Caring for a convertable in the UK weather
August 25, 2006 1:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to upgrade from a 1.0l Citroen Saxo to a 1.8l Mazda MX5 convertable. As a first time owner of 1. a sports car, and 2. a convertable, what do i need to know in order to get the best out of it and look after it properly in the UK weather?

The rear window panel is cloudy white, which is quite common. This is the first thing i'd like to fix.
posted by lemonfridge to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Oops, forgot to mention that im not a mechanic in any way shape or form.
posted by lemonfridge at 1:11 AM on August 25, 2006

It's rear-wheel-drive, so take care when putting your foot down around corners - especially if the roads are damp.

Watch your speedo carefully - it's quite a lot easier to go faster when you've got a larger engine... and if you're used to the engine noise of your previous car, you may instinctively make assumptions about your speed...

Finally - learn to get the roof up and down really quick! :) You never know when the sun might pop out, nor when it will disappear behind a big rain cloud :)
posted by Chunder at 1:19 AM on August 25, 2006

Get friendly with the local car club - here in Aus, just about everywhere has a formal or informal Capri / MX5 club. I have a couple of friends in one of the local ones.

The rear window is a reasonably easy job for a motor trimmer, but costs & charges will vary - which is why a club is worthwhile. They'll either have someone in the club who is a motor trimmer, or be able to recommend a good &/or cheap one. You'll probably save the cost of the club membership on that repair alone.

FWIW, a replacement complete softtop here runs AU$500 ~ AU$600, depending on the rear window style (not zippered / zippered) - a friend had to buy one after a fruit bat ripped his to shreds.

(On preview - I think it's kinda sad that people have to be warned about rear-wheel drive behaviour. Just call me old-fashioned...)
posted by Pinback at 1:21 AM on August 25, 2006

@Pinback: You're old-fashioned :)

The only reason that I mentioned it was because the Saxo is front-wheel drive, and is pretty grippy; everyone seems to learn in front-wheel drive, too.
I've got a colleague who b0rked his Honda S2000 on a wet slippy corner, and also a friend who's 360'd his Renault Clio 16v (the rear engine, rear-wheel drive mad thing!)... fortunately without injury or damage...
posted by Chunder at 3:33 AM on August 25, 2006

Roof down + windows up + heater on is more comfortable in chilly weather than non-convertible owners realize. If the sun is out, put the roof down, no matter what the thermometer says.

The earlier American MX-5s (Miata) required you to unzip the rear window before dropping the roof. Find out whether this is true for yours.

It is easy to put the roof up and down from the driver's seat in less time than it takes for the red light to turn green, once you know how to do it. Take the time to learn.

Keep hair-ties/elastics around your gearshift. Your long-haired passengers will thank you.

Don't keep anything valuable in the car. Consider keeping it unlocked, always. A stolen stereo costs less to replace than a sliced roof.

Take your car to a large parking lot, airstrip, or other location where you can safely find out what happens when you take a corner too fast (and learn just how fast you can take a corner). The MX-5 will surprise you with its handling, and it will gladly let you know _right_ before the rear end lets go... learn to know what this feels like, in the wet and the dry. This is an excellent car to learn how to safely drive fast. But, learn safely.
posted by toxic at 3:46 AM on August 25, 2006

Fellow Miata-owner here...

The rear window panel is cloudy white, which is quite common. This is the first thing i'd like to fix.

Usually what happens is that the constant up/down action with the top creates very small scrapes on the outside plastic. That, or the previous owner didn't unzip their top when dropping it (DO NOT DO THIS, EVER, ON A PLASTIC REAR-WINDOW.) There is only one product that I know of that really will fix a cloudy rear-window. Actually, it's a two-step process: Meguiars #17 and #10.

Second the warning about putting your foot down in the rain: particularly on corners, the back end can come out from under you and you'll spin. It's likely to happen eventually (unless you change to brand-new tires tyres every year), so you'd do best to join your local Miata club and practice spinning out in a controller area (e.g., an empty parking lot).

Change the oil every 5000 miles. Doesn't matter if you prefer dinosaur oil or synthetic, just change it. On the first-generation Miatas (M1's) a common source of problems was a leaking O-ring on the CAS sensor. If you find your rear coolant hose busts one of these days, that's the cause. Just a head's up.

If I had more time I'd go through all the other little bits of Miata knowledge I've accumulated over the years, but work beacons. If anyone's still reading this when I get back tonight, and haven't already addressed everything, I'll think of some more things to add.

Finally, go here. This is the largest Miata group on the web, and I've met a bunch of people on the board. One thing you'll notice quickly is that Miata owners are just about the friendliest bunch of drivers on the planet. Don't get freaked out if another Miata owner waves to you while you're cruising on the road. This is standard practice (don't know about the U.K., but most likely).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:46 AM on August 25, 2006

Another Miata owner here and I second everything C_D said. Also, don't worry about getting the top up and down in the rain-one of the nice features of the manual top is that if you are strong enough to do it one-handed (which isn't too hard) you can put it up or down in about 3 seconds. The only times I have worried about the rain is when I was on a highway with nowhere to pull over. Finally, drive with the top down whenever possible, but don't leave the windows rolled up or you will look like a doofus.
posted by TedW at 5:19 AM on August 25, 2006

You're going to be driving a car that has a much more balanced weight distribution. When cornering at higher speeds, your going to find less understeer and more balance (bordering into oversteer if the power/tires/weather permits). You have to understand how to control the weight transfer in your new car, I can't stress this enough for people who transfer from FF cars to real sports cars (FR/MR/RR). Especially for RR cars...

Take care of it, the car is wonderful.
posted by stratastar at 11:12 AM on August 25, 2006

Spend the money and get a replacement top with a folding glass window. The old plastic one that you have to unzip is a pain in the whatever. Not only do you have to unzip the window, you also need something on top of the unzipped window so that the top doesn't scratch it. The new folding glass ones is way way nicer. Unlatch the top, fold it, you are done.
posted by Ferrari328 at 11:29 AM on August 25, 2006

Loads of great advice here, C_D, please share your knowledge.

As of 6pm this afternoon i now own the car. I'm picking it up tomorrow :)
posted by lemonfridge at 4:28 PM on August 25, 2006

OK, I've got my cigarette, got my coffee, and got some time.

You don't mention how many miles are on the car, but if it's a 1.8L Miata, that means it was made between '94 and '97. That pegs it at about 10 years old, give or take. Given the amount of driving your average UK driver does, I'd guess there are somewhere in the vicinity of 100K miles on the car.

Most important question first: do you know the service history of the car? If not, assume everything on it is original--it's much safer in the long run, and better for the car if you start with a clean slate.

Take a deep breath. This is a list, in quasi-order of importance, of the stuff that should probably be fixed on the car for piece of mind:

The timing belt is supposed to be replaced every 60K miles, but it's been known to go twice that (or more). Since the Miata engine is non-interference, the worst that will happen if the timing belt breaks is that your car will simply stop running. This never happens in the driveway of your local mechanic. Be smart and get it replaced.

And while you're at it, if you're replacing the timing belt, you should also replace the water pump. It lasts about 100k miles, and you have to remove the timing belt to get to it. More than half the cost of replacing this stuff is in the labor; if someone's already gone through all the trouble (and cost) of getting to the timing belt, you might as well save yourself some money and replace the water pump to boot. There are some pulleys and seals that go along with the timing belt/water pump replacement--make sure whomever is doing this does those as well.

The service life on the stock shocks is an abysmal 25k. If they haven't been replaced yet, they're shot. The exception to this rule is if you have an 'M' edition or a "sports" edition, which comes with Bilstein shocks that will last forever. If you have to replace your stock shocks, and don't want to keep replacing them, I'd recommend getting Bilsteins. That way you don't have to replace your springs (which, unless they're rusted, also last forever). You can get them here.

If you're good with a wrench, the Miata is a very, very forgiving car to work on. Just be very careful about the torque values on the nuts, in particular the valve cover nuts. Those things only take 60 inch pounds of torque -- that's 5 ft. lbs. And it's very, very easy to strip them, so don't try using a torque wrench set on 5 lbs., because it won't even register and you'll spin 'em right off.

Replace all belts and coolant lines while you're at it. Your spark plugs and spark plug wires could probably use replacement as well. If you get uneven acceleration, particularly from a stop, that's the likely culprit.

Two links that will help you out: the first is probably the single best place on the 'net to get factory replacement Mazda parts for waaaaay less than the dealer. Rosenthal Mazda. The second is if you plan on doing any work yourself. It's not nearly as difficult as it may seem--for instance, replacing the oil/oil filter or spark plug/plug wires takes about 10 minutes for a complete car-virgin. It's dead-simple. Doing it yourself not only allows you to bond with your card, it also saves you a shitload of money. Anyway, if you are interested in going this route, get this book. The Mazda Miata Enthusiasts Shop Manual. It's even written by a fellow Brit, so all the terminology should be familiar to you (there is a list in the book of translated terms for us Yanks).

If you have any questions, feel free to email me and I'll do my best to help.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:42 AM on August 26, 2006

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