Garage Corner: The 1993 Mazda MX-5 Miata gets a Pass

The rules for roadworthiness or safety inspections here in the U.S. vary widely by state (and even county, for that matter). The great State of Virginia has one of the more comprehensive state safety inspections, comparable to the British MoT and the German system. Inspectors (are supposed to) poke and prod, flick switches, test horns, wipers, lights, defrosters, check brake pad thickness, and generally look for anything that will make the vehicle unsafe to operate. Failure is not an option, and the only route for exemption is a special use tag such as an “antique vehicle” plate, which requires a vehicle be at least 25 years old, not the owners sole means of transportation, and places a restriction on the number and type of miles logged per year (type = commute, for example).


I took the Mazda to my favorite local inspection station the other day, and am pleased to report that I passed with flying colors. Not that I was really worried, but it seems like every time I bring in a car more than about 15 years old there is some issue with it that I had no idea about. One time it was worn brake pads, another time it was a non-operative reversing light (never did get that sorted – opted for antique plates rather than invest any more).

I have known this inspector for about 12 years – ever since I bought an old Turbodiesel Mercedes that had once been his from a mutual acquaintance. I’d actually been taking my cars to him prior to that, but before I showed-up in his old car he was just downright mean, to the point that I casually referred to him as the “inspection Nazi” because he looked a little militant and always found problems with my cars. After getting to know him he relaxed somewhat. These days unless something is catastrophically wrong with the car he will pass it but tell me what I should sort before selling the car on – because he knows that’s going to happen. I’m one of not very many of his frequest safety inspection customers.

The only flag on the Mazda was the old, dry windshield wipers. Truth be told, I knew this was an issue when they just smeared the water back and forth across the windshield when I tried to clean it early one morning, driving into the sun, and essentially blinded myself. He was kind enough to sell me a set of new Bosch micro-edge wipers and proceeded to check out the rest of the car.

The brake pads and rotors measured close to new specs, all the electrics worked fine, the ball joints and wheel bearings were all fine. The only other thing he noted – which I’d also caught but isn’t a safety item – was the slight odor of burning oil from the engine compartment. I’d only noticed it after changing the oil a few weeks back so I was hoping it was just the remnants of that process, but it does seem to be lingering. Since valve cover gaskets are a common source of oil seepage on these cars I will probably check that out a little closer in the coming weeks if the smell doesn’t subside. I should probably check even if I don’t smell it, but that requires time and effort, and those seem to be hard to come by of late. And besides, doesn’t the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage apply here?

~Reed

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