As some of you know, I spent several years working at a Mazda dealership in Vermont — and even up here in good old New England, people occasionally purchase MX-5 Miatas. One such person did so on March 30, 2011. The car was a 2011 in Touring trim with a manual transmission and power retractable hard top. He, like many Miata owners, intended to drive it regularly. He even went so far as to install a Pioneer radio that included navigation and increased connectivity!
What happened between then and now was a little different. Because the owner suffered from some severe and often disabling fears and anxieties, the car didn’t get driven very far. By this, I don’t mean that it’s only been a few thousand miles, like a Ferrari owner trying to preserve his car’s value. What I mean is this car made the trip home, it went to and from the dealership twice, and that’s it.
The owner eventually needed money more than the car, so I arrived at his home October 1, 2018, to pick up the car. Upon putting the jump pack on it and starting it up, I looked at the odometer.
Yes, you’re reading that correctly: this car had traveled a total of 300 miles. That’s 40 miles per year. Unless for some reason there’s a 2011 Miata in a museum somewhere, I’ll bet there isn’t a single one with lower mileage than this. So, you may be wondering, how does a 7-year old MX-5 Miata hold up after driving fewer miles than it would take for me to get to the nearest large city? The short answer is better than you might expect.
Obviously, there are plenty of things to address in any car that has more or less sat for an extended period of time, and it’s no different even if the car is new. The car was covered in cobwebs and pine needles, and funk filled all the panel gaps, collecting against the rubber seals. Sometimes, in cars like this, moss will begin to form — and pets and rodents will have left footprints everywhere.
Things made of rubber usually begin to dry and crack. A new set of wiper places was required (I do wish I had thought of that before driving it, as the weather was being a bit English that day) — and, while the tires held most of their air and were therefore in decent shape, the Miata’s little rubber antenna was a little worse for the wear.
The next thing to worry about isn’t whether or not rodents have begun calling it home or not — but how many? Under the hood, a nest had been in place on what looked like both sides of the engine, on an extremely convenient shelf! In the cabin, the smell of rodent urine was potent and there was some insulation material around. The fan motor sounded like a bike tire with a card in its spokes. The trunk was clearly the outhouse.
While the tires’ treadwear was just fine, the tires had, to no one’s surprise, developer major flat spots that were apparent at speeds above about 10 mph. Driving the car the 25 miles to the dealership seemed to help, though. Amazingly, especially given the heavy rodent presence, the power mirror switch was the only thing that wasn’t operational. It turned out, though, that the issue was the result of the radio installation rather than itty-bitty mouse teeth.
Now, given the generally bulletproof reputation for reliability that Miatas have, perhaps this part shouldn’t be a shock to anyone: everything else was fine. In 25 miles, the temperature never got above normal, the top works like new, the engine ran and pulled perfectly, and there were no weird noises or motions from the suspension or transmission. The brakes weren’t even rusty! If it hadn’t had torn wiper blades and if the tires weren’t making it feel like they were square, you’d have no idea the car had been sitting most of its life!
In preparation for resale, the car got a fresh oil change, wiper blades and an inspection sticker. The trunk mat, which had functioned so long as a bathroom it forgot its true role, was replaced. Then it went through an extreme cleaning with lots of blowing junk out from under the hood and shampooing the carpet and seats with several passes. Some heavy cleaners were needed to get some of the gunk removed — but after a good buff, the paint came back to life and it looks like the new car it is!
So, how well does a Miata hold up to several years of neglect? Not too shabby. Obviously it wasn’t perfect, and it does need to get driven a few more times to get the tires round again, but it held up significantly better than I anticipated! I can, however, provide a list of things one should bring with them should you find yourself picking up a seven-year-old new car. I’m going to split it up into things I was smart enough to plan for and things I wasn’t. First, the stuff I thought of:
Jump pack or jumper cables
Air compressor or air tank
Tools for license plate removal
License plates for getting it home
Here’s what I should have taken, but didn’t:
Tire pressure gauge
I wouldn’t have needed a gas can for this adventure anyway, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a couple gallons handy! I’ll be better prepared for next time — and now, so will you! Find a Mazda MX-5 Miata for sale