A couple of years ago I had a great idea inspired by a young man that goes by the name Tavarish. I thought to myself: “I work at a car dealership and have access to cars at wholesale, What if I drive them for a couple months and then sell them! How hard can it be?”. Well, as it turns out, when you are a little impulsive, impatient and then reluctant to let things go, the answer is “quite”.
Below is the second installment of my “series” on how to not make money by flipping cars. My first foray into this world with an Audi A4 2.0T can be found here if you are having trouble getting to sleep tonight.
Today, however, I would like to talk about the Mazda RX-8. It was spring time and the songs of birds filled the air. For the first time ever, I was going to have two cars at the same time. The first at this point was the Audi mentioned above - so I wanted the second one to be something RWD to enjoy during both weeks of Vermont summer. After chatting with my boss (an ex-rally driver) I concluded that I would get something with some power but not a ton, reasonable handling but not with unreachable limits, and since I worked for a Mazda dealer, why not get something with a Mazda badge on it!? Since my brother already has the venerable Miata and my wife is not big on convertibles anyway, I decided a rotary powered car would be in my future.
Time to find my next car! Watch the auctions for a week, nothing. Impatient me kicks in and I start to look locally. Well, what do you know - there’s one 2 tenths of a mile away! Now, obviously, when you go shopping for a car like this, you need to be careful about what you’re buying. High strung cars with high mileage can be problematic. Sports cars driven in New England winters will turn off prospective buyers. Lots of dents, dings, scratches can lead you to believe that the car wasn’t cared for as well as it maybe could have been. I made a quick phone call to the selling dealer and he said that this car had a clean carfax, 2 previous owners, spent it’s life in New Hampshire, and yes, it was okay that I swing down to take it for a drive. A cursory walkaround revealed a great many scratches and a couple of dings. Unphased, I took it for a drive. Shit, that was a bad idea: Now I want it.
Lesson 1: If you can’t go in fully prepared to walk away - this is not the path for you.
I took it to work to have our Mazda tech look it over - all it needed is some brake pads. Brought the car back to talk numbers. “Normally I would sell it to you (because of the connection with my employer) for what we have into it, but, since it’s exactly when everyone shopping for a sports car is shopping, I can’t do that. But I’ll meet you in the middle.”
Lesson 2: If you are looking to buy low to sell high, don’t buy at peak season.
Of course, I walked away, right? Right?? Well, not exactly. I mean, sure, it had some scratches on it, it would need some work before I could really drive it, it had 81k miles, winter tires, and it wasn’t as cheap as I was expecting….but, it’s a special edition! It’ll be fine. Shortly thereafter I was the proud owner of a 2005 Mazda RX-8 Shinka edition. I don’t know what/who Shinka is either, but, in this case, it does help the desirability of the car: The Shinka edition cars came in a nice dark cherry exterior color and a lovely tan interior with all the goodies. But, more importantly, nicer body kit, spoiler, better tuned suspension and a limited slip rear differential.
Lesson 3: If you are going to be dumb about car shopping, at least get the desirable version.
So, enough about how good I am at buying cars. I’m sure the real question on your mind is: What’s the car like? Well, to begin I want to disprove all the scary rumors about these cars:
- Bad fuel economy: This is a 1.3L sports car, so, obviously, on the interstate it sips fuel at about the same rate as a 5.3L Chevy truck. Running on regular roads I was actually able to manage about 26mpg though.
- Not as fast or powerful as it’s competition: These are high horsepower, low torque engines. Here’s how you fix it: If your RPM’s are down, so are you. So keep it up, stupid.
- Oil consumption: You should keep an eye on your oil anyway - so, check it and put some in when needed - just like any other car!
- High running costs: Naw, all you have to do is change the oil every 3k miles, the spark plugs every 30k, keep the oil topped off, run premium fuel and don’t baby it to prevent carbon buildup, not shut it off until the engine is up to temperature to prevent flooding, and under no circumstance, let it overheat to prevent engine failure. At least it’s not an Aston Martin, amiright?
- Unreliable: Ohh, come on! I mean, I had the car for about a year and a half and about 18k miles and it was great! In all that time, I only had to do the following:
- Oxygen Sensor (check engine light)Catalytic Converter (check engine light still)Cat-back exhaust (hole in muffler and very rusty mid-pipe)Coil Pack (check engine light and no power)Battery (positive battery post broke)Reseal the oil pan (leaky)
Did I mention that my other car at this point was an Audi? Or that prior to that I’ve pretty much only had Saabs? Maybe I’m not the right person to judge the word “reliability.”
This car may have had high maintenance costs on top of all the things that went wrong with it. There may have been the fact that the check engine light was on 17k of those 18k miles and it had an insatiable thirst for fuel. Despite all of those things, I really, really enjoyed this car. Like, a lot.
Lesson 4: If you’re planning to flip it: don’t fall in love with it, don’t name it and don’t give it a pet mouse to live under the hood.
A few people were surprised to learn it’s actually a 4-door car! With the rear door open, someone could easily have gotten into the backseat….you know, if I knew more than one person. And if I moved my seat forward just a bit, that back seat would even be mildly usable. The seating position is pretty good. While there is a big C-pillar blind spot, the front, side and rear view weren’t bad. The seats are surprisingly comfortable and the instrument cluster with it’s large tachometer, digital speed readout sit directly in front of you while slightly to one side sits the prominently displayed check engine light. There is also a fuel gauge that moves quickly and a temperature gauge that you watch feverishly on hot days. At night, it’s lit up with a kind of nice blue/red lighting.
The ride, especially for a sports car, was great. It allowed small body movements in the corners but kept the car planted nicely when the road surface refused to cooperate. On my long, mostly highway commute, I was surprised how smooth, quiet and comfortable the car was. More than once the car went on all-day excursions with no complaints from me or my passenger about pains or discomfort. In the handling department, this is like 90% Miata with a fixed roof and 10% Grand Tourer. The only time I was wanting for something more was on the tightest of hairpins my one time at the track. The longer wheelbase makes it harder to rotate with the gusto of the Miata and unless you’re in first gear, the throttle won’t help. Perhaps a little more gruffness at turn in would do the trick, but, I never got back to the track with it to test that theory. Whatever, I didn’t let it bother me too much because the rest of the time it was sublime and the longer wheelbase made it more stable on the bumpy sections. And it’s controllability, especially on dirt when the back does let go was so good, I felt like a professional.
This may not be the fastest car among its competition, but, getting that engine up to it’s redline is still fun. Watching people who know about cars but don’t know rotary engines look nervous and keep peeking over waiting for you to shift has it’s moments. The power delivery and engine note are so smooth - it just keep climbing and climbing with a steady surge of acceleration right up to about 8500 RPM where the power did seem to start to trail a little to the 9k redline. The stock exhaust is surprisingly quiet, making it an easy car to drive all-day. When it came time to replace the mid-pipe and rear muffler, I struggled with going aftermarket or the more expensive OEM system. In the end, based on the strength of their conviction that I would like it, I settled on a Racing Beat cat-back system. Anyone that has one of these that wants just a little bit more noise than stock, this is your system. The exhaust note changes very slightly deeper and at higher RPM the tone is a bit louder but very nice. But, when you put it in 6th and settle back down, it’s no different than stock. I would highly recommend it. The shift mechanism for the 6-speed manual transmission has to have been designed using magic. It’s such a nice, weighted throw. Nice and short, spaced beautifully and makes this little snick-snick sound. This is easily the nicest shifting car I have ever driven. Couple that shifter with good pedal placement and driving it becomes a huge joy. It makes heel-toe shifting so easy, I was doing it on the highway off-ramps.
My first day driving the car after buying it lasted about 60 miles (and about 10 miles after my wife got in the car) until I shifted to second and put my foot down. This action was greeted with lots of white smoke, sputtering and my first check engine light. O2 sensor replaced, light reset, I made it nearly 20 miles until it appeared again. This time the light indicated that the catalytic converter was shot. It basically just wasn’t doing it’s job anymore and it sounded like the material inside it had basically turned into powder. Because the running of the car didn’t seem to be affected, I said fuck it and drove the car. It smelled atrocious to be around, but, it worked. I feel like there’s a reliability joke in here somewhere.. During the second summer it was getting low on power, harder to start and generally running terribly. Some internetting lead me to believe that a notorious coil pack would be the culprit. Further internetting lead me to Black Halo Racing, which had developed some coil packs that would be much more reliable. It worked like a charm. Before it’s upcoming track day I decided the winter rubber that came on it wasn’t going to do. So some Kuhmo Ecsta LE Sports were ordered and installed. By the end of my ownership I had to order two more for the rear….can’t imagine why. A random not starting issue was traced to the fact that the positive battery terminal had broken off inside the battery and was able to move around. Even I could handle that repair! I decided that for the winter I would store it under a small shelter so that I could run it from time to time over the winter and keep it from flooding in the spring. The shelter worked beautifully until the first measurable snowfall. Thankfully, the body work on these cars is surprisingly sturdy and a few new dents were the only result. A nice car cover was used after that.
If you ever flood your RX-8, which can happen if you shut it off before the engine has warmed up, the battery isn’t strong enough for it to fire up, or if it’s Wednesday, there is a very easy way to get it going again. All you need is a fuse puller, access to the internet, an overnight battery charge and a couple jump packs. First, pull the fuse for the fuel pump, and turn the car over until it sounds like it’s no longer trying to fire. Then plug the fuses back in and turn the car over again, this time with your foot welded to the floor. Rinse and repeat until you hear a huge bang. Then check to make sure you haven’t actually been shot and continue until finally it sputters. Then continue as you were until it shakes and rattles to life, foot to the floor, billowing white smoke, until it eventually will start to sound normal. Then don’t let it idle for awhile. Fortunately, this really only happened once - after it’s winter storage.
On the downside, I spent too much for the car, sunk a ton of money into it, kept it too long, put too many miles on it, and had no hope of ever getting out of it what I had into it. On the plus side, like any good love, it was worth every penny.
VSI and brake installation:$197.50
Oxygen Sensor and labor:$312.05
Kumho Ecsta LE Sport Tires (6)$900.00
Rear Turn Signal Bulb:$4.20
Coil Pack set and plug wires:$500
Cat-Back Racing Beat Exhaust$745.00
Oil Changes (7):$385.00
Reseal Oil Pan:$60
Insurance (17 months)$1000
Profit/Loss: ($7,220.52) (...Oopsie...)
Cost per mile:$0.36/mi
Lesson 5: Buy low, sell high. It’s much less profitable the other way around!