Buying Guide, Checkpoints - From Evo Magazine, 111S Recalls, Floor Corrosion

Buying Guide

Compiled by Dot

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:

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:

Kelvin Hughes

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 IIRC. 

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 rare. 

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 etc. 

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 
Lotus parts plus there is a very healthy after market business in Elise bits. 

Checkpoints - From Evo Magazine

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 over-revving 

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 rebuild. 


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 warranty. 


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 this. 

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 fit item. 


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. 

Electrical systems

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 means neglect. 
  • Try all switches to check the electrical system is OK. 
  • Always test-drive the car from cold. Look for smoke on start-up. 
  • lf you know a mechanic or specialist, take him/her along to view the car.


Details of recalls can be found here

Floor Corrosion

The floor of the S1 Elise has been prone to corrosion, details of which (and the remedial work required) can be found here

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.

© Elise FAQ Team 2002