start looking at rust. Major concern there.
Rust starts usually on Sills (run along the bottom of the doors, bottom of car), then check around front headlights (front panel). A panels (the little metal panel shaped like an A in front of each door), also scuttle panel (the small ish panel that runs along the bottom of the windscreen).
Please check the subframes, especially the rear (front lasts longer without rust due to often being covered in engine grease/oil). New subframes are aruond the 100 pound mark so if thats the only thing wrong with the car, dont be really put off!
Also I cannot stress this enough, something often overlooked! FIND ONE WITH A GOOD ROOF. No dents/rust at all. The roof is the only thing you cannot repair if something goes wrong. You cannot get a replacement panel for the roof to repair rust. It's also structural!
Next move on to things like electrical system. Check that everything works, and I do mean check EVERYTHING. Electrical problems with minis are a nightmare, so you do not want to be stuck with that!
Check if the car is straight (wheels point the same, negligible height differences). Note there may be height differences due to knackered rubber suspension cones (these get hard and sog over time). new ones are about 30-35 pounds each i think.
Those are the major things.
Engine swaps are quite easy, and if you want some GO, find a metro turbo car, or engine complete with necessary items. These can be found for anywhere from 200-300 pounds. Properly set up, you get around 90hp, which is good for sub 10-9 second 0-60 times.
A standard 1.3 Metro engine will also give you quite a nifty mini. If you find a MG metro, that's even better (since it has a sportier camshaft and better head), should be good for around 70hp.
I assume you will be getting new wheels, dampers etc. anyway to suit your tastes, so don't pay much attention to these if they're not up to par (just make sure to be able to get it home )
Remember, things that you dont mind much, such as gearbox, engine, wheels, tyres, etc. Anything you dont really mind, use them as bargaining points!!
"Oh crikey, the gearbox is rather stiff! That'll cost around 100 to fix" etc.
Also good window/door seals is a BIG plus as these can cost a bit to replace all of them, and its not the funnest of jobs!!
Hope that helps
First time buyer for a mini.. what do you look for
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