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Thread: 3/S Used Car Buyer's Guide

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    Forum User verified Feedback Score 0 HLxDrummer's Avatar
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    3/S Used Car Buyer's Guide

    I was just thinking we should compile a list of things to look for when buying a 3/S. I recall finding a website that had something similar but can't find it for the life of me. I think it was on 3/S guide or something like that?

    Anyhow, just post something you think should be checked and I'll edit it into the first post.



    General Items to Check

    Engine
    -Check the oil level to see if it burns oil or to see if the previous owner kept up on keeping it full.
    -Smell the oil to make sure it doesn't smell like coolant or fuel. This could indicate a failing headgasket or bad piston rings. You can also make sure the oil doesn't appear "milky" which could point to a failing headgasket.
    -Start the car when it is completely cold and see how it acts and if it makes any strange noises/etc.
    -Check the condition of the spark plugs. The appearance of the plugs can tell a lot about how the engine is running. This guide may help: Spark Plug Analysis
    -Look at the exhaust. Is is smoking excessively? Could be burning a lot of oil or be a failing headgasket. What color is the smoke? White usually indicates coolant getting into the cylinders, and blue is usually oil getting into the cylinders. Does it smell strongly of fuel? It could be running rich. If it smokes black while you are driving this is a pretty sure sign it is running rich.

    Maintenance
    -Does the previous owner have records of the maintenance done? If so I would compare the records to what the owner's manual recommends and make sure he didn't skip certain things. Many cars also have timing belts that need replaced with certain mileage that may be expensive to get replaced. If these break the results can be very expensive depending on the engine. Remember oil changes, transmission fluid changes, differential fluid changes, water pumps, oil pumps, spark plugs, belts, pulleys, etc.

    Turbos Turbo Models Only
    -Look for smoke coming from the exhaust when under boost.
    -Remove intake piping leading to the compressor side of the turbos and wiggle the shafts of the turbos. They should not move very much.

    Interior/Misc.
    -Do all of the power features work? Mirrors, windows, locks, stereo, power antenna, all lights, climate control (if equipped), power seats, etc.?
    -Do all of the lights on the dash light up when the key is initially turned? ABS, SRS, Check engine light, etc.? If not the light may be unplugged so potential buyers do not know that the light was previously on and that a system is malfunctioning. My old SL had the ABS and SRS light unplugged
    -Are there any aftermarket devices installed? If so, check the wiring and installation to see how well it was installed. This can tell you a lot about the previous owner. If it is just thrown together and not connected/mounted well then they probably didn't take care of the rest of the car too well. Not always true but can be. If there is a boost controller, what is it set to? Ask them how high it has been set. Do they have a datalogger/boost gauge to monitor the engine while they adjusted the boost? If it hasn't been past 12 psi it is probably ok without a datalogger, but the stock gauge cannot be trusted at all.

    Transmission
    -Check the clutch engagement. If it is a stock or close to stock clutch it should engage fairly smoothly and about 3-4 inches from the floor. Just put the car in gear on a level surface and slowly let the clutch out. It shouldn't let up right off of the floor, or really high.
    -Check to see if the clutch is dragging. Put the car in gear on a level spot with the clutch to the floor. Rev it up close to redline, the car should not move at all. If so, the clutch isn't fully disengaging the when you shift and is really wearing the parts prematurely.
    -Check to see if the clutch is slipping. Drive the car at a steady speed and put it in a gear way too high for your speed. In my car, for example, putting it in fifth at like 20-30 would be good. Then go wide open throttle and see if the RPM's jump up at all. At any time if the RPM's jump up kind of high and the car doesn't accelerate like the rev's are increasing, it's probably slipping.
    -Listen for any noises while shifting, especially grinding and "whining". Try to shift at high rpms, low. Shift fast as well as slow.

    Driving Experience
    -Does the car drive straight without you correcting the steering? If not, it could be an alignment issue or it could have been in a wreck. Note that roads are slanted to the sides of the road to help water drainage so the car may pull very slightly to the side of the road although it has no problems. If you can get ahold of an alignment spec sheet that the owner kept that would be great, or if they let you check the alignment.
    -The car pulling to a side on uneven surfaces could indicate worn strut mounts/bushings. These are ~$40 each from a Mitsubishi dealership that gives the 3Si discount for a 3/S.
    -Is the ride unusually bouncy or rough? The struts could be shot, and with a lot of mileage on them it is very likely. These are ~$180 each from a Mitsubishi dealer that gives a 3Si discount for a 3/S with ECS.
    -Drive in a figure 8 and listen for any strange noises to check the condition of the CV joints.
    -Does the brake pedal/steering wheel shake when you are on the brakes? If so, the car probably has "warped" rotors which could be from an untrue hub/expensive parts or simply because the previous owner failed to break in the brakes.
    -Does the car pull to one side or the other when braking? This could be a variety of braking system problems but most likely something to do with the caliper.
    -Listen carefully for any strange noises during the entire drive. I recommend not testing out the radio while you are driving.
    -Does it seem like you can hear some of the exhaust towards the front of the car? There may be an exhaust leak which may require replacing the exhaust or having it welded. This may or may not be linked to bad engine mounts. Sometimes an exhaust leak resembles a "pfft pfft pfft" sound coming from under the hood or under the car. More likely than not you have heard cars driving around with exhausts leaks and will probably recognize the sound.

    Wheels/Tires
    -Check tread depth and see if you can identify any wear issues. This link may be some help. Microl Toyota If you see any issues, it may be the result of a suspension, alignment, or unibody problem.
    -Check both sides of the wheel for any issues such as bends.
    -Also look over any extra set of wheels/tires and see if they hold air if possible. Don't forget about the spare tire!
    -If the wheels have locking lug nuts, make sure the owner has the key for them.

    Misc.
    -Check the CV joint boot for rips/tears that could lead to failure of the joint.
    -Look all around the car for rust (including underneath). Rust will slowly eat away at the car and make working on it a PITA.
    -If you can, jack up the car and wiggle the wheels around checking for freeplay. This will help you check the condition of the ball joints, bushings, tie rods, etc.
    -Look for any leaks under the car/under the hood. Around the oil pan, valve cover, heads, transmission, axles, etc.
    -Look in the wheelwells/mud guards for "excessive road material" Could be an indication of burnouts (you should be able to tell by texture/color/condition of tires).
    -If the car is equipped with an automatic transmission, smell the fluid. It is smells burnt the fluid may have been overheating and may have caused some damage to the transmission.
    -Check door sills/engine bay/underbody for evidence of paint work. This may indicate a wreck or at least that the car wasn't kept inside/regularly waxed/etc. You can also look for minor color differences between panels, different textures between panels, or irregular gaps between panels for evidence of a respray/wreck.



    3/S Specific Items

    Engine
    -Look for dents in the oil pan, there shouldn't be any. If there are, the pan needs pounded out/replaced and the strainer should also be replaced.
    -Let the car idle for a while then rev it up and see if it smokes a lot. If so, the valve stem seals are probably bad (also known as VSS). These are not really expensive, but can be a pain to replace and if you have someone else replace them, it can be expensive.
    -See what the stock oil pressure gauge reads (the middle one in the dash). Although these are not that accurate, it can give you some idea of the oil pressure. At idle it should be about 1/4 of the way up and driving around it should be about 1/2 way up. The oil light on the dash definitely should not be on.

    Maintenance
    -Depending on the mileage, has the 60K mile or 120K mile maintenance been done? With how old these cars are, even if they have under 120K miles, I would recommend having the 120K mile package done to the car. Replacing the required pulleys, timing belt, checking the harmonic balancer, water pump, oil pump, and inspecting the oil pan.
    -Find out if the transfer case, transmission, and rear end fluid has ever been changed. With what? If anything but GL-4 fluid has been in the transmission, it could have shortened the life pretty drastically. How often?
    Last edited by HLxDrummer; 11-30-2010 at 09:43 PM.

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    VCU Viscous Coupling Unit - Turbo Models Only
    -This is basically the center differential for our cars. When either the front or the rear wheels spin faster than the other the thick fluid inside this unit heats up, expands, and tries to "couple" the front and rear speeds to make them match better.
    -If you drive around with different sized wheels (even new and used tires) these speeds are always different and will cause the VCU to constantly heat up and ruin it. Driving a lot in the snow and doing donuts/etc. can also ruin the unit.
    -To test it, jack up the front or rear of the car while leaving the other set of wheels on the ground. Go to one of the wheels that is up in the air and have a friend go to the other one. Spin the wheel while your friend spins the other one in the same direction. You should not be able to spin them without some serious effort. If you can easily, the VCU is probably burnt up and can be expensive to replace and hard to find a new unit.

    ECU (Engine Control Unit)
    -These cars, especially the first generations, are noted for having bad capacitors in the ECU which can cause the car to act erratically. You can smell in the area where the ECU is to see if it smells "fishy" if it does these capacitors could be failing. If the car acts fine, but the ECU smells fishy, it can probably be rebuilt fairly cheaply to eliminate the risks of further issues. The ECU is located to the right of the gas pedal.

    Interior/Misc.
    -Along with checking all of the power features as listed above, you should also know that these cars sometimes have issues with windows regulators/power windows not working. A lot of people have had to replace the window regulator itself (around $100 if I recall correctly), and others like myself just had to redo the wiring in the driver's side door jam (corrosion got to the harness).
    -Does the ECS function correctly (if equipped)? The "tour" light should be on on the left side of the dash until you hit the ECS button then it should firm up the ride and switch to "sport". If the lights are blinking there is a problem in the system. Also, if the lights are not illuminating the lights may be unplugged like previously mentioned.
    -Does the active aero (turbo 3000GT's only) function correctly? When you press the switch all the way to the left at a standstill, the front air dam should lower and the rear wing should adjust it's angle. Once your start driving the air dam and spoiler will retract until you reach highway speeds where it will extend again.
    Last edited by HLxDrummer; 11-30-2010 at 09:43 PM.

  4. #3
    Why? Because Race Car. verified Feedback Score 0 akotten's Avatar
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    Perfect timing considering I JUST entered the market for a new VR4. Thank you.
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    No problem, hope this helps you out! If you think of anything else to add feel free to chime in

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    I was looking for this the other day for a guy on a local forum, thanks Lou!
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    Anytime homie!

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    If you hear the exhaust more near the engine than at the tailpipe there might be an exhaust leak, which may or may not be connected to bad engine mounts.

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    Good one, I added it. Thanks!

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    Why? Because Race Car. verified Feedback Score 0 akotten's Avatar
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    Check the door sills and engine bay for any evidence of a paint respray.

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    Quote Originally Posted by akotten View Post
    Check the door sills and engine bay for any evidence of a paint respray.
    Added, thanks!

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