Tips for Buying a Used Elise or Exige including information on SALVAGE titles
Tips for Buying a Used Elise or Exige
There can be a range of reasons a car became a salvage. In any case, there are some special things to check and to know before you buy a salvage title car. The cost of labor to replace the body (clams) and all the bits like headlights and such, can be so much that the insurance company totals the car. In this case, there may not be anything structurally wrong with the car, and some shopping for parts and labor may get you a cheaper Lotus. This may be a good option for a track car you are building.
Keep in mind that the resale of a salvage car will aways be less than one that has not been totaled. Unless you keep a car forever, this should be factored in and once you add up the cost of the body parts and painting, etc., you may find you would have been better off spending a bit more for a better condition used Lotus.
Some cars were salvaged from flooding. Cars that have been underwater can be made to look fine, but you can also have electrical problems and potentially corrosion problems during your ownership. Electrical problems can be very frustrating to track down and the cost of rewiring a car is very high.
Assuming a car was a salvage title because of a crash, there is one thing you need to understand. The Lotus Elise/Exige is not like your typical car in how it was built. Since it uses a structural extruded and bonded aluminum chassis, if the chassis is damaged in any way, you can have major problems. All the suspension points bolt to the chassis and aluminum is relatively soft. You can replace the suspension parts, but repairing the chassis itself is not recommended by Lotus. The attachment points could be weaker and welding will change the metal. Normally, if the chassis has been bent or an attachment point ripped, the chassis is considered a total loss and the normal way to repair the car, is to swap the chassis out. Which means the salvage car is a parts car. Note, it does not take a large crash to cause chassis damage. Minor body damage does not mean the chassis is okay.
The front crash structure. There is a Lotus designed crash structure in the front that is bonded to the chassis. This can be repaired and a new one added, but it is not easy and can be expensive. A car with crash structure damage will require more work. Do not try to just patch and repair the crash structure as it is a highly engineered part that is critical to the safety of the occupants.
To check if a car is a hidden salvage title, you can run the VIN through carfax. You can also ask here on Lotustalk.
The body has lots of potential problems, primarily in the paintwork. These are what you should look for:
Spidering paint can be a sign of damage to the fiberglass underneath. Check the front and rear "bumpers" and the doors for any area that could have been traumatized and is now spidering. This could be a headache to repair.
Stone chips will be prevalent around the front of the car. If the car doesn't have starshield, you can expect there to be dozens of them. If this is a concern to you, you'll do better getting a low-mileage car, as it will tend to have less paint chips.
Front Lip Damage
The low front end will often scrape on speed bumps, parking stops, or even steep driveways. Look underneath it to see if there is significant scraping or fiberglass damage.
The starshield can be damaged by rocks. It can also turn yellow, or get detached from the body at the edges, allowing dirt to get underneath it, which will look like a black streak in the paint (ugly). Look for significant (noticeable) damage in the starshield. These pieces may have to be replaced.
The slatted vents on the Elise are fragile, and can be easily damaged if the owner isn't careful around them. Check the front and side vents closely to see if they've been damaged or repaired.
The headlights can get "sunburn". A design flaw in earlier cars magnified the sun's light, allowing the inside of the headlamp housing to become "scarred" (melted) by the sun. This is a very significant cosmetic issue, but can usually be replaced under warranty. If you're buying an '05, check to make sure the headlamps have no sunburn.
The undertray of the car can get loose and begin to rattle. This is caused by overtightened bolts stripping. It shouldn't be a huge issue, but could potentially cost $100-200 for retapping or bolt replacement. Make a note of it
Get an ECU dump on the car you want to buy. This will tell you the top 5 revs, standing start history, and other important items. A few revs over 8500 shouldn't be a problem. They definitely won't cause any issues if the car is running ok now. Nevertheless, check with the service department at a Lotus dealership to see if there will be any warranty issues due to the ECI figures.
Have your local Lotus Dealer put the car on a lift and inspect the frame for any damage. The crash structure is reported to be easily damaged. Make sure it is intact, and that the joints to the aluminum tub are not damaged. Make sure there is no damage to the frame where the suspension attaches.
Oil & Scheduled Maintenance
Ask for receipts for maintenance, including oil changes. If they weren't done at a Lotus dealership, make sure the previous owner used fully synthetic 5w40 (such as Mobil 1). Anything else could potentially void your warranty. Oil changes should have been performed at least every 3k miles, or half that for a heavily tracked car.
Rear Toe Link Failure
Some owners who track their cars a lot have reported a rear toe-link failure when the car is pushed hard. The failure is caused by a design flaw, but is not covered under warranty. If you plan to heavily track your car, you will probably want a toe-link upgrade, which costs anywhere from $500-$1000 depending on whether you want to use Lotus parts or aftermarket parts. Check <a href="http://www.elisetalk.com/">EliseTalk Lotus Forums</a> for more information on this issue. Track pack cars (2006+ only) come with a toe link upgrade installed.
Check to see if there is any slippage or late engagement on the clutch. The service charge to replace the clutch is about $1000, depending on the dealership you use, so replacement is something to consider in the price you pay.
Some earlier cars had a recall on the shifter, because a design flaw caused many of them to break during spirited driving (i.e. racing). Ask if the car has been inspected, and/or if the shifter has been replaced under the recall.
Check the pads and rotors to see how worn they are. The rotors on the Elise have a short life expectancy, so in a higher mileage car, you may be looking at a $1000+ charge to replace them. Ask if they've been replaced.
Inspect all four wheels closely, making sure there is no damage to the spokes or lip. Check the lip on the inside and outside. Lip damage could cause a slow leak. Check the balancing weights to see that none of the wheels required a huge amount of weight as compensation. This can be a sign of a damaged or out-of-round wheel.
HVAC Cooling Problems
The air conditioner is more of a fan than a cooling unit. Many owners report having had cooling issues with their ACs, especially in the hotter southern states. Check the unit by turning it on and driving around for 30 minutes. Most Elise ACs will do better if you put the temperature about 20% above coldest, which will prevent the coil from freezing. There are reported fixes on <a href="http://www.elisetalk.com/">EliseTalk.com</a>.
Squeaks and Rattles
These can be expected in a car with such a tight suspension, but you'll want to pinpoint all of them. Drive the car over a bumpy road to get an idea of just how squeaky / rattly it wil be. The hardtop, dashboard, and center console are problem areas. Fortunately, they are easily adjusted.
Sill Tape "Seepage"
The sills are held on by double-sided tape. In warmer climates, the tape has been known to melt and "seep" down from the sills. Open the door and inspect the outsides of the sills. This is a relatively easy fix, but will require some of your time. You'll want to have a heads-up about it.
Virtually all the windows rattle, but you'll want to inspect them to see how much they do. Roll the windows down and go for a drive. If your windows rattle, never close the door of your Elise with the windows down. You could wind up shattering it!
Look for scuffs on the sills and center console plastic pieces that may have been caused by metal on people's shoes during ingress and/or egress.
If you're getting a sport pack car, be wary of tire tread. The stock A048s get a good 10k if you're lucky, and they're about $1000 a set to replace.
If the Elise is parked outdoors on an incline, rain water is known to be able to get into the trunk, and flood the liner. Inspect the trunk liner for water damage. You can unsnap it on the left side by the battery to inspect underneath it.
Some owners report some leaking on their roofs. Inspect upholstered areas around the roof edges to look for water stains. Also, if the owner allows it, spray all around the edges of the roof and inspect for leaks.
(Taken from the USElise <a href="http://www.usloc.com/lotus_elise_exige_buyers_guide">Used Lotus Elise/Exige Buyer's Guide</a>)
Last edited by smoseley; 02-02-2009 at 08:38 PM.