How to become a Rally Driver Part 6 – Buying a used rally car

How do you go about finding a used rally car? You want a good one and not something that should be sent to the scrap heap. -To be fair, we have rescued a few lately! Don’t know what type of car to buy as your first? Click Here for Part 5.

Rally cars have to work much harder than normal road cars and it can be hard to tell what problems may be lurking under the skin. In part six we’re going to cover buying a used rally car to help you avoid some of the pitfalls.

Where to look?

The first place to find a used car for sale is to ask around at your car club or motorsport events. People tend to know of cars that are parked up without them being advertised. You can also check websites like, Gumtree, Craigslist, other rally websites and forums.

Generally you want to search for a car locally, rather than interstate or overseas. Once you’ve found a prospective or two, you need to do your research before contacting the seller. Ask around within the sport to see who knows the history of the car, who built it and how its been looked after.

Buying interstate or overseas is more difficult as you may not be able to verify the history. The info you find out will help you decide if you want to progress further or keep looking.


Once you’ve contacted the seller and go to have a look, ask to see the car’s log book. Most governing authorities in the world issue competition log books for race & rally cars.

The log book contains the vehicle details, owner’s details and competition history. It may also contain any problems that scrutineers have identified or any accidents that car has had. It’s not guaranteed that problems will be noted in the log book, so that’s why you need to do your research first.

Check that the VIN/Chassis number in the log book matches the car too. Occasionally rally cars are re-shelled and the new shell has a different VIN/Chassis number from the log book.

If you do find the numbers don’t match or there is no log book issued for the car, its best to walk away. If you proceed with the purchase, you could find you have problems with licensing or being able to compete down the track.


For the moment, ignore the body work and check out the structure of the car. Chassis rails, suspension pick-up and mounting points, strut towers, rear end etc.

You’re looking for rusted out sections, bent, warped or wrinkled areas and split seams. This is where the spot welds have popped and the individual panels may have separated.

If you find any of these, the structure of the car could have have had a big accident or a very hard life. Finding the structure in sound condition is a big tick and bonus points if you find seam welding.

Roll Cage

The roll cage requires close attention. It’s the single most important piece of safety equipment in the car and is designed to save your (and your co-driver’s) life in an impact by protecting the passenger compartment.

A roll cage may be bolt in or weld in. Basically both types are designed to save your life, however a weld in cage will generally increase the durability of the car’s body shell and provide better torsional rigidity.

Check carefully for cracked paint over the whole structure, particularly where the cage mounts to the body shell and around the roof. Cracked paint is an indication that the cage is bent, this is bad news and may mean that the tubes of the cage have done their job and could now be suffering from fatigue.

Check around all welds to make sure they look sound and there are no cracks, also make sure that all welds cover the full circumference of each tube. We’ve seen a few roll cages where the builder has only welded where they could see. Not only is this is a safety issue, if it’s discovered at an event, you won’t be able to compete.

With bolt in cages check that all bolts are high tensile, they have nylocks fitted and at least two turns of thread are protruding through each nut. Bolt in cages also require backing plates to be fitted under each mounting point so check that there are plates under the floor pan and rear wheel arches or reinforcing plates have been welded into the shell.


Get the car up in the air and remove all the wheels. Have a good look for bent or damaged components, check ball joints, tie rod ends and bushes too. Also check for split boots, problems with driveshafts, axles and wheel bearings.

If there’s suspicious noises or binding, the issue needs further investigation. Also slide a jack under each corner, jack the suspension up to full compression and then let it down to full droop. Noises, binding or resistance are a problem and you should find that the suspension operates the same on all four corners.

If the suspension hasn’t been serviced regularly (yes rally suspension needs servicing), the car has been sitting on its wheels for a long time and water or dirt has found its way into the dampers, they could be worn or damaged internally and partially seized.

Suspension is one of the high cost items for gravel rally cars and the last thing you need is to have to replace or rebuild it straight up.


With the wheels off check the brakes, both the hydraulics (master cylinder, hydraulic handbrake if fitted, and wheels) as well as the condition of pads and rotors. Also confirm with the owner what brakes are actually fitted as brakes are commonly upgraded.

Some older cars (Mini’s, Escorts, Datsuns, Corollas etc) also had drum brakes fitted as standard at one or both ends. Many of these rally cars have been converted to disc brakes so knowing what is fitted will make it much easier when you need to replace the rotors or pads.


Confirm with the seller what engine mods (if any) have been done. We also like to compression test and oil pressure test an engine to check what sort of health it’s in. Low readings could indicate problems.

Have a good look at engine and transmission mounts as well as they do get worn out and break. Ask how often the engine is serviced (eg before each rally) and what type of oil, plugs, filters etc are used. Black treacle in the sump and sketchy servicing details may indicate that the car has not been well looked after.

If the car has carburettors fitted, take the time to have a look at the rubber seals, gaskets and hoses. Fuel stains, cracked or perished rubbers can be an indication that the carb(s) need a rebuild. It can work out expensive.

For fuel injected cars, ask when the last time the fuel pump and fuel filter was replaced. Most modern fuel injected cars have their fuel pumps in the tank. The vibrations from rallying and the odd knock to the fuel tank can upset pumps and fracture the plastic pick up leading to low fuel pressure.

Fuel sitting for a period can also lose its octane rating and oxidise, so check how long ago fresh fuel was put in the tank. Similarly a blocked fuel filter will have the same effect. Low fuel pressure or poor fuel quality can lead to a lean fuel mixture and a damaged or blown engine.

If aftermarket engine management is fitted, confirm the brand and who tuned it. You can always contact the tuner and have a chat to further add to your knowledge base.

Transmission & driveline

This is pretty tricky. If the driveline is completely standard, you can treat it like a road car and any abnormal noises, whining, grinding, clunking etc can be treated as suspicious.

If anything has been changed in the driveline or upgraded, what seems like terrible noises or harsh drive may be perfectly normal. This is an area where you really need to have someone with you that knows about rally cars and can check it.

You may need to drain oils for testing and check drain plugs to be really sure, that will depend on the value of the car and the transmission.


Rally cars may start out pristine when they’re new, however it doesn’t take much for the paint to become scuffed, stone chipped or to suffer the odd scrape or bruise. It’s the nature of racing through the forest at high speeds.

Minor panel damage is common on used rally cars and as long as it is not structural damage, repairs or panel replacements are fine.

They often have their colour changed for a variety of reasons too (sponsorship, car needed a re-spray etc). Don’t be concerned about finding different colour paint on the inside of panels, doors etc.

It’s personal preference as to what level of condition you’ll accept and whether you want to get the car up to concourse standard.


Have a good look at the seats and seat mounts. Make sure they have the correct bolts and fasteners fitted. Check the seats are not cracked or damaged and they are securely fitted.

Seats are generally set in fixed positions, so the seat may need to be adjusted or re-mounted to suit your driving position. If you don’t fit in the seat, you may need to replace it with one that suits you.

Depending on the age of the car, the seat covers and cushions may be worn or frayed. You can have seats reupholstered however do your homework as it could be just as expensive as buying new ones. Check the harnesses and fire extinguishers too. Here are the videos we’ve already done to help out.

Whilst talking about the interior, confirm what all the switches and buttons do and ensure they do what they’re supposed to, and also check whether the sale will include a rally computer and/or intercom.

Additional items

With most of the major items covered, have a check of things like: Mud flaps, Spare wheel tie down/fixings, jack and under body protection like the sump guard/bash plate. It’s amazing how many times a rally car has been loaded on a trailer destined to it’s new owner and the sump guard has been left in the corner of the seller’s garage.

The other important rally item is lights. Some cars have spotlights fitted permanently and others are mounted in a pod. Pods are removable and may not be fitted to the car when you have a look at it.  If the lights/pod(s) are matched to the car, it may be worth ensuring they are included in the sale.

Also ask about spare wheels and tyres and if and what spares are included in the sale. Sometimes an owner may be willing to sell a car and spares separately.

One thing to make sure with spares is that you are getting valuable and usable parts. There’s no point paying for a spares package if they’re odd ball items, the parts are un-serviceable or for the wrong car.

Sealing the deal

It may take a couple of visits to look at a used rally car before you have enough info to make a decision. You may have to go away and do further homework first.

The price will depend on the type of car, the specifications, whether it is ready to race or how much work is required. Also what the used rally car market is like in your area.

This article and video cover the major items, however it is not an exhaustive list. Depending where you live in the world, there may be other regulations or items you need to consider that I haven’t included.

If there’s anything at all you’re not sure on, consult with an expert who knows about the topic. Remember to stick to your budget!

It’s better to have walked away then to have bought a lemon which you need to spend twice your budget on to get it up to competition standard.

We want to see you out there on the special stages, Good Luck with your purchase!

Building a car instead of buying? Click here for Part 7

Karl Drummond