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Will this car EVER be reliable?

Wade Nelson

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I need your honest opinion. Can this 32 year old car EVER be reliable again???

If it was anything but a 280ZX in a color I love, the straw would have already broken this camel's back.

I am literally having something NEW go wrong with this car before I am finish fixing the LAST thing to go wrong. Sometimes two

Case in point:

I am diagnosing a no-start-when very cold. I find the headlight relay is staying powered up, warm to the touch, even when the ignition is off, when I am in search of the fuel injection relay . It must be intermittent because I THOUGHT my battery was getting weak, yet other times it was fine after sitting for days or weeks.

I decide to pull the headlight relay, and drive it only in the daytime, until I have time to fully diagnose THAT problem.

I get in it the NEXT day, and the clutch pedal goes to the floor. No apparent leaks, but the master cylinder is very low on fluid.

The throwout bearing occasionally howls, indicating it too, is in need of replacement.

This is on a vehicle with 210,000 miles where I have already repaired or replaced (partial list)


Front calipers and rotors, sway bar links and bushings, new rear struts, fuel injectors, fuel filter, FI lines, replaced headlight / combination switch, fixed broken ac vent door operator, new seats, new wipers, new upholstery in rear, rear sway bar links, welded / fabbed repair for rusted out floorboard where rear crossmember bolts up, new distributor, cap, rotor, plugs, wires, new stereo, speakers, amp, antenna, shifter rattling, new fuel injection relay, new clutch slave cylinder, repaired AAR, , new CSV, custom (HOTWIRE) to run auxiliary fan, hotwire to run fuel pump to prime fuel rail, new starter, ring gear, 2 ignition switches, new keyswitch, check valve inserted into fuel line to prevent bleeddown, all new vacuum lines both in engine bay and for ac/vent controls, ...

The car needs: New windshield (pitted), new paint (hood dented, rest faded), new clutch/throwout, new rear pads / rotors, new rubber around the windows / doors, installation of new front struts (squeaky old ones), new tires all around, new synchros (1st gear) in tranny or rebuilt...

Will this vehicle EVER, with ANY number of new parts, become reliable once again? Or should I give up and accept that owning a 1980ZX with this many miles is simply going to be one thing after another FOREVER???

Despite all the previous repairs/replacements, and current problems, it's a BLAST to drive, a real Highway Star. Smooth, aerodynamic, powerful, a great view over a million dollar hoodline...

I'm wondering if I should keep pressing forward, knocking out these problems one by one, or try and find a sub-100K mile car, or something that has undergone a total restoration, body paint AND drivetrain, pay a premium for it, and start over.

FWIW I paid $2400 for the car (overpaid by at least $500), and estimate I have at least $4000 in it now, valuing all my labor at zero.


Edited by Wade Nelson
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Well, granted I'm no expert, and I live in the best-case-scenario state for these cars, but I'd personally say YES. It will be reliable once again. My newest '83 took me months of chasing problems, but now that I've done it all, It starts right up every time and drives like a champ. I can even let it sit for two weeks and come back to it, and I don't have any problems.

That being said, the previous owner put a lot of new parts into it (including the engine and manifold out of an '81 automatic; which accounted for a great deal of my problems) But I also know that in the local clubs down here, there are several people that started with cars much like yours and built them up to be great looking and great driving cars!

It's really a matter of your preference and what you can find; if you can sell that one for $3000 and buy somebody's fully restored job for $4000, then I'd say you may have saved yourself a lifetime supply of asprin. If you like doing the work, however, then it may be worth it to chase the problems and make your car your own, and something to be proud of.

So to answer your question in a much shorter way:

Can it ever be reliable again? Yes!

Should you put the time, effort, and money into it? That's entirely up to your preference!

Hope that helps :)

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I can feel your frustration and it is understandable.

Unfortunately, and I may be "arse-uming", it sounds as though you've been repairing the car by reacting to what goes wrong.

While my assumption sounds "dumb" it is a known problem when doing repairs/restoration/refreshing vehicles.

In the list above, I note several items that are definitely in the "comfort" range as opposed to mechanical reliability or safety. The new seat, stereo, upholstery etc. are all items that you chose to repair/replace/upgrade, as opposed to must repair in order to continue operating it.

Nothing wrong with that, in fact, it's a good idea to do so especially if your interest is taking a hit, which is exactly where you are at this point.

But the other items you mention are all over the car, and that's why I'm mentioning that the repairs seem haphazard as opposed to a definite plan of action.

Yes, the car can and will be reliable, but you need to avoid doing ONLY repairs and concentrate on adding some preventive maintenance in the mix of repairs

you do.

Some of them are plainly obvious, when you change the brake pads, go ahead and get the drums/rotors turned, bleeding the system also will help improve it's reliability. If you note the hoses are questionable, don't reuse them, replace them.

The end intent is to increase the reliability not JUST what needed repairing, but also ancillary or connected items.

I've heard of guys replacing or rebuilding the clutch master...and ignoring the slave or the connecting line. Fixing the Heater hoses while the whole box is out of the car but NOT checking the control valve or making sure that all the levers, doors, etc. operate properly.

While the infamous "while I am there" disease is something that can lead to having a perpetual project in the garage, the inverse of ONLY addressing what needs/must be done can cause you to have to reopen or disassemble part of the car AGAIN just to repair something you COULD have repaired easily the first time.

Will it be reliable? That depends on your approach to effecting repairs AND doing preventive maintenance. (and your pocket too, but that goes to your determination.)

Can it be reliable? That depends on just how badly mistreated a vehicle you bought and how deep your pocket and your stubbornness is.

Hope this helps.


Edited by EScanlon
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I totally agree with that!

As a side note: 210,000 miles is nothing to worry about... The last '83 that I had (got totalled in an accident about a year ago) had 296,000 on it when we bought it and 308,000 by the time we rebuilt the engine. At the time of its death, it drove great and only needed a few relatively minor repairs (rear suspension bushings, rack and pinion, and a few other things).

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These cars are reliable once you work out the initial neglect. It takes alot of time and patience but if you are persistant and do not give up you will be pleased. The blocks are damn near bullet proof in NA trim. They take ALOT of abuse. Keep the valves adjusted and they start very reliably also. The other gadgetry on the cars got a little more complex as time went on but mostly the issues stem from poor connections or corrosion on the plugs. Don't give up.

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Very interesting comment. Valves out of adjustment might INDEED be responsible for some of my cold starting problems. My guess is they haven't been adjusted in a very long time, if ever. What was your experience that caused you to make that suggestion?

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Very interesting comment. Valves out of adjustment might INDEED be responsible for some of my cold starting problems. My guess is they haven't been adjusted in a very long time, if ever. What was your experience that caused you to make that suggestion?

I know this sounds obvious: Hve you checked the CSI for function yet?

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Yep, replaced it with a new, workign one, and confirmed operation of THAT while cranking.

Right now it appears my main fuel injection relay (the one that actualy powers? grounds? the injectors) may have dirty contacts, be temp sensitive, or whatever. I sometimes don't get injection when cranking when it's VERY cold out. Confirmed that with a noid light. Had to leave the car in a garage and go take care of my sick father, may not get back to it for six months or more :( Would give anything to have the car here to work on between visits to the rest home & hospital. I thought my "biggest" problem was a car that was intermittently hard to start.

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Hard starting. If I keep my valves adjusted on my car its like night and day to how it starts. If I keep my valves adjusted my L24 fires right up very low crank time if any in the summer. Winter its a crank or two and it fires up but in the cold a poor valve adjustment can leave you cranking for a long time before a start has been my experience with this old motor. I rarely have to use the chokes if I keep them spot on. I've done the valve adjustments cold and hot. I have not figured out whether one is better than the other but most people and the FSM's tell you to do a warm engine adjustment.

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