Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Sluggish Miata

We have a 1990 Mazda Miata that has somewhat sluggish performance. It has over 120,000 miles. We live in the foothills of the Rockies at over 6,000 ft elevation. Generally, you need to push the rpms to over 4,000 to get it going. I know, that is were the power range is, but even on flat roads this is so, especially first gear.

We took it to an Auto Care clinic and they looked at it and said there are many problems, tune-up (cable & plugs), clutch (slave cylinder, throw out bearing) radiator flush, air conditioning leaks, engine valve cover, and front seal leak as well as other oil leaks, tie rod loose and need new f & r struts. Whew!! Total is over $4600 to get all done.

Needless to say, we brought the car home and parked it. It’s current retail value is somewhere between 600-1200 dollars.

Now for the question. Should we keep the car, and at a future date when we have enough saved, have it overhauled completely, including possibly a supercharger kit, or should we donate it to NPR?

Thanks for your answers.

P.S. It also needs new ragtop and interior.

Start by replacing the plugs and plug wires.  The ignition system the Miata uses is hard on plugs and plug wires.  

As far as that "Auto Care clinic" I would at least get a second opinion.  I seem to be smelling something and it does not smell good.  How long have you owned it?  Has all the maintenance listed in the owner's manual been done?

I don’t recommend using the car at all unless you at least repair the loose tie-rod (cheap repair), and then use it only on the flat roads. You shouldn’t use the car to climb up and down mountains with a failing clutch. I wouldn’t put $4,600 into this car, put that to a new car instead.
It might help if you went ahead and did the tune-up, but I think your clutch is pretty far gone at this point if you are revving high even on flat terrain in first gear to get the car moving.
I don’t understand the supercharger kit, is that for the higher elevation?

It sounds like this Miata has gotten to the point where the only way the needed maintenance is going to get done is by a home mechanic. There’s no way you could justify spending the money you have been told about. On the other hand, there is a big possibility that things are not so bad, if you feel like getting dirty.

So, if you already own a bunch of socket wrenches and an assortment of other tools, and you know your way around an engine, then replace the spark plugs and cables, check the function of the coils, put in a can of injector cleaner and drive it 100 miles or so. And recheck that tire rod end.

At “Go” they sell superchargers for miatas to increase horsepower.
Thanks for your suggestions. We will consider it.

Thanks for your suggestion. About the only thing I can or want to do is change tires, add fluids, etc. I’m not a backyard mechanic and since we moved to the mountains I haven’t found anyone as a friend who is gifted in the art of automotive mechanics.

Is replacing the plugs and wires something a non-mechanic can do? What tools would I need? Thanks.

Yep. You need a spark plug wrench, or a ratchet with a long enough extension to reach the plugs, and you need a gapping tool to make sure the plugs are gapped properly. That’s it.

Do yourself a favor and only do ONE plug/wire combo at a time. That way you can’t possibly get the wires mixed up.

I agree with Joseph, btw. I strongly suspect that a lot of the stuff they found was made up.

What you really want to do is find a Miata or import club in your area, and ask them. Clubs are usually delighted to look at your car. After about 30 minutes of standing around, pointing at your engine, and lying about how much butt they kicked the last time they raced, they’ll tell you what if anything needs to be done. They can also help you with forced induction (turbo / supercharger) which that car would definitely benefit from at your altitude.

Where in the Rockies do you live?
They run quite a long way, and I’m here in the Denver area, if you were close by.

I would start with the spark plugs and wires, and then budget in the tie-rod replacement, and then go from there with the rest of the issues, if they are actually issues.

Same time as I were doing the spark plugs, I would dump a bottle of Techron Fuel System Cleaner in the tank, to take care of any deposits in the combustion chamber and the intake valves.

As for what tools, go to your local autoparts store, and tell them you need the spark plugs for the car, plus a spark plug wrench tool that fits that size spark plug. The wires just pop off.