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Lotus Elise Buyers Guide

Buying a used Elise is harder work than with your typical family saloon car. Many have had a hard life, often involving track days. A high proportion have also been involved in an accident. Fortunately, the modular nature of the car makes complete repair possible, unless the chassis was damaged. Used S1 car values fell when the S2 model was launched but stabilised shortly after. S1 Elises now start at around the 5k but it is worth spending more for a tidy example. There are some cars out there still with very low mileages but this isn't necessarily a good thing, as many of the more common faults may had yet to be discovered and rectified by the previous owner(s).

The following is a list of things worth checking before you buy:

How & When To Pay

I've put this bit first because it is the most important! Before you buy a used Lotus Elise you must make sure that the person selling you the car actually owns it and that they own it outright. Many Elises are bought using finance and you must check that there is no outstanding finance on the vehicle you are looking to buy.

The general advise is to also not buy from someone who is selling from an address that does not match the address on the V5. Which brings me to another point, make sure you can see the V5.

Private or Dealer?

Buying from a dealer should give you more piece of mind and usually some sort of warranty. Ask the dealer if the car has been crashed in the past. They only have to tell you this if you ask! Ideally, get the details of the previous owner and ask them for the history of the vehicle. There are also a lot of owners on-line so it's worth asking around for a history based on the number plate of a particular car, in the various Lotus forums. You may find the previous owner who can tell you more about the car than the dealer.

If buying privately make the usual checks on ownership and outstanding finance. Don't meet someone in a public place to view the car and make sure the V55 details match the address you are viewing at.

Service History

FLSH = Full Lotus Service History. The Elise is a specialist car in some areas and thus requires specialist maintenance but, the engine is simple and a FLSH is not really essential. With older cars you often find servicing done by independent dealers. Some are actually very good and better than a few of the franchised dealers but check them out. Be wary of cars that don't have any service history and walk away. There are plenty of other cars out there.

Options

Make sure the car you are looking at has the options that you want. Retro-fitting driving lights or a radio fitting kit can be awkward. If you intend to use the car all year round then a hard top is recommended. Buying one at a later date can be hard work, though they do appear on the market occasionally. If you want leather seats, you can get cloth seats recovered at fairly reasonable prices.

Models and Modifications

Standard, unmodified cars are less likely to have had a hard time and are generally more sought after. The 111S and Sport 135 models offer more power but the 135 was track orientated and it is very likely that it has led a track based life. Generally, the later the car, the better built they were and the less prone they will be to production problems. Bear in mind that the model you buy will affect the insurance premium required.

Exhausts

There are now plenty of cars around with modified exhausts. Be aware that some owners remove the catalyst and this should be provided to ensure the car passes an MOT. A 'sports' exhaust will also increase insurance premiums and you have to declare these modification to get valid insurance. Some companies may refuse to insure the car if it has been modified in this way.

Bodywork

Check that the bodywork is in good condition and has no flaws in the paintwork. Look for badly matched paint repairs and irregularities in the panels. Good GRP repairs are hard to spot and won't be an issue either. They will be visible from behind if you can get access to the area though.
  1. Check for stone chips and cracks in the paintwork. Also look for bubbles in the paintwork. These are more common on cars that are kept outside and have been subject to extreme changes in temperature.
  2. Check the doors open and close with a solid thunk and that nothing rattles within them. Check the door retaining plates are intact (i.e. the doors will stay open). These are known to break.
  3. Check the windows wind up and down smoothly. A common fault is for the windows to become detached from the rail on which they sit, which is connected to the winder mechanism.
  4. Check the bonnet and boot catches work smoothly and you can open the bonnet and boot. Another well known fault is for the boot release cable to get water in it and for the cable to corrode and ultimately snap. It can be fixed but its a bit of pain to do.

Gearbox

Check you can select all gears smoothly. Reverse is often a bit difficult to find on K-series cars and this is normal. The gearbox is also quite noisy on over run in 4th and 5th.

Roof

If you are buying a car with hard top check it over. Fit it to the car and makes sure it fits well. Drive the car with the hardtop in place to ensure it fits well. The soft top is very easily damaged so make sure you fit it and then check it over carefully. Repairing a damaged soft top is hard to do invisibly and a replacement one from Lotus will be expensive.

Steering

Check the steering has no play an the car drives in a straight line with the wheel centred. The steering rack is prone to premature wear and can be expensive to replace. The rack gaitors should also be in good condition.

Wheels

Check the wheels for marks from hitting the curb. Also check remaining tyre depth left and for uneven wear.

Test Drive

Ideally get a qualified mechanic to check your car over for you. The AA do vehicle inspections at a cost. Make sure you test drive the car, first of all to check that you can fit comfortably within it and secondly, to check the following:
  1. Make sure the car starts from cold and idles smoothly. Be wary of a car that is warm when you arrive to test drive it.

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Copyright © Rob Collingridge 2009 - Last updated 30 Jan 2009