As the days slowly begin to get longer and the wintery weather abates, we cast our view forward to what is sure to be a jam-packed summer season of enjoying our MX-5s.
The season-opening Spring Rally, proudly hosted by the MX-5 Owners Club, will officially kick things off at the Goodwood Motor Circuit on Sunday April 29. Plenty of you have been happily using your MX-5s over winter (you even sent us pictures), but for those who have had their MX5s in storage, special attention needs to be paid before that magical first drive can happen.
You may be excited to hit the road right away at the first hint of sunshine, but a little extra effort before that first drive could save considerable heartache. What you don’t want is to turn the key for the first time on April 28, and end up missing the Spring Rally or breaking down en route due to an unforeseen issue.
Inspect your MX-5 at least a fortnight before you intend to drive it
The reason to inspect your MX-5 a fortnight before its first drive is to simply give yourself time to rectify any issues that may have presented themselves over the winter.
Grab a torch, and forensically go over the car – even better if you can jack it up and remove the wheels. Check for any leaks under the car, and check all the fluid levels. Look for any pointers to more serious issues – for example, low clutch fluid could indicate a leak. Look for any weeping of fluid on the brake hoses, and look for any pooled brake fluid on the inside of the wheel rims. This could indicate a perished caliper seal.
Look for any evidence of rodents or other animals having nested in the car, check that the soft-top roof folds up and down smoothly, and depress the clutch pedal to ensure that the clutch plates are not bound. Rock your MX-5 gently back and forth to ensure the brakes are not seized. Connect the battery and check that all of the lights work, and give the coolant hoses a squeeze. Check that they have not gone hard, have cracked or are perished. Check the condition of the belts and their tension.
Arguably, the most important step is to check the paperwork and make sure that the MOT is still valid, and that it is taxed and insured. There’s nothing worse than getting excited for that first drive only to discover a paperwork issue at the last moment.
The day before the first drive
Having carried out the previous inspection, you should be reasonably confident that your MX-5 is ready to drive. Most engine wear occurs within the first 10-20 seconds of starting, and the following steps are suggested more to prevent excess wear than anything else.
We would recommend carrying out these steps only on older MX-5s, and if the car has been standing for more than six months.
After many months left standing still, the piston rings will likely be dry. Remove the plug leads and spark plugs (carefully noting their order) and tip about a teaspoon of engine oil into each bore, and allow to stand for 24 hours. This small amount of oil will help to lubricate the piston rings as they slide within the bore.
To really go the extra mile, you could consider turning the engine over by hand to manually spread oil and ensure that everything spins freely. Simply attach a large socket to the crankshaft nut and turn clockwise.
The day of the first drive
The engine oil will have drained into the sump over the winter, so the primary aim is to build oil pressure and pre-lubricate as many bearings inside the engine as possible before we start it.
With the spark plugs still out, connect the battery and turn the motor over on the starter. With the plugs removed the engine will have no compression and will spin freely, which means minimal load on the engine as you crank it. Hold the key down for two or three seconds at a time, and repeat until the oil pressure gauge shows usual pressure. Replace the spark plugs and reconnect the ignition leads to their original plugs.
Start the engine, avoid revving the engine or blipping the throttle, and let it sit there idling until it reaches regular operating temperature. While it is warming up, inspect the engine with a torch to look for any leaks, and carefully listen for anything that sounds abnormal.
Go for a short 10-15min drive, and return home for a thorough inspection. With the car now warmed up, drop the oil. After a car has sat for several months, condensation will have formed inside the crankcase. There will be a small amount of water in the oil which will affect the oil’s protective abilities – it’s best to replace the oil and filter before you stress the engine too much.
If all is okay following your subsequent inspection and oil change, go for a longer 30-40min drive on the motorway and take your MX-5 up to highway speeds. Once again, return home and carefully inspect everything.
You’re now ready for a summer of happy motoring
These steps may seem like an unnecessary hassle, but a little time spent here can not only save aggressive start-up wear to the engine, but could also avoid an awkward roadside breakdown for an issue that could have been resolved in the comfort of your home garage.
We want to see you and your MX-5 happily attending the Spring Rally, so make sure to take a little extra time before taking your MX-5 out for the first time this season.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles.