Why did I get it then? Well, I’m not a rich Croatian to be able to take my time and hang around the UK. I had a budget of 5 GBP for food and had 5 days off work before I had to drive back and work the next day. So the car had to be bought that day and this was the only reasonable offer. Like most things in Europe, you always have to just settle. The American dream doesn’t work here, and no matter how hard you work, the social system will just nudge you back into your place with all the rest within your social caste.
Since I have brought the car here, I have learned a lot by putting my trust in Croatian mechanics, so I would like to share my experiences, so that not only do you know your car better, you can diagnose problems.
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The First Rattle
After driving 1600 km without an issue, I drove on Croatian roads and then something started to scrape. My friend in Kostajnica who is a mechanic told me it was the wheel bearing, so I bought both sides and replaced them. Of course, I went with Japanparts but now have FAG bearings after replacing bearings 6 times on the right side, 3 of them were FAG bearings. So when your bearings keep failing, make sure that your mechanic (because he won't tell you and just take money):
1. Has as press and does NOT hammer bearings in place.
2. REMOVES the inner race before installing the new bearing.
3. Check the wheel hub for injury (Mazda Arbanas caught this mistake on the 6th replacement).
The car was driving straight and stuck to the corners and after replacing the wheel bearing, I went to Sisak for a maintenance alignment, because everybody said that this guy was “the best”. There are so many times I’ve heard that and I found that “the best” in Croatia is about 70% of acceptable level in the USA and about 50% of acceptable level in Asia. So the best guy actually tried, but couldn’t do my alignment because he said he could not remove the cam bolt off. So we actually heated up wishbone and that melted the bushing a little and replaced the cam bolts AND bushings on both sides. This makes sense, because the car is already 13 years old at the time and might as well. Since then, the alignment has been off and I have aligned the car about 12 times in four cities in Croatia and they have always left the toe out 2.00 degrees. This will give bad steering response since the car is a rear wheel drive. This is a fact that most mechanics forget.
The only place that did a great job and steadied the camber is the Autoservis on Vukovarska in Zagreb. Vulco told me that their computer did not handle right hand drive cars, but it had an option for South Africa. Vulkal always screws up, but has cheap tires. My suggestion? Get the car out of the alignment at green and then if it pulls easier to one side, toe in the other side by 1/8th turn at a time until it feels even. This will give you a 0.15 degree toe in, which is suggested by Mazdaspeed. You have to do it by feel and before you do, do not compare your Miata with a FWD Golf that you had when you were a kid, nor compare it with a Porsche. It should be responsive and grip the road. On top of that, you should have 1 degree camber. I suggest bringing your car to Vukovarska. They charged me 250 kn, but at least it is not two old men eyeing my car and saying that it is as straight as possible.
I was tired and the car needed an oil change, so I just decided to pay someone 350 kn to change the oil. I bought the oil and filter and went to the closest mechanic near my apartment and left the car there. After a few hours, he called and told me to pick it up. So I drove the car home and didn’t think twice about it until I drove to work and the car was sluggish, clicked and was misfiring. When I came home, I tried to figure out what was wrong and then took everything apart and replaced the plugs and when I looked up sequence, that mechanic switched the spark plug cables on me.
So EVERYBODY knows what that does. That causes misfiring and causes gas to travel to the catalytic converter, breaking the ceramic honeycomb inside and then blocked the airflow. I didn’t notice this and went to AS Drobilec because my ex said he was “awesome” and he didn’t see the cause of the symptom and changed my water pump and temp sensor. I changed my timing belt at the same time, because why not? I’m not stupid. Why take everything apart again anyways?
As time went along and the engine heated up constantly and eventually seized going to work on NYE. I called towing, paid 500 kn for a tow from Velika Gorica to AS Drobilec in Dugave and then went to work. He told me the engine seized (no kidding) and I had to buy a new one. Found one in Auto Jazbina and the guy agreed to 5000 with one friend that called and asked for it. Then I called to buy it and it was at 6000 kn. And as a foreigner, I settled for 5500 with 2000 kn for installation. The clutch after that rattled and the bearing was off. And as a great mechanic, he did not inform me that an engine mount broke and covered that by putting a few zipties on the mount.
The engine still overheated and so I went to replace my thermostat. Turek then said it might be the catalytic converter and when she checked the exhaust flow, she said it was blocked. I asked the guy who installed the Bosal exhaust (which ONLY in Croatia does a stainless steel Bosal exhaust rust) to decat my car temporarily to see if it changes anything. It still overheated. Then I asked Irena at Turek and she said it might be the radiator, the water pump or the temperature sensor, which narrows the problem to the entire cooling system.
If I was Irena, here is how I would diagnose overheating issues:
1. Check exhaust flow.
2. Check leaks in the coolant. Check levels after cooling down. Is it lower than before?
3. Turn on heater full while driving. Does the temperature gauge go down? That means there’s coolant flow and the pump is working.
4. Check the fan (engine off) if it turns nicely. Then heat it up and check if it turns on. If it does, then the temperature sensor works.
5. Replace your thermostat. It’s not expensive. You can’t really check that unless you open it, and if you do it takes 30 seconds to put a new one in.
6. Then that leaves the radiator.
The radiator works by flowing cold air from outside through to cool down the coolant. If there are bends or if there are calcifications blocking the vertical pipes, then the coolant won’t flow as efficiently. You can test if there is some flow by massaging the lower pipe and seeing if it overflows, but that just means that it is not FULLY clogged. What I did was took off my grill to let 120% more airflow in and the car remained cool.
So it is the radiator.
Being a mechanic is not hard, but Croatian mechanics are not engineers. They are like nurses to doctors. It’s also not that hard to be a nurse.
The miata itself is an ok car. It was built wrong and anybody who knows anything about building cars knows that. It is the only “sports” car to just borrow an engine from a family car and then not do anything to it. That’s why the coolant flows in the wrong direction to cool down the engine, the intake is above the exhaust manifold and the car is 53/47 weight ratio. If I were to make the Miata, I would put the transmission in the back, or seat the driver half a foot back and shorten the trunk. Mazda has never had a racing pedigree like Honda or Toyota. That’s why Honda knows to VTEC their engines and Toyota knows to make a mid-engine car. The intake for air is TINY for an inefficient engine and the entire thing is a Mazda 323 in a smaller chassis. I'm not sure what they did with the SkyActiv version, but I'm guessing it's a Mazda 3 in a smaller chassis.
For 900 pounds, it wasn’t a bad purchase. But for 4500 Euros that I dumped into Croatian mechanics, I think I should have bought a more reliable Toyota MR2, which also has variable valve timing, air conditioning and is really 50/50 as a better base for a sports car.
If anybody wants to trade knowledge and information about their Miata and how to do the engineering. I blueprinted my CRX, I raced my Porsche 944, owned a 1996 MR2 and now I am playing with this Miata.