Cheap Trix

by John Wishart

Modest Modifications You Can Make For a Modicum of Money to Make Your Mazda Miata Mo' Better

Ash Tray Reversal Makes Cupholder

(For nonsmokers) You can make a free cup holder out of your center console ash tray. As you may have noticed, the bottom of the ashtray is slanted and doesn't support a cup well. Lift out the ashtray and turn it upside down. Remove the four screws on the underside of the ashtray. Then use a small flat-bladed bladed screwdriver to gently bend the two tabs on the side of the ash tray that hold it to the bezel. Turn the ashtray around (front to back) and put it back into the bezel. Bend the tabs back in and replace the four screws. Drop the assembly back into the console, slide back the ashtray door, and you have a new cupholder with a flat bottom.

Clean Those Fuel Injectors

This one's from Percy M. Chow:

"How about a smoother, consistent idle and throttle response? I've just recently bought a bottle or STP Carb cleaner. About every oil change I pull one of the hoses going into the mouth of the throttle body and spray it into the throttle with the engine at fast idle. (Normal idle kills the engine.) The difference is dramatic. Way smoother throttle response and hey, keeps those injectors CLEANER."

As a further comment, Percy also runs a tank of premium through about once a month for further intake system cleaning.

Cup Holder

If your passenger needs a cupholder too, go down to KMart or a discount auto supply store and pick up a folding expandable cupholder for about $4-6. Look for the one that flips open with a pair of curved, adjustable-width arms to accommodate various-sized cups. It attaches with a couple of screws. Put it on the right side of the console far enough forward to clear the seat cushion in its furthest-forward position. (This positioning is particularly important if you have a "no-seat-pockets" tonneau cover.)

Extra Space

There's a pocket of space behind the spare tire. You can take out the tire and put in something small that you don't use too often (like a tool roll or jumper cables).

Fitting a Handheld Mobile Phone

An item contributed by Bruce Marshall of Canberra, Austrailia:

"If you have a handheld mobile phone and you have a battery eliminator i.e. the attachment which replaces the battery and plugs into the cigarette lighter, you've probably found that there is nowhere for it to sit. Not only does the phone not have a home but the cable from the cigarette lighter gets in the way.

Buy an aftermarket cigarette lighter socket from an auto shop and there is room to fit it to the front of the little central glovebox. Take the centre console out and cut a hole to fit the socket to the side of the power window switches.

I also fitted an on/off switch on mine because I wanted to hook it to permanent power. I found that the easiest place to get permanent power was to run the power lead along the console and solder it onto the back of one of the interior lights (the earth lead can just go to the earth side of the power window switches).

Now the phone plugs into that cigarette lighter and everything fits into the central glovebox. Close the lid and you'd never know it was there (neither would anybody glancing in!) but you can still hear it easily if it rings."

Flash-to-Pass Diode

This modification is cheap for pre-94 Miatas, but rather lengthy to explain properly here. I would refer you to Miata Magazine, Fall 1994, p. 54. for an excellent article, complete with pictures and diagrams. A search of the mailing list archives may also help.


You can replace the wimpy Miata OEM horn with a variety of louder conventional horns available at you local discount auto supply store for less than $10. Air horns run more -- about $25-50 (from, for example, The Crazy Red Italian) -- but are a lot louder. My air horn (Fiamm) doesn't work well when it gets real cold, however.

Some additional advice from Jason Upper:

"Just a quick note about horns. I managed to find a pair of 60's Mustang horns in a junkyard for about $5.00 each. They're pretty loud and help my Miata demand the respect it deserves. I found that the inner area in front of the front wheels (where the side-marker light would be) has several holes that work well for mounting horns. Also, don't forget to use horns that have only one contact, not two."

Interior Light Reversal

The interior lights on the lower portion of the dash can be popped out of their mounts with a small flat-blade screwdriver, turned top to bottom, and replaced. This directs more light into the seat area, instead of to the floor.

Lumbar Support

One of the shortcomings of the Miata's otherwise good seating is the lack of lower back or lumbar support. This can be corrected by purchasing a couple of hand towels (get terry cloth, not flat fabric). Fold each one in half the long way and then roll it up into a roll about 3 inches in diameter (not too tight). The Miata seat back middle section is separate from the side bolsters. Open up the crevice between the side bolster and the middle section and poke the rolled-up towel into the lower back area. Arrange the towel so it's placed crosswise about 6-8 inches up from the bottom of the seat back or wherever feels the most comfortable. You may have to experiment with the placement and the tightness of the roll to obtain the best results for your back. Repeat for the other seat.

Syd Spain of Auburn University commented on this one:

"My brother, a car buff, told me that the early Chrysler Lasers had a pump-up lumbar bag with the pump and tube available for hand operation. I wonder if these might be more useful than the folded-up towels? I haven't looked for one - too busy with work, but I plan to. "

Alternative (contributed by Mike Barrett)

I purchased two (one for each seat) car-washing size sponges from a Dollar store and inserted them into the seats. As the original author describes, "The Miata seat back middle section is separate from the side bolsters. Open up the crevice between the side bolster and the middle section and poke the sponge into the lower back area."
Simple and only cost $2.08, tax and all!

Mirror Light

Jason Upper contributed this one:

"I was reading the Cheap Trix section of the, and I wanted to share a trick I used on my 1990. I was really annoyed by the lack of light provided by the OE dash lights, and flipping them over still didn't work. Being a student at the time, I didn't have the cash for a lighted mirror, but I really liked the idea. I happened to be in Bradlee's one day and saw some interior lights that were about 3.5" l x 0.75" w x 1" h, with a black body, a clear lens , and a white switch. They cost about $3.50 each, and came with mounting tape and screws.

I wasn't surprised that they were really cheaply made, but the price was right, and they fit perfectly between the mirror mount and the sun visors. I drilled 2 small holes, and ran the wires on the underside of the plastic trim. With the passenger's-side sun visor removed, I was able to pull off the weatherstripping for the top on the windshield header, pry down the trim, and tuck the wires inside. I did the same as I went down the passenger's-side A-pillar, and went into the dash outboard of the glove box. After passing the wires above the glove box, I patched them into the passenger-side dash light in parallel (one set of wires for each light). Once the wires were run, I hooked them into the new lights, and mounted them with two small screws each.

Given the way I wired them, the power to the new lights is controlled by the passenger's-side dash light switch. All three go on with the door, and they can also be individually controlled. The only problem is that the new lights only have power when the OE light is on. I imagine I could fix that with a simple rewire, but I've been too lazy to dive under the dash and correct it. So far, the only problems I've had are as follows:

1. The way the lights are mounted, the lens is clear to the front (windshield), bottom (dash), and rear (driver's eyes). To prevent being blinded, I put a piece of electrical tape on the backs of the lenses.

2. The lights are so cheaply made that the heat of the bulbs has melted the housings and the lenses. I had to glue the lenses in place after about 10,000 miles, and the housing eventually melted so much (another 10,000 miles) that the bulb wouldn't stay in. I replaced both lights about 5,000 miles ago, and drilled vent holes in the lenses to cool them, and they seem to be surviving better.

Probably the best fix is to avoid using the lights when you expect to have the doors open for a long time. That's it! It's a pretty cheap alternative to the $50 lighted mirror, and installation was fairly straightforward. If you like to keep the stock mirror and don't mind replacing them every 30,000 miles or so, these lights are a good investment."

Spare Tire Replacement

Courtesy of Bengt Forsberg of Are, Sweden:

"Get rid of the spare tire - put it in the garage and slid it back in when you sell the car. Then - instead of the spare - buy a bottle of tire repair liquid. This is good for Ferraris so therefore it must be useful for Miatas as well. Snipp, and you got a lot bigger luggage compartment. P.S. I haven't had a puncture the last 10 - 15 years."

My only comment on this is that I am not so trusting of tire failure modes as Bengt, since I've shredded two tires in the last few years that were not repairable by the tire repair liquid. Without a spare, I would have been stranded. ( JRW)

Editor's note: Along with it not being able to fix a blowout, it also doesn't work very well in the winter time... the cold temperatures tend to freeze/weaken the pressurized canister to the point that it cannot really inflate a deflated tire. In addition, you must inform the person repairing your tire that you used the stuff. It makes one helluva mess.

Timing Advance

Setting your ignition timing to 14 degrees BTDC (stock is 10 degrees) will give you some extra low-end torque and better throttle response ("brighter" is the term Miata Magazine used). You should still run unleaded regular gas (87 octane). Miata Magazine says up to 16 degrees is OK with non-oxygenated regular unleaded fuel. If you are really power-hungry you can set it up to 18 degrees BTDC, but you MUST run premium gas (92 octane) to avoid detonation problems. The premium gas requirement takes the 18 degree setting out of the cheap trix classification, in my opinion. You could consider it for autocrosses, however.

Transmission Oil Change

If you're putting Redline MTL into the transmission to improve shifting, get a 4-foot length of 1/2" OD clear plastic tubing at the hardware store and a funnel to fit the ID of the tubing. When you're ready to fill the transmission, make sure the drain plug is in place. Then put the tubing down from the engine compartment (driver side) along the exhaust pipe area down into the transmission fill hole. Put the funnel in the top end of the tube and pour the MTL (2 quarts is usually all you'll need) down the tube. When you're done, take the tubing out, put the fill plug back in, check for leaks and you're ready to go.

Trunk Lock Disconnect

Are you concerned that a thief might be able to easily open your trunk from inside the car when the top's down? If so, you can disconnect the actuator cable from the trunk lock to remove this easy access to your trunk. To do this, first remove the fuzzy fiberboard panel that covers up the trunk lock. There are four plastic fasteners just below the lip of the trunk opening. You need to lift up the center pin of each fastener to release it. A pen knife blade or the edge of your finger nail works well for that. Remove the bolts holding the trunk lock to the body and take off the lock. Then finagle the small ball on end of the release cable so it's free of the two little fingers holding it to the lock. Bolt the lock back on. Check it with the key to make sure it works OK. Put the panel back in place. Reinstall the plastic fasteners by putting them into their respective holes and then push in the center pin to lock them in place. You're done! Obviously, this change will now require you to use the key to unlock the trunk, but it is more secure.

160 Degree Thermostat

(Quoted from Miata Magazine, Fall 1995, p. 49) "Running the engine at 160 degrees made more power than running it at 187 degrees (where the stock thermostat is set). Aside from the obvious gains of having the intake air a bit cooler and the running clearances very slightly tighter, the main benefit comes from an ECU that measure coolant temperature and runs a bit more fuel at cooler temperatures. A 160 degree thermostat is a cheap way to find a few horsepower."

A 160 degree thermostat is available at NAPA stores.  It's NAPA #42 at about $5 or so.  Make sure you get a new thermostat gasket with it, too.

Note: does not agree with this modification as a performance enhancement. Still, some claim it makes a slight difference, so we keep it here in the name of completeness. A word of caution: on those cold winter mornings, the heater in your Miata will take far longer to warm the car.

Back to the Garage

24 May, 2003