Inspecting an R32 Skyline: Just The Tips

I was having a discussion with a prospective R32 owner on a forum when he asked me and another member what things to check on a car he was considering getting. That question made it seem like a good idea to put together a post on what to look for when inspecting an R32.

This guide is of course meant for people buying a Skyline in person as a landed car (i.e. one already here in the US) or maybe after traveling to Japan (you lucky sod you) or Canada to purchase one. If you're buying from an auction in Japan through a broker or importer this guide will at least give you some things to check in any photos or documentation. Your main resource from an auction though will be the Japanese auction sheet – here's a good explanation of what that would show:

Japanese auction sheets explained 

Now, rather than claiming to be the ultimate expert on R32 inspection that I'm not I'll let others who are far more knowledgeable than me give out most of the tips but I'll add a few that came to mind based on my experience with my car.

Before we start, let me say that I'll be focusing on R32 specific tips in this post. If you've never bought a used car before it's worth doing the research on the general things to check on any pre-owned vehicle. Of course, it's always a good idea to have the car inspected by a mechanic if possible or at the very least bring a friend with you who's knowledgeable if you're not mechanically gifted yourself. In my case I brought three mechanically-inclined friends including a race shop owner and a guy with an RB-swapped 240SX to check out my car – that way I could blame them if my car turned out to be a lemon. Ain't that what friendship is for? (If you're reading this guys, remember I treated you to Shakey's!)

I found three very useful guides on the internet while I was researching my R32 purchase. The first is the R32 Buyer's Guide from Sean Morris. I've mentioned him before but in case you haven't read any of my previous posts he's basically the guru of Skyline importation and he crew chiefed a Speed World Challenge R34 Skyline race car so he knows these cars well.

Next is the great write-up from the Skyline Owners Club forum based in the UK:

Last but not least is this one from the Skylife blog composed by Canadian Skyline owners:

Although I found this one only after buying my R32 I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent guys at Skylines Australia who've been awesome at answering questions I've had relating to my car even though I'm a weird furriner instead of a resident of Crocodile Dundee Land.

Also we have GTRLife forum member Config_T who I've been swapping info and stories with since I got my Skyline. He's imported and sold several R32s and gave these useful tips:

RB26 Intake manifold and timing belt cover usually chips due to heat. I believe that a badly chipped manifold can be correlated to heat cycles (Hot to cold cycles) the car has run over it’s life time. I don’t have any proof of this theory, but this is what I believe. If you have a low mileage GTR with a badly chipped intake manifold and cover, to me this doesn’t add up.

Many GTRs have been in accidents in Japan and repaired. Some are repaired well, others are not. Look to see if the core support was replaced, bent out of shape, and whatnot. Look around the strut tower bars for bends in the metal as well. These things would indicate front end accident. Weird panel gap or fitment would also indicate this.

Look on the left side of the engine bay and there should be a little metal cylinder with vacuum lines going into it. One of the vacuums lines will have a yellow stripe on it. Inside this line is the factory boost restrictor. Check to see if that restrictor is still there. If this is still present and doesn’t look modified, the car probably ran stock boost. Also check all the visible vacuum lines, they shouldn’t look moved around or modified.

4WD and HICAS light. 4WD system is a bitch to troubleshoot. Sometimes it just means fluid is low. Other times it can be a ton of other issues. HICAS is another bitch to fix if it is broken. Sometimes the HICAS light is on because someone installed a HICAS lockout bar. 
Check to see if timing belt was changed. Check oil pressure at startup, it should settle at or above 4. After its been running awhile it should settle around the first line on the gauge. 
Check to see if it runs smoothly at idle, and at boost. You should feel no misfires. If it is misfiring it is probably a coil pack issue, really common on these cars.
Check for third 3rd and 4th gear grind at around 6000 -6200 RPM, another common R32 GTR issue.
Look for rust in door jams, underneath, inner fender, suspension components.

Try and listen for a noisy and clunky differential. They are a bit noisy but it should not be excessive.
Your cold startup should be smooth. It should fire up instantly after a couple cranks.

A couple of things I might add to all the stuff above:
  • When checking the weatherstripping and moldings for the glass keep a few things in mind: the moldings around the front and rear glass plus the weatherstripping around the door glass and the doors themselves are not particularly hard or expensive to get but there's a metal retaining piece around the door glass on each side and the rubber covering it may be cracked. It's not possible to buy that separately because it's glued on. This is important because those retainers cost around 800-1100 dollars per side so if those need replacing it won't be cheap. In theory you could just try and replace the cracked rubber with generic rubber strips but if you want OEM then be ready to pay for it. The rear quarter glass panels come as one piece with the moldings. The moldings aren't available separately so if yours are damaged replacing them means buying the whole unit at about 300 bucks a side. Hey, if you wanted cheap you'd have gotten an old Civic right?
    Don't be fooled - that cracked rubber isn't just cheap weatherstripping, it's part of an expensive retainer

  • As I mentioned before in my guide on the importation process, ask for the importation documents even if the car's already been titled here in the US. If the seller can show copies of them to you then you can rest easier that the car was properly imported. If he can't then caveat emptor since it may be a black market car and you probably don't want to have to explain to federal agents later on how your sister's friend's second cousin swore to you on his honor as a former Cub Scout that it was fully legal.
  • Realize that these are 25 year old cars. Imperfections are to be expected with cars this age. You want as good condition as possible but also be suspect if some things seem like they're in too good condition. Paint that's too pristine for example may indicate a repaint so why was it done? It's fine if it was done to refresh the car's looks but may also hide accident damage. You may dig the aftermarket bumper that's on the car but you won't be happy for long if you later find a repaired radiator support shows the old bumper was lost in a front end crash. So if the car looks great at first glance you should be just as critical as one with obvious flaws. At the same time however the one with obvious flaws may be a better buy if the base car is solid, the flaws are expected for the car's age, and they're fixable. 
  • Check the serial number plate attached to the engine bay firewall and the number stamped on the firewall itself. Of course, the most important thing is to make sure the serial numbers match since that will be your car's VIN. However, it's also important to make sure there are no signs of tampering and both are easily legible. There have been known cases of serial plates being tampered with in other countries for import reasons but at the very least you want to make sure the numbers are easily readable since state DMVs typically will want to see two VINs on inspection. Those two serial numbers - the plate and the firewall stamp - are the only ones on an R32 Skyline unlike modern cars that seem to have every panel stamped with a VIN. The plate and stamp should look like these - easily legible, untampered, and the plate affixed with two plastic rivets:
  • Be a little wary of modified cars. First reason applies more to cars that have yet to be imported - the EPA exemption is for cars "in original configuration". The limits are vague and modified cars can and do get in without incident but obviously heavy mods could conceivably be turned away at the entry inspection. Second reason to be wary is that a lot of Skyline owners have run into headaches from retarded stuff previous owners will do like bodged up wiring, body kits held on with sheet metal screws, and Hello Kitty decals stuck on with super glue. Okay, the Hello Kitty part is made up but you get the idea. Stock or stock-ish cars usually mean less issues.
  • If you're in the market for a rare Nismo GT-R and want to know how to be sure a car is a genuine example of the elusive 560 I'll post a more detailed article later on with pictures of key things to check.
I hope all this info makes you well-armed to scope out your prospective ride. Now go out there and find yourself a Skyline!


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