Your Guide to Buying a Used Sports Car

Not everyone was born in a carefree Blue Blood family or hit the jackpot in the stock market (especially in current economic conditions), but almost every driver looks with envy at the neighbor's shiny sports coupe or track day roadster when they're parking the family econobox in the driveway.
Sports car collage 11 photos
Photo: Image edited by autoevolution
Alfa Romeo GTVAcura NSXBMW Z3 M CoupeHonda S2000Jaguar XK-RMazda RX-7Opel SpeedsterMitsubishi 3000 GTNissan 300 ZXPorsche 944
As it happens with most problems, there are a few solutions for this little stress-inducing situation. The first would be not to marry and have kids until you become mildly rich so you can afford that 911 or that Vette, or... go take the second-hand road.

Used sports cars, or used cars in general, aren't quite the number-one-choice for someone on the look-out for a good, dependable vehicle. Usually, when in the market for a car, most people tend to look for new ones, for reasons that are pretty much self-explanatory: warranty, the novelty of the model, trust and the better technology derived from buying something newer.

Of course, these reasons are also the ones keeping people away from the used cars lot. While not necessarily trying to divert opinions from “new-is-better” to “old-is-cooler,” we've made a list of tips and tricks for someone who is desperately trying to buy a sports car but doesn't want to spend more than they would on a family hatchback.

I want = I need?

Of course not. You could live without your family Camry or your Passat also, wouldn't you? So, how could you possibly NEED a sports car? They are higher priced, have higher insurance rates, drink more fuel, break more often and are in general a luxury item, hence the low production numbers compared to your regular Corolla.

Naturally, any car enthusiast would probably start pounding his right fist in his left palm when hearing this, but let's be a little down-to-earth here.

Nobody needs more than 200 hp to haul his prized possessions here and there, so the urge to install a stiffer sway bar for those adrenalin-pumping trips to the hypermarket or the need to minimize body lift with ground-effects when driving on the highway at 75 mph (120 km/h) is pretty much nonsense.

You buy a sports car because you want it not because you need it. You want to experience the thrill induced by an engine screaming above 6500 rpm and you love the rush you feel every time you kick down a gear and pass someone at twice the speed you need to perform the action mentioned above.

Money, money, money...

Ensuring that you don't spend too much is probably the first thing you have in mind when opting to buy a used sports car. As antinomic “sports car” and “small budget” might seem, there are options for you car freaks out there. After setting out a budget beforehand, try to pick some sports cars from your youth to choose from.

You like the current 991 Porsche 911 but don't quite have the finances for one? How about an old-school air-cooled model from the 1980s? Does the Nissan 370 Z tickle your senses? How about the next best thing in the “Z-lineage,” the 300ZX?

Performance doesn't have an age, and as for the lack of technology bit, you don't need to fret, since the 1980s or early 1990s weren't actually poor in innovations (the four-wheel steering systems of the Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR4 or the Nissan 300ZX come to mind as pretty good examples).

Of course, before jumping to buy the first turbocharged all-wheel-drive beater you can find, you should first do your Internet research. Try to get an idea of what cars similar to the ones you have in mind are currently available on different websites and at what prices.

Making the wrong decision can lead to a lot of time and money wasting, so do you homework before, not after the buy. Older and wiser people than us have said that buying a used car is transferring someone else’s problems onto you... and paying money for it. Of course, this isn't a general rule, but you should be careful nonetheless.

How to spot lemons

After finding your dream car, you should immediately begin examining it as thoroughly as possible since any reasonable person will buy a sports car to enjoy the most of it. And everybody knows automotive enjoyment roughly translates into hooning every possible bit of that car. Sure, some get a kick from continuously tinkering with a car until it begins to run properly and even long after that happens.

The five top areas to concentrate on are the body, engine area, suspension, interior and every possible maintenance record. The body should, of course, be checked for rust and/or for signs of accidents and quick job fixes.

Any scratch, dent or a visible overspray may indicate that the car has suffered an accident. The engine compartment should not be overlooked since you don't have to be too mechanically inclined in order to do some basic fluid checks.

The inside of the exhaust tip is also a good indicator of the general state of the engine. For example, grease or oil can indicate a compression problem while excessive humidity can tell you if the exhaust pipe is ruptured or has rust holes in it.

In conclusion, there is a car for everyone if you squint your eyes hard enough. Not having the dough to spill on a brand new BMW M4 with the twin-turbocharged inline six doesn't mean you can't have an E46 M3 (even in hardcore CSL-guise) for Volkswagen Golf/Toyota Corolla money. Heck, you may even find an M3 E90 with the high-revving V8 for new Golf GTI money. You just need to be very careful, since less money is still money.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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