COAL: 2000 Mazda Miata – All In The Family

Some people wonder how to justify owning a small two seater like a Miata. Easy, just share it with everyone!

Well, share it with the family, anyway. My parents bought it new in 2000, a dark blue Miata with tan leather. It was something of a “midlife crisis” car for them, I guess one could say. Though, they had been experiencing something of a midlife crisis automotively speaking, going back many years.

I’ve already told you about the silver/lavenderish Prelude they bought after my white 1991 Prelude.

But well before that, my dad bought a new 1987 Porsche 944. Being 17, I didn’t get to drive it much. I was driving it to a college visit, with my mom in the front passenger seat, when we got pulled for speeding. I wasn’t speeding, though, as my MOM was in the front seat. But I am sure I looked like fantastic cop bait, a young kid in a new Porsche. We were let go, without a ticket.

It was an odd car. It felt so heavy and slow. You could tell it wanted to live life in the fast lane, and it looked the part, silver with black leather, those great “telephone” alloys, and big spoiler out back. But it drove like it weighed 7,000 pounds. It had constant problems too, A/C failure, stereo failure, a clutch while under warranty.

The dealer used new Jettas for loaners at that time, and we liked the rental Jettas so much better in daily driving, truth be told. Of course, none of this stopped me from buying the 2016 Cayenne, which we like very much. It drives too little like a Porsche, purists complain. But, that makes it easier to live with too.

Before that, he had a 1969 TR6 just like this, with true knockoff wire wheels. It was a hoot, though it caught fire under the dash on the way to my elementary school one day. No biggie, the cheesy 70’s aftermarket radio didn’t work after that though. We ripped all the sketchy hacked up wiring out, and replaced the dash pad and center console.

We bought the TR6 from a new car franchise dealer, on a rainy day. Wow, that red paint looked great! When it was wet. When it was dry, it looked like crap. Flat and tired. There is no better advice than “Don’t buy a used car in the rain”. You can’t tell what you are getting. I don’t know if my dad actually ever said it to me, but I learned it with the TR6. And I have never bought any car in the rain.

Funny story: we all four took the TR6 to church one freezing Sunday, when the 240D refused to start. I was 10 or so, and my sister was 5. We sat on the little ledge behind the seats. Perfectly safe. God probably would rather have seen us just skip that day. We had to push the 240D outside and raise the hood, to let the sun warm the engine like a lizard. We got a block heater installed after that.

Before the TR6, he had a 260Z. It was a genuinely good car, I don’t recall anything ever being amiss with it, though it was used and little rough looking around the edges.

So the Miata was the latest in a long line of mid-life crisis cars for the ‘rents, then. It was the nicest Miata I had seen up to that point. The tan leather interior is nice. Apparently, the tan interior and tan top were unique to the “LS” option package, as Miatas otherwise had a black top and black interior.

It has a 5 speed stick, of course. Power windows are a nice touch, though the top is still manual. Nice little 15 inch alloys. A subtle chin spoiler and side sill extensions, complimented by a chrome exhaust finisher on the single tailpipe. I can sit in the driver seat, unlatch both latches at the top of the windshield, and put the top down or up with my right hand.

So I am talking about the Miata in the present tense. But, my parents haven’t owned it since about 2007. That’s because my mother in law bought it from them! She’s 77 now, and she’s actually owned it longer than they did. And I have pretty much been it’s caretaker for 10 years, if not it’s rightful owner.

My parents offered it to me about 10 years ago, when they tired of it as a weekend driver. It only had about 20,000 miles on it. And to this day, it’s never spent the night outside. So it’s in good shape now, and was in even better shape in 2007. But my kids were 9, 7 and 5 at the time. A two seater, even a creampuff used one, didn’t fit into our automotive needs.

My mother in law was recently widowed at the time, and had a nice CR-V. But she liked the idea of a convertible, and the price was right, so she took it. I remind her every now and then that when she wants to get rid of it, I’m her buyer. But she’s made no indications she wants to do so. And for me, it’s a free Miata with covered storage, that I can borrow when I want to. Doesn’t get much better than that!

For whatever reason, though, I don’t take it out much on my own accord. Maybe I just don’t want to impose, but I have only asked to used it a handful of times. Most of those were related to something for the kids. It’s been in a few high school homecoming parades for the kids’ school, and was decorated stem to stern one time as a “float” for the girls’ tennis team.

Otherwise, I drive it when she remarks it needs a good bath, or if it is acting up in some way. The acting up doesn’t occur often of course, as it is a Miata. But twice a year or so, something needs my attention. It’s frequently low tire pressure, making it ride or handle strangely.

Two coolant leaks over the past decade; once a weeping radiator hose clamp, and the other time, a split hose going to the coolant overflow tank.

She had a recurring dead battery issue. We replaced it a time or two, but it’s a small AGM cell battery that is very expensive. A motorcycle battery, really, I think. I researched putting a bigger battery in, thinking that might help with the extended sitting that it did. But, there’s no room in the battery well in the trunk for a bigger battery.

I gave her a trickle charger for Christmas after a couple of years of these battery problems. It’s a type that connects to the battery posts permanently, but has a lead a few feet long that comes up out of the well, emerges from under the trunk carpet, and plugs into the charger. So, you plug it up when it’s parked, but then can unplug and remove the charger when not needed. I knew she would not want to fool with the spring loaded clamps, and having to actually touch the battery. It was intuitive and can’t be connected incorrectly. She likes it, and keeps it plugged in whenever parked. I think that battery is now 7 or 8 years old!

Rough running and a “check engine light” a couple of years ago, were attributed to bad spark plugs by the local Advance Auto. They read the code, which was just a generic “random misfire”. Though the plugs didn’t have more than 26,000 miles or so on them, they were of course about 15 years old, so it seemed like a cheap enough place to start. I replaced them myself in about 10 minutes, super easy access of course.

Sure enough, that cured it for a time, and the light didn’t come back until this summer. This time, my mother in law called me alarmed that it had “bucked like a wild horse” and sputtered and stalled a time or two, on a grocery store run. The check engine light came on after all that, and she didn’t think she would make it home.

By this summer, I had a Bosch code reader of my own that I really like. It’s a semi-universal type, that can read most any car built 1996 to present. You plug it in, and it can tell you a variety of information related to the vehicle, such as all the various temperatures and voltages coursing through the vehicle. Basically, any data the car’s computer knows, you can read on the Bosch screen, even when there are no codes present.

All cars use a number of the same basic codes for common malfunctions, but if the Bosch recognizes your car, it can read hundreds (maybe thousands) of other codes specific to your make and model.

I bought this for use, of course, in my role as a stable keeper for old S-Classes. Bertha throws a convoluted “downstream left bank knockwurst and sauerkraut going over a wasserfall” code once a year or so, and I read it, reset it, and she soldiers on like a top. I’ve never actually repaired anything on her related to a check engine light.

The Bosch reader told me the Miata had a failed coil pack. OK, that sounds easy. I could readily see where it was, there on the end of the valve cover, against the firewall. I thought I could tell how it bolted to the valve cover as well. Further reading on Google revealed that the Miata coil pack is indeed a common failure point, even on low mileage cars, and causes the exact symptoms my mother in law described. Eventually, of course, it will fail outright and not work at all. It’s a function of age, not miles, and 17 years was well past the typical lifespan. I ordered an OEM coil on eBay for $60.

Well, the removal and reinstallation wasn’t quite as straightforward as I hoped. There were a couple more hidden bolts holding it, down between the firewall and valve cover. Impossible to see, but also oddly difficult to reach. I finally deduced that unbolting the various vacuum and brake lines you see on the firewall, and tying them up out of the way, would ease access.

Examining the new part for clues about removal of the hidden bolts was misleading, as the new coil pack was redesigned to make it a little easier to remove and replace. So, I was using an erroneous map, of sorts. With the old bolts and coil pack out, the new coil went it much quicker.

And sure enough, that solved the problem so far as we can tell. The Miata had some minor stumbling from a stop light for years, and that went away completely. It seemed run smoother and have more vigor in general, though that may imagined. But the lack of stumbling in first gear was for real.

When I do fix-it jobs like this on the Miata, I give it a bath and a coat of wax too. You can practically stand in one place and wash it! It takes but a few minutes to wax it. Though it is blue, I use a black tinted wax to leave a smooth shine, hiding the fine scratches that come with age and even hand washing. Make sure you use latex gloves though, because it’s a mess to use.

It now has right at 29,000 miles, or about 1,700 miles a year on average over it’s life. But it’s only picked up 9,000 of those in the past decade, and I think 250 or so in the past 12 months.

My mother in law is in great health, and her parents lived into their 90’s. But I think when she is ready to get rid of the Miata, it will be a sub-35,000 mile car for sure. When it is in her garage, I keep the roof up and latched, because I think I have read that’s better than leaving it all crumpled and creased when lowered. I leave the windows lowered an inch or two for air circulation, though. She usually wants it covered with old blankets to keep the cat off of it.

The real deal, earlier this summer, with the LR4 photobombing

I’m not sure what should I do with it. Drive it and enjoy it? Or preserve it as more of a “trailer queen”? It would be a nice, low miles, one family Miata, but it’s not a rare car. I’m not sure it would be worth much more with 35,000 miles than 135,000. But it’s a member of the family, and I don’t see parting with it!