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14 Used Sports Cars You Should Avoid Buying at All Costs

Vukasin HerbezAugust 7, 2017

Sports cars are beautiful machines. While most people love them, they usually can’t afford to buy them new. Many performance models come with price tags that are way too big for the average enthusiast’s budget. So, a vast majority of performance addicts turn to second-hand sports cars. When it comes to used sport cars, there are even more risks to consider. Most car makers didn’t manufacture them to be durable or practical. In fact, most of them are more expensive to maintain than regular cars.

That’s why used sports cars can be a gamble. Because sometimes, there are also mechanical issues, which are the factory’s fault. When you shop for a used sports car, there are many types to avoid at all costs. This is especially true if you want to have a pleasant driving experience. There are huge repair and maintenance bills and other disappointments that could come with owning a desirable, yet extremely unreliable car.

No matter how good the deal looks or how long you’ve waited for the car to depreciate so you can finally own it, it’s not worth the hassle if it costs more money to keep it running than to buy it. If you don’t know which models to avoid, here’s a list of used sports cars famous for causing big problems for unsuspecting owners.

1. Mercedes-Benz SL 600

The Mercedes-Benz SL roadster is the epitome of a German GT car. It looks stunning, has the performance to match, and it is a well-built car. They introduced the R230 generation of the SL in 2001. It stayed in production for a full decade, to 2011. It was powered by one V6, several V8 engines and a 5.5L V12 powering the SL 600 version.

The 500-horsepower engine offered ultimate performance, but it also proved to be less reliable than other motors in the palette, excluding the AMG engines. Regular maintenance costs of V12 engines is expensive. And, when that’s paired with the belief that a Mercedes-Benz is indestructible, it can lead to millions of potential problems. It would be wise to avoid the most powerful non-AMG engine in the SL. Opt for a well-cared V8 model, which will save you money, both initially and in the long run.

The V8-engine versions are less expensive to obtain, maintain and drive, because they are more common and less complicated. There’s also the fuel mileage, which also contributes to the headache of owning a V12 car. So, if you want to drive a drop-top Benz, go for the trusty V8. Enjoy driving your own Silver Arrow with little to no worries.

2. Mazda RX-8

When they introduced it in 2003, the Mazda RX-8 was a car that reintroduced the famous rotary engine. That alone was enough to excite Wankel enthusiasts worldwide, and a beautiful design helped the hype. The RX-8 was famous for its distinctive rear suicide doors that helped accommodate the rear passengers into the successor of the notorious RX-8. The engine had upwards of 200 horsepower, despite its diminutive displacement.

But, the main feature of the RX-8 is also its biggest issue on the secondhand market. With the youngest models approaching 10 years of age, it is getting increasingly hard to find a model that has received properly care during the years. The 1.3L Wankel engine has a specific construction that isn’t known to cover endless amounts of miles. So, with inadequate maintenance, the RX-8 is a car some drivers won’t enjoy, because sooner or later, there will be issues, like a blown engine and an expensive bill. However, if you choose to buy an RX-8, avoid the 2004 to 2005 models, since they’re the most delicate ones.

The main problems with these engines is that engine rotors wear down, causing an air and fuel mixture to leak between combustion chambers, which lowers the compression and the lifespan of the engine. That’s why it is of utmost importance to buy a second-hand RX-8 from someone who’s been known to love and understand these tender performance cars.

3. Dodge Challenger

After the success of the retro styled Mustang, Dodge followed Ford’s footsteps and revived the iconic Challenger in 2008. The car had the recognizable looks of the classic muscle car icon, and more importantly, they packed lots of power under the hood. Powered by a 3.5L V6 as standard, the fun came with the addition of a V8 engine producing upwards of 350 horsepower.

Soon, the numbers started growing, so the V6 had 305 horsepower in 2011, while the HEMI 329 in the SRT8 version packed 470 horses. The Challenger was an instant success and it sold in thousands, but the sad truth is that not all owners maintained these cars properly.

If you are shopping for a secondhand Challenger, be aware that affordable power can come with some hidden costs. If the previous owners drove the car hard, yet didn’t maintain it properly, it could lead to numerous unpleasant surprises. It’s also worth noting that the 2013 and 2014 Challengers failed to complete Consumer Reports’ reliability tests.

To safely treat yourself to a piece of modern American muscle, perhaps the Ford Mustang is a better choice due to a wider choice of examples and better build quality. But, if the Challenger is what you really want, don’t hesitate to ask many questions on its maintenance and repair history. Also, avoid the 2013 and 2014 models, so you can drastically decrease the chances of buying a Challenger that will disappoint you sooner or later.

4. Nissan 370Z

While the Nissan 350Z had a good reputation, its successor was known to make some trouble. They introduced the last installment of the iconic Z-Series of cars in 2009. It is still in production with a more muscular look based on the 350Z silhouette and the power to match the pumped up looks.

Equipped with a 3.7L V6 with more than 300 horsepower transmitted to the rear wheels, the 370Z seemed like a great performer, and a fantastic secondhand sports car, but not everything worked well. The early 2009 and 2010 models suffered from a faulty steering lock column, which could leave drivers stranded. Imagine if you couldn’t get your car out of the garage, or being beset with this issue somewhere in the middle of your city-to-city journey. Luckily, Nissan recalled some faulty models, but there are probably many more lurking around.

So, if you’re planning to buy a second hand 370Z, avoid the early models and look for 2012 and newer, as they don’t have the steering lock feature. On the other hand, check the VIN number to see if it falls under the cars that were the subject of recalls. It’s all in thoughtful planning and buying smart. If you follow these simple rules, you’ll avoid all the bad side effects of having a sports car.

5. Honda Prelude

The fifth generation Honda Prelude was also the last generation of this iconic sports car. Honda built it between 1996 and 2001. It featured a restrained, yet charming boxy styling. It has aged gracefully after more than 20 years since it first came out. It was available with a wide palette of engines, optional four-wheel steering and two transmission types, a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

This Accord-based coupe was driveable, but only with the manual. If you didn’t know how to drive a manual shift or didn’t want to bother with three pedals, you could find yourself with a big problem. This is because they failed to build the automatic transmission to the expected standards. It also required meticulous maintenance.

Some manual transmission Preludes caused problems when shifting into fifth gear. But, more commonly it was the automatic transmission models that had trouble. Coming from a Japanese car, this flaw is borderline unacceptable. So if you want to buy a fifth-generation Prelude, choose the manual transmission. It is easy to learn to use one.

Or you could be extremely careful when buying an automatic. To avoid expensive bills and general frustration, make sure you find a well-maintained model, even if it means it costs more than the average.

6. Pontiac Solstice

Built from 2005 to 2009, the Pontiac Solstice was one of the brand’s swan songs. It was a compact sports car GM built on the Kappa platform. It shared this base with the Opel GT, Saturn Sky and the Daewoo G2X. It included two inline four engines, a 2.4L Ecotec LE5 and a 260 HP turbocharged 2.0L in the GXP version.

The GXP engine had the record-breaking highest specific output of all times with 2.1 horsepower per cubic inch. They based the design on the eponymous 2002 concept, and this car still is attractive. But, the downside came with the huge 2014 recall of 1.4 million GM vehicles due to a defective ignition switch.

The ignition switch defect made the cars prone to all sorts of unpleasant situations. Some of them were hazardous, like a sudden loss of power or complete airbag deactivation. The defective ignition switch was truly dangerous. A total of 13 documented deaths occurred due to this particular fault.

The 2006 and 2007 Pontiac Solstice is especially known to suffer from this issue, so avoid it at all costs. Or, at least check to see if the seller has fixed the problem appropriately. An affordable price tag, cool design, and decent performance are nothing compared to elementary safety. So, be aware of them if you are on the lookout for this compact Pontiac sports car.

7. Maserati Ghibli

Although they are beautiful, and their engines sound like a dream, Italian cars aren’t exactly known for their reliability and overall build quality. Unfortunately for the recently introduced compact sedan from Maserati, the Ghibli ticks all the boxes, both good and bad. The flaws of these car have to do with the mechanical issues and with build quality. In typical FCA fashion, they borrowed some switches from less expensive models.

With that in mind, the fit and finish is far from perfect, and that is unacceptable for a car with a sticker price of $70,000 or more. Even though the Ferrari-derived V6 engine sounds good and provides fantastic performance, it can also provide you with more worries than woes of excitement if the previous owners didn’t maintain it properly. Even the basic maintenance costs of a car like this are expensive, let alone fixing any potential breakdowns.

So, if design and performance sedans are your thing, it might be the best to avoid the Ghibli in total. Yes, the depreciation works wonders, and it might be a great car to look at or read about it in the magazines, but you’ll easily find yourself encumbered with the inevitable costs of living with it every day. Only after you’re hit with the burden of owning an Italian exotic, will you truly understand how and why thrilling performance and European luxury comes at a high cost.

8. Porsche 911 with M96 engines

With the prices of classic 911s skyrocketing in the last few years, the choice of an affordable 911 comes down to one model – the Porsche 997. Built from 2004 to 2012, most Porsche purists do not pursue this model, mostly due to the fact that it shares the front end with the inferior Boxster. Still, this 911 was a commercial success with more than 100,000 sold examples, and it was well-received by the automotive press and general public.

The 997 was a well-built sports car with respectable performance, even by today’s standards. But, even German engineering comes with occasional flaws, and in this case, that is the M96 flat-six. The issue with this engine is in the intermediate shaft bearing.

More precisely, it’s about lack of greasing in the intermediate shaft bearing due to the construction of the engine. As the internal grease of the IMS inevitably dries up, that can lead to permanent engine damage and costly repair bills. Judging by the official data, around 10 percent of 2000 to 2005 M96 engines suffered from this issue, while the later engines also have the probability of this breakdown.

The Porsche is expensive to repair, and the revised 2006 to 2008 models leave you with only one possibility: removing and disassembling the whole engine. So, the most affordable Porsche 911 out there come with some expensive issues waiting to happen, and that’s something drivers should avoid if they want a reliable and carefree ride.

9. Mini Cooper

The hot hatch from the BMW-owned Mini brand was a popular choice of a city car in the U.S., due to its quickness and maneuverability. But, while the Cooper was strong on meandering through everyday traffic, it scored weak when it came to reliability. According to Consumer Reports, the Mini Cooper was a great car to buy new, but it suffered from reliability issues that came with age and mileage, so it is far from a good choice to buy used.

The second generation Cooper, which they produced between 2006 and 2003, was equipped with a 1.6L BMW N16 inline four with 120 horsepower. This was more than enough for a lively performance and fun driving experience. Engine reliability sadly didn’t follow suit, so the Mini Cooper is a car you shouldn’t buy unless you’re sure the former owner maintained it on a regular basis.

For a compact car, the Cooper is expensive to maintain. You don’t want to rack up additional costs for a car that is basically a sporty hatchback that packs just enough power to make your everyday commuting fun. Hotter turbocharged Cooper S versions also have their own sets of reliability issues, so avoid them too, as secondhand turbocharged cars are never a good idea.

10. Golf GTI

Most experts consider Volkswagen to be the maker of extremely reliable cars in all vehicle classes. That is the case with most regular models coming from the factory. However, the 2010 to 2013 Volkswagen Golf MK6 GTI has poor ratings when it comes to overall reliability. For a car of such an iconic status coming from a brand that has reliability as one of its key selling points, it is almost shameful that certain Golfs aren’t up to the standards.

Still, as with every other car on the list, regular and careful maintenance is the key to selling successfully and buying smartly. If the former owner has taken care of the car, you should expect a lot from its 211 horsepower 2.0L inline four engine. It should get 0 to 60 times of 6.9 seconds and top speeds of 149 mph, which are formidable numbers.

So, what’s the safest bet with the Golf? Either go for the regular models to avoid any potential trouble or try to find an MK6 they didn’t build between 2010 and 2013. That way, you’ll have a car you won’t regret buying.

 

11. Mitsubishi Eclipse

The last generation of Mitsubishi’s affordable sports model Eclipse was a popular choice among the JDM crowd. In most cases, this was a decent car by all means. Despite being a front-wheel-drive car, the Eclipse still provided a fair amount of performance and driving dynamics.

However, in the quality department, the Eclipse had a major problem with their automatic transmission. The wave cushion spring, which is a small and inexpensive part, could snap and go through the transmission oil filter and oil pump. This caused the whole gearbox assembly to run out of oil. In that case, the transmission immediately stopped working, leaving drivers stranded without any forward gears or reverse. This was a problem for Eclipse cars from the early 2000’s.

So, if you are looking for an Eclipse, try to find a manual one. They didn’t have any significant problems or quality issues. However, if you are keen on the automatic, look for cars that a professional has fixed like replaced the gearbox. Run away from cars that haven’t have any work done. That means that transmission failure is just around the corner.

 

12. Ferrari F355

Would you like to own a Ferrari for Lexus money? It is a tempting proposal and if you lust for sensual lines of the gorgeous F355. Ferrari introduced it in the mid-90’s, so now is your chance to buy it for the price of a new, well-equipped mid-size SUV. However, the cost doesn’t mean you should buy this car. In fact, it is notoriously unreliable and expensive to maintain.

There are several significant problems with the F355. You will be shocked to hear how much the service costs. First, there are exhaust manifolds, which can crack. So, how is that possible since the headers are not a complicated part and rarely crack on modern cars? The answer is bad engineering and poor materials.

The cost of replacing the headers is close to $5,000. However, if you don’t do the headers and keep driving, you could face an engine failure. A full engine rebuild costs around $25,000. Second, the valve guides are prone to failure in about one out of every five Ferrari F355s. As you can expect, the price of sorting this problem out is also astronomical at approximately $6,000.

Also, every three to five years, F355 owners are required to do a regular belt change and full service. This includes pulling the engine out of the car and several days of expensive labor. Some dealers charge around $10,000 for this routine service. This should discourage you from buying a used Ferrari F355. However, if you can save a little more, look for the F360 or 430. They are far more reliable and user-friendly cars.

13. Chevrolet Corvette C6

The Corvette has always been the gold standard among sports cars. It has the winning combination of great looks, brutal power from its potent V8 engines and world-class road holding. The new C7 model can run with the best of what Europe has to offer.

For used car buyers, the Corvette C6 is a tempting sports car. With 400 HP in base form, a sleek body, and superb performance, you can’t go wrong with it – or can you? The C6 Corvettes are plentiful and affordable, but you won’t find the same level of refinement, quality and comfort as you would in other sports cars. The problem with C6 is the plastic interior, and the poor fit and finish. It also has an outdated design and a lack of electronic gimmicks.

Besides that, the ride is harsh and Corvette engineers stiffened the car to the max to get great road holding and stability. In the process, they compromised comfort and ride quality. Although the C6 is cool looking and a fast ride with a glorious soundtrack, wait until the C7 prices are in your budget.

14. Lamborghini Gallardo

 

When they introduced the Lamborghini Gallardo in 2003, the automotive world embraced its sharp wedge lines, aggressive stance and brutal performance. Finally, Lamborghini produced a modern supercar that most drivers could afford. The Gallardo was the first Lamborghini model under the supervision of Audi. They had a lot of influence in the development of this supercar.

Today, four years after they discontinued the Gallardo, there are a lot of them on the used car market. And, the prices are affordable, considering its gorgeous looks, V10 engine and fantastic performance. However, don’t consider this car. The reasons are simple. The ride is terribly uncomfortable and the visibility is almost non-existent.

The interior is tiny and cramped. So, if you are over six feet tall, you will have problems fitting inside. Also, the Gallardo will be torture on longer journeys. In addition, maintenance is expensive since the Gallardo is an exotic sports car.

Most people can only afford to buy one sports car in their lifetime. This makes finding one that is reliable and well-maintained a must. Thankfully, there is lots of information on the right sports cars to buy. All you have to do is learn all about the one you want, so you can buy the best model year in the line.

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