Project Miata – $2000 Project Car

Project Miata – 00 Project Car

中文版:Project Miata——$2000玩具车 – Frank’s Weblog

I’ve been searching for a project car for a while.

A few weeks ago I noticed a 1995 Miata listed on Craigslist. According to the description and photos posted by the owner, this Miata has damages on the driver side fender from an accident, the soft top is pretty worn and the rear plastic window is broken. Odometer and fuel gauge are not working.

It looks like a perfect project car for me: it’s in-expensive, and most of the issues are minor and I can fix them in the apartment parking lot.

I messaged the owner and asked a few questions mainly about the service history. The owner seems don’t know too much about cars and wasn’t able to provide further information. Also since the owner was not comfortable to share the VIN before meeting, I couldn’t run a VIN check to get the service history.

The thing I concerned most was the timing belt, because the service history is unknown. But after some research I found the timing belt can be visually inspected easily by opening the valve cover, though it’s not recommended1. Also this engine is non-interference, it won’t cause catastrophic damage to the engine if the timing belt fails.

Before meeting with the owner, I printed out the used car inspection checklist by ChrisFix. I also did research on the common problem on the NA Miata and added to the checklist. Here are some good resources I referred to:

If you never driven or worked on 1990s cars, here are some facts that may surprise you:

See this chart for feature specifications for NA Miatas: Miata90-97A3.pdf

* The evening before meeting, I couldn’t find my bluetooth OBD2 scanner. While searching on Walmart and Amazon for a new scanner, I googled where is the OBD2 port is located on the Miata, and surprisingly found there’s no OBD2 port on this Miata🤣.

Overall Inspection

I met with the owner at a public parking lot in a Saturday afternoon. After greeting the owner I inspected the car following the checklist.

The undercarriage looked perfect – no rust at all, not even surface rust. Seems one of the previous owners rust-proofed the undercarriage as I could feel some materials that feels like rust-proof undercoating. No rust in the rear quarter panel(Rust in quarter panel is a common issue in NA Miatas due to clogged drain).

The thing I like most on this Miata is everything is factory. I saw some Miatas(or similar cars) listed on Facebook or Craigslist has some ridiculous mods(paint, wide body, under glow, subwoofer, loud exhaust etc.) which I don’t want even for free.

I checked the engine bay and everything looked normal. I found some fresh scratches on the valve cover bolts, it indicates the valve cover has been opened in recent years. Although it doesn’t necessarily means the timing belt has been serviced, at least it should be visually inspected when the service was performed.

I found the following issues:

  • Cosmetic/body damages(Fender, soft top, plastic window, scratches and dents)
  • Unknown timing belt service history
  • Battery is not AGM(will cause corrosion in long term)2 and not secured
  • Driver side blinker has moisture
  • Tires are not same, and all have cracks, while the tread are all good
  • Speedometer, odometer and gas gauge not working
  • Dampness and mold in trunk, odor in the cabin

Test Drive

I can drive manual but unfortunately I haven’t drove a manual in 8 years. I couldn’t even drive out of the parking spot. The owner was very courteous and patient, she helped me drive out of the parking lot to a straight chunk of road so I could get started.

It was not an ideal test drive because I focus more on how to “operate” the car instead of feel how the car drives and try to identify potential issues. The conclusion from the test drive was there’s nothing apparently wrong.

One thing I noticed was the speedometer was not working as well. If only the odometer is not working, it’s likely a problem in the gauge cluster. However, if both speedometer and odometer are not working, it’s more likely that it’s the sensor(turns out it’s a cable) failed, which needs more effort to fix.

Negotiation and Transfer

After test driving I think this car is generally good but it does have more issues than I expected.

Before making an offer I took down the VIN and ran a Carfax report. The report looks good overall, however, the report shows the car already had 150k miles(which is the broken odometer is showing now) back in 2008. That means the odometer stopped working 15 years ago. My estimation is this Miata has 200k – 250k miles, but that’s not a deal breaker because the Miata engine has a good reputation to last.

I offered the owner $2000 and expect to get a deal at $2500. Surprisingly, the owner accepted my $2000 offer. We planned to get the paperworks done right away but had some issue signing the title, so we did the transfer at the tax office(where vehicle registrations are handled in Texas) together at a later time.

Then I did some practice on the nearby local roads and successfully drove 50 miles back home.

Project Miata

The Project Miata is officially kicked off! My short term plan is to restore, repair and make sure all services are up to date, to restore it for daily driving and light motorsport. I created a project board using GitHub Project to track the work need to be done: Project Miata

I’ll keep update blog posts about the project. Stay tuned!


  1. It’s not recommended to determine if timing belt need to be replaced by visually inspect it since it’s not accurate, unless there’s evidence shows when the last service was done. Can you visually inspect a timing belt to see how much life is left in it? : Miata ↩︎
  2. For NA and NB Miatas, the battery is in the trunk for weight balancing. Using regular battery will cause corrosion from battery vent. Ultimate Miata Battery Guide – Get Juiced! | ↩︎





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