Is Buying A Car With A Rotary Engine Worth The Risk?

If you’ve ever heard a Mazda RX-7 or an RX-8 drive by, you might have thought something was terribly wrong with the car, because under the hood isn’t just your average motor. The rotary engine has a sound that is completely unique and easy to recognize, and it sounds unlike anything else on the road today. Not a lot of cars have a rotary engine, but people still like to buy them. Are they too unique for their own good? Or is the experience of a rotary engine worth the risk?

Benefits of buying a rotary

Rotary engines are high-revving and can produce a lot of power in the right hands. They are easy to modify, customize, and build, and you can do so pretty inexpensively to create a fast car. Rotary engines are used in a lot of pro-compact drag racing cars because they can handle an absurd amount of power. But at what cost?

1990 Mazda RX-7 Convertible
1990 Mazda RX-7 Convertible |

Chances are your average mechanic is not capable of doing much maintenance on your rotary engine. They are completely different from your standard piston combustion engines that mechanics work on day in and day out, and they are even less common than working on hybrid cars. The first downside of owning a rotary is that you either need to work on the car yourself or find a local, reputable mechanic who has experience with these engines.

Other potential problems

Rotary engines are pretty rare, with only a handful of cars ever having them, which is good and bad for different reasons. On one side, you have a well-loved, unique car that — when recognized — is usually something that car enthusiasts enjoy seeing. They sound great and offer a fun and unique driving experience you can’t get from any other car.

Mazda RX-Vision in 2015
Mazda RX-Vision in 2015 | David Mareuil /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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On the downside, they aren’t easy to source parts for when something brakes or goes bad — like the apex seals, which are destroyed on every RX-7 I’ve ever tried to buy, ever. The parts are rare enough to be pricey, and you will find yourself not only struggling to find a mechanic to do the repairs, but you’ll also be paying a premium just to find the parts. If you are mechanically inclined and want to learn how to work on the car yourself, there aren’t a lot of video tutorials that are helpful — but maybe if you wanted to make some of your own this is a niche that needs to be filled.

The rotary engine is undeniably one of the coolest motors you can get in a car, and as long as you’re willing to take the risk it can be well worth it for the reward. These cool cars are rare, hold their value, and enthusiasts do generally enjoy driving and owning them.