The following advice is based upon over 15 years experience of buying, selling, servicing and fixing FTOs. This is by no means a definitive list, but these buying tips should help you make a more informed decision.
Ten Top Tips
1. Know your model
We are continually amazed by the number of customers who phone to order parts and they haven't a clue if they have a GS, GR or GPX. Curiously our car sales customers seem to know exactly what they are looking for. There's a world of difference between say an early GR tiptronic and a facelift GPX manual and the asking price will almost certainly reflect this.
2. The Dreaded Rust Bug
It is important to understand the difference between a fresh import and a car that has been in this country for a few years. We are forever banging on about the difference, but we cannot over emphasise the importance of corrosion.
A fresh import, even a 1994 model, when it arrives in the UK should be almost completely free of anything other than minor surface corrosion. This doesn't just impact upon bodywork or chassis, but it also applies to brakes, suspension, exhaust, water radiator, a/c condenser, even the sump pan.
If you are looking at an FTO that has been in the country for a few years then check if it has been undersealed. If it hasn't then the chances are that the dreaded rust bug will have wreaked havoc underneath. Rear chassis rails, rear wheel arches, front wings, front inner arches and petrol tanks are all susceptible to rot. Even if the vehicle has been undersealed it is always a good idea to have a quick squint underneath, ideally on a proper vehicle lift. Any decent car sales operation will be happy to accommodate this request. If they are not keen for you to have a look underneath, then take your money elsewhere. We're not saying don't buy a car that's been over here for a few years, but just be aware of the potentially massive differences when comparing screen prices.
The only area where a fresh import may be affected by corrosion is, strangely enough, the roof panel. It is not unusual to see blisters forming across the roof just behind the front screen and just in front of the rear screen. Hidden by the roof lining, there are metal roof stiffeners which are insulated from the roof panel by a type of sound deadening foam. On some FTOs this foam seems to trap moisture with the result that the roof panel rusts from the inside out. For some reason, black cars seem to be more affected than other colours. We do have a theory why this should be, but it's essentially very boring so we'll leave it at that.
What we can tell you is that this problem has no simple fix, and unless the rust is removed completely, then blisters in the paint will reappear. The only sure-fire way of fixing this is to replace the whole roof panel including pillars. As you can imagine, even using second hand parts this is prohibitively expensive. Have a close look at the roof for signs of body filler or sinking paint finish. If you can see signs of repair then I assure you, sooner or later, the dreaded blisters will make an unwelcome return.
3. Engine noises
The non-mivec engines as fitted to GR and GX models have hydraulic lifters (tappets) and a ticking sound or rattle on start up, particularly from cold, is not uncommon. This noise should stop after a few seconds, but if it doesn't or returns intermittently on tick over, then a new set of lifters may be required. The fault is more annoying than terminal but it's an expensive job to fix. The Mivec engines have manually adjustable valve clearances, so any top end rattle may indicate that valve clearances need adjusting. Have a good listen when the engine is fully up to temperature. If you can do the job yourself then it's just a pain, but if you can't, then it's an expensive pain.
Other rotational engine noises emanating from the right hand (driver's) side of the V6 can often be traced to the alternator and power steering/a/c compressor belts and/or tensioners. Sometimes a change of belts will cure the odd squeak, but you can be looking at £150 if you need to replace the tensioners as well. Don't forget to check out the efficiency of the a/c system. If it doesn't blow cold then it may just need re-gassing. If any parts are required such as condenser or compressor, then I'm afraid new prices are mental and good used stuff is thin on the ground, so you may just end up opening the windows.
4. Timing belts
The service period of the timing belt (cam belt) is 100,000 kms (62,000 miles). The Mitsubishi V6 is an interference engine, or to put it simply, if the timing belt snaps then certain engine bits get tangled up other bits and you'll be shelling out for a replacement engine. Unless the seller can provide chapter and verse when the belt was changed, then you should budget £300 ish for the job. If you are a bit of a Jonah then you'll also need a water pump and centre idler which pushes the cost up to around £400.
5. Oil leaks
The MIVEC engine as fitted to the GPX and GPvR has a tendency to leak oil from the cam carrier of the rear bank.
This is more a messy inconvenience than a terminal job. Apart from the appropriate sealant and gaskets, there aren't many parts involved, but it's a labour intensive strip down to fix. Judging by some of the awful attempted repairs we've encountered, which can result in a knackered engine, this is not a job to be undertaken unless you know what you're doing.
6. Alternators and charging
Another Achilles heel of the FTO. Flat batteries as a result of undercharging and fried electrical bits in the event of overcharging. Check the voltmeter in the centre of the dash. It should register over 12 volts at about 1500rpm under load (lights and things on) but no more than 14 volts. A dimly glowing battery warning light on the dash when the engine is running is another sign of alternator trouble. Cost to fix around £300. Random electrical bits not working such as electric windows, mirrors or gauges, may well be the legacy of past overcharging and you should tread carefully. Just to add to your gloom, a duff circuit on an otherwise healthy alternator can cause idle problems and have an effect on the operation the MIVEC system and the operation of the cooling fans.
7. Auto gearbox
The tiptronic gearbox in an FTO is one complex bit of kit and needs to be checked carefully. Check the colour of the transmission oil. It should be bright red and clean. If it looks brown or discoloured then it may just be old, or it may be a sign of overheating and impending gearbox failure. A good road test is needed and you are looking for smooth gear changes both up and down the box. Don't forget to check that the tiptronic facility is working correctly. Any major clunks when a gear is engaged are a concern, but a green flashing neutral light on the dash indicates a transmission fault and should be a warning for you to spin on your heels. Tiptronic boxes are a fortune to rebuild and most people end up settling for a good used unit. You can expect to pay £600 upwards fitted for a 4 speed and a king's ransom for a 5 speed.
8. Suspension clonks
During a road test if you notice any knocking sounds then it may well be down to anti roll bar drop links. These are fitted to both front and rear. The GR and GS models have a different arrangement on the rear, but all a prone to wear. The parts are not horrendously expensive but allow for a couple of hours labour if you can't DIY. Front strut top mounts and rear trailing arm bushes are other sources of suspension noises. Other random clonks could be ball joints in the front lower arms or wishbones - if heavily worn. To check you really need to get the car off the deck and give the front wheels a good tug top to bottom. The ball joints are separately if the rest of the wishbone is not too corroded. If badly moth eaten with dubious inner bushes then you'll need to replace the whole arm - at least £150 per side plus fitting. A properly carried out MOT test should uncover this type of wear, along with other basic faults, so the importance of a recent, hopefully genuine, test certificate is self evident.
9. Road noise
A sort of droning sound at normal road speeds can indicate a couple of things. If the noise changes dependent upon road surface then it may just be down to tyre type or condition. FTOs don't have a whole load of sound deadening, so any faults in this area tend to be magnified. Japanese domestic market (JDM) tyres can be pretty noisy on UK road surfaces, as can some of the more spurious budget tyres available in the UK. If you hear a drone that is not dependent upon road surface, then this could be from worn wheel bearings. When road testing, and assuming it is safe to do so, move the steering wheel from side to side to load up the suspension and see if the note or intensity of the noise changes. If it does then this could point to worn wheel bearings. The front bearings are not expensive, but a bit of a bugger to fit. The rears are a doddle to fit, but as you need to buy a complete hub unit, they are expensive. Ho hum.
10. Exhaust system
Make sure you check out the full exhaust system from front to back. The downpipe fitted to V6 models from manifolds to catalytic converter has flexy sections that are prone to blowing. Corrosion of the joint from the centre pipe to rear silencer is another potential source of expense. The cost of new parts from a dealer are just daft and although decent aftermarket parts are now available, you can still spend over £350 on the down pipes and a cat back system.
Although we have been very careful in the compilation of our advice pages, we cannot be held responsible for any loss or damage caused if you decide to follow the advice contained herein. If you feel that there are any errors on any aspect of this page, or simply wish to comment, please call Malcolm on 0191 586 7724