 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.
Any gear shift related issue that happens on all gears is usually related to the clutch, while if it only occurs on one or two gears it is probably related to the transmission itself. Additionally, check how the gearbox shifts when the car is off and stationary. If there are shifting problems when the RX-7 is moving and on, but not when the car is off, it is probably related to the clutch.
If the RX-7 you are looking at is running an aftermarket clutch, make sure you are happy with the feel. Some aftermarket clutches can be uncomfortably stiff/heavy for regular road use. If the clutch pedal is super stiff, the wrong type of clutch has probably been installed (or there is some sort of other problem. A spongy feeling pedal is probably either incorrect fluid level, a failing clutch master cylinder or a failing slave cylinder.
Most buyers will be looking to get themselves a manual third gen RX-7, but there are a number of automatic cars out there as well. Like the 5-speed manual, the automatic transmission is known to be robust and reliable as long as the car isn’t running too much power.
The main things to watch out for are any clunking, knocking or whining noises, which could indicate some serious issues with the transmission. Make sure that the transmission shifts smoothly under both light and hard acceleration and don’t forget to check reverse as well. Test all of the positions of the transmission. A clunking sound when shifting and the car is in motion could be the gearbox or motor mounts (see when they were last replaced). As with the manual transmission, the fluid in both the automatic gearboxes should have been replaced fairly regularly.
Bodywork and Exterior
Fixing bodywork issues can be an absolute nightmare and you can quickly rack up thousands of dollars’ worth of expenditure, so take your time here and make sure you are happy with the exterior condition. Here are some things to watch out for.
More than a few of these cars have been in contact with walls, lamp posts, trees and other things they shouldn’t have been in contact with, so watch out for the following signs of accident damage:
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Additionally, check the bonnet catches as if they look new the car has probably been in an accident. You should also check the doors and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Mazda RX-7 FD you are inspecting may have been in an accident.
- Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
- If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the third gen RX-7 you are inspecting has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
- Lights that look different – If the headlights or taillights on one side look newer than the other, it could be a sign of an accident. This is especially so if it is combined with panel gap issues.
- Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights – This is very difficult to fix if the car has been in an accident, so watch out for this.
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the Mazda RX-7 FD and watch out for any replaced parts or parts that are different from one side to the other. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
- Rust in strange locations – Is often a sign of crash damage on a third gen RX-7
- Paint runs or overspray – Could be a factory issue, but more likely due to a respray
- Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
It is not uncommon for owners to lie about the severity of an accident and the resultant repairs, and some may even claim their vehicle hasn’t been in a crash when it clearly has. Alternatively, if the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.
Accident damage shouldn’t necessarily put you off a Mazda RX-7 FD, unless the damage was clearly very serious and/or the repairs are poor. If the damage was light to moderate and repairs were done by a skilled panel beater/body shop, the RX-7 is probably okay to buy. However, it is a good idea to use the repairs/accident as a way to get a bit of a discount and you may want to get the repairs checked out.
Is Rust a Problem on Third Gen Mazda RX-7s?
Compared to some other cars from the era, the RX-7 FD isn’t too bad, however, there are some spots you need to watch out for:
- Around the edges of the doors
- Wheel arches and wheel wells (especially the front of the rear wheel arch)
- Sills (get on the ground and look up at the bottom side)
- Under the rear tail lights in the body
- Spare wheel well (do not forget to check here)
- Bonnet hinges and area around the bonnet hinges
- Rear hatch (usually if the rear spoiler has been removed the mounting holes have not been plugged)
- Behind the rear bumper (unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to see this as it requires the removal of the bumper)
- Any other tight areas
What Can Make Rust More Likely to Appear?
- RX-7 has spent time in areas or countries with salted roads (United Kingdom or rust belt for example)
- Car has spent time in areas with very harsh winters
- Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
- Always kept outside (never garaged)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
- Parts or things rubbing on the bodywork
- Old or no underseal
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.
Mazda’s paint process wasn’t the greatest for early third gen RX-7s, so premature chipping and fading is a common problem. Chips tend to be localised around the bonnet, sills and the wheel arches. If the RX-7 you are looking at has no chips in the paint it has probably been resprayed at some point (unless it has been garaged its entire life). Fading is more common on the side mirrors and around the rear bumper area. RX-7s produced from 1994 onwards didn’t suffer from paint fade or chips nearly as badly as early ones (however, it will still eventually happen).
If the car is sporting an aftermarket body kit, make sure that it is fitted correctly. If you want to revert back to the original body kit or the original is damaged, you need to weigh up the cost of purchasing one. Talking to a specialist in your local area is probably your best bet, although you can still find original parts online.
Bonnet Latch Squeak
The bonnet/hood latch and hinges are known to squeak. Not a major problem, but something to be aware of that may be confused with suspension issues.
Electronics and Interior
While the RX-7 isn’t loaded with electronics like modern cars, there are enough to cause problems. The RX-7 FD is getting a bit long in the tooth now, especially the ones built in the early nineties, so it is important to make sure everything works.
Check all the switches, dials and buttons while you are on a test drive. This can save you big expenses down the road. Also check any warning lights on the dash and make sure things like the ABS are working.
When it comes to the interior, check for signs of wear on the seats and trim. Take a look at the steering wheel and gear shifter as these can be good indicators of how far the car has travelled (if it has been wound back).
Rattles and other similar noises could be a sign of wear or neglect, so make sure you listen for them when you are out on a test drive.
Examine the interior plastic panels for peeling or cracking. While this isn’t a reason not to buy a car, it can be used to get a better bargain.
Steering and Suspension
It is important to visually inspect as many of the steering and suspension components as possible, keeping an eye out for any worn, damaged, leaking or modified components. It can be a good idea to bring along a torch/flashlight and a mirror to get a better look at hard-to-see areas. Here are some of the main things to watch out for during a test drive/inspection:
- 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
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Sagging or uneven suspension
- Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive – could be down to a range of different things – RX-7s produced prior to 31 May 1992 did have an issue from the factory with their a-arm bushings, however, Mazda replaced the bushings under warranty so these early cars shouldn’t have any more problems than the later ones now.
- 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) – usually a bad CV joint as this is a very common issue. However, clicking sounds may also indicate something like a bad wheel bearing as well
Checking the Wheel Alignment
Try to find a nice flat and straight section of road (or even a parking lot) to check the car’s wheel alignment. Make sure the RX-7 runs straight with minimal wheel corrections. Uneven wheel alignment can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear, resulting in more frequent tyre changes and expense to you. Additionally, bad wheel alignment can impact the driving dynamics of a car and even make the driving experience less safe.
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.
Inspecting the Wheels and Tyres
Don’t forget to have a good look at the wheels and tyres as they can give you a good idea of how the RX-7 you are inspecting has been treated and maintained. A small amount of curb damage is to be expected unless the car has been garaged its entire life. Lots of curb damage is a sign that the RX-7 has been owned by a bit of a careless driver.
Some owners have discovered that the stock rims develop cracks where the spokes join the rim. This problem only seems to occur on stock wheels that have a 90 degree join where the spoke meets the rim (Mazda fitted the RX-7 with numerous different wheels during its production run).
If the third generation RX-7 you are looking at has been fitted with aftermarket wheels, ask the seller/owner if they have the originals. If they don’t, try to use that to get a little bit of a discount as owning the originals will only add value to the car if you decide to sell it in the future. Here are some things to watch out for when it comes to the tyres:
- Amount of tread – If there is minimal tread left try to get a discount as you will need to get the tyres replaced in the near future.
- Uneven wear – Wear should be even between the right and left tyres on the RX-7. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself.
- Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
- Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance and may even be dangerous.
While Mazda did fit larger and more powerful brakes to the higher end models of the RX-7 FD, all versions’ brakes should be more than adequate for regular road use. If the brakes feel weak or spongy there is a problem (could simply need a bleed or there may be another issue that needs to be addressed).
Disc/rotor warpage is known to be an issue, especially on RX-7s that are regularly tracked or driven hard. Repeatedly braking from high to low speed often causes this issue. The problem was bad enough that Mazda had to replace a number of discs under warranty. The first sign of a warped disc is usually shuddering or shaking through the steering wheel when braking from high speed. This will eventually happen at all speeds as the condition of the disc deteriorates.
Seized/stuck brakes can occur, especially if the RX-7 has sat for a long period of time or if it has just been washed and not driven. Here are some of the signs of a seized or stuck caliper:
- 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 something else as well)
- Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
- You find that the Mazda RX-7 doesn’t want to move at all
- Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time
Another thing to do is to listen out for any strange noises such as rumbling squealing or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use. These sorts of sounds could be caused by something simple like worn brake pads, to a more serious and expensive to repair brake issue.
Remember to check that the handbrake/parking brake works as intended. Find yourself a nice step incline if possible and make sure the car doesn’t roll back or forward.
It is important to visually inspect the brakes for any wear, damage, corrosion or modifications. If anything looks like it needs to be replace, make sure you get a good discount as brake components aren’t cheap to replace on these cars.
Handbrake Light Illuminates Unexpectedly
If you are driving along and the hand brake light comes on unexpectedly (with the hand brake released of course), it is down to the fact that the lever can move just enough to activate the light during acceleration. Not a major problem as the fix simply requires reinforcing the area of the handbrake that contacts the switch for the light.
ABS Pump Leak
Not a super common issue, but something to be aware of. The leak often occurs at the base of the solenoids. Any major issues with the ABS Pump should lead to the illumination of the “ABS” warning light. Replacing the pump is the most common fix, but rebuilding it is an option as well. Some owners remove the ABS system, but we don’t feel that this is a good idea if you plan to use the RX-7 on the road regularly.
Vacuum Hose Modification
A recall was carried out for 1994 RX-7s relating to two vacuum hoses and the check valve. There was a problem with these components that could lead to reduced braking performance, hence why they needed to be replaced. All affected RX-7 FDs on the road today should have had this recall work done, but its always worth checking.
There are a range of different aftermarket brake kits and upgrades available for the third generation Mazda RX-7. However, unless you are running more power or just want more stopping ability, the original brakes or more than adequate for regular road use and even some occasional track days. If the RX-7 you are looking at is running aftermarket brakes, try to see if the seller still has the originals as they will only add value to the vehicle.
What About Modifications?
Just a few bolt on modifications can make an RX-7 extremely powerful and many owners have done this. When looking at buying a modified RX-7 or doing the modifications yourself, always factor in any intake or exhaust alterations. The RX-7 needs proper fuel enrichment to run properly, and running it too lean can cause detonation.
If the fuel/air mixture is not adjusted correctly, along with the right intake or exhaust modifications, engine problems will undoubtedly occur.
Always check to see that modifications have been done correctly when looking to buy an RX-7, as all sorts of problems can occur if they are not. See if the owner has any receipts for the work done and check that it is legal.
General Car Buying Advice for a Mazda RX-7 FD
How to Get the Best Deal on a Third Gen RX-7
This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.
- Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a third gen RX-7, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage Spirit R or do you not mind a base RX-7 that has travelled a bit further.
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. While FD RX-7s 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.
- Go look at and test drive multiple Mazda RX-7s – 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 third generation RX-7.
- 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 RX-7 FD for sale and only go for promising looking cars (unless you are looking for a project).
- 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.
- 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.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple Mitsubishi FTO, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
- Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.
Mileage vs Condition
Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.
Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.
Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.
Service History and Other Documentation
It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent 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 third gen RX-7 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 RX-7 FD
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 RX-7 (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 third gen RX-7 and the model they are selling (Type RS, RZ. Spirit R, 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 third gen RX-7.
Importing a Mazda RX-7 FD from Japan
The third generation RX-7 was incredibly popular 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 Mazda RX-7 FD from Japan
While importing a third gen RX-7 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 RX-7 FD” or “import third gen RX-7”. 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 third gen RX-7, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find a suitable Mazda RX-7 FD 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 RX-7 FDs 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 third generation Mazda RX-7 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 RX-7 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.
Importing a RX-7 From Countries Other Than Japan
Japan is definitely your best bet for finding a quality RX-7 to import, but don’t rule out other countries. The Mazda RX-7 FD was exported globally, so you may be able to find one closer to home. There is less information about importing cars from other countries, which does make it a little bit more difficult.
Summing Up This Mazda RX-7 FD Buyers Guide
The Mazda RX-7 FD is undoubtedly one of the most iconic sports cars of all time and it is definitely one of the greatest to come out of Japan. It is becoming more and more difficult to find quality examples as they have either been thrashed to death, maintained poorly, or modified extensively. Remember to take your time when looking for a RX-7 and always thoroughly check the condition or quality of the car.
This guide is designed to give you a general idea of what to look for in a Mazda RX-7 and the history of the car. There is plenty more information, websites and videos to take a look at.