The Top DSM Community on the Web

For 1990-1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse, Eagle Talon, Plymouth Laser, and Galant VR-4 Owners. Log in to remove most ads.

Please Support JNZ Tuning
Please Support ExtremePSI

DSM Used Car Buyer's Guide

This site may earn a commission from merchant
affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.


15+ Year Contributor
Jan 25, 2004
Utica, Michigan
I often see tons of questions posted about used DSM's for sale and what to look for. While this guide is not intended to deal with every possible scenario, it will give you a strong baseline for what to look for in used car. The key is to be your meticulous and make sure that you're getting what you pay for. Take your time and be prepared to walk away if what you see isn't workable. Remember that what's acceptable to each of us different. In that light what you can tolerate and work with may be different than the next person therefore I would advise that you use this guide as a general reference for your standards.

When looking at a used car, I always bring the following items with me:

1. A notepad for jotting down questions or noting issues.
2. A magnet to check for body filler.
3. A compression tester with the correct spark plug adapter
4. A 21mm spark plug socket and ratchet.
5. Slotted and phillips screwdrivers to remove the intake piping.
6. 1/2 quart motor oil.

Please note that I am not a mechanic and that my advice is not intended to replace the advice of a competent professional.

I. Stock or Modified: With the shrinking number of DSM's available these days the debate rages as to whether it's better to buy something stock or something modified. Stock cars have a tendency to be more sought after since the buyer isn't dealing with someone else's mismatched parts or potential problems that result from incorrect tuning. On the other hand, if you can find a car that's been properly modified with fairly fresh parts, you can literally have a turnkey car with no additional investment.

With respect to modified DSM's, the following items are important:

Receipts: This will help you gauge their age and whether the car is full of ebay garbage or parts that were purchased from a reputable vendor. Maintenance receipts will ensure that the important stuff (timing belt, etc) have been taken care of.

Mismatched Parts: Look for things like huge turbos with stock or undersized injectors. Lack of proper fuel management or the presence of a 255 pump without an AFPR can clue you in to the fact that the previous owner either didn't have sufficient tuning knowledge or simply bought into the bigger is better philosophy. Also be aware of ricer mods like vented BOV's on cars that still run a stock MAF.

II. First Impressions/Exterior: Whenever I buy a used car, I like to take my time and give it a good once over. Look at the condition of the paint and clear coat. Look for any dings and get on your knees to check for rust spots on the lower body panels. I like to open all of the doors, hood and trunk. Look for the OEM Mitsubishi VIN stickers since these are an indicator if body panels have been replaced. Bring a magnet with you and see if you can find any spots with body filler.

III. A Look at the Interior: Once you're done taking a look around outside, take a good look at the interior. While some wear is allowable, look for signs of abuse or neglect. Gauge pods that are falling off or exposed wiring is usually indicative of a hack job and will make you wonder if the under hood mods were performed with the same lack of care. General cleanliness is also important since it will give you insight as to whether the owner actually cared about the car or simply treated it like a rolling trash can. Make sure the tint is in good shape (if applicable) and that if the car is modified that it has been equipped with at least a boost gauge that also registers vacuum.

IV: Initial Startup: If you're looking at a DSM in running order, now's the time to fire it up. From inside the car, pay attention to the following:

1. Make sure all gauges work and that the motor registers oil pressure at startup.
2. If an aftermarket boost gauge is in place, look at how many inches of vacuum it pulls at idle. Please note that cams and altitude will affect these readings.
3. Listen for any vibrations, stumbling or grinding at startup and during warmup.
4. Make a mental note of how easily the motor turned over and whether it labored or fired right up.
5. Listen carefully as the motor warms and see if there are any surge issues.
6. Check to see if the CEL light is on which can indicate a multitude of sensor faults.

Now it's time to get out of the driver's eat and listen closely to the motor. While allowing the motor to come up to full operating temp, observe the following:

1. On the timing belt side of the motor, make sure that all of the timing covers are installed. Some people choose to run without the uppermost cover and while this is allowable, be aware of missing middle and lower covers since a rock can become wedged in the timing belt and result in trashed valves.

2. Look at the general condition of the motor. Cracked or torn vaccum lines will create vacuum leaks which can lead to idling issues. Look for a properly recirculated blow off valve and a boost controller (if applicable). Often, cleanliness is a good indicator of how well everything was maintained. Keep an eye out for loose hose clamps, etc.

3. Listen and smell for exhaust leaks. Carefully get your nose near the manifold and smell for leaking exhaust gas that would indicate a leaking gasket at the turbine, manifold or O2 sensor. All of these can hurt performance in a big way so be aware of them. Take a look for broken manifold studs or missing bolts on the manifold to turbo connection and O2 housing.

4. Leaks and drips are always a major concern. Look for any obvious signs of oil or coolant leakage from the top half of the motor. Take a careful look at the valve cover gasket and check around the front and back half of the motor for oil leaks. Also check the coolant lines to the turbo (if applicable) and make sure that none of these are weeping coolant.

5. Head to the back! Once the motor has had time to warm up, walk around to the back and look for any smoking issues. Generally, puffs of blue smoke at idle can indicate tired valve stem seals or cracked valve guides.

6. Take a look underneath. Now would be a great time to have a look undeneath the car and see if you can spot any additional leakage. Check the following areas:

Radiator: These are plastic on the top and bottom and can crack over time.
Oil Pan: A fairly common leak spot!
Oil Filter/Oil Filter Housing: Make sure you check the turbo feed lines too.
Turbo Oil Drain Line: Gaskets harden over time. Look for drips or oil slathered on the oil pan.
Shocks: It's common for older ones to blow out so be aware of any oil running down the shock body.
CV Joints: Torn boots will often sling grease inside the wheel rim.
Transmission/Transfer Case/Rear Differential

While you're taking a look underneath, it would be a great idea to look for any rust holes in the floor pan or excessive corrosion. Have a look at the exhaust and see if you can smell any leaks (you'd probably hear them too).

7. Have a look at the tires. This is pretty self explanatory. Be aware of excessive or uneven tread wear and any dry rotting on the sides especially if the car sat for long periods of time.

V. Taking a Test Drive: Great! Now you're ready to go for a ride and see how she performs. Prior to doing so, put the clutch in and make sure that the gears all engage smoothly while in neutral. Get a feel for the pedal travel and make sure that the clutch doesn't release too low or too high. While this is often a simple adjustment, a 2G clutch that releases very high and is stiff at the top may be experiencing pedal pump up which is extremely harmful to the clutch and drivetrain components.

On your test drive, you want to look for the following:

1. Smooth power delivery on boost. No bucking, misfiring or hesitation
2. No thumping during acceleration from the drivetrain.
3. Monitor your boost gauge and make sure the car holds steady boost.
4. Make sure the brakes work well and that the rotors don't pulse from warpage.
5. Make sure that shifting is smooth with no grinding or hard engagement.
6. Ensure that the suspension doesn't bottom out or rattle excessively.
7. Check your mirrors under acceleration and boost to ensure that no smoke is coming out of the tailpipe (please reference the list below).
8. Make sure that coolant temps do not rise above 1/2 on the factory gauge.
9. The car should track straight and not wander in one direction or the other.
10. Check for steering wheel vibrations at speed that can indicate suspension issues or tires being out of balance. Listen for howling noises as well (tire song, bearings)

Checking for Smoke: During your test drive, be aware of any excessive smoking under hard acceleration or deceleration.

Blue on acceleration: Rings or turbo seals
Blue on deceleration: Valve stem seals
White on acceleration: Head gasket or turbo seals
Black on acceleration: Fuel (running rich or running without a cat)

VI. Post Test Drive Checklist:

Now that you're done with your test drive, let the motor idle and pop the hood. Check once again for leaks from the top and also undeneath the car. Make a note of any that you see. Also listen for coolant bubbling and make sure that no coolant has been pushed out of the overflow.

Once the turbo has cooled sufficiently, shut the motor off and perform a few last minute checks to see if the internals are healthy.

1. Remove the air filter and intake pipe to expose the turbine inlet. With a pair of gloves on to keep from burning your hands, grab the nut on the compressor wheel and see if you can detect side to side or in and out shaft play. A small amount of side to side play is acceptable, but in and out shaft play is a sign that the seals are starting to go bad. Also look at the compressor wheel and see if you can detect any nicks or areas where the blades may have contacted the housing.

2. Remove all four spark plugs and inspect them. Be aware of platinum plug usage as these are not recommended for our motors. Look for anything out of the norm. Blackened plugs can indicate carbon fouling from running rich. Also look for any oil on the plug or broken pieces. A plug that is firing correctly will have an even whitsh tan color all around.

3. With the plugs still removed, it's time to perform a compression test. This should be done with the motor fully warm after it's been driven for a while. Information on performing a compression test can be found here if you've never done one before:

Typically ideal compression readings break down as follows:

1G with stock cams: 160 across
2G with stock cams: 180 across

Please note that while these numbers may decrease on a higher mileage motor, the important thing is that you don't find excessive variance between cylinders. If you do find a cylinder with more than 10 psi of compression difference from it's neighboring cylinders, drop a couple capfuls of motor oil into the cylinder and re-test. If the compression numbers rise, it can indicate worn rings. Once again, minor variances are OK and you should keep in mind that altitude and aftermarket cams will also lower compression readings.

4. Pull the dipstick and check for milky oil which would indicate that coolant and oil are mixing. Also pull the cap from the radiator overflow and ook for any black spots in the coolant which would also point to headgasket failure.

VII: Decision Time: Now that you've taken a look at everything, it's time to negotiate and make a decision. Refer to your notes and jot down any problems you found. Some issues are more important than others and you'll need to take the age of the car into account. Asking for a 15 year old car to be perfect is a stretch, but don't compromise on major issues.

At this point it's up to you to decide whether you want to move forward or walk away. Try to take all of the emotion out of the deal and remove the element of desire as well. Buying something that's not suited to your skills or budget will leave you in a precarious place. In the end, the decision must be made based on what you're willing to live with and your level of mechanical skill.

If you would like to see additional information added to this post or if you found it helpful in some way, feel free to drop me a line.

Happy Buying!

Last edited by a moderator:
Support Vendors who Support the DSM Community
Boosted Fabrication ECM Tuning ExtremePSI Fuel Injector Clinic Innovation Products Jacks Transmissions JNZ Tuning Kiggly Racing Morrison Fabrications RixRacing RockAuto RTM Racing STM Tuned

Latest posts

Build Thread Updates

Vendor Updates

Latest Classifieds