Acura's NSX is not the expensive, mid-engine supercar it once was, reserved only for the rich, famous, or both. Nope, if you can afford a new S2000, Evo, or STI then you can probably afford an early model NA1 NSX. Don't kid yourself though. Sure, NSX prices have dropped to the low-$20,000 range, but buying the wrong one could put you in the poorhouse quicker than you think. Despite the car's affordable entry cost, owning and maintaining one is as expensive as ever, and if you're moving from a Civic or an Integra into the world of Japanese supercar-dom, be prepared for a rude awakening because OEM NSX replacement parts and labor charges are priced in a league of their own. Avoid the pitfalls, do your research, and buy your NSX the smart way. While it may be tempting to jump on the first and cheapest Internet special that you see, be patient because yearlong searches for that perfect NSX gem aren't uncommon, and paying a visit to check yours out firsthand will pay off in the long run. Don't let your impulses get the best of you. Read on. Buy with confidence.
The NSX is made mostly of aluminum, not steel, which means the damage you don't see now will cost you more than you think and that the old Bondo-hunting magnet trick won't work either since, well, aluminum isn't magnetic. You'll need a good set of eyes and plenty of light so if you can't see well, bring someone who can, and if it's dark out, wait until tomorrow. Buying an NSX now and finding out it was once crashed later is never fun. Aluminum frames like being hit much less than steel ones and fixing them almost never brings them back to their original states.
2 Crash Damage
Two easy places to spot crash damage are in the trunk and underhood. Out back, remove the four push-clips and pull back the carpet to expose the rear of the chassis. You should see the taillight assemblies and aluminum sheet metal. The sheet metal should appear intact and factory-applied caulking should be visible. Same thing goes for underhood. Crash damage near the headlight assemblies or radiator support is nearly impossible to restore back to OEM condition. Familiarize yourself with what things are supposed to look like first and then inspect. While you're back there, make sure the OEM air jack is still underneath the carpet.
Of course, you'll want to make sure that all of the lights work, including the headlights' low and high beams, turn signals, emergency and brake lights, and the side markers. Be sure that, if equipped, the pop-up headlights go up and down smoothly and the rear spoiler's LED brake light works.
4 Suspension And Brakes
The highlight of the NSX is its suspension. Picking one up with clunks or rattles defeats the car's purpose. Question anything that doesn't track straight or isn't properly aligned and make sure it does track straight and is properly aligned before the transaction is complete. The brakes should check out much like any other car would. Be sure they're free of any pedal vibrations, modulating, or abnormal sounds upon hard braking. Older NSX ABS systems can also cause problems. Make sure the unit isn't leaking and that the system is free of any malfunction indicator lights or awkward noises or vibrations. It's common for early Honda ABS systems to "buzz" upon initial startup but anything more than that should be a cause for concern. All NSX brakes, despite the year, should feel firm and provide more than enough bite for normal driving. Inspect the brake master cylinder and, for that matter, the clutch master cylinder, if equipped. When the clutch master cylinder leaks you'll usually find fluid underneath the dash. Don't forget to look under there.
Buying a repainted NSX isn't entirely bad but you should probably find out why it's been done. Aluminum sheet metal isn't easy to prep for paint, which means resprayed ones aren't always perfect. If paintwork isn't obvious, check the doorjambs, hood seams, and trunk areas for signs of masking. If you can, inspect the car under two different light sources: outside under sunlight and in a garage or shop under some fluorescents. Sure, Carfax reports are great, but remember that only "reported" accidents will show up, so inspect carefully.
6 Handles And Locks
It might seem obvious, but make sure both interior and exterior door handles work and that the same key opens them up along with the trunk. Speaking of unlocking things, now is a good time to make sure the hood release lever as well as those for the fuel filler door, trunk, and engine hatch all work. If you're lucky enough to find a car with a functioning OEM anti-theft system, make sure it works and that the key disables it once it's inserted into the door. Early NSXs also came equipped with in-car cellular phones, which even if they did work, won't do you much good now.
7 Moldings, Weather Stripping, And More
Window moldings and rubber trim wear out and, if you're looking at an early NA1, chances are some of these pieces will need to be replaced. Typical problem areas include the windshield molding that tends to shrink, although any of the car's rubber is susceptible to wear and tear from years of direct sunlight. Oh, and inspecting an NSX's trim is another good way to look for potential paint and bodywork. Oftentimes trim pieces are left on the car and masked off during paint. If that's the case, you'll likely find some overspray if you look hard enough and, more than likely, this is the kind of paintjob you'll want to avoid. Inspect the door, trunk, engine bay, and hood weather stripping for tears and how well they actually seal. None of these are cheap to replace. You can check the weather stripping further during the testdrive by listening for wind noise-you shouldn't hear much.
8 Panel Fitment
One of the easiest ways to see if a car's undergone body repairs is to check the gaps between its various body panels. The NSX is no different. The space between the fenders and the hood should be equal on both sides as well as along the entire gap. Same thing goes for the gaps along the trunk lid and rear quarter panels, the rear bumper, and even the doors. Perfectly sized gaps don't mean the car's never been taken apart, but it does mean whoever might have taken it apart at least did a good job putting it back together. Give the front bumper some slack though. Many top-condition NSXs still might have bumpers that don't fit perfectly. The NSX is low and the front lip often hangs up on the occasional driveway, which means the bumper often suffers.
The NSX's front towhook is hidden behind a small panel that unclips from the bumper. Pull the cover and inspect it. Is it scratched? Does it look used? Better find out why.
There's not a lot going on underhood since the engine's out back, but there are a few things worth noting. Check the radiator's front side and make sure that it's not wasted from years of rocks and debris hitting it. Look at its end tanks for signs of wear or makeshift, temporary crack repairs. Is the spare tire there? It should be right between the radiator and the firewall. How about the battery? Sometimes you can tell how well a car was cared for depending on whether or not the previous owner went to the trouble to install the right battery. The power terminal is located on the driver side, the ground terminal is on the right and, when these aren't oriented correctly, the hold-down bracket can become dangerously close to both terminals. Check the brake and clutch fluid reservoir levels as well and that they both look clean inside.
Certain '91 and '92 NSX models suffered from a faulty transmission countershaft bearing snap ring that could eventually lead to catastrophic gearbox failure. Check the transmission's VIN number, located on its topside, to see if it falls within the range. Five-speed gearboxes between J4A4-1003542 to J4A4-1005978 are affected. If it does, get proof that it's been fixed or plan on doing it yourself. Symptoms include a transmission that pops out of gear or growling noises during acceleration and deceleration. Transmissions that have more than 100,000 miles on them are more than likely not affected by this because the damage probably would've already happened. Also, check for proper clutch engagement and any potential slippage.
2 Coolant Leaks
The factory coolant reservoirs are notorious for leaking but surprisingly aren't terribly expensive to replace. Make sure that if any coolant leaks are present that it's the only place they're coming from. Inspect as many of the 23 cooling hoses as you can while the engine's cool. They shouldn't be brittle, hard, or have any hardened coolant crust near their ends. Are all of the spring-loaded OEM clamps still there? There's nothing necessarily wrong with aftermarket worm-gear clamps but it does raise the question as to why the OEM ones weren't reused and who exactly had their hands on the car.
3 Oil Check
Pull the engine oil dipstick and oil cap and take a close look at them. Is the oil clean and topped off properly? If not, you may want to second-guess the seller's maintenance methods. Be sure that the oil looks like oil-blown head gaskets typically give the oil a caramelized appearance from the seeped-through coolant.
4 Other Leaks
Engine and transmission oil leaks are, for the most part, inexcusable. Honda has one of the most exceptional gasket and sealing systems of any of the OEMs and leaks are typically signs of neglect. Common points of leakage are the valve cover gaskets, rear camshaft plugs, and VTEC solenoids. The gaskets are cheap but the labor won't be if you don't plan on doing it yourself. Doing any type of maintenance on the rear cylinder head requires dexterity. Be sure and check for leaks after the car's been driven.
5 Timing Belt And Water Pump
Like most belt-driven Hondas, the C-series timing belt and water pump should be replaced every 90,000 miles (105,000 miles for NA2). If you can't get proof that it was done, plan on doing it yourself. With that said, Honda's fairly conservative in its recommended service intervals, so don't expect your timing belt to all of the sudden shred into bits or your water pump to seize up once you pass the 90,000 mark. Although Honda recommends this service to be performed at either 90,000 miles or 72 months, cars that are driven on a regular basis are actually more likely to get more life out of their belts and pumps than those that aren't. The theory is true for most any NSX component. A/C systems and power windows like to be used-why do you think it's the passenger side window that typically fails first in most cars? Early NSX water pumps were also recalled by Honda. Find out if the NSX you're looking at received the replacement and, if it didn't, find out why not. A neglected NSX may be cheap now but will cost you more down the road.
As you might expect, aluminum NSX engine mounts aren't cheap. Lightly apply the throttle with the engine lid propped open. Have a friend look for excessive engine movement or, if equipped, manually open the throttle from underhood. The drivetrain should have some play, but torn mounts will generally cause some sort of audible knocking sound from an engine that's moving too much.
7 Main Relay, ECU, TCS
Be sure and start the vehicle under both cold and hot conditions. Oftentimes, problems won't reveal themselves under certain conditions. Main relay failures sometimes only occur during hot starts, traction control issues while you're driving, and intermittent ECU problems, well, intermittently. Be aware of any full-throttle hesitations or rough idling as those can be traced back to electrical or fuel system issues.
8 Drive It
Buying an NSX is exciting but never let your emotions get the best of you. A testdrive is always important and you should never purchase any car without going on one. See if the seller will allow you to take it out alone or, if he comes, stays quiet and keeps the radio off. You want to have all of your senses available. Listen for VTEC engagement or any strange engine, drivetrain, or suspension noises. Clicking sounds can be attributed to a damaged axle boot or wheel bearing, which isn't uncommon for older cars. Listen for any knocking sounds that subside once the clutch pedal is pressed in. Hear it? If so, plan on yanking the transmission for an input shaft-bearing install-another common Honda issue but not something that should spoil a purchase. However, knocks that don't go away should be cause of concern and require some serious engine scrutiny. Besides under the engine hatch, the steering wheel should feel rock solid, even at high speeds and should be responsive and tight when cornering. Make sure the transmission shifts smoothly and that the engine revs up freely. The car should track straight and pretty much handle better than any Honda you've ever driven. If it doesn't, find out why. Shut the car off and immediately fire it right back up. It should crank easily when cold or hot. Let the engine run and check the tailpipes for excessive smoke; there really shouldn't be any.
Don't be afraid of a high-mileage NSX. Despite its supercar status, it's still built by Honda and, despite whether or not NSX fans are willing to admit it, the C30A and C32B NSX engines have much more in common with Honda's most reliable Civic, Integra, and Accord engines than they might think. In short, a well-taken-care-of 100,000-mile NSX engine could still potentially run like new.
1 Consistent Wear
Inspect the seats and pedal assemblies for wear. Gas, clutch, and brake pedals worn down to bare metal with a gauge cluster that reads less than 20,000 miles will never make sense.
2 Climate Control
Turn it on. Make sure the A/C blows cold and that the heater blows hot. Be sure that the fan blows at each variable speed and that the digital display works. It's common for older NSX climate control systems to only blow on its high-speed setting, which isn't cheap to fix. Problems range from the climate control circuit board itself (the capacitors can leak and damage the traces) to worn-out blower motors.
3 Audio System
If the OEM stereo is still there, be sure all of its controls work as well as both door speakers-the one underneath the dash's passenger side and the one above the center console. The NSX's Bose sound system, including its speakers, are custom-fitted to the NSX, which means adapting aftermarket pieces isn't as simple as it is in your Civic and can be expensive. You'll need to fabricate a custom center console and modify your door panels if you're planning on an aftermarket system. It's been done countless times, but don't forget the expense. Make sure the antenna rises when the radio is turned on and, if it's still there, that the factory CD changer in the trunk works.
4 Power Windows
Do the windows go up and down? If not you'll need to check the window switches and the regulator assembly. NSX window motors and regulator assemblies are sold as a single unit and, as such, are not cheap. Even when fixed NSX windows won't travel up and down as fast as your Accord's, so don't let slow windows hold up your transaction.
5 Everything Else
Inside Check that the dome light works and that the gauge cluster functions. Now is a good time to fire up the engine and make sure the oil pressure and coolant temperatures check out. Look at the shift knob and emergency brake handle. Have they been swapped out? If you want OEM ones, plan on paying dearly. Also, be sure that the check-engine light actually lights up when the ignition is turned on. If it doesn't light up or stays lit up, find out why before you buy. If you're firing up the engine cold, now is a good time to listen for any abnormal sounds that might go away once warmed up.
Depending on the car's age, it's not uncommon to find visors that are coming apart at their seams, worn door panel leather, and center consoles that are peeling. While none of these things should individually spoil a potential sale, know beforehand that NSX interior components can be ridiculously pricey and, like the window visors, aren't exactly in stock at most dealerships.
Older NSX side bolsters are bound to show some wear. Check both seats' power control mechanisms, making sure they recline and move back and forth. Besides the leather bolsters, check the portion of the seats that actually expand and contract when they recline back and forth-the leather is susceptible to cracking here.
8 Trunk/Engine Bay Shocks
NSX trunk and engine lids are held up by small dampers. Make sure they work and that they hold up their respective panels. They're easy to swap and not terribly expensive, so don't let blown ones stop your purchase.