This section aims to give you some idea of what to look out for when
buying an Elise. I don't intend to cover the different models available
as that is covered here or on RobC's excellent website: http://www.elises.co.uk/models/
I will simply state here that the S1 has 4 major variants from the
standard car: the 135, 160, 111S and 190. The 190 was designed for track
use only; the 160 is really a track car too and is not ideal for sitting
idling in traffic (but what Elise is really!); the 135 has been
described by some as the best all round package that Lotus produced (but
us 111S owners tend to disagree with that ;o) Personally I love the 111S
and its smooth & rev to oblivion engine and close ration gearbox,
but if you want much more than 160bhp out of your car, or you don't like
too much noise at motorway speed, the 111S is not the car for you. For
all the arguments see the Elise
BBS archives (you have to be a member to access the archives, but
it's free and you won't get a load of spam).
A selection of lotus brochures can be found at list of brochures, together with a selection of car reviews and reports at roadtests (including a buying guide from Classic magazine 2006 & Performance Car July 2008).
OK, now to the buying guide... Yvo has also created a
pretty comprehensive Buyers Guide, see: http://www.lotus-elise.nl/Buyers_Guide/buyers_guide.html
In the older cars look for suspension knocking. The Koni dampers
are not the best and go off after < 20k's in many cases. It would
be worth getting the suspension geo looked at on an older car as well
as you might not know the history. The Elise is all about how it is
setup and the difference between a well setup Elise and a badly setup
one is quite marked.
The steering rack is also a common weak point. The gators can split
after only a few thousand miles in some cases which eventually leads
to wear in the rack causing a lot of play in the steering. Even slight
steering play in the Elise is quite noticeable.
Older cars may also have the infamous red clutch hose too. In very
hot weather the plastic clutch hose can expand slightly making gear
changes difficult or even impossible. Lotus later fixed this by
fitting a braided hose. This was also a fault in the Esprit too
There was a recall on the steering arms in older cars (pre 98 S
regs I think) The steering arms were bending if subjected to enough
force mostly through hammering the kerbs on track days.
The window winder mechanism is quite frankly sh*te and failure is
very common. It's also expensive to have fixed by a Lotus dealer but
not so difficult that you can't have a go yourself. Still cost me £95
ex vat for the bits though.
The throttle can appear to stick slightly open between 2000-3000rpm
Various reasons for this but the most common is either gunk build up
in the butterfly making it "stick". The throttle body can also become
slightly distorted if the clip that holds the induction pipe on has
been replaced with a jubiliee clip that has been overtightened. This
is common if people have fitted a cone air filter. It is also possible
s that some problems are related to the MEMS engine ECU rather than
mechnical throttle body type problems. Although the MEMS ECU is
expensive to replace failure is very rare.
I've read of a few failures of the Stack instrument unit. They are
quite expensive to replace too but again I think failure is fairly
General cooling problems are quite common. Caused by anything from
faulty header tank caps, air in the system, holes in the radiator,
fans not working, temp senders not working, head gasket problems
It's not the most reliable car in the World but given the level of
abuse they generally enjoy then it doesn't too badly. A lot of the
problems are not generally the stranded at the side of road kind
either. There are loads of people who use their Elise day in day out
with few problems.
Not sure where you live but there are a few Lotus specialist
engineering firms that might not be Lotus authorised dealers but offer
an excellent service at realistic prices. You can also get replacement
parts from the ever increasing places that have "Elise's breaking for
spares" so you don't have to pay top whack for genuine
parts plus there is a very healthy after market business in Elise
History is vital for Elises, but in this instance we are not
referring simply to the servicing details. The little Lotus makes an
ideal track-day steed, and while the odd track day does the car no harm
(it was, after all, made for this), it does require more scrupulous
maintenance - and you need to know that this has been done. Don't worry
about the specific mileage but concentrate on condition, the way it
drives, and try to uncover as much as you can about its past. Remember
that the Elise is in many ways more race than road car and
correspondingly needs a little TLC, particularly if used every day. Just
washing the bodywork isn't quite enough.
The 1.8 Rover K-series lump is a very well tested unit and in
standard 118bhp form is hardly stretched. However, you need to pay close
attention to the coolant level as the jubilee clips on the radiator
hoses can work loose and leak. The engine has very little water in it so
overheating can very easily prove terminal. (If it does start to
overheat, stop. Don't try and limp home.)
Check for misfires, or signs of smoke from the exhaust. You probably
don't need us to tell you to go and look elsewhere if you find a car
with either problem, but the likely cause is either the plastic intake
manifolds leaking coolant from the o-rings (particularly on the newer
cars), or cracked cylinders liners caused by sustained periods of
The flat underside has a removable engine tray and this should be
examined for damage and to ensure that the retaining bolts are secure
and it good condition.
The fuel injection pump fuse is rated to only 10 amps on the older
cars, 20A on post-'98, and has been known to blow, stranding the driver,
so carry a spare. The cam- belt life stands at 54,000 miles or six
years, but if the car has regular track outings a wise man would change
it before that point - just compare the cost with the price of a
Too many 0-60mph sprints will loosen the system, but on the whole its
robust. The cable-operated gearshift isn't the best, but if it feels
particularly loose it probably means that the cables need tightening or
at worse replacing, neither of which will trouble your bank manager.
Early Elises had problems in hot weather with the hydraulic hose to the
clutch becoming soft and not actuating the mechanism. The hoses are now
braided on new cars and a steel one can be intro-fitted.
Early cars had aluminium discs, which worked well and reduced the
unsprung weight. Unfortunately Lotus had a lot of problems finding a
supplier who was able consistently to provide the required quality and
had to revert to more regular vented steel discs. The good news, though,
is that as these discs have a relatively small amount of mass to arrest
they last very well indeed. Pads will need to be replaced every 20,000
miles or so for a road car, but this drops to as little as 5000 for a
track-day regular. If they squeal, it's because you haven't managed to
get enough heat into them, so either give them a thorough workout once
in a while or fit an anti-squeal pad back-plate.
Lotus dealers. Don't fit racing-spec pads to aluminium discs because
the heat they generate can literally cause the discs to melt. The range
of upgrade kits available for the brakes is vast, so you should be able
to find a set-up that meets both your needs and budget. If you do find a
car with the aluminium discs, note that they need special care compared
with their steel counterparts and should be properly cleaned at every
service. This job doesn't appear on the service sheet. so either ensure
the garage does it, or do it yourself.
The suspension is worked hard and the correct set-up is vital for it
to work properly, especially at the rear. A good car will feet great,
but if the parts are worn it will feel terrible and it doesn't take
much. The rubber bushes wear quickly and loose outer-wishbone (top and
bottom) ball-joints will cause the wheels to shake, badly destabilising
the handling, though it's very cheap to fix. The rear toe link also has
a history of failing but, once again, they can be made good very cost
effectively. There was a bad batch of steering arms from 1999 that have
worn their track rod ends very quickly. If you discover this has
happened. it should be possible to have it put right under
Any problems with the fit of the doors or the clamshell front and
rear body sections should sound warning bells
Take a long hard look at panel gaps and the ensure the doors and the
clamshells fit properly. Once you've done that, examine the aluminium
chassis for any signs of damage. Proper crash repairs are difficult
because of the original bonding technique - often the chassis is
scrapped. If anything strikes you as being not quite right, walk away.
Cheap Elises are seldom the bargain they first appear.
It may be Spartan inside, but if you like your car to look immaculate
then you need to take care as the Elise can scuff up quite easily. More
importantly the alloy pedals can give cause for concern. If you feel
them sticking or squealing you should spray their joints with a little
WD40. Failure to do this can cause the pedal bush (primarily on the
throttle, and it's a more common fault with the later cars) to stick.
It's an eight-hour job to sort out.
On the early cars the window winders can work loose so that the
window falls out of alignment. This again is an awkward repair and
therefore you should always check the winders work smoothly and avoid
any cars where you notice any signs of stubbornness, Spraying them with
a silicon spray (regular furniture polish will do) helps to prevent
Also on early cars you may find that the hood leaks through the front
seals, caused by people holding the hood when climbing in and out,
slowly ripping the seals. It creates yet another time-consuming fix so
remember to examine the leading edge when going over the car. Neither
the boot nor bonnet release seem to work well, but this can be eased
simply by regularly greasing the cables. Failure to do this can cause
them to snap. The streamlined headlamp covers may look smart, but
frequent misting problems have meant that they are no longer a factory
The sports exhaust is the most ordered part for the Elise and the
vast majority of cars wear them. The standard item can show signs of rot
on the tailpipe but otherwise should be gremlin-free.
All OK, but if you're using the car for track days. Increase the size
of the alternator pulley to prevent it failing.
Buyer's Bible (The Old Testament)
- Check service history, MOT, VS I DVLC certificate. VIN, and have a
full HPI inspection. If you are not buying from a dealer, make sure
you are buying the car from the owner.
- View in daylight, and never in the rain. Take a torch to check for
signs of crash damage.
- Irregular tyre wear may mean steering/suspension damage.
- Look for poorly matched paintwork. uneven shutlines and evidence
of a respray.
- Check mileage matches wear on the seats, pedal rubbers and
steering wheel Check coolant, oil and brake fluid levels - too low
- Try all switches to check the electrical system is OK.
- Always test-drive the car from cold. Look for smoke on
- lf you know a mechanic or specialist, take him/her along to view
Disclaimer : All information is supplied as a guide only.
No Guarantee as to its reliability can be issued.
You use this information entirely at your own risk.
No Reproduction or Reuse without prior written consent.