The Lada Niva is a cult after 45 years of construction. But is it safe to buy as a used car? The answer is a bit complicated.
How do you write a purchase guide for a car that you would rather not advise a good friend to buy? It's best to start with an open mind: If you hate rust, don't like drafts, like lively chats on the autobahn (Autobahn, haha!) at a muted noise level; If you assume that you don't want rain getting into a car and nothing should leak out of it, if you're always in a hurry and don't know the difference between a water pump wrench and a pipe wrench - then the Lada Niva is definitely not for you. Not even as a new car.
Well, the above would also easily fit into a purchase advice for a classic Land Rover Defender, but here we now take a look at the chubby off-road Russian, who has been optically almost unchanged from the assembly lines in Tolyatti on the Volga for a whopping 45 years tumbles. And technically there have been no revolutionary innovations in the Niva in these decades since 1977.
In the video: Lada Niva special model Bronto
However, at this point we will limit ourselves to the newer WAS-21214 model (recognizable by the rear lights mounted upright) and here specifically the variant after the big facelift from model year 2010. In other words, cars that are up to twelve years old have, which already ensures sufficient amusement during the maintenance work on a Niva. In general, many tips are also important for the pre-facelift model.
The facelift model can be recognized by the indicators and mirrors: the characteristic indicator/parking light units above the main headlights have been larger and fitted flush into the body since the facelift. The exterior mirrors have been enlarged and can be adjusted from the inside, which increases the chance of being able to see traffic behind you at least to a limited extent, even when driving faster. Inside, a new instrument unit was used for the facelift. In addition to a new digital display for daily and total kilometers, there has since been a digital clock, an outside thermometer and a voltmeter.
In 2010 the Lada Niva became more modern
Hands were also applied to the technology. The clutch was changed to a reinforced disc, the brake booster was revised and improved. New seals for the water pump and a revised fuel supply should also increase reliability in these areas. The folding mechanism of the rear seat bench has also been revised, since then the release has been on the backrest. Last but not least, there were improved shock absorbers on the rear axle.
The reference to the reinforced clutch of the facelift model is no coincidence, because even after the facelift this is one of the weak points of the Niva. Because the engine only provides a manageable torque and the off-road reduction tends to be long, you often have to keep the Russians happy off-road with a slipping clutch, the same applies when towing a trailer. The standard clutch test (let it come slowly in high gear when the car is stationary) is therefore an essential part of a Niva used test. Likewise, the acoustic check of the release bearing - if the background noise from the ground floor with the clutch depressed is significantly lower than when idling without a gear engaged, work will soon be announced.
The optical body check on the used Lada Niva is probably the most extensive work during a viewing. This is also because there is practically no corner on this car where it cannot and usually does not rust. The first look should be the bulkhead in the engine compartment and the windshield frame. If the yellow is already blooming here, the general prospects for sheet metal health are bleak. Then you can devote yourself to the sills and don't knock on them too tentatively, the magnetic test on happily applied and painted putty is not a bad idea either.
Still not burst into tears and fell through a rust hole with half your hand? Then it goes into the wheelhouses. If the (non-standard) wheel arch linings can be seen here, that's a good sign, because they keep the worst dirt and dirt away from the beads and cavities. Anyone who paid the surcharge for this at the time wanted to be nice to their Niva and not just burn it mercilessly. Here, too, thoroughly check everything for rusting through, which can occur after just a few years if poorly cared for.
Check for moisture inside
The floor under the front floor mats is then checked in the interior. If there is water here, you have to take a closer look. The cause can be the heater's heat exchanger (located in the middle in front of the transmission tunnel on the bulkhead) or a poorly fitted windshield (that would be the main prize). The latter ensures that the dashboard has to come out in order to get to the wiring behind it and the insulating material (soaked with water if the window seal is defective). In the cargo area, too, a critical look goes under the floor covering and here in particular at the folds of the wheel arches.
Below you can search for not unusual oil leaks, especially in the engine/transmission area, subsequent sealing work is a major act. A fresh general inspection sticker creates confidence that it is not a discontinued model. On this occasion cardan and drive shafts can be checked for joint play.
If possible, the final test drive should be taken with an experienced Niva owner who can distinguish between "normal" and "worrying" noises in this vehicle. Because something always rattles, grinds and squeaks with the Niva and is not a reason to panic from the outset. Changes in noise when cornering or increasing vibration at higher speeds can indicate defective driveshaft joints. The transmission must shift cleanly; if a shifted gear jumps out, that is a bad omen and a replacement gearbox is in sight.
Finally, the all-wheel drive technology can be checked. The off-road reduction is switched when stationary or when rolling lightly without traction to the engine, it must engage properly. Increased gear whine in the reduction gear is normal. The transfer case lock is also checked; switched on, a noticeable locking torque must be noticeable when cornering slowly on firm ground.
Finally, a final check serves all electrical consumers and switches. Is the fan blower running at all speeds? Does the mechanical adjustment of air flow and temperature work? Light and blinkers ok? Also important: The small code key fob for the immobilizer must unlock it reliably and on the first try.
Probably no other car has such a surprise bag potential as a used car like the Lada Niva - and that even at a young age. If you know what you are getting yourself into with the Niva and want to do so as a matter of course, you will definitely get an honest car that will go through thick and thin with you if it is treated with care and lovingly maintained.
The key data are known, the Niva is neither fast nor quiet nor spacious, but when it is running it is a real good mood dispenser. For all its quirks, the most important and overarching issue is rust. Poorly maintained specimens simply rust everywhere, while Nivas that have already undergone proper rust protection when new have a good chance of a long and fulfilling life. The engine itself is generally considered to be quite robust, the drive train not so much, after 100,000 km at the latest you can expect a gearbox revision, for example. The various bearings on the drive shafts and the steering have anything but eternal life.
The most important thing is that you know how to help yourself and have a certain basic set of tools. Anyone who has to take the Niva to a workshop with every ailment will very quickly become very unhappy. Pragmatic do-it-yourselfers, on the other hand, are happy about sensational spare parts prices, a water pump costs a slim 50 euros and a new clutch disc 45 euros, but you don't even get an RDK tire valve for that from Mercedes.And last but not least, Lada newcomers have access to a very active and competent fan scene, which is on hand with advice and consolation if problems arise, for example at www.nivatechnik.de .