Fiesta Buying Guide

It’s important when buying any car to be familiar with the particular model so as to know what to look for to avoid problems in future. This guide will explain what to check and inspect in particular when buying a performance mk3 Fiesta. The points covered are as follows:



Where To Buy

This depends largely on which model you are looking for. See the history section for model specific details. Starting with the Si, these are readily available from private sales such as Autotrader and local press. Trade sales are common as well with many cars being part exchanged for newer models. The Si was produced in both 3 and 5 door forms, the five door is generally more expensive yet lacks the sporting appeal. It’s rare to find a modified Si, as most buyers with modification in mind went straight for the bodykitted XR or RS models.

The XR2i is a similar story, private and trade adverts, but worth scanning the classifieds in the car magazines, particularly if you are after a modified example. Plenty of cars are on offer in the Cars For Sale forum on this site.

The RS models have more of a following and although some cars have been thrashed, there are plenty owned by enthusiasts and have often been well looked after, some with well below average miles and in above average condition. The best place to find these examples is in the RS Owners Club Rallye News magazine and in the Car Sales section of the website The specialist Ford Publications also have classifed sections which are worth looking at.

Buying Modified

There can be a number of reasons for buying a pre modified car. Sometimes as a short cut to buying a standard car and making upgrades, exhaust, chip, filter etc. Other times buying a complete package, such as a featured car which has instant recognition and fame. Many modified car owners concentrate on a particular aspect of the car such as just the looks or the performance, leading to a ‘half done’ project which can then be added to in other ways to produce a finished item. An example of this could be a heavily tuned RS Turbo with standard bodywork or a totally bodyworked model with very little in the way of engine mods.

When buying modified car, things work slightly differently. Usually interest stems from a desire to own that particular car, so upon discovering problems with the vehicle it’s not a case of moving on to the next one on the list. Fortunately most modified cars have been exceptionally well looked after, garaged, washed regularly and suchlike.


When checking over the car start by looking for signs of accident damage. This is particularly relevant to the performance models covered here which may have been driven a little too hard. Having said that it’s not uncommon to find 10 year old examples with perfectly original paint. Check the gaps around the doors, these tend to be a little wider than other cars but should be even all round, with the exception of the gap at the top of the door between the gutter which may be wider. There should also be even gaps on the bonnet and tailgate, although the tailgate may have a bigger gap above one light cluster due to the single strut boot opening. The bumpers should be level with no signs of distortion. Cracked fog or driving lights are common and are £20 each so knock the buyer down if any need replacement.

Under the bonnet the panels should be the same colour on mk3s, and matt black on mk3.5s. Ford stopped spraying the engine bays on these models to cut costs. If the engine bay is still white and the body is another colour, the car has been sprayed and the buyer should be aware and able to explain. It’s not uncommon for a modified car to have had a colour change without being stripped. The wings should be date stamped, missing stamps indicate replacement wings, not a problem if fitted properly. Check the inner wings - the straight crossmembers running each side of the engine. These should be straight and undamaged. Paint scuffing in the cutout section where the wheels turn indicates scrubbing due to larger wheels being fitting. Not a major problem but useful to know if the car is being sold on standard wheels.

Examine the metal underneath the boot carpet and passenger footwell. These should be flat and painted the car’s body colour. If they show signs of damage, kinks or cracks, the car has almost certainly sustained a serious impact. Professionally carried out repairs will not be detectable but amateur or cheap jobs will be noticeable. Tell tale signs of straightening are jig clamp marks on the sills. There are usually four of these, a few inches in length, at the front and back of each sill.

Also check the front and rear valances behind the bumpers for dents or creases. The bumpers are flexible and an impact may have pushed the bumper, kinking the valance before springing the bumper back into shape.

Most Turbos have a dent in the centre of the bonnet from the ‘T U R B O’ charge carrier hitting it due to failed gearbox mounts. In some cases this can be fixed by dent removal companies, depending on the extent of the damage.


The Fiestas came with a six year anti-corrosion guarantee, but most have missed inspections leading to invalidation. Rust isn’t a major problem providing the car has been looked after, but always check to make sure it’s only cosmetic and not structural. If you can get a quote for any work that needs doing then you have a base on which to agree a price with the seller.

The most badly affected area is around the fuel filler cap, where dirt and moisture is trapped between the inner and outer panels. The first sign of this is bubbly paint around the area. It’s only fixable by replacing the panel, so budget £200 to have this done. Mk3.5’s have a plastic flap and are unaffected.

Other common spots are the inner door sills, lift up the rubber weather seal and check the seam. Rust usually starts where the join in the seal is, but check the whole length of the sills to make sure the rubbers have not been repositioned further along to conceal spots. The same goes for the boot seal, check where the join is and all along the welded seam. The rear arches are susceptible as well, not so bad on XR / RS models where the metal is protected from stone chips by the plastic arch trims.

Look around the base of the windscreen and tailgate glass. A damp foot well indicates a leak due to a defective seal or hole in the metal. Tailgates can corrode on the inside behind the rubber so check this all the way round.

Under the bonnet check the battery tray, surface rust is common but heavy corrosion on the support where it joins the crossmember can lead to an MOT failure.

The next checks are best done with the car in the air if at all possible. The sills on the underside of the car that run under the doors may be distorted or bent. This is due to the less than perfect Ford jack and should be restricted to the areas by the jacking points on models with sideskirts. Examine the front and rear valances behind the bumpers, light spots and a little rust along the edges is fine, as long as it’s only surface and hasn’t gone through. The rear arches may need to have underseal re-applied after years of being hit by stone chips. £25 should see this done.

With the car still in the air, check the spare wheel and carrier is still there. It may have been removed to allow for a custom exhaust or to save weight or it may have been stolen. Ask the seller if concerned. Finally, check the sump for serious corrosion and budget £100 for a new one if required.

CVH Engine

The Compound Valve Hemispherical is a 1600cc unit fitted in the 8 valve XR2i. These engine need frequent oil changes using good quality branded oil, otherwise black sludge forms and can damage the camshaft and followers. Check the service history for serving every 10,000 miles or 12 months. If the car has no service history or it looks suspect, wait until cold then remove the oil cap and look inside the engine. It should be fairly clean, black sludge is bad news and could mean impending engine failure.

Cam belts should be changed at 36,000 mile intervals. Unless you can be absolutely sure that it’s been changed recently budget to have a new one done. £200 should see the job done complete with new belt tensioner and water pump.

Always ask to see the engine started from cold. This will show up any noises or smoke that only appear when the cold. Listen for a sharp but dull knock from the top of the engine that dies out fairly quickly. This indicates the unit has wear but still some life left in it. If the sound persists then the tappets and perhaps the cam will need replacing £100-£200 for this job.

Blue smoke that clears once the engine is warm indicates worn valve stem oil seals. A fairly simple job, £60 to get done. White smoke is water and could point to a blown or damaged head gasket. Examine where the head joins the block for leaks. Cars with stainless steel exhausts often build up condensation inside the exhaust which causes light white mist for a minute or so when started. This is nothing to worry about.

The CVH engine can last over 100,000 miles if looked after. Oil changes every 5000 miles and plugs ever 10,000 will help with this.

CVH Turbo Engine

The same basic checks apply to the standard CVH unit also apply here. Oil changes should be more frequent, at least every 7000 miles. 3000 mile changes with top quality synthetic oil such as 10w60 Castrol RS or 15w50 Mobil 1 Motorsport is very good and should ensure the unit is running sweet. 

The condition of the turbo unit can be checked by removing the air filter to turbo hose and feeling for play in the end shaft. A slight amount forward / backward motion is ok, but any up / down or side to side movement indicates worn bearings and that the unit is in need of reconditioning. Also check for oil dripping from around the unit, this sometimes points to blocked or faulty oil feed or return pipes and can sometimes lead to oil draining from the turbo into the exhaust, causing large amounts of smoke. Cost for refurbishment or replacement on an exchange basis varies, as a rule allow around £300 but check with a specialist before buying under the assumption that a certain amount will fix it.

Zetec Engine

The Zetec is renowned for it’s reliability and smooth running. Early Zetecs had problems with sticky valves, most of which were fixed by dealers under warranty. Using the incorrect grade of oil can also cause the sticking valves. Always use fully synthetic 5w 30 oil such as Mobil 1. The main problems with the Zetec are misfiring and stalling. A new set of leads and plugs should cure the misfiring. £50 will get new Ford items and fitting is a fairly simple task. Stalling is usually down to the oil pressure release valves, £150 to get these replaced. Cambelts are costly to replace (£200) but last 65,000 miles so not a major downside. One final point is that the water rail at the front of the cam cover tends to rust. These are specific to Fiestas and replacements are not always easy to get hold of.

Clutch, Engine Mounts, Gearbox

A low bite point indicates a worn clutch, allow £200 to get it done, also check for a ‘click’ when lifting off the clutch. This is the adjuster on it’s way out and can be replaced with a stronger metal one. If there is a clunking noise or judders when pulling away fairly rapidly the gearbox mounting is more than likely to be disintegrating. Allow £60 to get it replaced. A sloppy gearchange is due to a rubber bush near the stick and is simple to replace. When out on a test drive look for a wobbly speedo at around 30mph. This indicates worn gearbox bearings. A rebuild should be £400 maximum or a reconditioned box might be a cheaper alternative.


Rock the car from side to side and see if it settles or carry’s on rocking. If it continues to move the shocks are worn or leaking, allow £60 each. These usually last 50-60,000 miles and the rears tend to wear out before the fronts. A loose feeling from the rear of the car when cornering indicates worn rear beam bushes. Likewise any clunking or creaking from the front points to the front suspension arm rubbers. These are costly in labour to renew so most places will fit complete new arms at around £60 each which works out cheaper. RS Turbo, XR2i 16v and RS 1800 models have front and rear anti-roll bars so ensure these are present and examine the bushes for wear.


The most likely faults here are worn or torn fabrics and seat bolsters. Heavily worn seats when the mileage is low or average points to clocking or lots of short journeys. XR2i 8v trim is fairly easy to get hold of from breakers but the Recaro and “winged” seats are a lot rarer and more costly. Typical faults are disintegrating foam bolsters, crooked piping and worn fabric. Cigarette burns and holes are near impossible to repair so knock the seller down if these are present. Plastic parts like the dash and pillar trims are cheap and plentiful so any drilled holes from alarms or stereo equipment need not matter as the part can be replaced at little expense.

HPI Check

HPI is the largest provider of information on used cars, with details of over 60 million vehicles. The HPI check will be able to tell you if the vehicle you are thinking of buying is subject to a finance agreement, stolen, written off or had a plate change. The HPI check is available via the call centre from 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturday and 10am to 5pm on Sundays call 01722 422422 or visit the HPI website


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