Mazda MX-5 (NC) used car buying guide

Mazda MX-5 used car buying guide, front view

If you're looking to buy a Mazda MX-5 (2005-2015), it's worth getting familiar with its common problems, so that you can avoid being caught out by them. Read on to get the full expert view on these underrated third-generation sports cars.

Mazda MX-5 (NC) known faults and common problems

Mazda launched its third-generation MX-5 in 2005 to universal praise – and it came as no surprise. Its handling was even more entertaining thanks to a bodyshell almost 50% stiffer than the outgoing model. Some weight saving on items like interior trim and suspension componentry took place to counteract the beefing up of the bodywork.

Being a Mazda, reliability tends to be rather good and conquest customers who buy their first one generally catch the bug and turn into habitual buyers with every new generation the company launches. Superb to drive, good economy and general decent dealers make these drop tops a good catch. Thorough servicing is key though.

Top 10 problems

Buying guide – common issues, and what to look for if you're looking at getting one.

1 – Sticking brakes

Poorly serviced or low mileage cars that only come out in the sunshine can suffer from sticking brake callipers. If the car darts for the kerb or pulls to the right under heavy braking suspect this. Also check to see if any one wheel on each axle feels hotter than the other side to confirm.

2 – Accident damage

Take a good close look at the panel gaps, shut lines, lamp units – do they all line up perfectly? Poor paintwork or nibble lines in the door/boot/bonnet jambs are a dead giveaway the car has seen a bodyshop at some time or another.

3 – Go-faster modifications

Some MX-5s succumb to boy racer upgrades such as sporty exhausts, lowered suspension or bad boy big wheel rims. If not done properly this can notably spoil the drive and feel of the car. It’s all down to personal taste of course but at least be sure that’s what you want and that its been done properly and professionally.

4 – Check the service history

Some cars will have very low mileages. Despite this, be sure they have been serviced in strict accordance to the manufacturer. Don’t be put off by brand specialist servicing, some independent MX-5 specialists are superb – just do your research. Missing or skipped servicing is bad news.

Mazda MX-5 used car buying guide, interior view

5 – Corrosion

Earlier cars are known for some corrosion around the edges of panels like the bonnets and boot lids. Underside corrosion tends to be found on suspension components. Walk away from scabby rot boxes though very cheap cars with some issues can make for a cracking project – if the price is right of course.

6 – Hard top operation

Make sure the raising and lowering of the hard top is smooth and seamless. Early cars suffered from poor quality components in the folding mechanism that prematurely wears out. If the roof judders or erratically jerks in operation you are looking at a big bill when complete failure happens.

7 – Rear differential oil leaks

Have a peer under the rear axle and check for an oily wet casing on the differential. If allowed to run low on oil it will soon cause rapid wearing of the gears and bearings. Any humming or rumbling that gets nosier under acceleration confirms differential trouble.

8 – Chattering air conditioning

After a good long run, switch on the air-con and keep an ear open for a faint rattle or chattering noise under the bonnet on idle. This might point to a weak belt tensioner or stretched drivebelt. It’s a known issue but not overly complex or pricey to cure.

9 – Gearshift quality

The manual transmissions are known for a stiff feeling shift action when cold. This was deliberate in order to emulate the old British sports cars like the MGB or Triumph TR6. It loosens up notably when warmed through but should it not, walk away.

10 – Wheels and tyres

The Mazda MX-5 is blessed with lovely, smile-inducing handling – but it can go horribly wrong with mismatched tyres or budget brands – especially in the wet. A good caring owner will know this and cars showing penny pinching with rubber tend to be neglected in other areas.

Mazda MX-5 engine options

• 1.8-litre 16V petrol – 128hp
• 2.0-litre 16V petrol – 160-170hp

Transmission options

• Five- or six-speed manual gearbox
• Six-speed Powershift automatic gearbox
• Rear-wheel drive

Model timeline

2005 – Third generation model launched.
2006 – Coupe Roadster with folding hardtop launched.
2009 – Handling and ride improvements.
2009 – 2.0-litre engine power and torque uprated.
2012 – Minor facelift and improvements to safety.
2015 – Range deleted and replaced by fourth generation.

Main Dealer UK Coverage

• Below average

Best Places to Buy

• Franchised dealers
• Sports car specialists

DVSA Recalls

Check vehicle recalls online

You could also try...

Toyota MR2
Even though the newest one you will find will be a 2007 (W30) model, the final MR2 still cuts the mustard as a used buy. Honey-I-shrunk-the-Boxter looks and a free revving VVTi 1.8-litre engine makes for a decent drive. Reliability and build quality are as you’d expect for a Toyota. A real smile-inducing car but getting rare now.

MG TF LE 500
It died with the MG Rover brand in 2005 only to be resurrected by MG Motor in 2008 using 500 leftover body shells. Production and sales were slow eventually ending in 2011. Lovely styling and entertaining handling right to the end and MG even cured the infamous head gasket issue too. Be warned though, build quality was rather poor and parts back up can be patchy.

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Further reading

Mazda MX-5 owners' reviews
Mazda MX-5 full review

Mazda MX-5 prices and valuation
Search for Mazda MX-5 cars for sale

Mazda MX-5 used car buying guide, rear view