Broken Car #2: 1992 Miata

The following story cost me about $2000, not including all my pain and suffering.

The Spec Miata is one of the cheapest track cars to build so it seemed like a reasonable decision at the time.  Obviously, I would need to get a Mazda Miata to start with though.  I found one on craigslist (with the factory hardtop) for $1000.  One of the many problems I should have noticed right off was that if the hardtop was $1200 separately, the rest of the car must be in very bad shape.  Pro-Tip: don’t spend $1000 on a car and expect it to work at all.

So I drove 3 hours into Virginia (where everyone from Maryland goes to buy their used cars) and took a test drive.  At this point, I should have taken a few problems more seriously than I did.  It would overheat if sitting still, the tires were cording so they were likely to disintegrate while I was driving my ‘new’ car back, the AC didn’t work, it sometimes wouldn’t go into gear, passenger side window fell off the track into the door, and the paint was chipping so bad it was down to bare metal.  Also, it had driven 256,000 miles (a bit further than from the Earth to the Moon).  So I bought it of course, because poor decisions are what I do best.

I put some cheap used tires on and drop it off for the MD state inspection so I can get plates on it.  The next day the shop tells me that it will take another $3300 to fix everything to pass inspection.  I disagree and argue the estimate.  I do some of the work myself, like the lightbulbs, vacuum tubes, pedal covers, windshield washer hoses, door panel repair, etc.  After some other work-arounds I end up spending $2200 to get it past inspection.  Later that day the shop calls again.

12:30pm – “Your car passed inspection, you can pick it up tonight”

2:00pm – “Your battery isn’t really holding a charge so we’re working on it”

3:30pm – “Your battery is dead, maybe the starter too”

I pick it up after work and they say it needs a new battery and starter, for another $650.  I try to jump-start it with my 1994 Civic.  It didn’t start.  So my roommate and I pushed it to the back of the shop’s gravel parking lot and I had a decision to make.  To this day, I believe that the shop somehow killed my battery and starter because I found a way to not pay them the whole $3300 they wanted initially.  They killed my car, which is the real meaning of “vehicular homicide.”

Anyway, I knew this wouldn’t be the last problem with this thing and I had no money left at this point, my savings were depleted and I would be eating Ramen noodles for months because of all these car expenses.  So I listed the car back on craigslist, specifying all I had just fixed and that despite my efforts, the car didn’t really start right now.  I ended up selling it for $1200 to Meathead Racing who would follow my dream for me and turn it into a Spec Miata track-car.

I ended up going to see one of their races and as all the other cars tore past I thought “If I just had another $20,000 I could do this…Maybe just $10,000…”  Then I remembered that I barely had $200 to my name and a very long way to go (also $65k student loan debt).  Hopefully someday I’ll get the plan going again and build a Spec Miata but this epic failure taught me a few key lessons.

1: Spend more than $1000 to get a car that works

2: Have enough cash on hand to finish the project before you start

3: Don’t over-reach and let misty-eyed ambition run away with you

After burning about $2000, all I have is the story itself.  I don’t even have any pictures of the Miata.  So far this was my most broken car, and it robbed me blind from it’s deathbed.

Broken Car #2: 1992 Miata

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