1998 Lada Niva 1.7i


Basic but dependable


Water pump failure (twice), but you get plenty of warning, and it's cheap to buy and easy to install.

A non-standard alternator was fitted by the previous owner, and I've had several issues with charging and belt tension.

Rear brake lockup and vibration - solved by replacing the brake shoes, which were well short of worn out.

Bad driveline vibration - solved by greasing the splines on the tail and intermediate shafts.

Bad oil leak from transfer case - needed new seals.

Diff lock disengages itself and needs to be held on. I've heard this problem goes away if you use it more.

Driver's seat padding has shifted. It's not bad enough to make me fix it.

LH window winder is stiff, and the handle consequently broke.

General Comments:

This car has been a gem. It was cheap to buy and it's cheap to own. The fuel economy is not great (averages 10 l/100km), but every other aspect of owning it is cheap.

I do most of my own servicing, because it's so simple and easy. You don't even have to jack it up to change the oil.

While some things have worn out, it's never broken down and left me stranded. Barring battery issues, it starts first time, every time.

I haven't taken it off road a great deal, but when I have, it's obviously very capable.

It's not very powerful, but generally keeps up with around town traffic. Compared to some small 4WDs (with leaf springs), it's quite comfortable and handles well.

Except for the heavy steering and cramped footwell, it's easy to drive. I even taught my sons to drive in it.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 2nd April, 2012

1990 Lada Niva 1.6 carburettor


A great rugged offroader, for an excellent price


Water flooded headlight.

Drivers seat back support broke.

Starter motor needed replacing.

Some rust.

Carburettor constantly went out of tune, replaced it with Holley 5200 (licensed copy of Weber 32/36)

Clutch slave cylinder needed replacing twice.

Brake master cylinder needed replacing.

Clutch master cylinder needed replacing.

Clutch fluid hose burst.

Brake pressure regulator seized up.

Windscreen washer pump broke.

Water pump started leaking.

General Comments:

The Niva is a car that is very cheap to buy. Mine was only $1000 with rego.

The offroading ability of the car is exceptional for this price, and it's thanks to its good ground clearance (although mine has been lifted), short wheel base, good approach and departure angles, and high/low range with manual diff lock.

Whilst I can't talk for the later non-soviet models, the early Nivas do require fairly regular maintenance. Most weekends I find myself fixing something minor, although major problems are very rare, especially considering the conditions I put the car through. The Niva, as they say, is "always half broken, never breaks down". The Niva is definitely not a car for someone with little or no mechanical knowledge, although is excellent for someone with a bit of knowledge who wants to learn more. Despite what some may think, parts are relatively cheap and easy to come by. The engine bay of the Niva is very compact, and often makes it hard to work on, despite the design being simple.

Fuel economy with the original Russian carburettor is around 10 L / 100 Km, although replacing it with the Holley or Weber improves economy, and gives much more spirited performance, and makes the car a much better daily driver.

Anyone with the 15 inch wheels often fitted to Nivas should probably replace them with the originals, as I have found that the other wheels make steering significantly heavier, and decrease offroad capabilities.

The gearbox is a weak point of the Niva, and although mine has not had any catastrophic failure, they do perform poorly. They are noisy due to straight cut gears, and synchros are normally ineffective. Some have problems with jumping out of 5th gear, although I have never experienced this.

The engine itself is very very reliable, and it has never caused me any problems whatsoever.

The Niva is not a car for lovers of speed or comfort, as seats are of poor quality, the cabin is fairly small (although larger than some competitors eg: Suzuki Sierra). The car has a top speed of around 145 Km/h stock, although with the upgraded carburettor my Niva is dead even off the line with a 1991 3.0 L v6 Mitsubishi Pajero (Faster if the pajero has its A/C on!)

There is a real sense of community associated with Niva ownership, and I often have people coming up and talking to me about how they used to have one etc. Strange as it may sound, there's something that makes you feel proud about driving around in a car from a superpower that doesn't exist anymore.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 11th July, 2009

14th Jul 2009, 08:13

Just remembered, the clutch nose cone, which is friction welded on, broke off and caused the clutch to slip under load. This had to be welded back on.