Mazda RX-7 Lemon Site

My Saga

I'm a car nut. I have collected and restored cars for a long time. I bought the RX-7 because it is good looking, technically interesting, cheap, and a great performer at any price. I take good care of my cars. The RX-7 was always garaged, day and night. It was serviced twice as often as Mazda required (every 2,500 miles). It was kept clean and ding free. It was also driven. Hard.

As you can see from the pictures below and as you'll learn if you keep reading, I drove the car in SCCA Solo II autocrosses and on the track at Willow Springs International Raceway, Laguna Seca Raceway, and Las Vegas Speedway. I did not race it. As I explained to Mazda, autocrossing is a low speed parking lot affair and the track events I did were simply to improve driving skills, they were not races. While this may seem hair-splitting, it is accurate. Mazda wasn't so sure and their knowledge of my driving habits was one of their key (unsuccessful) defenses.

My car spent a lot of time in various dealer shops during the 2 years or so that I owned and cared about it. Dealers I tried (in chronological order) were:

Thank goodness I live in a big city and have a choice. My opinions are: The Olds dealers were the worst. Long Beach has two good technicians and some lousy kids. I don't get along with the Service Manager but the facilities are the best and they had some nice service writers. Culver City is a old kind of run-down dealership in terms of the building and facilities but the Service Manager is a really good guy. Santa Monica just did an oil change once so I have no opinion. Torrance was good because they had a great service writer but he's now gone so I don't know any longer. Please remember, these are all just my opinions. You may find drastically different treatment.

I don't think that Mazda treated me fairly during the duration of my RX-7 ownership. In my opinion, Mazda's unscrupulous behavior has been astounding and I haven't the time to document it fully but includes:

I'm not sure that writing up the whole blow-by-blow account of my repair history is actually necessary. Check it out if you want the lists of parts replaced, etc. The bottom line is that many small things went wrong with the car and a few big things either kept reoccurring or were never fixed.

Some of the problems were small and some were big. Some were very worrisome (like the numerous occasions when smoke would pour out between the hood and fender. I ended up installing a fire extinguisher.).

One of the big problems was with the cooling system (hoses, caps, and filler necks) which eventually caused an engine failure and were later fixed via recall.

The big recurring problem that really bugged me was the periodic lack of power. I was willing to overlook a lot of shortcomings in the car (and it has a bunch) just so long as it was fast and handled well. The problem was, it kept losing power in the upper RPM ranges. This is where the dealer/factory relationship really hurt. The dealers couldn't diagnose the problem in the shop because the car ran fine at idle and they didn't seem to be trained very well on the car to diagnose any other way. Furthermore, they are paid to replace failed parts, not hunt for loose hoses.

So, the dealers would start replacing parts, one at a time, one per visit. Actually, it would often take two visits or more to get these futile repair attempts accomplished since the parts were rarely, if ever, in stock.

A good example was the time the dealer changed the EGR valve, then the spark plugs, then the ECU, then the catalytic converters, and then called in the Regional Technical expert after the problem continued to persist. He told me that if I wanted the car to be fast, I'd have to modify it with aftermarket parts (a thinly disguised attempt to get me to give them an excuse to deny my warranty). I explained to him that I just wanted it to run the way it did when I bought it and proceeded to give him a test drive that demonstrated the problem but required bending speed limit laws a bit. This would later be used against me in arbitration when Mazda would try to prove that I drove the car beyond the intended parameters.

A small note is worthwhile here. At the time, the Regional Technician and I didn't get along at all. In fact, we ended up nose to nose in full argument at one point during that June 6th,1994 meeting. However, he was at the arbitration and I was amazed at just how honest he was. Contrary to the testimony given by the Service Manager of Long Beach Mazda, who told flat out fabrications and the Customer Service Rep, whose written notes were amazingly different than our phone conversations actually had been, the Regional Technician was very honest. I learned at the arbitration that I had truly scared him during our test drive. I hadn't realized it at the time because he didn't say anything but I guess he was quite agitated afterwards and that contributed to his uncooperative nature that day.

Clearly there is a lesson to be learned here. While I made an offer to let the Regional Technician drive when we first met, I probably should have insisted upon it when he declined. Being a passenger is an uncomfortable situation to be in when you don't know the abilities of the person in control. We exceeded the speed limit in the neighborhood of probably 65 in a 45 and about 70 in a 55, the later being on a freeway on-ramp. My apologies to him - I wish he had said something at the time (other than accusing me of "driving like a child" afterwards).

The upshot of that June 1994 meeting was that Mazda kind of halfway, unofficially admitted that the car lacked power but said that they had tried everything they knew to fix the car. Since I still wasn't happy, we compromised on a deal whereby I could take the car to someone I felt was competent to fix it and IF they could fix it using only Mazda parts and IF the repairs required weren't drastic (like a new engine), Mazda MIGHT consider reimbursing me for the cost of this repair.

On the same day, I pointed out to the Regional Representative, that the car had a paint problem also. He looked at the car, again halfway admitted the problem but said "look, let's get this engine thing figured out first before we worry about any paint problems." Fine.

So, I took the car to TriPoint Engineering in Canoga Park, California, a Mazda specialist shop. In only one day they determined the source of the problem. They pulled off the intake plenum and found three vacuum lines that were not attached. They told me that perhaps one or two fell off as they were lifting off the plenum but that these lines were a common problem with the car because they aren't firmly attached in any way from the factory, they just slip on with no clamp, ridge or anything. TriPoint reattached the lines, and put a dab of adhesive on the end of all the boost-sensitive hoses so that they'd be less likely to blow off again. They replaced the plenum and charged me only $109. This was on June 16th, 1994.

I was so happy to have the running again and so disgusted with Mazda that I never did charge them for the repair.

On the week before the July 4th weekend my wife drove the car to work. On the way home on the 405 freeway she heard a warning buzzer and looked down to see the temperature gauge in the "H" zone. She immediately exited at the next offramp and coasted into a gas station where she called AAA to tow the car to the dealership. They determined that the upper radiator hose and/or radiator cap and housing had failed, letting out the coolant and that the heat had caused an internal engine failure. The car needed a new engine.

Curiously, the next week (while the car was still being fixed) I received a recall notice for the cooling system (cap and housing) because they could leak coolant and the car could catch fire. We'll never know if my car's problem was a result of the problems fixed by the recall or not but Mazda agreed to replace the motor under warranty.

While doing the new motor, the dealer noticed a crack in the exhaust manifold/turbo assembly so they replaced it at the same time. Three weeks later I got my car back.

But it didn't run right, the idle would fluctuate. Still, I drove it easy for the next 1,500 miles to allow the motor to break in. By August 4th I had accumulated enough miles for an oil change and I complained of the erratic idle (it surged between 800 and 1300 RPMs). They adjusted the idle but didn't fix it.

Oh, and at some point here, I had talked to the dealer and the Regional Rep about my paint problem. He offered to have Mazda pay 50% of the cost of repainting the car, citing chips in the windshield as the reason for not paying 100%. I tried to explain that he wasn't even aware of the fact that I had first registered my complaint about the paint at only 7000 miles in October of 1993 when the windshield was clean as a whistle but I was working through the Service Manager at Long Beach Mazda and it was futile.

Things went downhill in a hurry by August 11th. At that time, the car was leaking coolant again and the buzzer was going off. Also, the engine lacked power in the upper RPMs again. The dealer claimed that there was no cooling problem and replaced a vacuum pipe to supposedly fix the power problem (I had keyed them into what I learned from TriPoint last time). After that the car still wasn't right in regards to power or the cooling system and I had reached the end of my patience.

The dealer was getting more testy all the time, I hadn't had possession of my car for any length of time for about 2 months, things weren't getting better -- they were getting worse, temperaments were not good (mine or theirs), and one of the Service Writers at Long Beach Mazda actually suggested that I probably had a reasonable Lemon Law case.

On August 11th I wrote a letter to Mazda's Customer Relations Department requesting reimbursement or replacement. On August 13th I drove the car to Long Beach Mazda and abandoned it. Writing the letter was smart. Abandoning the car wasn't. I was so sick of the car and Mazda that I wanted to make some kind of serious statement of my dissatisfaction and that's how I chose to do it. I was na´ve and assumed that Mazda would respond quickly to my letter and I'd get the whole thing properly settled.

In fact, despite my constant badgering, MMA didn't respond to me until September 2nd (about 3 weeks) and by telling the dealer that I was pursuing matters via MMA, I pissed them off to the point that they (illegally) refused to work on it. So it sat there for 3 weeks. When they finally did respond via letter, they basically told me to take a hike, quoting a repair order where I stated I had "driven the car hard."

But, I had been speaking over the phone with the MMA representative for a couple weeks before he drafted the letter. By the way, this was a big mistake - keep as much of your correspondence with the manufacturer in print as possible. I explained to him that I really liked the RX-7 in concept but that mine was a lemon. He offered to buy mine back for "high bluebook" because of my extensive repair history. I said that that sounded reasonable but since I really liked the RX-7, why not help me get into another RX-7 at cost so that I could give Mazda a second chance? He said that seemed reasonable and he'd look into it.

To make a long story short, many weeks passed before I found that "high bluebook" meant high "wholesale" bluebook to MMA, which was less than I could sell my car for in the newspaper and that MMA couldn't sell me a car directly so he pawned me off to the dealer, who did absolutely nothing to help me into a new RX-7. I was pissed.

In between this time, the Customer Service Rep suggested that they try to fix the car. So he had me list all my complaints and he asked the dealer to try to fix them. They fixed a few, like the A/C leak and the low oil pressure but many remained, like the erratic idle, the lack of power, the paint chips, the hatch rattle, etc. Since I had singled out the paint problem and the engine performance problem as the two most important to me, Alex had some "expert from Japan" look at the car while I wasn't there. The expert pronounced the paint chips as due to outside influence (duh!) and recommended that the Oxygen Sensor be replaced to fix the erratic idle problem.

My contention on the paint was that, yes, little things in the air cause it to chip, but it chips way too easily. Mazda wouldn't listen. The expert had spoken and now they even withdrew their 50% offer!

During the course of the dealer trying to fix the problems and the experts flying in, there was an argument over who should pay for the rental car. The upshot was that I no longer wanted to deal with Long Beach Mazda and they didn't want to deal with me.

So, I had the O2 sensor replaced at a different dealership (Guy Schmidt Mazda in Glendale). It didn't fix anything. In fact, the idle was up to between 1,200 and 1,800 now. It was getting dangerous to drive. I explained to the Customer Service Rep that the Japanese expert's fix didn't work. Because the new dealer really never had a chance to perform their own diagnosis, I said I'd give Mazda one last chance to fix the car before I would sue. I think the Customer Service Rep thought I was bluffing. But he probably didn't care either way, at this point I was a pain in the ass customer who drove his car "hard" and they weren't going to do me any favors.

By the way, you might consider reading some tips on how to handle getting your lemon taken care of without a lawsuit. There is a site called Got a Lemon? -- Free Lemon Law Advice from a Manufacturer's Rep which includes many good tips about what to do and what not to do. If you read that you'll see that I did many of the things that I shouldn't have (like lose my temper, threaten a lawsuit, etc.). The owner of that site will even provide free advice on your situation.

I made an appointment with the Service Manager at the new dealership to bring the car back. When I did, he stated that he didn't know what to do to fix it but that I could leave it there anyway. This seemed silly.

I left and on October 27th I wrote another letter to Mazda, restating my original demands. On October 31st (much faster this time) the Customer Service Rep again wrote me to tell me nicely to piss off, but he'd offer me a discount on a new Mazda of my choice. Like I'd ever buy another new Mazda.

On November 7th I sent my repair history to my lawyer and on November 18th he filed my Complaint against Mazda Motor of America.

At the same time, I took my car back to the mechanics at TriPoint who quickly diagnosed the problem as a leaky intake manifold gasket. Apparently, when reassembling the motor, the dealer had squeezed the gasket so that it didn't seal properly. As time went on the leak, and the problem got worse. Because it is a big job to get down to the intake manifold gasket to replace it and because the car was still under warranty, TriPoint admirably suggested that I take the car to the dealer to get it fixed. I explained my frustrations with dealers and they suggested I talk to the Service Manager at Culver City Mazda because he was a good guy. All this only cost be about $40.

I took the car to Culver City Mazda, with TriPoint's diagnosis in hand. The Service Manager is a great guy but the dealership is old and unorganized (my opinion, of course). Anyway, they replaced the gasket and the car ran good again. For a while

By January 1995 the car was smoking from under the hood again. It had done this off and on from way back in July of 1993 but this time there were visible oil leaks on the underbody of the car. From here began another long and sordid string of visits to the dealership, over and over again to hunt and peck parts and try to fix problems the dealer created. The car spent weeks at a time at the dealership. They dented it again, they forgot to tighten hose clamps, they replaced the turbos, they replaced the cats, they replaced the EGR valve (twice), and they finally found the vacuum line that had a hole in it. It was still a gigantic, time consuming, ridiculous, frustrating mess. But I took solace in the fact that my law suit was pending.

Speaking of the lawsuit, it moved slowly. The first actions were to request documentation from each other (discovery). From this, I got copies of MMA's Customer Service notes. Creative fiction is all I can say.

The next event was Mazda's lawyers taking my deposition on May 3rd, 1995. This was a new experience for me and I don't think I did very well. Basically, the deposition is Mazda's opportunity to go on a hunting mission for information. The idea is to tell them as little as possible. I, like most indignant consumers, wanted to explain to them how they had screwed me so I talked too much. No real harm done. We went through each repair order and it took all day. The three big things that came up were why I bought an RX-7 (purity of purpose, performance, value), what I used the car for (driving from home to work and clients and back), and how I drove the car (define "hard", etc.). Also, they asked if I raced the car and I said "no." They asked if I raced any other cars and I again said "no." (Since settling my suit I have purchased a Swift DB-2 race car and I now do race in SCCA Club Racing events). They left it at that. If they had asked if I drove in autocrosses or other competition or track events I would have said "yes" but they didn't ask.

My lawyer took depositions from the Customer Service Rep and the Regional Technician on August 3rd and the case was assigned to non-binding arbitration on August 17th, 1995, in an attempt to keep it out of the courts. Nothing interesting came from the depositions of those two -- they are both well seasoned at the act of depositions.

On August 17th in San Diego, Mazda's lawyer, the Service Manager from Long Beach mazda, the Customer Service Rep, the Regional Technician, my lawyer, my wife, and I assembled for arbitration in front of the Arbitrator.

After brief introductions, where it was found that, like me, the Arbitrator is a Ferrari owner and car enthusiast, we presented our case first. Afterwards, Mazda presented their case.

Mazda's defense can be summarized as:

  1. My car was used primarily to drive from my home to the office and client sites, therefore it was not a "personal use" vehicle and therefore not valid under the lemon law act (which only covers cars used for personal use).
  2. My driving habits were beyond normal use therefore the lemon law didn't apply

The arbitrator threw the first defense right out. If everyone who owned a car discounted the miles they put on it going to work and back then almost no one would have a personal use vehicle.

The second defense had more meat. The dealer had once written down on an invoice that I had said I "drove the car hard." I admitted this in the deposition. Additionally, Mazda went to the trouble to subpena my SCCA autocross racing records, which showed I ran about 6 Solo II autocrosses in the car and on two occasions I took the car into the dealer the following Mondays, complaining of oil smoke pouring out the engine compartment.

My lawyer argued that Mazda built the RX-7 as a sports car and therefore driving it as a sports car would be expected to be driven was not out of the realm of normal use. He pointed out that in denial letter to me, MMA stated that "Mazda's goal in building the RX-7 was to build the Ultimate Sports Car." Not to mention that Mazda's own marketing literature boasts of the car's performance capabilities. Given that, the judge said that Mazda was crazy to complain about a few autocrosses.

It was clear at the end of the arbitration which way the decision would go - I had won. The final award was for $28,182.39 in principal, plus interest at the statutory rate from August 11th, 1994, plus attorney fees according to proof of actual time spent, plus costs according to proof. This worked out to $31,242.39 plus legal fees of $13,057.24 for a total check in the amount of $44,299.63. Subtracting 10% for my lawyer, I netted $28,118,50 after driving the car 44,000 miles over 2 and half years.

In summary it sounds like a great deal, and basically it is. I got to drive the car for 2 1/2 years, put 40,000 miles on it, and it didn't cost me a penny. It cost Mazda dearly. Figure $44,300 to me and my lawyer, probably about $10,000 to their lawyer, at least $10,000 in warranty repairs to their dealers and they would have been a lot better off to just have treated me right to begin with.

But before you go raising hell about my contributions to the demise of Mazda consider that the car spent a total of 120 days (that's 4 months folks) in the shop on 40 different occasions (and that doesn't count the weeks where I had abandoned it), that Mazda denied my written requests numerous times, that I was made to feel like scum, that my wife still gets upset at me anytime I mention the RX-7 due to all the headache it caused her in picking me up and dropping me off all the time, that Mazda only provided a total of 4 days of rental car for those 120 days in the shop, that I actually had to buy an old used BMW and pay insurance on it, etc. just so that I had a way to get around when the RX-7 was down, that I spent countless hours documenting things, writing letters, and generally getting my blood pressure up, not to mention putting together a web page....

It wasn't a free lunch but if you are going though the same things I mentioned above then I suggest you at least try to get your just due. Begin by writing to Mazda's customer relation's department. I hate frivolous lawsuits as much as the next guy so don't sue unless you have to. Besides, it takes a long time (remember, I filed in 11/94).

As I've said before, I love the RX-7 but I hate Mazda and the way they treated me. The cover of an AutoWeek magazine a while back headlined the fact that many of the hot sports cars are going away (300ZX TT, Dodge Sealth R/T, MR2 Turbo) or are in big sales trouble (RX-7, Acura NSX). This disturbs me because it means that there will be fewer and fewer affordable sports cars but the fact that Mazda is always at the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys doesn't surprise me a bit. I think that Mazda should be applauded for taking risks and building interesting cars, in fact I'd even put up with a lot of quirks and problems to drive one of those interesting cars but I won't put up with being treated poorly.

To prove that, I bought a used yellow 93 R1 to replace my old red lemon. But, I don't view it as giving Mazda a second chance. I bought it used from a private party and have it serviced exclusively at third parties. Mazda doesn't even know I own it (well, they probably do by now). They may make a little money off me on parts but hopefully not much. The rationale is that nothing else is as good looking or purposefully sporty for my $19k and that I now know the cars weaknesses and can work around them by going to a capable independent shop, not being dependent upon the dealer. Reality has been different. Despite my knowledge, my extended warranty, and the fact that I have used the car for NOTHING other than street driving to/from work, my new car has cost me over $2500 in repairs in 2 months and 1500 miles. A lot of this has been righting things the previous owner neglected but I still have problems with lack of power to this day. I believe my rationale may have been flawed.

As an update, the car had intermittent lack of power so I purchased an AutoMeter liquid filled boost gauge from Kevin Wyum at ASP Racing (612) 925-9592. I managed a clean mounting on the A-pillar and now can see my boost. For some strange reason I sometimes got only 7 psi under WOT while other times I get the more standard 11 then 8. I have yet to figure it out. To top things off, the car was dripping oil from what I thought was the oil pan and there was a lot of oil passing through the turbos into the intake passages. The problem is that my wife hates the car so much that she refuses to help me drop it off for service.

A newer update: I eventually got the car half squared away but still had boost problems. I'd drive down the freeway for a half hour or so and then when I'd step on it I'd only get 8 psi. If I put in the clutch, turned off the engine, turned the key back on again, and "bump started" the motor by letting out the clutch again then I'd get my full 10.5 psi. Go figure.

Well, I didn't let a little boost problem keep me off the track but the car still got hot (to H on the temp gauge) within a couple hard laps and I eventually overheated things too much I think. The turbo seals went South and car began to smoke. I called around for a sympathetic dealer and ended up at Keyes Mazda in San Fernando because the Service Writer was a 3rd gen owner and enthusiast. It was still a nightmare. The car spent the entire summer of 1997 at the dealership. First the replaced the turbos but the car now had low boost all the time. Then they claimed that the engine had an internal coolant leak so they put in a new engine. Still low boost. In the process they dented the fender, left the car outside in the hot San Fernando Valley all summer until the clear coat on the spoiler finally cracked and peeled, broke my intercooler pipe, broke the dipstick off inside the engine, forgot to secure the throttle cable, lost the strut tower nuts, etc. Worst of all, the car still had only 7-8 psi of boost.

One day I was complaining to my friend and RX-7 expert Kevin Wyum from ASP Racing and he said "you shouldn't be having all these problems. If you just fly me down there I'll convert it to non-sequential and all your problems will go away." So I flew Kevin out from Minnesota and we spent the weekend working on it.

We eventually discovered (after we'd already taken it all apart and committed to a non-sequential conversion) that the incompetent dealer had replaced the hose from the turbos to the wastegate actuator with a generic hose and had not re-installed the restrictor pill in it. This pill effectively reduces the pressure to the actuator so that the ECU can bleed off boost to maintain 10.5 psi. We bought a carb jet at Pep Boys and fixed the car. Now I had an RX-7 with a very simple manual boost control via a bleed-off valve mounted in my ashtray. More than half of the complex vacuum hoses and solenoids were tossed. In the process I also relocated the battery and installed the massive ASP intercooler. The car was really fast. Too fast it turned out.

It ran flawlessly from 9/97 to 6/98 when I decided that I needed to shake down the handling for an upcoming event, the Virginia City Hillclimb. I had Mostly Mazda remap my ECU for a more aggressive fuel map and installed the open ASP exhaust. I was greedy and wanted horsepower. I took the car to Buttonwillow Raceway Park to dial in the suspension. The problem was that the race gas pumps were closed (this was a Monday) and with the open exhaust I had to close the bleed off valve all the way but boost still creeped to 14psi (or maybe even more). The car ran well most of the day but was still overheating. At the end of the day the car wouldn't idle.

I had a compression check performed and discovered that I had cracked an apex seal in the front housing. Another motor gone. That was the last straw (even if it was my fault). I tried to sell the car with a blown motor but no one would buy it. I was forced to fix it.

Of course, the motor wasn't the only problem. The apex seal had destroyed the turbine blades in the front turbo on its way out and the dealer hadn't refilled the transmission with gear oil after they put the motor in so the trans had gotten fried. I was faced with the same problem I had experienced all along: who could I trust to work on it for a reasonable price?

Answer: no one. So I decided to do it myself. That's how I entered the financial and time death spiral.

In no particular hurry, I dismantled the car and pulled the motor over the Thanksgiving holiday, 1998. I put the little motor into the back of my wife's Mercedes E320 wagon and drove it up to Bakersfield (dangerously close to Buttonwillow where I had blown it up) and dropped it off with Darrell Drummand. Darrell builds a lot of the rotaries for racing, including all the Star Formula Mazda sealed motors and all the Jim Russell Formula Russell cars. He rebuilt my motor (it needed a new front rotor housing but the rotor was OK) and installed 3mm apex seals for durability. Total cost was a reasonable $2,700 and Darrell is a super-nice guy, even if it did take until mid January 1999 to get it back.

In the meantime, my Visa and I went parts shopping. I tried rebuilding the transmission but it was shot. It needed a new cluster gear, second gear, third gear, syncros, etc. $900 later I exchanged it for a rebuilt unit. Then I bought a set of used turbos over the Internet (mine were damaged and the manifold was cracked all over), an aluminium competition radiator (gotta fix that overheat problem), a J&S knock sensor (gotta prevent that deadly detonation), the J&S airflow and knock/retard meter (gotta know if there is a problem), a Racing Beat muffler (not going to risk running the open exhaust again but need something better than the stock muffler), a Racing Beat aluminium flywheel (better throttle response), a Mazda Comp stiffer pressure plate, a new clutch, gaskets, motor mounts, etc. Grand total: more than I want to add up, plus my labor.

In February 1999 I got it all back together again. Actually, it went together rather easily. With the exception of an oil leak near the turbos, a crossed wire to the coolant level sensor, and one loose vacuum line, everything was perfect. I fixed all those over the course of the next couple weeks and as of this writing everything is working fine.

I haven't put it on the track again yet but I plan to run the Virginia City Hillclimb so keep your fingers crossed. My wife still hates it but realizes that I kinda like it. She puts up with it -- kinda like she does swith me.

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All of the information on these pages is to my knowledge either an accurate summary of events and facts or is my opinion. It doesn't represent the views of Mazda (duh), my employer, my Internet service provider, or anyone else.