The Nissan 240SX S13 is one of the most legendary Japanese cars of all time. It combined all the elements that make up a great car into one fun and exciting package. The car was also a hit with tuners, as it could accommodate so many different powerplants and modifications.
Today, the Nissan 240SX S13 has become somewhat of a classic with clean, unmolested models becoming harder and harder to find. This is because many have wound up in the hands of people who couldn’t or wouldn’t maintain them properly.
In this Nissan 240SX S13 Buyer’s Guide you will learn everything you need to know to make an informed purchase. We will also be covering information on the history and specifications of the S13.
How to Use This Nissan 240SX S13 Buying Guide
We are going to be covering a lot of information in this guide, so use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read.
To begin with, we will be looking at the history and specifications of the S13. Following this we will cover the buyer’s guide section of the article and then we will look at importing an S13 Silvia from Japan.
Note: the Nissan 240SX S13 is known as the S13 Silvia or 180SX in Japan, and the 200SX RS13U in Europe.
History of the Nissan 240SX S13 / Silvia 13 / 180SX
Nissan introduced the S13 in Japan in the middle of 1988 as a 1989 model year. From the onset it was hugely popular with Japanese buyers and it won the Car of the Year Japan Award in its first year.
Buyers could opt for two cosmetically different, but mechanically identical models; the hatchback, 180SX with pop-up headlights, and the S13 Silvia Coupe with standard headlights. Nissan sold and marketed the two separate models through different dealerships in Japan.
The 180SX served as the junior companion to the Fairlady ZX at Nissan Bluebird stores, while the Silvia was available at Nissan Prince stores next to the Skyline.
Power for the S13 models was initially produced from the iron-block 1.8-litre CA18DE or the CA18DET, with the former being naturally aspirated and rated at 132 horsepower, while the latter was turbocharged and good for up to around 166 horsepower.
Those who bought the Silvia had the option of either engine, however, 180SX buyers had to make do with the turbocharged variant. Both models had the option of either a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual transmission.
The free-revving dual overhead cam engine was an excellent match for the balanced chassis and lightweight design of the S13. Nissan also gave the car their sophisticated multi-link independent suspension setup at the rear and the popular MacPherson strut setup at the front.
The S13 was also offered with a four-wheel steering system, known as HICAS-II. In 1990, the system was updated and renamed to SuperHICAS. Some models also received a viscous-type limited slip differential.
A Silvia convertible model was briefly offered in Japan soon after the coupe and hatchback models were introduced. However, demand for the car was low as it was not only more expensive than the hardtop versions, but it also had worse driving characteristics as it was heavier and less rigid.
Conversions for the convertible Silvia were carried out by Autech Japan, Inc. and the production was entrusted to Takada Kogyo. A total of 603 Autech convertibles were manufactured and they all featured the turbocharged CA18DET engine. All of the 600 publicly available convertible Silvias were sold with a 4-speed automatic transmission.
North American & European Models
At launch, Nissan decided it would be a good idea to export the S13 to other markets around the world. In America, buyers could purchase the 180SX version of the car, however, there was one caveat.
To avoid the time and expensive to “Federalize” the CA18, Nissan decided to fit a different engine into the car, the KA24. Compared to the engine fitted to Japanese models, the KA24 was considered to be somewhat underwhelming.
While it did have more displacement at 2.4-litres, the SOHC, 3-valve-per-cylinder engine could only muster 140 horses. It was also optimised for bottom end torque rather than high-revving horsepower with its 89mm cylinder bore and 96mm crankshaft stroke. As such, many owners swapped out the engine for something a bit more playful and the KA24 wound up in Hardbody trucks and Pathfinder SUVs.
Along with a change in engine, Nissan also renamed the car to the 240SX S13. Buyers initially had the option of a coupe or hatchback version with a convertible car becoming available further down the track in 1992.
Like in America, the S13 was given a name change in Europe. The RS13U 200SX was based on the 180SX and all models sold were powered by the CA18DET engine. European 200SX models also came standard with a number of Nismo parts that were optional extras in Japan, such as the water/oil exchanger.
While European cars came with some Nismo goodies, they could not be purchased with the HICAS rear wheel steering system or digital climate control. Additionally, the later Japanese model’s sport automatic gearbox control was not available for European cars.
In Europe Nissan also offered a 180SX trim level of the Silvia. The badges of this car read “Silvia 180SX”, so it was not a true 180SX model, but a version of the Silvia instead.
The Final Years of the S13
In mid-1990 (for the 1991 model year), Japanese models were updated with the SR20DE and SR20DET engines that offered improvements in both power and torque. The power increase was due to an increase in displacement and a larger more efficient turbo on the SR20DET model.
One other minor change between the CA and SR generations of the S13 was the switch to a single colour paint job, instead of the two-tone colour that was previously offered. Additionally, the SR motor was later launched in another variant known as the “blacktop”. The blacktop was identifiable by its black and silver rocker-cover (other models had a red and silver cover).
While Nissan named the 180SX after its 1.8-litre engine, the company decided to keep the nomenclature despite increasing the displacement of the powerplant. Along with the new engine, new larger brakes were fitted, and a limited slip differential was added. The front bumper was also redesigned along with some interior components.
American 240SX models also received an update for the 1991 year with a new DOHC version of the KA24E engine. The KA24DE, now with 4 valves per cylinder, produced 155 horsepower (116 kW) at 5,600 rpm and 217 Nm (160 lb ft) of torque at 4,400 rpm.
The 240SX also received new 7-spoke aluminium wheels that gave better brake cooling performance, a new more aerodynamic nose, and a new leather trim package for the “LE” hatchback.
Additionally, hatchback models could be kitted out with an optional sports package that included ABS, a limited slip differential, and Nissan’s HICAS four-wheel steering system.
Unfortunately, while the new DOHC engine in the 240SX did produce more power, it was still regarded as disappointing when compared to the powerplants fitted to the Japanese and European models. No turbocharged version of the KA24DE was ever available for the 240SX S13.
240SX Convertible & The End of the S13 in the US
In 1992, a convertible version of the 240SX was introduced for the North American market. These cars started life in Japan as coupes and were then later modified in California by American Specialty Cars.
Compared with the earlier Japanese convertible model, the North American car had a manual installed boot cover rather than a power top cover boot.
For the 1994 model year, the only available 240SX was a Special Edition convertible with an automatic transmission. Following this, the S13 240SX was replaced by the S14 design (Production of the European 200SX RS13U also ended in 1993).
S13 Silvia & 180SX in Japan
Despite replacing the S13 with the S14 in America, Nissan decided to continue to offer the car in Japan until 1998. This was largely due to the fact that the S13 platform was still hugely popular with Japanese motoring enthusiasts and drivers.
For the 1994 model year, Nissan gave the 180SX a minor facelift and renamed the Trim levels to Type R and Type X (from Type I, II and III). The Type X model was the highest trim level available. Another small facelift occurred the next year with the addition of a driver’s side airbag and a change of alloy wheels for some models.
The final iteration of the 180SX S13 was launched in August 1996. The car was given a revised front bumper, taillights, 15-inch wheels and interior. Some minor changes were made to the mechanical and safety aspects of the car.
A driver’s side airbag was now available on all models and seat belt pre-tensioners were installed. Some slight changes were also made to the wiring and the ECU. For this model year Nissan offered three trim levels: Type X, Type S and Type R. The Type S was the first 180SX to be offered without a turbocharged engine.
Type X and Type R models both shared the same 202 horsepower SR20DET engine and overall mechanical package. However, the Type R lacked some of the cosmetic extras that the Type X featured, such as the front lip, rear spoiler, rear valence, side skirts and 15-inch alloy wheels.
Interestingly, while the Type S could be seen as the bottom model with its 138 horsepower naturally aspirated SR20DE engine, it actually shared many of the mechanical and cosmetic extras of the top of the range Type X. However, the Type S could not be purchased with Nissan’s Super HICAS four-wheel steering system like turbo models could.
Production of the Type X and Type R ceased in October 1997. Type S models continued to be produced along with a new naturally aspirated model known as the Type G until December 1998, when all production of the 180SX ceased.
Special Models for the Japanese Market
In 1998, the S13 Silvia was resurrected, in part. Kid’s Heart produced a new model of the Silvia for Nissan known as the Sileighty. This car featured the body of a 180SX with the front end from a Silvia. The Sileighty style was originally created by Japanese modders for their own 180SX cars, and it is still a common modification for 180SX and 240SX hatchbacks.
Following the creation of the Sileighty another version of the Silvia known as the Onevia was produced. This car was based on the chassis of the S14, with the front end from a 180SX and the rear from a Silvia. The Onevia was never sold as a complete car in Japan.
Nissan 240SX, 180SX, S13 Silvia and 200SX Specifications
|240SX S13||180SX / S13 Silvia||200SX RS13U|
Country / Location
Year of production
|1988 – 1994||1988 – 1998||1988 – 1993|
|Front-engined, Rear-wheel drive||Front-engined, Rear-wheel drive||Front-engined, Rear-wheel drive|
CA18DET turbo I4
SR20DET turbo I4
1.8 L CA18DET I4 turbo
|2.4-litres||1.8 – 2.0-litres||1.8-litres|
|Power||140 – 155 hp (100 – 116 kW)||132 – 202 hp (98 – 150 kW)|
166 hp (125 kW)
|Torque||206 – 217 Nm (152 – 160 lb ft)||159 – 275 Nm (117 – 203 lb ft)|
228 Nm (168 lb ft)
|Suspension Front||MacPherson strut||MacPherson strut|
|Suspension Rear||Multi-link independent||Multi-link independent|
|Weight||1,180 – 1,224 kg (2,601–2,698 lb)||1,180 – 1,224 kg (2,601–2,698 lb)|
1,224 kg (2,698 lb)
Nissan 240SX, 180SX, S13 Silvia and 200SX Buyer’s Guide
Note: In this section we will be mainly using the 240SX and S13 names. Most of what applies to the 240SX also applies to the other models, however, for specific problems with the 180SX, S13 Silvia or 200SX we be will referring to those names.
With the history and specifications of the 240SX and other S13 models out of the way, let’s look at what you need to know about buying one.
You should always try to physically inspect any 240SX or S13 you are thinking of buying yourself or get a reliable third-party person to do so for you. We also recommend that you take a friend/helper with you to an inspection as they may spot something you missed.
Another tip is to arrange for an inspection in the morning when the temperature outside is cooler and the car’s engine is cold. We recommend that you do this because warm engines can often hide several serious issues with a motor vehicle.
Additionally, watch out for cars that have just been washed or are wet from rain. Water can hide a number of problems with the bodywork and paint, so if you do inspect a 240SX when it is wet, try to arrange a second viewing before making a purchase.
How Much Should You Pay for a Nissan 240SX?
Prices for the Nissan 240SX and other S13 models depends on several different factors from the condition of the vehicle, to the specific model and where it is being sold. As this is the case, we will not tell you how much money you should hand over for one.
However, if you do want to get an estimate of how much you are going to need to spend, we recommend that you check out your local auction/classifieds websites or dealers for S13s for sale. By doing this, you will be able to get a rough idea of how much you need to spend in your local area or country.
Nissan 240SX & S13 Inspection Guide
In the section below you will find everything you need to know about inspecting an S13 or Nissan 240SX. While Nissan’s S13 models are reliable and tough cars, many of them have been maintained poorly, modified badly or been in contact with things they shouldn’t have been.
Checking the VIN
It is always a good idea to check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of any car you are interested in. The VIN can tell you quite a lot of information about the S13 you are inspecting and its history. Check the VIN on a VIN check-up website or service to see what comes up (you could even do this on your phone while you are inspecting the vehicle).
You should be able to find the VIN in the following locations:
- Imprinted into the firewall
- The engine code plate riveted onto the firewall
- Bottom of the windshield
- The door jamb on a sticker (driver’s side)
Engine & Exhaust on an S13
To start your inspection of an S13’s engine, go to the front of the car and open the bonnet/hood (If the bonnet does not open properly the car may have been in an accident). Once you have done this take a good look at the engine bay and keep an eye out for any leaks, broken components, modifications, or signs that the vehicle has overheated.
Additionally, while an extremely clean engine bay is usually a sign of a well-maintained car, it can also be a sign of an owner who is trying to hide something (usually a leak).
The next step is to check that the engine is cold. If it is not and the owner/seller has not driven to the inspection point, it may indicate that they have pre-warmed the engine to hide a problem.
Following this you should check the fluid levels to make sure they are at the correct height. We suggest that you check the fluid levels both before and after a test drive to see if they remain the same (however, a slight change in some of the fluid levels is to be expected).
Fluid levels that are too high or too low are a sign of a poorly/incorrectly maintained vehicle. If the fluid levels are not at the correct height it can lead to premature component wear or even total engine failure.
When Should the Oil/Oil Filter Be Changed on a Nissan S13
It is always recommended that the engine oil and oil filter be changed at or before the recommended service intervals. Ask the owner how often they change the oil and double check with the service history.
If the oil is not replaced at regular intervals it can begin to breakdown in the presence of contaminates and become diluted. This can lead to increased engine and component wear, which will lead to more expense down the track. Below you can find some information on when to change the oil and oil filter.
It is generally recommended that you change the engine oil in an S13 every 5,000 to 8,000 km (3,000 to 5,000 miles). More enthusiastic owners tend to replace the engine oil in their S13 closer to the 5,000 km mark. Synthetic oils usually don’t need to be changed as often as non-synthetic oils (dino).
Best Engine Oil for a Nissan S13
Depending on what model S13 you have/are looking at, you may get different recommendations for what engine oil is the best. We have put together some commonly recommended oils below for each engine fitted to the S13:
Note: the following are just recommendations and you should check with the owner/seller to see what they use in their car (as it is sometimes a good idea to stick with the same oil).
Additionally, heavier weight oils tend to perform better in warmer environments, whereas thinner oils are usually better for cooler climates. As this is the case, we recommend that you check with a Nissan or S13 specialist to see what oil they recommend for your local environment.
5W-30, 10W-30, 10W-40
5W-30, 10W-30, 10W-40
10W-30, 10W-40, 15W-40 for normal use/engine (10W-50, 15W-50 and higher may be better for track use)
10W-30, 10W-40, 15W-40 for normal use/engine (10W-50, 15W-50 and higher may be better for track use)
10W-30, 10W-40, 15W-40 for normal use/engine (10W-50, 15W-50 and higher may be better for heavier use)
10W-30, 10W-40, 15W-40 for normal use/engine (10W-50, 15W-50 and higher may be better for heavier use)
It is usually recommended that you replace the oil filter with an OEM one and do it with every oil change (at most every second oil change). There are plenty of aftermarket oil filters from the likes of K&N and Mobil 1 that will work perfectly fine as well. However, do not use poor quality oil filters like the ones from Fram on an S13 Nissan. Below you can find some links to OEM oil filters for the different engines fitted to the S13.
Inspecting the Oil
It also important to check the condition of the oil inside the car. If you notice any metallic particles or grit in the oil move onto another S13. Additionally, a frothy dipstick may be an indication of a failed or leaking head gasket. Black oil is usually fine and just means it is probably time for an oil change.
Are Leaks Common on These Cars?
While Nissan’s S13 range of cars are reliable, oil leaks are a fairly common occurrence. Nissan’s cars from the period tended to suffer from leaky oil crank seals (A leak from the front is common), leaks around the oil pan gasket and leaks around the oil filter.
If you are inspecting an S13 that leaks, try to get a gauge on how serious the problem is. Minor leaks around the valve cover tend to be fine, but they can be a sign of a more serious issue. If you are thinking about buying an S13 with a minor oil leak problem, try to get a heavy discount on the vehicle as it may be expensive to fix. If oil is spewing out the car move onto another S13.
Inspecting the Cooling System on a Nissan S13
A cooling system that is functioning incorrectly or doesn’t work at all can lead to total engine failure. You need to inspect as much of the cooling system as you possibly can, making sure to go over all of the pipes and other components.
Don’t forget to check the service history and with the owner to see if the cooling system has been regularly maintained. Here are some of the main components that make up a Nissan S13’s cooling system:
- Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
- Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
- Intercooler (turbocharged engines) – decreases the temperature of the compressed air and increases the density of it so that an engine can breathe in the maximum amount of air.
- Water Pump – belt that is driven from a pulley. Pushes water/coolant through the engine
- Overflow or Expansion bottle – removes air from the system and provides a filling point
- Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system
Remember to inspect the cooling system both before and after a test drive. We recommend that you do this because problems can start to appear once the vehicle warms up.
Additionally, remember to check the coolant height to make sure it is not too low, and it doesn’t change too much during a test drive (expect some change however). An expansion tank that is warped or cracked may be an indication of past/present overheating problems.
Best Coolant for Nissan S13
It is always important to use the correct coolant in a car as the wrong stuff can lead to component or even total engine failure. We recommend that you check with the owner/seller to see what coolant they use in their car.
It is recommended that you use something like Genuine Nissan Engine Coolant or Prestone Asian Vehicle Coolant. Other coolants such as Toyota Pink Coolant will work as well, but just remember to check that they are suitable before putting them in. Additionally, do not mix coolants (do a full flush before changing).
Nissan recommends that you change their Long Life Coolant every 96,000 km (60,000 miles). Some owners like to replace the coolant more frequently, which is a sign of good maintenance.
If you notice any oily bubbles in the coolant move onto another S13. Additionally, brown or muddy coolant is a sign of poor maintenance.
CA18DE/CA18DET Timing Belt
Unlike the KA and SR engines, the CA18 uses a timing belt/Cambelt instead of a timing chain. If the belt snaps it can cause serious damage to the engine and some serious damage to your wallet as well. Nissan recommends changing the belt every 55,000 to 60,000 (34,000 to 37,000 miles) or every 5 to 6 years.
Do not forget to check with the owner and in the service history to see if the belt has been replaced! If the belt has not been replaced and it is past the recommended service interval be very cautious of the car. If you want to purchase the S13 try to get a heavy discount and get the work done immediately.
It is a good idea to replace the following components along with the timing belt:
- AUX belts
- Idler pulley
- Water pump
You can find out how to change the timing belt on a CA18 engine here. If the owner has changed the belt themselves try to get an idea of how competent they are, as there are many unskilled home mechanics out there who are just trying to save a buck.
SR20 & KA24 Timing Chain
Models fitted with the SR20 and KA24 engines come with a timing chain. The timing chain should last the lifetime of the engine, however, in reality it may need to be replaced at some point. If the chain is making a rattling noise it should be replaced as soon as possible. Alternatively, try use a different weight of oil first to see if it fixes the problem.
Another possible reason for a rattling sound from the timing chain is a bad timing chain tensioner. The tensioner and chain guides can wear overtime and will need to be replaced. If the chain is replaced at any point these parts should be replaced as well, along with the water pump and thermostat.
Timing components are dependent on a fresh supply of clean oil. This means that if the engine oil hasn’t been replaced regularly problems can start to occur with the timing chain/components.
Inspecting the Spark Plugs
If possible, try to get a look at the spark plugs. While it is not completely necessary to do this, the spark plugs can tell you quite a bit of information about the 350Z you are inspecting and how it has been looked after. We recommend that you check out this spark plug analysis guide.
What Spark Plugs are Recommended for an S13?
Recommended spark plugs include BKR7EIX-11 (Iridium) or BCPR7ES (copper). Iridium plugs will last longer than copper ones, but their spark is poorer. Additionally, turbo cars tend to go through spark plugs quicker than naturally aspirated models.
Checking the Exhaust System on a Nissan S13
When you inspect the underside of the car remember to take a good look at the exhaust system. Exhaust problems can dramatically reduce power and can be expensive to fix. Look for the following issues:
- Black sooty stains – Indicates a leak which may require expensive repairs
- Corrosion – The exhaust parts and brackets often rust. This is not a massive problem in itself, but it may suggest that the car has other corrosion issues. Walk away if there is lots of rust.
- Cracks or accident damage – Can be a sign of a careless owner
- Dodgy repairs – Watch out for bodge jobs as they are a sign of a careless owner and can be a nightmare to put right.
- Loss of power when driving and strange noises– A leak can lead to loss of power and possibly even some strange noises (ticking, etc.)
Aftermarket Exhausts on Nissan S13s
There are so many different aftermarket exhaust options available for the different S13 models. If the car you are inspecting has an aftermarket exhaust, try to find out its brand or who manufactured it and then check their reviews. Avoid S13s with poor quality or badly reviewed exhausts.
Smoke & Vapour from a Nissan S13
Don’t forget to check what is coming out the back of an S13 during an inspection. Make sure you check for smoke/vapour before, during and after a test drive.
A small amount of vapour on start-up is perfectly fine, especially if it is cold outside. Lots of smoke or vapour is a big problem and you should pass on the vehicle if you encounter this problem. Below we have outlined what the different colours of smoke indicate:
White smoke – This is usually caused by water in the cylinders and could indicate a blown head gasket. If the smoke smells sweet, it is probably coolant.
Blue/Grey smoke – Can be caused by wear to the pistons, piston rings, and/or worn valve seals. To check for blue smoke, ask a friend to follow you while drive the vehicle and take it through the rev range. Alternatively, get the owner to drive the car for a bit and watch out the back. Blue smoke on start-up and overrun is a sign that the car has been thrashed. This colour smoke may also indicate problems with the turbo.
Black smoke – Usually occurs when the engine is running too rich (burning too much fuel). The first things you should check is the air-filter and other intake components.
Overheating and Blown Head Gaskets on S13s
Watch out for any signs of overheating as this problem can be a death sentence for a car. Additionally, past overheating issues that have been fixed can also be a big problem as well. This is because many repairs to the cooling system are often carried out poorly/cheaply or the damage to the engine may simply be too great to properly fix. Keep an eye out for the following:
- Coolant leaking externally from below the exhaust manifold
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
- An engine that overheats
- Oil that is white and milky
- Fouled spark plugs
- Low cooling system integrity
- Engine oil that smells of coolant
- Sweet exhaust smell
Don’t forget to check the temperature gauge. If it is on the low side, there may be an issue with the thermostat. If it is on the higher side, it indicates that the cooling system is struggling.
Starting Up an S13
We always recommend that you get the owner/seller to start the vehicle for you for the first time. There are two main reasons for this:
- You can see if any smoke or vapour comes out the back of the car
- If the owner revs the S13 hard then you know top pass one the car
When the key is turned in the ignition the car should jump into life. Hesitation or failure to start indicates a problem that could be something simple like a bad/flat battery or a much more serious issue.
What Is the Correct Idle Speed for a Nissan S13
The idle speed should be around 750 to 850 rpm. Expect a slightly higher idle speed when you first start the car, but it should drop once the car warms up. Additionally, make sure you turn on all of the electronics, etc. at the same time and check the idle speed – it should increase. If the car stalls or seems like it is struggling there is a problem.
High idle speed can be caused by a range of different issues from running to rich to problems with the Coolant Temp Sensor (CTS). Modifications can also alter the idle speed, so check to see if the car has any. Misfiring/chugging can often be caused by a bad/dirty injector or a vacuum leak, but it may be something else.
Excessive Shaking or Vibrating
Excessive shaking or vibrating of the whole car is usually caused by failed motor mounts. This is usually caused by failed motor mounts. Slight shaking/vibrating is to be expected and is perfectly normal.
Checking the Turbo on SR20DET & CA18DET Cars
Turbos will eventually wear and fail, but the life of them can be greatly extended with regular maintenance and oil changes with a good quality oil. Only the SR20DET and the CA18DET engines came with a turbo, but some owners have fitted bolt on kits to other models. If the turbo is in a bad way and you are still interested in the vehicle, ask for a heavy discount.
What are the Signs of a Failing Turbocharger
Listen out for any weird whistling, rumbling or high-pitched metallic sounds when the turbo is at full boost. If the turbo is making these sort of sounds it is well past its prime. However, the turbocharger will probably completely fail before making these sort of sounds. Here are some signs of a failing turbo:
- Distinctive blue/grey smoke – This usually indicates that the seals are worn, however, it can also be a sign of a cracked turbo housing (pretty unlikely).
- Burning lots of oil – Its hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner.
- Slow acceleration– If the car feels slow it is a good indication that the turbo has failed or is failing. This is why we recommend that you test drive a few different turbo S13s to get an idea of how fast they are.
- If the boost pressure comes on late– Boost pressure that comes at higher than normal rpms could indicate either a worn or unbalanced turbocharger.
- Check Engine Warning Light– The check engine light (CEL) can be displayed for a number of reasons, from major to minor. One of these reasons may be due to a failing/failed turbocharger. If the light is on and you notice some of the other symptoms we have listed above, then it is a good sign that the turbo has failed.
Note: Some of the issues above can be the result of problems with the pipes going to the turbocharger.
Rebuilt or Replaced Engines
The engines in these cars should last around 320,000 plus kilometres (200,000 plus miles), however, some fail earlier than that (while others go much further). As this is the case, expect to come across S13s with replaced engines,
If the engine has been replaced or rebuilt at any point try to find out who carried out the work and find out if they are well reviewed/competent. The replacement should be carried out by a competent Nissan or S13 specialist. Additionally, it is quite common for owners to replace the KA24 engine in the 240SX with the Japanese spec SR20 or CA18 engine.
It is usually better to buy an S13 with a rebuilt or replaced engine that has done a few more miles. For example, a rebuild that has already travelled 10,000 km is more of a known than one that has travelled 500 km.
Be cautious of owners that claim they have swapped the engine for a low mileage engine. The chances of them finding an engine with low k’s is extremely low, so be mindful of this.
Compression Testing a Nissan S13
While not completely necessary, a compression test can tell you quite a lot of information about the condition and history of the S13 you are looking at. However, remember that compression tests will only tell you that a problem exists and not exactly what that problem is. Compression readings for the different engines are listed below:
- KA24 – 180 psi (minimum 151 psi with a max difference of 14 psi)
- SR20 – 156 psi (minimum 128 psi with a max difference of 14 psi)
- CA18 – 171 psi (minimum 142 psi with a max difference of 14 psi)
Problems with the transmission can be expensive to fix, so make sure the one on the car you are inspecting is in good condition. While you are test driving an S13, remember to go through all of the gears at both low and high engine speeds. Grinding or whirring sounds are a sign of trouble and if the car doesn’t go into all the gears move onto another S13.
Synchro wear is possible on S13s with manual transmissions, so watch out for any crunching or graunching during shifts. Worn synchros can be a sign that the vehicle has been thrashed, so keep that in mind.
The transmission fluid for both automatic and manual S13s should be replaced every 40,000 km (25,000 miles) or every 2 years. Check to make sure this has been done as it is a sign of poor maintenance if it hasn’t. While you are changing the transmission fluid the differential fluid should also be replaced as well.
What Transmission Fluid for a Nissan S13?
It is recommended that you use something like Redline MTL/MT-90 for manual cars, while a fluid like Nissan Matic D should be used in automatic transmissions. The rear differential oil should be a good brand 75W-90 Synthetic Gear Oil (GL-5).
Testing and Inspecting the Clutch on S13s
The life of a clutch largely depends on how it has been treated and how the car has been driven, however, expect it to last around 65,000 km (40,000 miles). If the car is getting close to this mark and has not had the clutch changed, try to get a discount as you will probably have to replace the clutch in the near future. Here are some ways to test the health of a clutch on a Nissan S13
Clutch Engagement – The first thing to check is the engagement. To do this put the S13 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 way to check for this is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. Once you have done this, plant your foot on the throttle and watch the revs. If the engine speed goes up but the car doesn’t accelerate the clutch is slipping. Here are some things that can cause slippage
- Worn clutch
- Clutch covered in oil
- Clutch cable is too tight and is not releasing properly
Clutch Drag – Get the S13 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.
Nissan S13 Bodywork & Exterior
Take your time inspecting the bodywork and exterior of an S13 as a problem here could be very expensive to fix (or may not be fixable at all).
Sadly, rust can be an issue on Nissan S13s. If the car you are looking at has serious rust problems move onto another vehicle. Here are some things that can make rust more likely:
- Spent time in countries that salt their roads
- Spent time in countries with very harsh winters
- Lived by the sea for significant periods of time
- Always been kept outside (never garaged)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
Below we have listed some common rust/corrosion spots on an S13:
- Spoiler (hatch models)
- Trunk/Boot (remember to check underneath the spare tyre)
- Rear wheel wells (run your fingers up the wheel well and watch out for bubbling paint)
- Frame rails (If there are any welded plates or non-factory parts, the frame rails have rusted through and rusted).
- Around the output shafts of the differential
- Bolts and nuts under the bonnet/hood
- Around the sunroof/windows
- Original brake master cylinder
- Exhaust and exhaust brackets
While you are inspecting the bodywork, you should also keep an eye out for rust repairs. Look for any areas that may have been resprayed or repaired and check the service history. Additionally, check with the owner, however, remember that they may not be 100% honest with you.
Use a magnet on steel sections of the car or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
Accident Damage on a Nissan S13
This is a big problem on many Nissan S13s as the car encourages spirited driving. Accident damage can be a nightmare to fix and in many cases is irreparable. Watch out for the following on an S13:
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Inspect the doors, tailgate and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage. If the panels are uneven it could suggest an accident has occurred.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Nissan S13 you are inspecting may have been in an accident or may have some sort of other problem.
- Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – This is a good indication of crash damage or rust repair.
- If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This is usually a sign that the vehicle has been in an accident and that the owner is careless. This problem can be fixed but is a pain to get right.
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the vehicle and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage. Frame rails are difficult and expensive to replace.
- Rust in strange locations – indicates that the S13 you are inspecting has been in an accident or has some other problem.
- Paint runs or overspray – This could be a factory issue or a sign of a poor repair.
- Missing badges or trim – can be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
- Rear light wiring – The rear light wiring should not have been removed. Any signs that someone has tampered with the wiring indicate that there was a reason to remove or re-wire the rear lights which may have to do with an accident. Painting the vehicle should not require a removal of the wiring.
- 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.
Replacing body panels is not easy or cheap, so make sure you are happy with the condition of the vehicle.
S13 Suspension & Steering Components
Overtime the suspension and steering components will need to be replaced. Most of the components should last around 160,000 km (100,000 miles), but this will largely depend on how the car has been treated or maintained.
Once you get to around 240,000 km (150,000 miles) and above, most of the suspension and steering components will need to have been replaced. Watch out for the following during a test drive:
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
- Tipping during turns
- High speed instability
- Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel (could indicate alignment issues or failed ball joints)
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive tyre bounce after hitting a bump
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Sagging rear suspension – usually caused by bad bushings in the rear
- Knocking or creaking sounds during a test drive (don’t forget to drive in a tight figure 8)
Check the service history to see if the shocks, bushes and other suspension/steering components have been replaced at any point. If they haven’t, expect to replace them at some point in the future, so try to get a discount on the vehicle.
During a test drive remember to check that the vehicle drives straight without you having to correct the wheel. If you do have to correct the steering wheel it indicates that the wheel alignment is out. Alternatively, it may be a sign of other issues such as accident damage.
Inspecting the Brakes on a Nissan S13
The Brakes on all of the S13 models are perfectly adequate for normal road use. Some owners like to upgrade them with Q45 rotors and calipers, while a less common modification is Z32 brakes on the rear. Upgrading the brake pads with something like these ones from EBC is an easy way to increase braking performance.
If you notice that the brakes feel weak or spongy then there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Look out for the following when inspecting the braking system.
- Pad life (use a little mirror or you may be able to use your phone)
- Pitted, scored or grooved discs
- Any leaks in the brake lines (get a helper to press on the brake pedal while you inspect the lines)
- Brake fluid level in the brake fluid reservoir
- Brake fluid changes every 12 – 24 months (A popular choice is Motul RBF 660)
During a Test Drive
While you are test driving an S13 Nissan make sure you test the brakes under both hard and light conditions. If you notice that the vehicle pulls to one side it may have a sticking/seized caliper. This problem usually occurs when a car has been setting for a long period of time. A sticking/seized caliper may make a loud thud when you pull away for the first time.
Shaking or juddering through the steering wheel when the brakes are applied is usually an indication of warped discs. This usually becomes first apparent under high speed braking conditions.
Loud bangs, knocks or other strange noises when the brakes are used should be investigated closely as they may signal some expensive bills on the horizon. Weak feeling brakes or brakes that struggle to stop the car signal an issue.
Wheels & Tyres
Take a look at the wheels – are they curbed or scuffed? Are they original or modified (most cars you come across will have aftermarket)? Are they all the same? Curbed or damaged wheels are a sign of a careless owner and if the rims are not stock ask the owner if they have the originals. Remember to check the tyres for the following:
- Amount of tread
- Uneven wear (Can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues)
- Brand (they should be from a good or well-reviewed brand)
Most of the interior components can be replaced quite easily, but some of them are expensive to source. Sadly, an original undamaged dashboard is a rarity as they often crack from the sun. Replacement dashboards are available, so check the service history to see if it has ever been replaced. If it has, check it thoroughly to make sure it has been installed correctly.
Another thing to check is the condition of the seats. Check the bolsters and material for any rips or stains, and ask for a discount if they are not in good condition. If the seats move during acceleration and/or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will be an MOT/WOF failure.
It is rare to find the original carpet in good condition and even rarer find goo condition original floormats. Don’t forget to check the carpets and other parts of the interior (around the windows, etc.) for any leaks or dampness.
Pay particular attention to the steering wheel, pedals, gear shifter and other trim pieces for wear as they can indicate how far the S13 you are inspecting has travelled. Excessive wear for the mileage suggests that the odometer has been wound back (it may also suggest that the car has had a very hard life).
You can tell if a smoker has owned the vehicle by taking a goof whiff of the interior and by looking at the headliner above the driver’s seat. If there is a stain or it is a slightly different colour than the rest of the headliner, then a smoker has probably owned the car at some point.
Electronics, Air Conditioning and Other Parts
Remember to check that the windows open and close properly and that all the door locks and handles work as intended. Getting these fixed can often be quite expensive.
Air conditioning problems are always a cause for concern. Remember to check that cold air comes out the vents (if the car has air con) . If the air conditioning doesn’t work many owners will claim it just needs a simple re-gas. In truth, the problem is often a lot more complicated and if it just needed a re-gas they probably would have got it fixed.
Remember to check that all the warning lights are on when the ignition is first turned on. If the warning lights do not appear during engine start-up they may have been disconnected to hide a problem.
If there are any aftermarket components try to see if they are installed correctly. If you notice any signs of poor quality workmanship you should be very cautious.
Another think to check is that the headlights, rear lights, indicators, etc. work as intended. You will need to get out of the car when you are doing this or get somebody to help you.
Common Nissan S13 Modifications
Below we have listed some popular modifications that owners make to their S13s
Handling and Suspension
- Q45 front rotors and calipers
- Z32 rear brakes
- Performance brake pads (EBC Greenstuff)
- Couple of degrees negative camber and 1-1.5 degrees of toe in or out on the front wheels
- Ride height reduction of 30 – 37 mm
- Motorsport grade stiffer dampers
- Sports exhaust (1.5 to 2.5 inches is usually better)
- Panel air filter
- Lighter flywheel
- ECU remaps
- Improved turbo
- Professional porting and polishing
- Sports camshaft
- Engine swaps (240SX with SR20DET, etc.)
Transmission & Clutch
- Sports clutch (original ones are good for up to 40% extra power)
Body & Interior
- Allow wheels (Anything larger than 17 inches is usually not recommended)
- Aftermarket racing seats
- Harness if the car is being tracked
- Steering wheel
General Car Buying Advice for a Nissan S13
How to Get the Best Deal on an S13
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, research, research – Prior to starting your hunt for an S13, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Is a highly modified S13 okay or are you looking for something completely original? Do you want a low mileage example or are you happy with a car that has travelled far?
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Don’t limit yourself to one dealer or platform (or even location). If you open up to more shopping options, it will make it easier to find a good Nissan S13.
- Test drive multiple cars – Don’t just take one Nissan S13 out for a test drive and then buy it. Drive as many S13s as you can get your hands on. This will give you a good idea of what makes a good and what makes a bad S13.
- 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 looking through all the different Nissan S13s available and then go check out the promising looking ones
- Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
- Don’t trust the owner – 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 Nissan S13s, 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. There are lots of low mileage, poor condition S13s out there, so don’t discount a one with a few more K’s.
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 are not kind to the engine in a Nissan S13 as it does not have time to warm up properly and get lubricated.
Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.
Mileage will never decrease with age, so go out and drive your car!
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. The service history will give you a good idea of how the S13 you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications 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 Nissan S13 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 (engine, catalytic converter, etc.)?
- 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?
- Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
- Is there any money owing on the car?
- Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
- Is there any rust?
- Has rust been removed at any point?
- Has the car been used for track use at any point?
- When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
- Where do you store/park the car usually?
There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.
Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a Nissan S13
Here are some things that would make as walk away from an S13. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.
- Overheating problems
- Significant Crash Damage
- Money owing on the car
- Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
- Excessive amounts of power
- Bad compression
- Bad resprays
- Significant rust problems
- Engine swaps with non-standard engines
- Significant track use
- Major engine or transmission issues
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Notes on the Owner
The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their S13 (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.
- How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
- Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
- Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
- What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
- How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
- Do they know anything about the Nissan S13 and the model they are selling?
- 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 Nissan 350Z
Where to Find a Nissan S13 for Sale
Websites such as Craigslist, Kijiji, TradeMe, Piston Heads and GumTree are great places to start your hunt for a Nissan S13. You will find a range of S13s for sale at different prices and in different conditions. You can easily compare the price, specs and condition of different S13s and you will be able to select the ones that look the best
Dealers and Importers
Most dealers and importers will have an online presence, so make sure you check out their website for any Nissan S13s for sale. Dealers tend to be a bit more expensive than private sellers, but sometimes you can get some extras thrown in or better protection.
Websites such as Reddit, Facebook and even Instagram can be excellent places to find a Nissan S13 for sale. Check out some of the many enthusiast groups or subreddits and let other users know you are interested in buying an S13. Additionally, social media groups are often great places to find spare parts or get advice from other owners.
This sort of ties in with the above, but many owners’ clubs have their own website or they may not even have a website at all. Look to see if there are any Nissan clubs in your area as these are often great places to find cars for sale or ask for advice.
Importing a Nissan 180SX or S13 Silvia from Japan
If you are struggling to find a suitable S13 in your country, you may want to look at importing one from Japan. Many 180SXs and S13 Silvias were sold in Japan, so it is a great place to find them for sale.
Exporting vehicles from Japan is a big business as it keeps the country’s motor industry moving and older vehicles become more expensive to run. Below we have outlined everything you need to know about importing a Nissan S13 from Japan.
How to Import a Nissan 180SX or S13 Silvia from Japan
While importing an S13 from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually quite easy. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search “import Nissan 180SX or S13 Silvia”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for S13s 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 handy to give you a general idea of what to expect when importing an S13, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find the perfect Nissan S13 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 whittle down the number of S13s you are looking at and then use the check sheet and additionally information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you.
The Auction Check Sheet
Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. The grade is located in the top right corner of the check sheet. You will notice that there is both a letter and a number grade. The number indicates the overall condition of the vehicle, while the letter shows you the interior grade. At the bottom right of the check sheet is the ‘car map’. The car map tells you information about the exterior of a Nissan S13 and where any problems are located.
Additionally, the sheet contains information about the specs of the vehicle and any modifications (major or minor). The inspector may also write some additional notes about the car.
What Does the Number Grade Mean?
- Grade 7 to 9 or S– New car with delivery miles.
- Grade 6– Same as above but with a few more miles.
- Grade 5– Vehicle is in excellent condition with low miles.
- Grade 4.5– Overall condition is great, but may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
- Grade 4– Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
- Grade 3.5– Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
- Grade 3– Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
- Grade 2– Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
- Grade 1– Is modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
- Grade 0, A, R, RA– Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Letter Grade
As we wrote earlier, the number grade is usually accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. An ‘A’ indicates that the interior is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ indicates that the car is in average condition, while a ‘C’ displays that it is in poor condition. Grades below C show that the car’s interior is in very poor condition.
The Car Map
The check sheet will also contain what is called a “car map”, which tells you all the information you need to know about the exterior condition of the car. It will show the location of any problems or damage to the vehicle. Any problems are indicated by a letter and a number. The letter tells you what the issue is and the number indicates the severity. You can read more about the car map in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.
Our Guidelines for Importing a Nissan S13 from Japan
- Always demand to see and have the auction check sheet before making a purchase
- If you can’t read Japanese or the company won’t provide a translated check sheet, get help from somebody who speaks/reads Japanese.
- Try to go through a private importer
- Check that the chassis number on the check sheet matches the one on the frame
- Cross reference the check sheet with other websites
- Don’t rely on the grade (always check the auction sheet thoroughly)
- Investigate each website/service thoroughly (reviews, feedback, etc.)
- Be careful of heavily modified vehicles
- Get someone to inspect the car for you if possible. Ask for photos and get a good run down of the condition.
- Avoid cars with unknown mileages
- Stay away from bargains that seem to be too good to be true
- Stay away from grade 0, A, RA, R vehicles that have been involved in accidents
Know Your Country’s Importation Laws
Always make sure you check your country’s importation laws as you may find you can’t bring the vehicle you want in. For example, some countries have certain restrictions on importing cars under a certain age.
Concluding This Nissan S13 Buyer’s Guide
There are plenty of ratty S13s out there, so take your time and don’t rush into a purchase. This guide should cover most of what you need to know about the different models of the Nissan S13. For more information check out the handy links below.