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Mazda Miata: All Most Common Problems

What kind of problems does a Mazda Miata normally have? In this blog we’ve outlined all the most important things you should keep an eye out for when you’re in the market for an Miata. However, let’s first start of with a quick answer:

Most commonly the Mazda Miata has problems with the paint job, a leaking soft top and rust. This is especially true for the older versions. Furthermore the Miata has a list of engine problems including a ticking or clunking noise, oil leaks, poor idle and radiator blow-ups. Finally, the transmission can shift too rough and the pop-up headlights can fail to pop.

However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the rest of the article we’ll discuss every single problem into detail. Furthermore, we’ll tell you how to identify it, how to fix it and how much it costs to fix. Read on!

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Also read: The Complete Cost Of Maintaining A Mazda

Exterior Problems

Paint Job

A lot of the old Miatas have been taking on the pressure of time, and that pressure can easily be observed from their looks. It’s highly unlikely that a Miata from the 90s will have its paint protected from the environment. Even if it does have remnants of the original paint, it would have faded away.

If you are looking for a Miata, chances are; you are looking for a fun daily that you can take to the track, if not, then still you will find what you are looking for. Faded paint can easily be covered with a vinyl wrap of your choice, there are so many options to choose from and they are cheap as well.

Some vinyl wraps are expensive though, more than an average paint job, it all boils down to your preference. If you want a new look every now and then, go for the vinyl wrap and if you want to maintain a decent look then choose a paint job.

There are so many different price ranges for a paint job, with the cheapest somewhere around $300 and the more expensive ones going over $3000. The vinyl wrap itself is cheap, you can get those for less than $300. The labor cost is what makes them more expensive. If you can wrap your Miata DIY then go for it.

The cheaper wraps might not give the protection that the expensive ones can give. And yes you can apply the wraps on scratched surfaces as well, the wrap can adhere to those surfaces.

Soft Top Leaking Problem

These soft tops are notorious for leaking issues. Even when you put on a new soft top, the leaking issue will persist. There are some products that claim to solve this problem so give them a try as well if you want to. If you are thinking about buying an expensive one, then still no. The leaking issue will still be there. Even if you weren’t thinking about that, now you know.

On top of the leaking from the edges, the soft top gets cracked pretty easily causing the water to leak into the cabin, giving you lots of adventures in the rain and washing your interior as well. If you are looking to change that soft top, you will have to prepare about $1000 for that.

There are some products in the market that claim to fix these cracks, so you might wanna check that out as well for a cheap fix.

Rear Plastic Window

The rear plastic window often takes a lot of damage. They are stressed every time the soft top is opened or closed. After a number of closing and opening, the rear plastic window would go to heaven. You can put a new plastic rear window costing around $70 if you DIY. The labor cost will add to this price.

Rust Issue

This is the big one, the Miatas rust a lot. It’s super rare to see a Miata that hasn’t had a rust problem. Partially due to its old age and partially to other environmental factors. Any car would rust if not taken care of.

The most prominent rust spots are:

  • Rocker panels
  • Subframe
  • Side skirts
  • Frame rails
  • In the Trunk (around the battery, if someone has replaced the sealed battery with an acid battery)
  • Rear shock mounts
  • Suspension components

There are ways to get rid of the pesky rust DIY if it’s not that serious. If the panels are still intact and there are no holes in them then it’s possible to prevent further rust. You will need some grinding tools, acetone, cleaning cloth, wire brush, primer, spray paint, WD-40, or Fluid film.

These are the ingredients that will help you get rid of the bad-looking rust on your next ride. You can remove the loose rust by grinding it off of the panels until the shiny metal appears, clear the surface with acetone, and spray primer on it. When the primer dries up, you can spray the paint of your choice and protect it by spraying WD-40 or fluid film.

This procedure is adequate to protect the underside of your vehicle. If you are okay with some unmatched paint on your body panels then you are really a down-to-earth person, go ahead and save some bucks. A professional rust removal job will cost $500+, depending on the condition.  

Interior Problems

Trunk Space

Trunk space is extremely limited and with the spare tire, it’s even worse. But if you are someone who doesn’t like to have a spare tire in the back then you are good to go. The rear space is only adequate for putting some groceries or some itsy bitsy stuff.

Seat Cover Cracks And Fades In Color

The seat color fades, and the leather ones crack if left in the sun for a prolonged period. And for the Mazda Miata, it’s been a very long period. With time, the owners have put in some aftermarket ones, so you will find some with new seats as well.

But you should prefer a stock Miata if you are looking to put mods on it because it’s not easy to work with someone else’s project. A new set of seats will cost you around $200-$300+ depending on the brand and quality. You might also find something for less than that.

Engine Problems

Ticking Noise From The Engine

It could be for many different reasons. Even the newer models post 2015 have the same noise problem. The owners have often complained about this noise but the dealers wouldn’t comply and would say that it’s normal. Yes, there is a ticking sound that the majority believes to be normal, you have to live with it, but not all of these sounds are normal, some are serious.

One of the serious ones is given below.

Clunking And Whining Noise

This issue is very common, especially in the 1990 and 1991 models. They had defects in the crankshaft known as “the short nose problem” leading to improper timing and causing the engine to blow up but might have been extinct by now so it’s not a big deal. But you should definitely pay attention to the model years with this particular timing chain problem.

If the timing chain jumps at high speed, your engine is done for. First, the camshaft and the crankshaft will go out of sync causing whining and clunking noises. And if it jumps more, engine components will commence deteriorating. Any VIN ending in 209447 or higher should be free of this issue.

To ensure you don’t end up blowing your motor, the timing chain should be checked after every 60K miles interval, so if it hasn’t been done before and if it’s in your possession now, then you would have to deal with that as soon as possible.

The timing chain problem causes whining and clunking noise if the timing is out. The serious ones will sound like metallic beads being shaken in a metallic jar. So make sure when you start the engine, open the hood and listen to how it sounds to make sure that everything is normal.

The cost to fix the timing chain problem is somewhere around $550. The parts are not that expensive, it’s the labor that makes it expensive.

Oil Leakages

gaskets are known to give up causing oil leakage in the engine bay. It is advised to look for any leakage, especially where the car was parked, and check for a burning smell. The burnt smell is proof that there is some oil leak or maybe coolant leak, the coolant leaks though have a very distinct burnt smell known as the phantom smell.

Also, check the condition of CAS (crank angle sensor).  If there is an oil leak below the CAS then the heater hoses (accompanying the 1.8L engine) or the water plug (on the 1.6L engine) is gonna go to heaven very soon, so it’s better to check that as well.

Valve Cover Gasket

Valve cover gaskets often leak due to pressure buildup, this issue can be resolved by putting a catch can that channels the pressure and collects all the gunk keeping your engine breathing and not causing any oil mishaps. A valve cover gasket will cost you around $100 to replace.

Check Engine Light Comes On After Refueling

This is a very common problem that occurs mostly in the models post-2006. It is due to poorly manufactured threads of the fuel filler pipe that keeps on damaging the fuel filler cap and the seal wouldn’t properly hold the cap thus causing the system to think that the fuel cap isn’t properly tightened.

This issue will keep on coming a while after changing the fuel cap because those faulty threads will keep on damaging the cap to the point where you’ll start having the pesky check engine light. The stealerships would try to avoid this issue by saying you didn’t tight it properly. But it’s actually their fault in the first place.

If you are having the warranty, then make sure to have it checked and don’t listen to them if they say tighten it more or you don’t know how to tighten it. That’s all a facade to cover the manufacturing fault.

The filler cap costs around $20, even after changing, the issue will come back sooner or later.

Poor Idle And Misfires Under Load

If the Miata is having a poor idle and it misfires as well, then it’s likely time to change the ignition coils. These wear out in time so it’s better to have them changed before 100k miles on the clock. The ignition coils would cost $255 on average.

If the coils are okay then check for the spark plugs(costs $220 on average). And if the spark plugs are also okay, giving blueish current then move to the next possible problem, the EGR valve.

EGR Valve Clogged

This clogged EGR valve causes poor idle and misfires as well. After some time, these take up carbon debris and get clogged up. The engine light will come up in this case as the air ratio is disturbed and the engine is not getting the right mixture for burning the fuel. You can have it cleaned for under $100. A new EGR valve costs around $320.

Radiator Blows Up

In the older Miatas, the radiators were not that good. Especially the ones that had cheap black plastic on top of them. If the plastic looks brownish and has faded in color then you need a new radiator. The Miata does have some heating issues as well, so going for an aftermarket one would definitely be a plus.

A new radiator setup can cost around $200-$500 depending on which brand or quality you are going for.

Having a Mazda Miata means having tons of aftermarket support. This is one of those icons that everyone would want to have and Mazda has certainly made one for everyone. By early 2016, more than a million units had been sold and it keeps on going up.

Transmission Problems

Gear Won’t Shift And The Clutch Feels Weird

The Clutch slave cylinder might have leaked as this is a commonly occurring problem in the Mazda Miata causing the gears to stuck because the clutch didn’t properly engage. The clutch slave cylinder costs $161 on average.

If this is not the case, then try changing the sensors, according to the code retrieved by the scanner tool. If the sensors are all fine then it might be a blown clutch. Depending on the parts you would need to replace, you are looking at a number between $300-$1500.   

Suspension Problems

Bump stops usually go out due to wear and tear. These are responsible for providing that last cushion while going over a bump. These cost around $20 each OEM.

Electronics Problems

Pop-up Headlights

The first-generation offered the popup up headlights and they often have some issues. It either wouldn’t pop up or wouldn’t go back in. These are flimsy as well and there are chances of them to come off during high seeds due to poor aerodynamics. Due to this problem and further safety regulations, the later models had to drop the popup headlights altogether.

These often pose a problem in their relay system and can be fixed by replacing this relay that is located under the hood towards the corner of the passenger side, remove the plastic cover and you will see that relay connected to some wires.

On top of fixing, these headlights can also be made to wink. Just pop them up and disconnect the electrical switch of the one that you would want to keep open and when you pull them down by the button, only the connected one will go down. When you press the button again the one still connected will appear to be winking.