Lotus Elan

Lotus Elan Buyers Picky Inspection Checklist

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The purpose of this list is to systematically highlight some potential problem areas to check out in a car that you are looking at to buy. It also tries raise some pointed questions that you might not remember to ask in the limited time you have to examine the car. These can be of particular value when you have fallen under the seductive spell of your dream car and your normally razor-sharp intellect has been reduced to the mushy consistency of a slightly over-ripe melon.

Very little technical knowledge is actually needed for 90% of the items on the checklist. However, you will get the most out of it if you (or the friend you bring along) know your way around the inside of an engine compartment.

There are four parts to the checklist package.

  1. What are you looking for
  2. General procedures, initial questions.
  3. Exterior/interior examination checklist.
  4. Engine running and test drive checklist.

You can read and fill out the first part when you decide it is time to look for a car. The second part can be finished in the comfort of your home before you go to see the car, then fill out third and fourth when you are checking out the car.

Any flaws that you uncover can be used to justify that insanely low offer that you are about to make for the car. By the time you are done running through the checklist, you'll probably know more about condition of the car than the owner does.

Below is the checklist. Also, a pdf copy of this is attached here for your convenience: File:lotuselan_net_buyers_guide.pdf.



So you want to buy an Elan. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help determine the car you want to buy.

Why am I buying this car?
What do I intend to do with it?
Will it be my commute vehicle?
Do you want a coupe, convertible, or a 2+2?
What service and support is locally available?
Will I be driving it year-round or summer only?
Do I want to work on the car more than driving it?
Am I willing to pay a premium because someone else has already done most of the serious work on the car?
What is the most that I'm willing to pay for this car?
What is the least that I think that the car can be had for?

As you start your Lotus hunt, keep the following in mind.

  1. Collect all the technical information as possible. Obtain the workshop manual. Join the local Lotus Club. Sign up for the Lotus mailing list. Visit this site. You can not have to much information. They all provide useful strategies and cautions that go far beyond the scope of this list. Also, review this list carefully before using it.
  2. Always inspect/take delivery of the vehicle in the broad daylight, never in the evening/night or in the rain.
  3. A clean piece of cardboard placed under the engine/trans after the test-drive will help show fluid leaks.
  4. In some states, older non-titled vehicles may be titled with just a bill of sale. Other states may require an additional security bond to be posted. Use extreme caution in either of these cases!
  5. Require seller have the vehicle pass all state inspections (safety, emissions) at a mutually agreeable shop (NOT one of his choosing) before you pay for it. Old (>30days) inspections are of absolutely no use to you.
  6. A general guide to reading exhaust smoke:
Black smoke
unburned fuel Valves bad or out of adjustment? Carbs out of adjustment?
Blue smoke
burning oil Accelerating: Piston rings bad? Decelerating: Valve seats/guides bad?
White smoke
burning coolant! Bad head gasket? Warped or cracked Head or Block? $$

The Hunt Begins

These are common questions to ask via email or over the phone.

Car Information:
Year: VIN:

(Place Ad Here)

Phone Number:

Contact Name:

Contact Address:

Contact Date:

1. Can you describe the car and its condition?

2. Does it run well?

3. How is the:



Chassis? , Replaced? , When?






4. What special features or options does it have?

5. What modifications have been made to the car?

6. Why are you selling it?

7. How long have you owned it?

8. How long have you had it for sale?

9. Is it currently registered and licensed?

10. Where is the car located?

11. How many miles does it have on it?

12. What problems have you had with the car?

13. Has it ever been hit or in an accident?

14 What work does it need done on it now?

15. How much are you asking for it? or What's the least you'll willing to take for it?

The Inspection - Standing Still

For the Standing Still inspection, you will need the following tools:

  • A cynical, mechanically-minded friend
  • Voltmeter
  • Tire gauge
  • Magnet
  • spray lube
  • Clipboard, pen and hi-liter to use with this list
  • copy of your insurance showing you are covered driving the sellers car
  • Your standard tool set
  • Compression Gauge
  • Flashlight
  • the 2 different spark plug sockets
  • clean rags
  • some cash
  • drivers license
You might also consider bringing:
  • tow rope
  • jumper cables
  • ramps
  • mirror
  • rags
  • oil
  • wire
  • misc.fuses
  • starting fluid
  • timing light
  • jack (floor or scissors)
  • coveralls
  • gas can
  • duct tape
  • repair manuals or vehicle information
  • calculator

After arriving at the scene, complete the following questions:

Original Owner? Names/ telephone numbers of previous owners?
What regular maintenance was done? Records?
Who was your mechanic? name/address/phone?
What gas mileage have you been getting?
Oil change interval? Type of oil used?
Are there any repair or gas mileage records? (if not, why not? origin and receipts? )
How old are the tires? Battery?
Has it passed emissions recently? Where?
Has any bodywork ever been done? Why? Receipts?
Any mechanical work recently? Where? Receipts?
What work remains to be done or corrected?
Are there any missing parts?
Do you have any extra parts or wheels for it?
What new/aftermarket parts are in the car? Receipts?
Was it ever used for towing?
Has it ever been crashed, burnt, stolen, hit or rolled?
How was the car generally driven? On highway or in town?
Are the engine, transmission, steering, differential original?
Do you have any books about the car or the engine? (repair books, owners manuals, history or general interest, parts catalogs, club newsletters)
Any interesting history? Has it ever been raced?
Are there any tools that come with the car?


Check VIN against production data - verify years/type/model specifications

Name on title:
VIN on title:
Mileage on title:
Price on title:
Model/Year on title:
Name on registration:
VIN on registration:
VIN on manufactures plate:
VIN on doors/trunk/body:
Mileage on odometer:
Blue Book price:
Asking price:


OK Not OK Not
Title ready for transfer? Any liens? Current registration? Current Plates?
Do body numbers match those on title? Current Safety certificate if req'd, <30days
Title in sellers name? Current Emissions certificate,
Do body numbers match registration?


OK Not OK Not
Is anything obviously broken? Check door chrome.Straight? Pitted?
Car sits level? (view from all sides) Are grill/lights cracked, dented or broken?
Paint OK? Panels same shade? Cracks/Crazing? Are bumpers dinged? Rusty? Loose? Level?
New paint? Why? Any body ripples? Any of the trim or hubcaps rusty or missing?
Repairs on body? Fenders? Sills? Check bottom of trunk/side wells. Cracks? Repairs?
Repairs on body? Headlight/grill area? Raise/lower the top. Condition? Does it leak?
Repairs on body? Trunk area? Raise/lower the tonneau.. Condition? Does it leak?
Door/hood/trunk misalignment? Why? Rubber parts and seals condition? Cracked?
Doors/hood/trunk open/close freely? Rubs? Gas tank & fill hose OK? Rusty? Patched?
Check doors/hinges for stress/tears. Jack OK? Spare tire good? Jack points good?
Check top of doors for fibreglass bowing Tires: Tread? Bulges? Cracks? All the same?
Check door edges and underside for rust/tears Rims: Bent? Rusted? Cracks? All the same?


OK Not OK Not
Anything dented? Bent? Welded? Why? Camber? Caster? Tire wear even?
Any chassis rust? Suspension loose?
Check front cross member for rust, dings Pull on side/top of wheels. Wheel Bearings$$
Are main frame members rusted? Check front A arms and lower rear arm for straightness.
Check front uprights for rust through All shocks & struts damp OK? Any leaks?
Check apex of forks for stress cracks Exhaust pipe/cats/muffler solid & original?
Disks grooved? Brake pads? Any leaks? Tail pipe: Grey=OK, sooty/oily/greasy=Not-OK
Turn, push/pull driveshaft by hand. Anything hanging down, taped or wired up?
Any movement or slop? U-joints OK? Any non-stock suspension mods?
Check rubber donuts for cracks or rips.


OK Not OK Not
Anything broken? Patched? Leaking? check coolant, run finger inside radiator neck to check for oil.
Is engine clean? Any rust? Stock? Heater hoses stiff? Cracked? Patched?
Has it overheated? Paint blistered? Vacuum hose stiff? Patched? Capped? Missing?
Check fluid levels. Look for leaks. Is emissions equip original & working? !$
Check fluid condition with flashlight Distributor, cap, rotor, and points OK?
Any play in main crankshaft pulley? !$ Wiring harness appearance? Any new elec.tape?
Any play in the water pump pulleys? $ Open fuse box. Any missing? Any wiring hacks?
Any play in any of the other pulleys? Any non-stock engine modifications?
Adjustment left on chain tensioner? Remove grounding cable, check for shorts.
Check the motor mounts System polarity: or - ground?
V-Belts cracked? frayed? missing? Battery age/voltage ______/_____volts
Radiator corroded? Hoses cracked?


OK Not OK Not
Is anything broken? Torn? Patched? Brake pedal feels right? Smooth? Firm?
Carpets OK? Underlayment condition? Clutch pedal feels right? Smooth?
Rot or water under the carpets? All gauges/controls work? Stereo?
Any wiring hacks under the dash? Headlights high/low work? Lenses OK?
Seats dirty or torn? Look under cover Headlight vacuum system work?
Do both seats adjust? Tail and side lights all work? Lenses OK?
Check seat brackets for rust Brake lights all work? Any broken lenses?
Dash cracked? Headliner torn/dirty? Turn signals all work? Any broken lenses?
Windshield cracked? Chips? Scratched? Windshield wipers & washer work?
Windows all open & close? Any cracks? Heater, defroster, and fans work?
Mirrors all present and adjustable? Safety equipment (seat belts, horn work? )
Steering play? Does shaft move at all? Why?

Engine start-up, running and test drive


Charge warning light should come on!


OK Not OK Not
Charge warning light goes out? Any odd engine noises when cold?
Do all idiot lights go on/out right? Exhaust condition/noises? Pressure even?
Are all the instruments working? Cap pipe with clipboard. Any exhaust leaks?
Does it start easily when cold? Any deposits on clipboard? Does it smoke?
Does it run smoothly when cold? Turn car off. Does it restart? Restart again.
Depress clutch several times. Noises? Now pull forward. Check for leaks on ground.
Oil Pressure: idle_______
4000 RPM_______ (20/38-40)
Do you have any gas? Does gauge really work?
Water temp constant?

TEST DRIVE (Allow 30-40 minutes)

OK Not OK Not
Test the foot and hand brakes first! Are there any hesitations/flat spots?
Relax, drive a bit to get used to it. Does the power seem right? Hill test.
How does car ride? Soft or hard? Is it running too hot or cold? Why? (90-100C)
Revs smoothly to red line? flatspots? Drive beside a long wall. Any unusual sounds?
Any unusual engine noises/vibrations? Is it too noisy in general at highway speeds?
Any drive train noises or vibrations? Any noises or vibrations when accelerating?
Any noticeable slop in drivetrain? Any noises or vibrations when coasting?
Reverse works? Rev.lights go on/off? Any noises or vibrations when decelerating?
Trans shifts smoothly to all gears? Any noises or vibrations when braking?
Trans downshifts smoothly to all gears? Steering action loose or tight? Parallel park.
Any clunks, whines, rumbles, rattles? Handles OK on bumps, curves and sharp corners?
Clutch smooth? Slippage on hill test? Slaloms OK? Bad understeer, oversteer, lean?
Hand brake works? Test against engine Tracks straight with hands off steering wheel?
Is the low engine speed operation OK? Brakes straight with hands off steering wheel?
Brakes strongly to stop from 50mph? Brakes still work? Pulls? Pulse? Drag? Noises?
Do brakes still work? Stops straight? Having fun yet? Comfortable? Does it fit?
Make 2 tight 360' turns each way. Any noises? Do the heater, defroster work right?
Accelerates smoothly from dead stop? Are all the instruments & lights still working?

Have friend get out and watch the car driving:

OK Not OK Not
Tracks straight? (Frame bent? ) Now let it idle a while. Is temp stable/OK?
Smokes? Any noise from timing chain?
Wheels wobble? Any noises? Any exhaust, gas or coolant odors? Pull forward.
Leans? General impression? Turn it off. Go back to check ground for leaks.


Open hood. See or hear anything unusual?
Does it restart when warm? Why not?
Does engine seem too hot?
Check for fluid leaks after shutdown. (Oil, Coolant, Hydraulics, Trans, Fuel, Differential)
Check oil cap and dipstick for signs of water. (Oil off-color, brown/gray/white or bubbly)
Compression test: (disconnect coil, remove ALL plugs) Dry: 1____2____3____4____
Oiled: 1____2____3____4____
Plug condition? (OK? Burnt? Oily? Sooty? ) 1____ 2____ 3____ 4____