What to Look For

when Buying a Baja

hmmmmm. you're buying a baja. You probably wonder if it's worth a @#$%?

Good Question. here's some things to look out for:

- Large dents in front beam

- Punched in floorboards (a sure sign of HEAVY contact with Mother Earth)

- King & Link front end is good - pre '66 - after that they came with balljoint front end

- Torsion is good - is the car crooked? That's ok, you can fix it but you'd better get a killer price.


- IRS is good, but ya know, IRS didn't come out until '69 so there's odds that you're trading a king&link front end for an IRS rear end. (besides, you can beat the hell out of a swingarm rear end. Starting with those low-rider axle tubes. How big is the tree stump you're aiming at?

- Wiring - take a visual and manual inspection of the wiring. TUG ON IT - if it comes loose it was a goner anyway. TURN IT ON, ALL AT ONCE - look for smoke/fumes. Don't worry, it's probably only electric-tape goo getting hot, but you really gotta know this. (Besides, it's always nice to see the look on the seller's face.)

- Smell the oil - if it smells like gas the fuel pump diaphragm may be shot. Common enough with all this emissions-control-fuel wasting our rubber parts. So the seller failed to mention that every weekend there's been a quart more oil? And he hasn't figured out where it came from? Hmmmmmm....

- Brakes - do they work? Does the pedal go all the way to the floor, and then you have to pump them up? Not a critical problem, BUT - since it could be just the fluid, or the master cylinder, or the slave cylinders or the soft brake hoses or even the metal lines, you'd like to know this for a price reduction, as needed.

- Let's talk about the funny noises it makes.


possibilities: front sway bar (see Baja Page on how to remove the sway bar).

Loose ball joints (this could be a real pain in the you-know-what, but on the other hand, you were gonna work on the front end anyway, right? What the hey - it's only $15 parts. several of 'em.

Broken tranny nose cone - a classic amongst bajas. You can hear the noise, but you can't figure out where it's coming from. Happens during acceleration and deacceleration (a thunk, if you will - you feel it in the seat of your pants! It's scary) and you see the stickshift move. Another clue: throttle linkage is strange - first it's too loose, then it's too tight. The seller might try ducttape as a quick fix. Get a Doggone Good Price, 'cuz it's a $75 part, $35 worth of tools (hex/spline socket, 27mm BFW (big funky wrench), and a 35-hour job. (at least it feels like it when there's a transmission on your rib cage.)

Look for duct tape/old duct tape goo. What's he trying to hide?

Kick it. Kick the top of every tire, make sure it does not go Ka-Klunk, Klunk. (Sound files are forthcoming if my luck doesn't hold out.)

anything else is OK.


Motor. It Should Not Grind.

Wheel Bearing - a loud, prominent, droning grind kind-of funky sort-of noise. After you replace 'em, you'll know what we're talking about.

Transmission: Make sure reverse works! Reverse is the classic gear to go out. There's these killer seals in the back of transmissions: They tend to leak oil all over the clutch assembly. Therefore, baja drivers run low on gear oil and never do anything about it but replace clutch disks.

Even if the gear works, make sure to test it well. There's a classic problem where the stick likes to pop out of gear (usually first or reverse). This means that it's time for a transaxle rebuild. Best bet is to include the price of a rebuilt tranny (tolerances tighter than stock) in your mental calculations.


more on transmissions: there are two types to look for: 1) a short first gear (this means that high revs in first gear is still pretty slow, but torque is way up there). 2) Substandard transmissions. These have a tall first gear. If you can achieve 35 mph in first gear, it's a good motor but you don't want that tranny. It Has No Hillclimbing Torque. Reference the Baja Page, Gear Ratios, for a complete list.

Steering: smooth throughout its entire range. No looseness, tight spots, or chunky motions. Eyeball the tierods - the long tierod comes slightly curved as stock on some years, but if the paint is flaking off it's bent.

Tie Rod Ends: you're gonna replace 'em anyway, so don't worry about it, but dicker the price down if they're shot.

Rims & Tires: check for bent rims and signs of abuse.

- check the stereo and cigarette lighter - do you like 'em? buy it.

What do you think is missing?