So you wanna buy a 300zx do you? One of the best looking cars of all time that you could want to own. Now the number 1 thing to look for when buying this car is to find a mechanic that can service the vehicle if you are not up to the task. This is where Premier Z Shop and the owner Daniel Nicolosi comes into play. We know the Zs inside and out and would love to be your specialty Z mechanic. You will need a specialists when dealing with this car first and foremost.
Now, there a are some things that you should know to look out for, just like with any other car. Of course, check all the things that apply to all cars, look for rust, accident damage, bad bodywork if it has been wrecked, basic maintenance, etc. Maintenance records are good, but a car that doesn’t have any records isn’t necessarily one to avoid. If there are maintenance records/receipts/whatever, look at them and try to find the name/address of a/the previous owner. Give them a call and ask them about it, why they sold it, was it a lemon, did they have any freak problems, etc. I did this with all the cars I looked at when I got the 90, and both the people I found were pretty nice and helpful in general, I guess because they didn’t care, they weren’t trying to get rid of the car! This applies of course, if you’re getting it from a dealer or from someone who bought it used themselves. Here are the specific things you should look for when considering a 300ZX:
1. Check to see that the vin on the dash an the vin stamped into the firewall match.
2. It is not uncommon for a car’s owner to tell you it’s, say, an 90 when it’s really an 91. The 10th digit in the vin designates the model year of the car, E is for 90, F for 91, so on and so on.
3. Before you buy the car, make sure that you see it first thing in the morning, when the engine is completely cooled down. Warm engines can hide starting problems, worn parts, weak batteries, etc.
4. Look under the car. See if the the front “frame rails” are bent, caved in, or whatever. This is indication of a light accident, maybe tapping a curb or something. If this is the case, have the alignment checked to make that there is sufficient adjustability to keep the alignment in spec. If a car has been wrecked, you should not automatically exclude it from consideration, it will probably be cheaper than an unwrecked one, and if it’s been fixed competently, it’s not that big of a deal.
5. If there are no records of the timing belt being changed recently, or if they look suspicious, change it/have it changed immediately after you buy the car.
6. Check to see if the injector work has been done on the car, and if it’s suffered an engine fire. Fire will be obvious, look to see if the insulation on the underside of the hood is melted along with some wires. If the injector work has been done already, there will be a good many nice, shiny new parts on the engine and the injectors connectors will be spliced into the wiring harness. If it hasn’t been done, make an appointment to have it done after you buy the car.
7. Look to see if the glass is all the same. Check in the corner of the windows, if the glass is not the same all around, it may be evidence of a wreck. Or it may mean that the car was broken into and the stereo was stolen.
8. If you take the car on a test drive, take it through a brush less car wash. The high pressure water will expose any leaks. Leaks are not uncommon where the t-tops, door glass, and roof meet, and they are very annoying as water drips in your lap and the seat may get wet. Leaks are also often found around the rear side windows(on the side of the car, right behind the door) They are not usually bad, but mostly leave drip marks on the inside of the windows. To fix this, that big piece of rear trim that the seatbelt goes through must be removed so you can get at the two screws that hold the outside trim on. The window is held in by that annoying black, sticky, tape-like sealant. Push the window out and replace the sealant.
9. The only real common place for rust are in the back, at the bottom of the spare tire well, and on the left, right above the muffler, under the tool kit. Neither are serious, but if there is rust there, stop it now, especially at the bottom of the spare tire well, if it rusts through, it’ll be a pain.
10. When you’re test-driving the car, swerve violently and abuse the brakes. Also accelerate full throttle and watch for smoke in the mirror. If the wheel shimmies when you brake, plan on replacing the rotors, a ball joint, steering linkage, getting an alignment, or something along those lines. If you can get the wheels off the car, put two lug nuts on without the wheel and grasp the rotor and attempt to rip it off the car. If you feel any looseness, something needs to be replaced. And, of course, if the rotor comes off in your hand, leave immediately and don’t buy that car.
11. Look at the tread on the rear tires. It’s most likely worn more on the inside edge than on the outside. This happens on all 300ZXs. Step back a few feet and stand behind the car, inline with the side. Look at the excessive negative camber that the rear wheels have, relative to the fronts. If the tires are worn very unevenly, plan on relatively short tire life, depending on your driving. Hard driving wears the tires on the inside faster that the outer edge, “normal” driving wears the tires fairly evenly.
12. Know what you want the car for. If you want performance and/or plan on modifying it in the future, a turbo is a must. If you plan on lowering the car with stiffer springs, plan on fixing the rear camber because when 300ZXs are lowered, the negative camber in the rear get ridiculous. Motorsport Auto sells a nice kit that’s all worked out to give you either +1 or +1.5 degrees of camber in the rear. Any competent race shop would probably install the springs and the camber-fix-kit at the same time and align it for you for a (relatively)nominal charge.
13. Take off the oil filler cap and run your finger around the underside of the rocker arm cover. It should, of course, be very smooth and free of any particles suspended in the oil. If it’s black, no big deal, it’s just time for an oil change. Check the filter too, if it’s a generic one, be a little wary. It may indicate that the owner doesn’t do any work on the car himself. This is not necessarily bad, but cheap parts make for trouble later.
14. If you can, check the engine, transmission, and differential mounts to see if they’ve been separated. If they are, it won’t cause a problem, just odd clunking noises. It’s just another thing that may need to be fixed and is not that uncommon in all Zs.
15. Another sign of a previous wreck is the air conditioning condenser. Look under the front bumper up at the radiator. It’s hidden way up there, almost parallel to the ground. The one in front is the a/c condenser, the radiator is right behind it. the condenser has a habit of warping in light front end boo-boos. It
should be perfectly flat and straight. It will still work fine if it’s warped, it just may indicate an earlier accident.
16. Remove the air filter with a 10mm nut driver and examine it. It should be fairly clean on the outside, and better be perfectly spotless on the engine side. Be very wary if it’s dusty on the engine side.
17. With the car idling, go to the back and smell the exhaust. Any bad smells usually indicate a slight tuning problem. Also listen for any regular misfire or not-complete-fire. This may indicate ignition stuff that’s worn.
18. If you take your time and wait for that one good deal you’ll have a car that’ll last for many years to come, don’t rush too much.
Like any car, there are some things to consider when looking to purchase a fourth-generation 300ZX NA or Turbo. I recommend looking for one with lower mileage. The difference in price may pay for itself. If you’re going to modify the vehicle, however, the car’s mileage is less important, so consider your goals before shopping.
When you’re looking over vehicles, check the wiring harnesses, which are particularly suspect in a car of this age, vulnerable to heat, time and age.
Look for latter production cars; by then, some of the bugs, like a drippy brake master cylinder or problematic VTC springs that are more common in the earlier production models, had been dealt with. As well, there was one recall with the fourth-gen model: a PTU power transistor unit. When shopping around, check that the car’s owner has a record of this service.
Also, take a second to make sure the ignition coils are firing. When the engine is running, you should hear a faint rapid ticking as they fire. Any discrepancy in the firing rhythm may indicate one of the coil packs has gone bad.
Another problem, are the clutch throwout bearings, which when worn, make a lot of noise. The clutch in a 300ZX Turbo should be good, if it hasn’t been abused, for about 70,000 miles.
All cars have an Achilles heel. For the 300ZX Turbo, it was the alternator. You’ll likely have to get a new one if it hasn’t been replaced already. Sixty grand on the odo? Better also have the timing belt changed or you’ll live to regret it. And so will your wife. And your kids. And your kids’ kids.
Looking for a project car? The preferred years would be ’91-’95; the ’94-’95 are the most desirable–and the most expensive. Anything from 1996 is hard to find because of low production numbers, and the earlier Z32s are subject to some minor technical issues.
1990: Totally new fourth generation. Introduced in 1989 as a 1990 model.
1991: Available as a two-seater without a T-bar roof; centered “hamburger” logo added between headlights. Logo on floor mats changed to “Z”. CD added for an option on the TT; previously, it had only been available on the naturally aspirated version. No more ambient temperature gauge. Manual climate controls are eliminated except for on the 1993 convertible. (Aztec Red)
1992: Driver-side airbag now standard, cloth seats, power door lock mechanism is all-new. Power driver’s seat and leather-covered automatic transmission shift lever become standard on T-bar roof models. Change from woven interior cloth to a suede-like interior. Mirror heater switch is eliminated; instead, it’s combined with the rear defroster switch. (Super White, Cherry Red Pearl, Ultra Red, Onyx, Glacier White Pearl, Oxford Gray, Sapphire Blue, Silver Ice Metallic)
1993: Brakes switched from aluminum to cast iron, convertible model–for those who like bugs in their teeth–is introduced. Air Induction Valve dropped–a part that no one missed. (Super White, Cherry Red Pearl, Ultra Red, Cocoa Bronze, Onyx, Glacier White Pearl, Platinum, Oxford Gray, Sapphire Blue)
1994: Seatbelt redesigned, mounting to B pillar instead of door itself. HICAS electrically instead of hydraulically driven. Rear spoiler design changed and key less entry introduced. (Super White, Cherry Red Pearl, Ultra Red, Black Emerald, Super Black, Glacier White Pearl, Platinum, Sapphire Blue)
1995: Windshield washer reservoir relocated to under the hood instead of in the trunk. Front fascia becomes body colored, instead of being a gray strip.
1996: OBDII requires Nissan drop the variable cam timing, causing the 300ZX to unofficially lose 20 hp. The driver’s seat back no longer includes adjustable side bolsters. (Arctic White Pearl, Platinum Metallic, Ultra Red, Cobalt Green Pearl, Deep Purple Metallic, Sapphire Blue, Super Black)
Hope this helps in your endeavor to find the perfect Z.
OK, look for the basic Z items:
Timing belt –
within 60K or 7 yrs. The closer you are to needing one at the next 60K interval, the more I would try to get the price down. A timing belt is anywhere from $700 to $1200 to have done. If you do it yourself, you can do a 60K kit for a couple of hundred and a 120K kit for around $550.
Z’s tend to suffer from negative camber over time. Look at the inside edges of the tires for wear. Neg camber will cause this. The Z requires kits to correct. They can cost anywhere for a couple of hundred $ to over $1000 depending on what you want to do. Plus, you will need an alignment.
Heat and AC –
Make sure the ac works and heat comes out of the ducts as well. Even though it’s getting warmer. The Z has electric motors that control both heat and air routing. The motors are about $100 ea. and you have to pull the dashboard to change them. A very expensive fix by a mechanic.
Oil/Power steering leaks –
the easiest way to see if you have a problem with leaks is to feel the alternator. It is located on the bottom of the motor, front of course, on the passenger side. Feel all the way around it. If it’s wet, notice what it is. If it’s transmission fluid (red in color), then you likely have a high pressure steering hose leak. The Power steeing uses Dexron III (never power steering fluid!). The hose can cost anywhere from $70 for an aftermarket one to $180 for an OEM, more if it’s a turbo model. If it’s black, oil. Dry is good. Leaks usually wipe out the alternator, so be aware of this.
General condition –
Engine bay –
Check the condition of the hoses for the radiator and the belts. Do they need replacing? If so, figure about $100 to replace them if you do it yourself. It isn’t a hard job.
Engine codes – you can pull codes without too much trouble. DO IT.
Compression – If you can, have the compression checked on the engine. It is one of the best items to judge the condition of the engine. Compression ranges should be in the 160-180 range for an NA and 150-170 for a Turbo. It can be lower than the low end of this range, but make sure the highest cylinder is not more than 10% higher than the lowest. In other words, if the highest reading is 170 psi, the lowest should be no lower than 153.
Transmission – 5 speeds transmissions suffer from 4th gear grind. When you shift at speeds above 45mph from 3rd to 4th, they will tend to grind. Same thing when downshifting from 5th to 4th. If it does this, it is usually the syncros and happens on most Z’s at some point. They can go quite a long time like this, but you will eventually have to fix the tranny.
Auto should shift smoothly. Run it through the paces and see if it does. Shift from park to reverse and into drive. There should be no clunking when you do. That could mean the driveshaft universal joints are notchy.