What to look for - Mazda MX-5 Buyers Guide

Our video guide on what to look for when buying a used Mazda MX-5 Miata


Corrosion In Australia, the main point of rust is really around the lower area of the windscreen frame. However, in areas where the roads are salted for winter, rust is common. Watch out for rear sill sections, rear wheel arches and front chassis rails near front subframe mounting.
Wet trunk/boot area A wet boot is often caused by a perished rain rail which is the plastic channel that sandwiches the lower edge of the hood and guides water to the drain holes. Replacements are readily available from your MX-5 parts specialists or online. Replacement takes about an hour.
Water in the rear parcel sills The interior drain holes can become blocked, trapping water inside the sills and rear parcel area. A few minutes spent clearing the drains with a wire coat hanger should fix it.
Wing mirrors bolts The door mirror bolt can corrode and even snap. This is easily fixed by dismantling and replacing the bolt/nut that fixes the mirror to the door.
Check for crash damage Always check the bumper plastics, frame rails and rear most and front most metal areas in the boot and engine bay.
Underbody frame rails Get down low and have a look, they can be pretty beat up and I’ve heard of people struggling to get their car registered in Australia because a mechanic won’t pass the car due to damaged rails.
Soft top Be sure to put the roof up and down and check it all works, the soft top latches can wear, or may need adjusting, the roof particularly on the early cars is likely to have a few knicks or holes. And if it has a plastic rear window, they go cloudy with time.


Electric Windows As the cars age, the electric windows become slow and stick over time, if they still go up and down fully then likely the runners just need some lubrication with a silicone spray or white lithium grease. Alternatively, the window electric switches may need cleaning.
Windows clunky On older cars the electric windows can sometimes become ‘clunky’ and rattle, this is due to the window guide bushes failing, sometimes to the point where they are non existent.
Seats Tears are common on the early cars as the cloth has become brittle, similarly the leather seats can crack. On the later cars , the bolster areas of the seats can begin to show wear marks.
Door Trims The door trim on NA’s are well known for wearing out the vinyl material in the trim or the MDF panel underneath the trim can suffer. It is now pretty common to see custom trims out there and some pretty impressive aftermarket options available.


Oil Level Be sure to check the engine oil level. While a black coloured oil is fine, the biggest MX5 killer is low oil level
Oil Leaks Oil leaks are common as the cars age. The o-ring on the CAS sensor on the back on the cylinder head can perish and start to leak. Also the Cam Cover gasket can start to weep oil, particularly if the cam cover has been removed and the gasket has been reused. Leaky rear main seals are identified by a slipping clutch or oil from the trans weep hole.
Noisey tappets There is often noticeable tappet noise when starting up. While this is perfectly normal for the first few moments after startup it is something that should be investigated further if it persists. A good oil change is often all that's needed, although it could indicate worn or damaged lifters.
Belt/Bearing whines If you hear a whining noise from the front of the motor it can often indicate a bad water pump pulley bearing or an overtightened timing belt.
Misfire The two main causes of misfires are aged or worn ignition leads or possibly the coil packs. The early 1.6’s have the weakest coil packs of all the MX-5’s
Crankshaft Pulley Keep an eye out for a ‘short nose’ crank pulley as these are known to fail prematurely. Also be aware of wear with the crank pulley key and keyway. Be sure to check that pulley doesn't wobble when the engine is running.
Radiator If the radiator top plastic tank is brown in colour or showing cracks, it’s due for replacement. eBay alloy replacements are a good option.
Cooling hoses The hoses in the cooling system are known to go hard and brittle when they get old and should be replaced before they crack and leak. Replacement kits cost around $100 and take an hour or two to replace them.
Timing belt While I've never seen an MX-5 timing belt fail, it's worth checking with the seller on the age of the belt or if they have proof of when it was changed.
Fluid reservoirs It's wise to check the brake and clutch fluid reservoirs are topped up, and check that the coolant overflow bottle contents look ok.
Engine Bay Temp After a test drive, check the engine and cooling system and ensure theres nothing unusual like fluid boiling in the overflow or any surprise oil or coolant leaks or smoke.

Transmission & Diff

Warm Trans Tunnel This can get quite noticeable and can sometimes be remedied by changing the rubber turret boot that sits under the centre console. Over time these can perish and allow heat from the drivetrain into the cabin. Simple and cheap to fix.
Clutch Slave Cylinder The slave cylinder can sometimes start to leak and fail resulting in the clutch pedal sinking to the floor. A replacement unit can be had for around $50 and can be fitted in around half an hour.
Transmission Noises Spigot and throwout/clutch-release bearings can develop a whines or grinding noises while clutch is engaged. While replacement of the parts themselves isn’t hard, the whole gearbox needs to be removed to get to them.
Loose Gear Shifter The shifter is secured in the transmission along with a collection of bushes, if any of these deteriorate or fail, the shifter can become floppy and loose.

Brakes & Suspension

General Brakes In general, the brakes are capable and typically don’t present many issues... provided they are maintained and pads are replaced when necessary
Calipers On the older cars, brake calipers are known to seize. Kits are readily available to rebuild the caliper. Keep up maintenance, lube the sliders and ensure the dust boots are in good order and the brakes will last.
General Suspension Generally pretty sturdy, but check for any obvious bushing failures or leaky shocks.
Ball joint boots Check the front suspension where the upper and lower ball joints can become brittle and crack and leak grease.
Bushes NA MX-5's had a bushing in the swaybar endlinks which can fail over time - check all swaybar endlinks.


Battery The battery, located in the boot of the car, needs to be an absorbed glass mat battery, NOT your typical lead acid.
Keys If you do end up buying the car, be sure to remind the seller to give you ALL sets of keys they have for the car, its very common to just give up the key they use every day, but accidentally forget to hand over all the spare keys they have for a car.
Overall The MX-5 is a reliable, easy to maintain, and very rewarding car to drive. They make superb track cars and are a hoot to drive.

Four MX-5's

PSIs of Boost

Track Events

Lap Records