Buyer's Guide - good and bad

Buyer's Guide
What to look for
Engine and transmission:
K-Series engines are strong and love to rev and as far as Co2 emissions go they are very green. First seen in the Metro in 1.4 guise, the engine has been progressively enlarged and improved. The Dohc K-Series was the mainstay of the MG Rover product range and was developed into the KV6 fitted to the Rover 75 and MG ZT ranges. The K1.8 engine has damp liners (where which half of the liner is dropped into the block, and half is cooled by coolant) to give extra capacity and is fitted with a stronger crankshaft and lighter pistons. It is very smooth and flexible.
The entire engine is completely aluminium with the head bolts reaching down to secure the sump. Oil leaks are very rare and if present, should be viewed with some concern. Cambelts need to be changed at 60,000 miles or five years whichever is the earlier, usually the latter as most MGF’s are used as second cars. There are two belts on a VVC engine and although difficult to change, documented evidence of this repair, which is part of a five hundred pound annual service, should be available to the buyer if the car is over five years old.
Check the dipstick under the flap in the boot to determine the state of the oil. If it is coffee coloured, then the head gasket has failed All engines should fire easily and idle at 850rpm when warm. They should be eager to accelerate without any flat spots and should not misfire or cut out. The water temperature should be just below half way on the gauge and no warning lights should be illuminated when driving. The engine should quickly attain normal working temperature.
The manual PG1 gearbox is strong and has a close set of ratios, but is notchy until the oil is warmed. It is advisable to change the gearbox oil on a biannual basis to maintain a slick shift. The control cables for the gear linkage can break and although awkward to replace, necessitating the removal of the centre console assembly, are again achievable by the enthusiastic owner with the aid of proper tools and a workshop manual.
The clutch replacement is a major job on most modern cars and the MGFis no exception, however many owners cover high mileage’s without trouble to this item. It is a hydraulically actuated self-adjusting unit.
Selecting reverse is best achieved by selecting a forward gear first to slow down the input shaft, which will prevent a graunching gear. This is quite normal. All gears should select easily and not ‘jump out’ The clutch is robust and checking for wear is just like any other car. Steptronic versions should shift up and down in a seamless fashion.
Suspension, steering and brakes
The MGFsuspension is Hydragas connected to all four wheels and damped by shock absorbers. It is indeed derived from the highly successful Metro as at the time development money was tight. The system allows for good predictable handling and roadholding without compromising passenger comfort. Indeed the car offers a very supple ride. Problems occur when owners fail to deal with a leaking unit or have the gas released to effect a lower ride height. This is not good practice.
There are three ways of lowering the MGFand as can be seen, none of these methods should be undertaken by anyone other than a Hydragas specialist - and one that should never be undertaken at all:
Release fluid pressure: The same happens to a car sitting lower due to neglect. This will lead to probably lower ride with difficult to define stiffness, but can give very dangerous handling on rebound movements of the wheels, when the gas-membrane covers and closes the damper openings in the Hydragas-units. The stiffness of the setup can vary with the amount of fluid released and one may even end up with a softer suspension!
Shorten the knuckles, which actuate the Hydragas-units: A popular and safe conversion, which leaves one thing usually desired: The car will only get lower, but the suspension will not get any harder! So the soft setup with shorter wheel travels will lead to a car hitting the bump stops more often, being uncomfortable in the extreme. But not dangerous as the stiffness overall is not affected and clearly defined.
A combination of reworked Hydragas units: Different fluid pressure and probably (not necessary) shortened knuckle-joints... there have been Hydragas units on offer with lower gas-pressure, leading to a stiffer setup where the fluid pressure can be dropped slightly to gain a lower ride height. But this is really something for experts...
There are specialists who can pump up the suspension but mostly the work is carried out by the Rover franchised dealer network.
Check the suspension ride height (tape measure required for a crude on the spot check it should be about 368 ± 10 mm at 17C measured from the centre of the wheel to the wheel arch lip vertically above it). Too high or too low may upset the suspension balance, and lead to premature tyre wear. Also, whilst performing this check, does the car sit level? There is nothing more irritating than a lop-sided car.
The steering is rack and pinion like most other cars today, a system, which offers low maintenance and very precise feel to it. The VVC and cars that have optional power steering fitted are protected by an underbonnet 70amp fuse fitted on the right hand side of the inner wing. Some owners disconnect it to improve the steering feel. The power assistance uses an electric motor mounted to the steering column, (the EPAS ECU derives the assistance required from the vehicle speed, and turning torque on the steering wheel, in order to give the correct assistance - or what it thinks is correct) which greatly reduces the use of engine power over the traditional hydraulic power steering pump. The steering firms up at speed to and gives greatest driving assistance at low and parking speeds.
All MGFs have four-wheel power assisted disc brakes with vented discs at the front wheel and solid discs at the rear wheels. Maximum brake size on MGF’s using standard 15-inch wheels is 280mm. But the AP racing set up used on the Trophy 160SE variant use a 304mm brake discs - this needs to be used in conjunction with suitable 16-inch wheels. As with all cars, a close look at the disc condition through the alloy wheel will tell you a lot about how it has been driven.
Today’s brake pads have no asbestos content and are generally much harder; therefore the disc itself wears and has to be replaced. Often this will manifest itself as a judder when braking from speed. Apart from that, braking should be progressive without any pulling to one side. Handbrake warning lights can sometimes stick on and the cable would need adjustment in this case.
Tyres and wheels:
Check the condition of the tyres. In addition to the tread depth there should be no excess wear on outer or inner edges of the tyre tread. This would indicate incorrect tracking or suspension height setting and would highlight a car that has had a hard life with sporadic servicing. Check also condition of tyre walls and wheel rims to see if the car has been kerbed frequently indicating a careless previous owner.
Cooling system:
MGFs get an undeserved bad press because of Head gasket failure.
Many owners are ignorant of how the cooling system works and run the system low or have poor quality maintenance, which results in incorrect cooling system bleeding to eradicate air. Air within the cooling system would create localised hot spots in the engine and would almost certainly blow the gasket, which is of course a safety valve to prevent major engine damage.
Firstly when looking at a used MGF, you should check the radiator expansion tank to look for a correctly filled tank with a good green colour anti freeze. Other than this would indicate a problem. Have a look underneath the car to check the condition of underfloor cooling pipes. These travel the length of the car from the radiator to the engine.
When driving the car, be sure to reach working engine temperature and park leaving the engine running. After a few minutes at ambient temperatures, the fans should cut in to cool the engine. There is a fan inside the engine bay and this can be heard on the driver’s side of the car. It is designed to cool the ancillary components within the engine bay. The other fan is mounted next to the radiator; this should cut in dependant on temperature and heating system usage. Rare A/c equipped cars have two fans that work together or singly dependent upon conditions.
Body and chassis:
This is a sportscar and many owners will have driven them hard and fast. Some cars will have visited hedges or contacted other cars during the course of their lives. Rust or paint bubbles indicate poor repair as generally the car, even the 1995 models are rust free. Look for good panel fits, which should be parallel, all round. Check for signs of overspray on the hood, wheel arch liners or exhaust indicating accident damage repairs.
Exhaust:
Check for the sound of rattling or blowing exhausts. They generally last a long time, as there is a very short run from the engine to the silencer box. Complete replacement systems are around £200 with long life stainless steel ones costing c£300.
Interior and hood:
If the car is fitted with a hard top, see if you can have it removed to assess the hood fit and condition. The hood is simple to fold and erect, so any difficulties suggest a bent frame indicating very careless use or even an accident. Plastic rear windows should be checked to ensure that they are not cracked and the hood fabric should free from rips or tears. All are available as replacements and budget for a hood around £400 and a rear window around £100. Many owners will have replaced the cloth seats with leather on the 1.8Mpi, and this is a desirable specification to have.
The interior should be dry and in good condition. Damp musty smells are a sign of a leaky hood or window where it meets the hood. Left untreated the resultant moisture could create rust in the footwells. If there is a smell of petrol, walk away! This problem is very difficult to diagnose and rectify.
Electrical system:
Check that electric window motors work smoothly without jarring and also the central locking system. Pressing the lock plip on the handset twice will actuate the deadlocks. Check that all instruments work whilst on a roadtest. SRS warning light on all the time could be something a simple as a poorly connected wire under the drivers seats, (or passenger seat if two airbags fitted).
Summary
The car is generally reliable but will benefit from an enthusiastic owner who will foresee any problems by preventative planned maintenance. MGFs are either bought by people who use them sparingly or are bought and modified and thrashed on a daily basis. There are plenty of cars to choose from so avoid the latter and look around carefully. Whether you buy a 1.6 or a Trophy will depend wholly upon your needs and finances. They will all deliver motoring pleasure and are inexpensive to maintain and have especially low depreciation
The most popular colours are British racing green, solar red, silver and Tahiti blue. The least popular colours are white, alumina green and gold. But don’t let me put you off one of these if the car is the right one for you.
Care of the soft-top is advisable and a thorough clean at the start of the year followed up with a coating of waterproof lacquer will pay dividends. Look out for a good used hardtop, as it will make a world of difference to the motoring you do in the cold winter months.
Whether you buy a Steptronic version is your personal choice, but CVTs offer an unusual driving sensation that many find at odds with the MGF's sporting brief. So, as the automatic MGB was not popular, it follows that the automatic MGFwill also not be popular. Small sportscars should be manual to gain the most driver involvement.
The MGF represents great value for money and is a technically competent package. Do join a club and learn from other owners. It may enhance your social life as well. Buy a good one and maintain and cherish it, and you will have a car which will reward you every time you drive it.

With thanks to Tony Harrison for compiling this article; and Alexander Boucke and Brian Gunn for their additions.