How to buy a rally car [Ultimate guide]

Buying a rally car is not that straightforward process as buying a normal daily car, as you need to know a bit more than just the regular things like mileage and number of previous owners.

So what are the main things to consider when buying a rally car and how to prepare yourself for the inspection?

Let’s get right into it…

  1. Budget
    At the end of the day, the whole decision is entirely based on one thing — money. And in case the budget is not an issue, we still recommend you adjust your selection based on your rallying experience (more on that in the next section). Don’t forget the one thing — it’s easy to buy a rally car, but it’s not that easy to maintain it. So when defining the available budget, don’t count just the sale price of the rally car, but also the expected costs for its maintenance and possible damage repairs. Of course, higher class rally cars have shorter servicing intervals, which need to be done by a professional, while repair in the likely event of a crash will also be quite higher. Explained simply, if you crash a Ferrari, the front bumper will cost you almost as much as full rebuilt of a crashed Peugeot 106.
    Consider also the other expenses you’ll need to add, like spare parts (gearboxes, axles, engine parts, pumps..) and multiple sets of tyres you’ll need on the actual event, and if you are new in rallying also all the equipment for the service team (tools, trailer, gazebo, jacks) and other things you can learn from our previous article How to start rallying.

2. Choosing the right rally car
First of all, if you are a great mechanic, you can build a rally car from scratch. (Sidenote: every rally driver and co-driver must have mechanical knowledge to fix things on or between the stages when something goes wrong and service crew is not around). But this process requires a lot of knowledge, which you, as beginner in rallying, probably do not have and plenty of time and we know you just can’t wait to get out there and race, so we’ll leave that option for another time. 
As we mentioned before, everything is related to the point 1 of this article — budget, but even if your budget is virtually unlimited, we would not recommend starting with higher class rally cars like R5 or WRC, no great rally drivers did and nor should you, because it won’t go well, trust us.
Start low, master the car, push it to the limit (and don’t crash it) and then progress to higher classes. The 9-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb started with a Citroen Saxo, while Sebastien Ogier began his path to now 6 WRC titles with a Peugeot 206. 
First thing to consider is the drivetrain, 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive? The right choice for a beginner is 2WD due to slower acceleration and cornering speed, which makes it easier to get the feeling of the car and hadling, while it also makes the running costs lower compared to a 4WD car. 
So a good rally cars for beginners are: Citroen Saxo, Peugeot 206,306,106, Opel Corsa, Renault Clio, Ford Fiesta, Fiat Panda, Honda Civic, Suzuki Swift and similar. 
Most of the listed are fairly small cars, which may cause a bit of wobbling on the hairpins or quick successive turns, but they are fair easier to maneuver on narrow roads.

Sebastien Ogier in his Peugeot 206 (image credits superrallyman.free.fr)

3. Inspecting a car
Once you find the right rally car (you can find a few tips on where to find it in section 4) and agree to see it in person, there are quite a few things to check to avoid buying a car with hidden mistakes, that will bring additional unexpected expenses later on.

3.1. Documents
In most countries, rally cars are required to be registered as a road legal vehicle, therefore it must have the appropriate documentation in addition to competition / log book which includes competition history of the car as well.
Remember to compare the chassis (VIN) number when inspecting the chassis later on with the one in the documents, as rally cars are often re-shelled after crashes and if the new bodyshell VIN number is not logged in the documents, you may have problems with registration and scrutineering. Inspect the other documentation as well, including homologation papers to assure that everything is valid and approved.

MSA Log book example (source: Google Images)

3.2. Chassis
At this stage, you’ll focus more on the actual chassis rather than the body parts. Raise a car on the lift and fully inspect whole chassis for dents, rust, warped or bent areas to see it the car was severely damaged in a crash before. 
Structural strength is crucial to assure smooth running and proper safety. Don’t forget about the strut bars and suspension mounts, these are most common damages due to damper impact on jump landing. If the chassis is in great condition, you can proceed to the next important part of structural strength and security — rollcage.

Ford Escort chassis (source: racemarket.net)

3.3. Roll cage

Roll cage is the most important part of a rally car as it provides safety for the crew inside and is intended to save their lives in case of an accident.
First of all, define the type of the roll cage, it may be bolt-in or weld-in, the difference is easy to spot , while the functional difference is in better rigidity of the weld-in roll cage. Make sure the roll cage was properly installed and under valid FIA regulations. Since a roll cage is usually painted to match the color of the interior and be protected from external influences, you can first check for any cracks on the paint all over roll cage. If you find any, this could mean that the cage was already bent in an accident and the roll cage may not provide maximal strength and safety in case of another accident as its structural strength was damaged before.
Things to look on bolted in roll cage: bolts (properly fitter and with nylocks), backing plates under each mounting point, reinforced mounts on the shell.
Things to look in weld-in roll cage: inspect each weld carefully for any cracks or bents and if the welding was done properly in full circumference of each roll cage tube (not only where visible) to ensure the rollcage can withstand big impacts.

Weld-in roll cage (source: racemarket.net)

3.4. Engine
Ask the seller about fully engine history, the modifications, service intervals and last rebuilt (if there was). Take special care on the type of oil and filter were used and don’t forget about fuel pump (last change?). Carefully inspect the engine mounts for any damages. If engine has electronic controls, check the ratings and ask the seller where and when it was last programmed. If possible, do a compression test too fully inspect the engine health. As elsewhere, check all the visual aspects for any damage, leaks and other irregularities.

Subaru rally car engine (source: racemarket.net)

3.5. Gearbox and transmission
Gearbox inspection differs on the type of gearbox attached to the car. If it’s standard, the inspection may be easier, since you can check the standard things you would in a regular car, while also listening for weird noises, cracking grinding and similar unusual sounds and movements you can expect from a standard gearbox. While if there is a more complex sequential gearbox you are unfamiliar with, we recommend you bring someone with experience with you to check it, as abnormal noises may be something regular and does not necessarily mean the gearbox has issues. Check also all plugs and seals for any leaks and change into each gear respectively to see if the all the gear teeth are unbroken and transmission between them is smooth.

Sequential gearbox (source: http://www.xshiftgearboxes.com)
Transmission comparison (source: Team O’Neil Rally School)

3.6. Brakes
Visually inspect the brakes — discs, rotors and brake pads. In order to do that, you’ll need to remove the wheels as it won’t be possible to see it otherwise. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller to do so, it will show that you are serious and know what you are doing. If the seller refuses, he usually has something to hide and you can leave immediately. Brakes are the most important thing and you need to ensure they are working properly. After visual inspection also make an actual test by taking a car for a test drive after you’ve checked everything on the car.

Alcon brake disks and calipers (source: Rally Team USA)

3.7. Suspension
Since you already have the car up on the lift and the wheels are off for brake checkup, you can inspect the suspension as well. Check all the joints, mounts, bushes, axles and bearings. Make sure the dampers are not leaking and were properly serviced and maintained (no dirt or water inside). You can put a jack under each arm and raise it to fully compress the suspension and then release it down to normal position. Listen carefully for unusual noises and watch if the transition is smooth on all four wheels. This process may be a bit harder, but it will ensure that the suspension is working properly and save you a lot of money you would need to replace it, especially if it’s for gravel.

Rally suspension explained (source: Team O’Neil Rally School)

3.8. Body
Inspect the car exterior and interior for damages on body parts, the state of the paint (ask the seller about last paint job) and other visual irregularities.
If the car is still on the lift, check the underbody and its protectors (sump guard etc).

3.9. Interior
Main thing you need to look inside (apart from the rollcage, you’ve already checked) are the bucket seats. First of all, ensure you fit in it. If not, you’ll have to replace it with a suitable one. Next, check the homologation label to see if they are still valid (expired seats will not pass scrutineering). But most importantly, inspect the seat mounts — how are they attached to chassis, are correct bolts used and look for any damages or cracks in the mounts or in the seat itself. Check the seatbelts (harnesses) in the same way as well. Inspect the steering wheel and its rail to see if it’s bent (damaged in crash), all the electronic switches on the dashboard and based on latest FIA regulations, also if rollcage padding complies with the regulations (so you don’t end up with plumbing padding).

Rally car interior (source: racemarket.net)

4. Where to buy a rally car
There are many ways to find a rally car, one of them is visiting your local motorsport club or national federation and have a chat with someone, many cars that could be for sale are not advertised, but members know about them and would be glad to tell you about it. At the same time you can get some tips from them about choosing the car and rallying in general. The other way is online, where there are many forums and marketplaces available, like racemarket.

5. Rally rent
If you are still unsure about stepping into rallying, you can try and rent a rally car before you spend thousands on buying one. Renting is way cheaper and even in the likely event of crash, it will cost you less (thanks to excess waiver) than it would to buy and repair your own car. If it goes well and you love the feeling and want to do it again, you can still buy a rally car later on.

So that’s it. Did we miss anything? Let us know.

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