Originally published on Autos.ca on May 7, 2013 (Best Used Convertible Buys)
Summer: the bugs are in the air, the temperature is climbing and the roads are finally free of salt, sand and other wintertime nastiness. This combination of stimuli inevitably prompts the brains of car lovers everywhere to start considering a new-to-them convertible for maximum enjoyment of the warm-weather travel season to follow.
Owning a convertible is a good thing – especially considering the volume of worthy drop-top options that are entering the used market at more affordable prices than ever.
And so, we present a list of some of the most affordable and popular used drop-tops in the market, some of the most popular reasons for considering each, and some of the most common issues they should be inspected for ahead of your purchase.
Not mechanically inclined? Looking for extra peace of mind? Visit your favourite mechanic and ask him to take a closer look at your used convertible candidates. Remember – a pre-purchase visual inspection may cost $100 to $200, but could save you thousands in repairs down the line.
1999 – 2005 Mazda Miata (MX-5)
The Draw: Arguably the world’s most successful roadster, the Japanese-built Mazda Miata combines addicting driving dynamics with exceptional fuel economy. This is sports motoring in arguably its purest form – and it’s a two-seater that’s also reliable and sensible. Look for features like antilock brakes, Bose audio, power accessories, leather seating and a CD changer.
The Checks: Check around the lower door sills, wheel-wells, and trunk-lid area for signs of rust. Ditto underneath. Also, check for signs of oil leakage down the side of the engine block, which could indicate a bad gasket. You’ll also want to check for signs of mildew, moisture or rust in the foot wells and under the carpeting in the trunk area.
Owner Reviews: Mazda Miata MX-5 1999-2004
2001 – 2006 Audi TT Convertible
The Draw: The Audi TT boasted plenty of selection, very unique looks, and typical Audi ride and handling dynamics. Quattro all-wheel drive was also on board – maximizing year-round traction and confidence for owners who don’t store their sports cars in winter months. Relatively fuel efficient and unique for its price, this instantly recognizable Audi ragtop is a hot buy in the used market. Four- or six-cylinder power was available.
The Checks: Read this twice: be absolutely sure you’re aware of the mileage on your used TT’s timing belt, and change it religiously. If it snaps, you’re out an engine. Lumpy performance could be the result of bad ignition coil packs – a common and well-documented issue on numerous VW and Audi products as they age. Check models with the V6 engine for coolant leaks around the thermostat housing. Look at the underside of the rocker panels for signs of rust and damage, possibly caused by jacking, on earlier models.
Owner Reviews: Audi TT 2000-2005
1999 – 2004 Ford Mustang Convertible
The Draw: This generation of America’s favourite convertible offered up reliable performance, great looks and overall bang for the buck. Snorty sound effects from the award-winning, up-level 4.6L, 260-hp V8 engine, too. Best of all, you can pick one up for well under $10,000 with V8 power and lots of life left. Look for leather seats, premium audio and more. We hear that cutting the mufflers off results in fantastic sound effects. Just sayin’.
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The Checks: An unstable idle or ‘hesitation’ during acceleration may mean one of the Mustang’s various engine sensors is acting up and in need of replacement. Squealing from the engine bay could be caused by a bad belt or belt tensioner. Otherwise, owners tend to report mainly minor issues centred around interior durability and noises. Double check the rear tires and brakes to be sure the Mustang you’re considering isn’t being sold by a burnout enthusiast. A Ford mechanic can easily check the ‘Stang over for leaks from the transmission and differential.
2003 – 2008 BMW Z4 Roadster
The Draw: European driving dynamics and unique BMW styling combine with an upscale cabin and healthy smattering of technology in this premium roadster buy. Up to 255 horsepower was available in standard models in ‘Si’ grade. Don’t miss the semi-exotic exhaust note and silky-smooth straight-six performance, either.
The Checks: Double and triple-check all cabin electronics for proper operation – including motorized seats, the stereo system, all information displays and the climate control system. If the roof mechanism on the Z4 you’re considering looks like its straining, binding or seizing, a potentially expensive problem may need to be addressed, too. Roughness, sporadic idle or ‘missing’ by the engine may indicate a bad sensor.
Owner Reviews: BMW Z4 2003-2009
2003 – 2010 Dodge Viper Roadster
The Draw: This V10 powered monstrosity was engineered for the manliest of men, offered minimal refinement or safety, and is sure to offend motorists nearby with its looks and noises. That’s all part of a one-of-a-kind motoring experience lusted after by enthusiasts everywhere. Look for up to 600 horsepower, depending on the year.
The Checks: Check for rear tire wear first and foremost, then move on to a Carfax or similar report to ensure the Viper you’re considering hasn’t been previously acquainted with a highway divider or hydro pole. Check the rocker panel area, which covers the exhaust system, for signs of bubbling or paint damage caused by immense heat. A leaky roof will typically reveal itself with a mildew smell in the cabin, or moisture in the outboard carpeting.
Owner Reviews: Dodge Viper 1996-2010
1999 – 2005 Honda S2000
The Draw: 9,000 rpm, 240 horsepower, minimalist curb weight, rear-wheel drive, no roof, Honda reliability. Enough said. Oh – and you can pick one up today for less than you think.
The Checks: Check for roof leaks, excessive clutch noise, grinding while shifting from first to second gear, and poorly installed performance modifications made by former owner(s). A used model that’s close to stock and well maintained is ideal. Be sure to get service records where possible – or at least budget for a full fluid change and tune-up to maintain the S2K’s reliability.
Owner Reviews: Honda S2000 2001-2005
2004 – 2009 Nissan 350Z Roadster
The Draw: That wailing exhaust note! And, of course, a long history of Nissan “Z” cars that culminated in this last-generation 350Z roadster—which offered up an award-winning V6 engine, unique looks and a compliant everyday driving experience. Pricing for a used Z Roadster is very appealing these days, and a suite of high-end features can be had – including a CD changer, Bose stereo and more. Look for up to 306 horsepower, depending on the year.
The Checks: Earlier models suffered from subpar transmission reliability, so be double-sure to check for unwanted noises or sensations during shifting. Several owners of early 350Z models report that difficult shifting or shifting accompanied by a ‘metallic grinding’ sound was a precursor to manual transmission failure. A check by a Nissan mechanic is advised. Models with factory-upgraded wheels, brakes and xenon lighting may present elevated maintenance costs. Avoid extensively modified models, and have the rear suspension checked out for signs of bushing wear that could suggest previous abusive driving.
Owner Reviews: Nissan 350Z 2004-2008
1997 – 2004 Chevrolet Corvette
The Draw: This ‘C5’ generation Corvette put Chevrolet on the global scene with engineering that cost-effectively challenged Ferraris, Lotuses and Porsches of its day. Today, you can pick one up on the cheap. Do so, and you’ll get timeless looks, no worse than 345 horsepower, and decent reliability as world-class performance cars go.
The Checks: Many a C5 owner has griped about the durability of the driver’s seat as it ages, as well as niggling electronic gremlins caused by a combination of a weak battery and poor electrical grounding. Check for leaks from the rear differential, and ensure proper operation of the pop-up lights, windows and air conditioner. Finally, remove the battery and look beneath it for signs of corrosion on the frame, which is the result of a leaky factory battery.
Owner Reviews: Chevrolet Corvette 1997-2004
2006 – 2013 Jeep Wrangler
The Draw: Toughness, all-season capability and all of the goodness of a legendary four-wheel-drive drop top (and removable doors!) are key deliverables of the current generation Jeep Wrangler. Not only does this one pack instantly recognizable looks and pedigree, it’s the only convertible of the group you can take off-roading. If you’ve never taken a drop top off-roading, you’re missing out. Ask any Wrangler owner.
The Checks: Check this one out for signs of leaks from the removable roof, signs of fluid leaks from the differentials and transmission, and excessive clutch noise on models with the manual transmission. A mechanic can help ascertain if the model you’re considering has been formerly abused in an off-road setting. A clicking or popping noise from the rear end could indicate a worn out differential, and the paint should be inspected for signs of premature wear, too.
Owner Reviews: Jeep Wrangler 2006-2013