Ultimate Racing - Buyer Beware
Buying a Used Race Car Can Be Overwhelming, Unless You Know What to Look For
From the January, 2013 issue of Circle Track
By Pete Epple
Photography by Pete Epple
Buying a race car can be complicated....
Buying a race car can be complicated. Knowledge is key. When you know what to look for (both good and bad) you may spend more time on the hunt, but you’ll end up with a better piece.
Buying a race car is not an easy purchase. Sure, you find a car, give a complete stranger a lot of money, and you end up with a car. Beyond the actual transaction, unless you spend a lot of time inspecting each candidate, you could end up with a big can of worms. Race cars, especially circle track cars, live in a brutally harsh environment. These cars take a beating every week, and in the lower ranks, they don’t always get fixed properly when things break (how many of us learned to weld trying to fix our race cars?)
Buying a new-to-you race car can be a whirlwind of emotions. The excitements of picking up a new car (especially if you’re moving to a new class), coupled with the daydreams of everything you’re going to change to make it your own, and who you’re going to thank when you win your first feature can act as blinders, causing you to miss major red flags or issues that may cost you lots of time and money to fix before you ever get on track. Tunnel vision may not be an issue for the seasoned vet who’s been racing for 30 years, but for the newer or younger racers with much less experience, here are few things to keep in mind before handing over your hard-earned money.
The Circle Track staff recently picked up a used Pro Cup car. Our Ford Fusion is a solid piece! It’s a Hess chassis with a Tiger quick-change rearend, AP Racing brakes, full fuel system, ignition, fire system, airbox, brake ducts, dry-sump tank, two driveshafts, full containment seat, a set of springs, two exhaust systems, multiple sets of headers, and a bunch of wheels and tires.
01. Race cars are full of complicated systems, and trying to find the perfect specimen can be a daunting task. The engine bay is a great place to start. Much of the chassis, suspension, brakes, electrical, plumbing, and steering can all be checked out without looking anywhere else.
These cars take a beating every week, and in the lower ranks, they don’t always get fixed properly when things break (how many of us learned to weld trying to fix our race cars?)
Depending on your location, the shape of the equipment, and how motivated the seller is, a similar setup can be bought for anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. But there is a lot to keep in mind. Your driver most likely won’t fit in the seat, so now you need a seat. The rearend will most likely need to be rebuilt; the brakes will need to be inspected, and parts may need to be replaced; depending on your engine combination, the headers may be useless; and at some point the additional parts may not add any additional value.
Research is key. If you’re looking to buy a car built by a reputable chassis builder, they will have records of the chassis and any service they have done. In our case, we gave the guys at Hess Racing Products a call, gave them the chassis number, and found out some useful info. They informed us that our chassis was built on September 16, 2003. We were concerned about having an older chassis, but the HRP crew assured us that it was OK, as there wasn’t much difference in the geometry from what we had, compared to a new chassis. They also gave us a number of locations to check for work that may have been done, that we weren’t informed about. It was obvious our chassis had recently received a rear clip, but they were able to tell us that the car was recently checked on the chassis jig and the car is straight.
02. When it comes to the chassis, look for obvious signs like bent framerails or replaced front or rear clips. Tell tale signs are new paint or different shade of paint, or a design that doesn’t resemble the original builders design. Gusseting or patches like the diamond shown here can also be signs that a clip has been replaced. A clipped car isn’t a deal breaker. Many times, if the clip is done right, especially on an older chassis, the new clip may have improved geometry, which will make it a better car. Always check with the chassis builder for any info on the chassis. 03. Next, the suspension pick up points should be checked. Being that these are direct connections from the suspension to the chassis, they can take a beating. Check for crack or bends. Our Hess Pro Cup car has a slight bend in the lower A-arm mount, but the crew at Hess Racing Products informed us that it’s a normal occurrence, and the geometry isn’t affected in any way.
04. Using a straightedge...
04. Using a straightedge is a great way to determine if suspension components are bent. Check the A-arms and trailing arms, as well as the mounts.
05. Check all of the welds...
05. Check all of the welds for cracks. Also, check the greasable joints for dirt and debris.
06. The steering system is...
06. The steering system is also easy to check. Check for leaks, old fluid, and any damage to the steering box.
07. Using the straightedge, check the drag link setup for bends. Small bends can affect steering performance. Turn the steering from lock to lock and be sure the steering is smooth without binding. When inspecting the steering components, make sure to check for play or slop in all of the rod ends, ball joints, idler arms, steering box, or rack. Anywhere there is play could signal that particular component is on its way out.
08. A thorough onceover...
08. A thorough onceover can also uncover issues. Our Pro Cup car’s dry sump tank had a wire ripped out of the sending unit for the oil temp gauge. While not a major problem, small issues can add up, becoming a lot of work and money to fix.
09. The fuel system is another...
09. The fuel system is another good area to inspect. In our case, we have the fuel cell and dry brake to inspect. While this isn’t a complicated system, ensure all of the components are in good operating condition.
10. While inspecting the...
10. While inspecting the inlet to the dry brake, we found a crack that’s about 3 inches long. Even though this doesn’t affect how the dry brake works, over time the crack can grow, especially if pit stop fueling is a normal occurrence.
11. A fire suppression system is a great thing to have. Even if a car comes with it, this is one of those things that you are better off replacing before you hit the track. Our bottle said it was still full, but we know the car had been sitting for a couple of years, and if there was ever a fire, you wouldn’t want to gamble with an old, untested system.
12. Inside the car there...
12. Inside the car there is a lot to look at. The dash and gauges are difficult to check if the car isn’t able to run. Inspect all of the wiring and connections.
Check all of the suspension pick-up points for bends, cracks, or rust. Any signs of failure need to be fixed before going on track. Beyond the obvious, any variations from the original mounting points will change the suspension geometry. Measuring everything is key here because the right changes will improve handling, but the wrong ones can cause major handling issues.
Beyond the chassis, go through all of the various systems with a fine-tooth comb. Subtle things can tip you off to larger problems. Check things like fluids. Old, nasty oil, transmission fluid, or rusty water with stop-leak in the radiator can all be signs of neglects or lack of maintenance. Brakes are another big area to pay attention to. Check the brake pads and rotors for wear. Check all of the brakes lines for kinks, and the fittings for leaks. Check the brake fluid, as old, dirty fluid will not perform as well as fresh fluid. In fact, you should change all of the fluids regardless of how they look. There is no way to know how long the fluids have been in the car and how many laps are on them.
13. Inspect the ignition system. This is another one of those components that may be worth replacing before racing your new car.
There are a thousand other things to check and look at, and we simply don’t have the room to hit everything here. It comes down to common sense. Look at as much as possible, ask as many questions as you can, dig for as much info as possible.
There are a thousand other things to check and look at, and we simply don’t have the room to hit everything here. It comes down to common sense. Look at as much as possible, ask as many questions as you can, dig for as much info as possible. Your new car should be entirely stripped and all components inspected before the season starts, or before racing it the first time. The more informed you are, the better decisions you’ll make, and you’ll end up with a better race car!
14. If the car has a battery, and you have a test light, the switch panel is easy to check. Make sure all of the wiring is in good condition, and check for power at as many places as possible. If there is any doubt, re-wire the car and buy a new switch panel. This is exactly what we’re going to do as there’s no sense in risking victory for a small wiring failure.
15. Brakes are extremely...
15. Brakes are extremely important, and should be checked thoroughly. Surface rust can be a bad sign, but looks can be deceiving also. We were worried about our braking system upon first inspection, but we were pleasantly surprised. Look for more info on the brakes in an future issue of CT.
16.0 Take a wheel off and...
16.0 Take a wheel off and look at pad and rotor thickness.
16.5 New or almost new brakes...
16.5 New or almost new brakes pads are a good sign, as are new or like new rotors.
17. Take a good look at the...
17. Take a good look at the master cylinders. Check for leaks, and check the fluid. Old nasty fluid can be sign of brake problems, and broken down fluid will reduce performance.
18. The rearend can be expensive...
18. The rearend can be expensive to replace. Check as much as possible. Put a straightedge on the tubes to check for straightness, look at the gears, check the axles, and look at the fluid. Rearend issues are fairly easy to spot if you know what to look for.
19. If you car has any additional...
19. If you car has any additional coolers, like this rear end cooler, check for leaks, solid mounting, and damage.