Whether you’re looking for a car to stance out, take to the show, or whip around a track, there’s always been one car in common between the two: The Miata. If you’re not looking to join the Miata gang though, the 240sx is even better at both. Whether you’re going to throw on a camber kit and hug the ground real tight, or get some softer springs to set up for drifting, the 240SX does it all.. With style! However, with a 30-year-old car, comes a fair share of issues.
Some common issues that you should look for when buying a 240SX are Rust, which Engine it has (and who swapped it), Maintenance history, and how it runs and drives. Make sure to take the car for a test drive as well, being both a passenger and a driver.
While these aren’t the only things that could be wrong with a car, these are the biggest issues with the 240 line. Depending on how they were treated, they could be in better condition than a 2012 CR-V, or worse condition than a 60’s Ford. It really depends on how the previous owner cared for the car, and just by talking to them, you should be able to tell just how much they care.
One of the biggest issues for a cheap, older sports car is rust. Between the lightweight body (with little material to reinforce), the cheap production, and the mistreatment their whole lives, they’re prone to have rust damage. When they’re driven in the winter, the slush and road salt builds up on the undercarriage of the car, and that starts to eat at the frame.
While that’s a North-centric issue, the south has their fair share of issues as well. That can include flood damage, dry rot, and humidity spreading moisture to the entire frame.
Not all the rust you’ll find is a deal-breaker, though. Rust on the body panels means that you’ll have to replace those panels (obviously), but you run the risk of there being more rust. Be sure to check the frame rails for rust, as any frame rust can lead to catastrophic structural failure. Not only could the frame be rusted, but the deck lid in the rear where the stock spoiler is mounted could be as well. The battery tray, the seals in the hatch, and the sub-frames are also prone to rotting out.
Checking inside the engine bay for rust is also a good idea, since having your engine mounts rotted through generally isn’t safe. Speaking of the engine bay…
2) Know Your Engines
These cars are known to house a whole host of different engines. From GM’s rough’n’tough LS engines to Mazda’s brappin’ rotaries, there’s no engine that won’t go into a 240 (with some work).
With some frame modification, v10s aren’t out of the question, albeit pricey swaps (To be fair, there are a couple v10 S2000s out there, exhibit A, and some v12 240SXs, exhibit B). The most common swaps for 240s are the RB series, the JZ series, the SR series, and the LS series.
Each engine has their own quirks, sounds, and problems. Making sure you can hear (and see) a cold start of the engine is step 1, and knowing what the engine should sound like is step 2. For instance, cars with LS motors will (in general) idle rougher than those with inline designs. Those with turbos will generally be harder to start and need to crank faster.
The RB series tends to have some clatter while idling. The untrained ear might think there’s something wrong with the engine, when in reality, that’s just how the engines tend to be. Depending on the LS generation, some idle louder and have crankshaft noises, so knowing what noises to expect when the car is running is important as well.
While checking out under the hood of the car, note the wiring harness. Is it all wrapped and self-contained? Does it look OEM, or maybe pre-bought from a retailer? Or is the engine bay essentially a giant rat’s nest of wires? Just because the engine runs doesn’t mean it’ll keep running.
The engine bay of a car can get awful hot, and any loose wires that happen to touch a hot component in there could easily be melted through. If, perhaps, the wires from the thermostat were to be melted, the fan would no longer turn on, and the engine would overheat.
While you’re looking, it’s always important to ask about the service history. However, when you’re looking at a 240, the owners will probably have done the work themselves. As long as you know what kind of oil they use, that’s what’s important.
While many people claim that mixing oil brands and types can be harmful to your engine, that isn’t entirely true. Many tests have been done, and the results go to show that mixing oils does not hurt your engine. However, sticking to what the manual recommends (or what the engine builder recommends) is your best bet.
Checking the other fluids is important, but more than checking what fluids are in the car, check what fluids aren’t in the car. Looking for empty reservoirs on the car (power steering, oil, coolant, etc.), any fluids that are dripping off the bottom of the car, markings on the pavement below, anywhere fluid shouldn’t be. If you can help it, try and locate where the leak is coming from, too.
If you have a coolant leak that’s coming from one end of a hose, then it’s likely to just be a loose fitting or clamp. On the other hand, if that leak is coming from the center of the radiator, that’s a puncture. Small details like that are the difference between a screwdriver repair and a $500 replacement.
Overall, just make sure the previous owner knew what they were doing, and that they kept up with their car’s maintenance. If they claim to have refilled the “blinker fluid”, you can just walk away.
4) Looking At The Car In Person
While you can get most important information out of someone just by talking, there’s still more to know. How a car runs, drives, stops, turns, everything matters when buying a car, especially a 240.
One of the most important things to do while looking at a car is listen to it cold start. Tell the seller that if you get there and the engine is hot, you’re walking away. A warm engine can mask many issues, including leaking fluids, exhaust leaks, knocks/rattles, faulty starter, poor tune, etc. If an engine would have issues starting, and the engine was already hot, you’d have no clue.
Once you start the car, leave the hood open, and let it idle. This way, you can see if its running rough, leaking fluid, or if anything’s wrong. Listening to the mechanical noises of the engine is important too, not just the exhaust note.
Once the car is up to temperature, then it’s time to take a test drive. Ask the seller if they can drive the first half, and then let you drive the second half. While you’re in the passenger seat, watch what the seller is doing. Are they forcing the car into gear? What about burning the clutch? Do they grind gears when they shift?
The car itself might have issues too. Are the brakes old and pulsing? Does the car run rough, or shake? These are things you’ll need to know, and that you can notice while you’re in the passenger seat. Don’t stop watching the driver, though. The steering wheel might be shaking from a bent or unbalanced rim. It also might be turned at an odd angle, due to the car needing an alignment.
Their hand might be casually resting on the shifter. This could mean one of two things. One, they have a horrible habit, and the shift forks may be bent. Two, it could mean they’re holding the car in gear, hiding that their running gear is going out. They could also be faking how much power the car has, pretending they’re at half throttle when they’re all the way in it. Another issue is if the car is tuned poorly, and they don’t want to floor it. The car might run too lean, and could blow if its run too hard.
What To Check While Driving
After you’ve had your turn in the passenger’s seat, it’s time to swap and you to drive. Checking things like the radio, the AC and heat, and the radio can be done whilst stopped.
Once you’re behind the wheel, give it a few free revs. If the car comes back down and idles nicely, that’s a good sign. If the RPMs come back slowly, or it sputters when it comes back near idle, that’s a bad tune or a gummed-up carburetor.
From there, make sure the clutch has plenty of life left, and is adjusted properly. Make sure it goes through all the gears smoothly, and pulls all the way to redline, smoothly. If the car starts to sputter, the car’s running lean, getting too much air. If the car starts to bog, either the car’s running rich (too much fuel), or it’s not getting a good spark. These are things you can fix.
If the car is running rough, however, that is likely a misfire. That could be electrical, a fouled plug, or (heavens forbid) a damaged ECU.
Depending on the modifications that were done to the car, keep in mind how the car should feel. If the car has coilovers, it should feel tight on the road. If the car feels wobbly, maybe there’s frame rot, or a strut gone bad. A car with a v8 should pull smooth through the whole range, is it sputtering in and out? What about the transmission, are there any weird noises or tough shifts? All of these are issues you’ll need to keep in mind while test driving.
Previous Owner’s Mods
Now, buying a car like the 240sx, you’re probably going to be buying a car someone previously modified. Looking out for those mods, getting a list of everything that was done, and receipts for any work shops did are all important. If there are engine modifications, you’ll need to be incredibly careful to get every detail about those changes. Engine modification is an exact science, if anything is wrong with it, your engine could be ruined.
The modifications to the interior matter as well. Keeping you connected to the car via a bucket seat, harness, wheel, etc are important. That’s part of why the interiors of Formula D cars are so vastly different from those of street cars, is their safety and functionality. There are 7 essential interior modifications for a drift car. If the 240 you’re buying already has those, you’ll save a lot of time and money!
I won’t go over negotiating the price of your car in this article, if you want to read about how to haggle price, that’ll be another article. However, now you know the basics of what to look for when buying a 240SX. Just remember, there’ll always be another car! You don’t have to feel bad about walking away from a deal, be picky! You’re the buyer, you hold both the money and the power in this deal!