Carfax, Buying Used, & Craigslist.org

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I finally got serious about looking for a second Honda Civic, c. 1989-1997. A few observations:
-- A friend of mine convinced me Carfax was worth $35 for 30
days, unlimited checks. For the four cars I checked, it revealed: (a) Odometer tampering with two, with the advertised mileage being over 100k lower than the Carfax title reported mileage; (b) lying about the number of owners for a third; it had had four owners in 18 months. Many reports attest to how Carfax is not perfect, but so far it sure saved me some trouble.
-- Most persistent major mechanical problems have been poor air conditioning and suspect CV joints. I watch especially for blown head gaskets. So far for around half a dozen cars I have actually examined: no residue on the oil cap; oil in the reservoir; smell from exhaust pipe; white puff from exhaust pipe.
-- craigslist.org has been my best resource. (Thanks to regular poster JT for sending me there!) Ebay, autotrader.com and dealers have turned up little. Dealers do not like to deal in cars that do not involve financing, so low price beaters generally are not advertised for sale by them. Though oddly, on my Carfax checks, there's always an advertisement by dealers for a 199- Civic, complete with VIN. Then I call the dealer, and the car is not there. Maybe when a car is traded in, carfax automatically retrieves it and its filter puts the ad up? But in fact most of these cars are sold at auction? Craigslist people have all been good about meeting at the designated time and test driving (though I almost always have a friend with me). Craigs list sellers where I am have been mostly but not entirely honest, at least insofar as the carfax checks indicate.
-- used car dealers are a hoot! Unless you know what to look for on these older Hondas, do not buy from a used dealer. A fine looking Honda Civic DX came up on Craig's list at a mom n' pop used car dealership. I went to see it. Great body, engine compartment sparkled, fluids looked clean and topped off; but no muffler; no radio; check engine light was on; windshield was cracked, miles advertised were 124k and carfax said it was in fact over 271k miles a year ago. I am considering making a very low offer (after telling the dealership about the flawed title tampered odometer) just for the shell.
Further advice?
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What kind of money are we talking about here? In other words, how much do you want to spend and where are you located? Maybe I will have a car for you.... :-)

With the car that old I would say actual millage is not as important as the current technical condition of the car.

I am not surprised new car dealers do not keep these cars. The car you are looking for probably is worth much less than a 1000 and takes the same amount of space on the dealer parking lot as tha 20k one. Also, on average it will look horrible compared to new cars, so new car dealer selling not old used cars does not want to clutter his parking lot with trash like top down rusted 1989 honda civic.

What do you consider a "low offer" for such a car? Junkyard is probably paying between 100-200 dolars for a car which can be driven to the yard... Slightly less if it has to be towed. If you see a car on some dealer's parking lot than it means the owner hopes to get much more for his trashy car than he could get from the junkyard.

Look at your local junk yard. Sometimes they have cars these old in quite good condition and you might score good find this way... Of course it is junk yard, so the car will not look good, guaranteed.
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Write me where you are located. :-)

A 90s Civic engine with 100k-125k miles on to me likely has at least 75k miles more left on the engine.
A 90s Civic engine with 200k and up miles on it to me may go at any time. If I knew the owner and the maintenance record, I might feel a little differently.
There's a huge difference in risk. This is all we can talk about here, ya know, probabilities.

Kelly blue book puts them at $1200-2500, depending on condition, for private party. Retail is usually more.
The dealers do not keep them because financing generally is not done with such a low cost.

I am sure you are right. :-)

Well sure. Fortunately Craig's List and Ebay often have shells for sale, so I know the asking price for a good shell is around $500 to $1000.

Indeed there is one local junkyard that buys running cars and sells them. I started checking it regularly a few weeks ago. Many of the cars there do not look too bad and could be fixed up nicely.
I saw such a humdinger a few hours ago. 90 Civic. Lifted the hood, and the first thing I always check is the coolant reservoir. Well huh, the cap is already unfastened. It's overfilled and bubbles are coming out the tube right before my very eyes. First blown head gasket yada I have seen. I ended the inspection there saying I would not risk it.
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Elle wrote:

i think Pszemol is dead right on this one. there comes a point where mileage is irrelevant and you're buying the car for the platform, not any one single component. and with replacement jdm engines/transmissions being so cheap and plentiful, the condition of the original is not very important - unlike the quality of the interior which is pretty much vital.

i've seen up to $3k on craigslist for stock 88-91 civics here in the bay area. that's if you can find one. the local ricers go nuts for them. even harder to find now that gas prices are high.

buy it, but pay a price that reflects the problem. engines are fixable. trashed interiors and bent bodies are a giant pita.
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If this is true that this car is in demand beween ricing enthusiasts than it will be very hard to compete them for somebody who is looking for an economy car...
I can hardly imagine what good could come from buying such an old car anyway. Yes, you could probably find a cheap one but it will not be in good condition! You spend a lot of time looking for it, driving around for inspections spending money and time to find one. Then, when you find one it will not be over... Is your main goal not to have montly payments? You *will* be paying montly (or weekly) payments anyway but to the local parts store instead to the bank and live in constant fear that the car will crap out on you in the middle of the trip spoiling a day and causing you some towing costs..
Does not seem to be such a bargain to me, but you know, I am very spoiled ;-)
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Folks who know nothing about automotive engine systems should not buy such old cars.
Those who know these cars and have the time to work on them stand to save a lot of money.
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said:

It's the kind of car you get for your young son, and let him fix it up for the fun and experience. It's not a serious daily-driver for anyone.
--
Larry J. - Remove spamtrap in ALLCAPS to e-mail

"A lack of common sense is now considered a disability,
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Elle wrote

For anyone who has taken their c. 1990 Honda beyond 200k miles, a second Honda with 120k miles original engine or 163k miles body and 70k mile engine can result in a daily driver.
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I got my 1995 toyota camry when it had 47k miles in 1998. Since then I hapily drive it still today, with 246k miles. No head gasket problems or any other major things to worry. But I KNOW THIS CAR! Every day of its history since May'98. It does not mean I would seek a camry that old from a stranger.
No matter how much time you spend inspecting the car at the seller location there will always be something that can surprise you after the purchase and cost you in a long run...
Look yourself at your original post - how many cars you have already seen and rejected? How much time and gas you spent driving there to look for them? How long more you are going to look for this crazy-cool'89 civic deal?
Is it really worth so much trouble? :-) Maybe is not rational anymore but just emotional? ;-)
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Pszemol wrote:

but that's exactly the situation with your rejection of the older vehicle! it can be completely rational to purchase it if you know what you're doing and the price is right!
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Agreed, not knowing the history is one of the drawbacks of buying a secondhand (or thirdhand or more) car. Carfax helps a lot. I reject a car with too many owners in too short a time, for example, of which there are many out there, at least on Craigs List where I am.
I am seeing consistently that the little c. 1990 Civic hatchbacks feel somewhat too much like a death trap. The DXs and base model hatchbacks do not have power steering, plus the suspension bushings generally seem worn (though I could fix this), so the road feel is generally lousy. Then too they are small and cramped. Great mileage, but I like feeling a little more like I am not the smallest, most vulnerable vehicle on the road.
Only one of the circa 1990 Civics I have seen had what I would call very good a/c. It also had a great body and 166k mileage, with only two owners. I made an offer on it, but as JBeam observes, offering more than KBB was not quite enough, and it got snatched at a significantly higher price before I could counter. I was testing the waters. Now I am seeing good, newer c. 1995 Civics sell within two hours on Craigs List.
Having driven a few 95-97 Civics now, I am leaning towards spending more and making this second car the one that will replace my 91 Civic in a few years. Meanwhile my friend will use the newer one for commuting in summer, then use my 91 Civic (no a/c) the rest of the year.
Like you were saying when comparing cars, the newer ones have a much much better feel. I am not in a rush. Which means I end up saving as much as a few thousand dollars.
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Elle wrote:

what an odd statement! they're only 27cm shorter than your 4-door sedan, and they both have an identical wheelbase. the only reason they could feel worse is if something is wrong.

the automatics have power steering.

that may be a valid point. i forget that i replaced the bushings and the shocks on both my current cars as soon as i got them, so they both drive like new.

how are they different to your sedan? and i can tell you for fact, there is more interior room in my 89 than there in in the subsequent generations. get a tape measure out.

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Archival point: The 1990 Civic hatchback compared to a 91 Civic LX Sedan (my car) is lighter by around 150 lbs, and is 10-inches shorter. Ten inches is not small potatoes to me. Can't find the height from the ground for the hatchback, but it has seemed lower on the three or so hatches I have looked at. Interior dimensions on the hatchback are mostly a bit smaller than the sedan. I think the lack of power steering on the hatch means one feels the road more. It is not as responsive in feel.
I have also driven a few used sedans besides my own and consistently felt much better in them compared to the hatches.
No more, no less, just my opinion.
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Elle wrote:

those 88-91 hatches must have had something wrong if they actually rode lower. i know my hatch gets some heavy moving duties simply because i can fit a lot of stuff in it, but the honda ride height spec for both is the same at 150mm. wheel base for both is 2500mm, wheel track for both is 1456mm.
all the other differences are simply cosmetic, i.e. length of the sedan is 4232mm vs 3964mm for the hatch. width is 1674mm vs 1665 for the hatch, and roof height is 1360mm vs 1333mm for the hatch. dx manual sedan weighs 2147lbs vs 2088lbs for the hatch.
i think if you're feeling a difference it's simply the fact that you've done the rear bushings on your car, and the others you've tried haven't been so lucky. it does make a big change to the way these cars handle.
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I agree this is quite possible. (I know you think it's fact; I am just expressing my own opinion.) For the record, on my 91 Civic, every single front lower arm bushing and all rear arm bushings have been changed out. The front has almost new OEM coils, too.
I am considering a 95 Civic DX with only 120k miles (two owners, with much documentation of dealer maintenance) on it that has a really good feel. It has no power steering but the bushings may be better than the old hatches I have tried. So my PS theory could be off. Also, I won't rule out the ball joints (and more suspension) being older and less well maintained on the hatchbacks I tried. IOW, overall worn suspension, for one as you and I seem to agree, may be what I am feeling.
Maybe the old hatches are also molested more than the sedans. The younger crowd seems to prefer the hatches. The sedans look like an old lady's car. The hatches, more like a kid's. Not to deride those driving hatches and paying a fraction of what the average driver pays for gas, though. :-)
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I actually have a Honda shop manual for this vehicle. It was recently purchased ($40 on eBay, including shipping) with funds donated for the www.tegger.com/hondafaq Web site. Thanks very much to all those who have contributed. Big or small, it all helps.
'88-'91 Civic dimensions are as follows...
Hatchback: Width 66.3" Track 57.1" front, 57.3" rear Wheelbase 98.4" Overall length 157.1" Overall height 52.5"
Sedan: Width 66.7" Track 57.1" front, 57.3" rear Wheelbase 98.4" Overall length 168.8" Overall height 53.5"
No curb weights are given in Honda shop manuals, just gross weights.
Assuming the diagrams are correctly scaled (not relative to each other, just within each diagram), all of the 11.7" difference in overall length is in the rear overhang. The fronts of both body styles appear to be identical.
What I find interesting here is that the Integra of those same years (which is Civic-based) has a 2" longer wheelbase in addition to 3.6" increased length, sedan versus hatchback.
--
Tegger

The Unofficial Honda/Acura FAQ
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Edmunds.com has curb weights. Not saying they are right. Just saying that's where I got my figures from. IIRC, at least for my 91 Civic, the Edmunds curb weight and that on my car's label match.
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I've often wondered why curb weight isn't reported by Honda in its shop manuals.
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Tegger

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I see curb weight in at least one of the UK site's FS manuals: http://media.honda.co.uk/car/owner/media/manuals/ConcertoManual/62sk301/3-14.pdf
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wrote

Interesting. I wonder if curb weight listings may be a European legal requirement. Of particular and odd note here is the UK service manual's use of the American spelling "curb" rather than the standard British spelling of "kerb".
I notice our Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) appears to be called "Max. Permissible Weight" over there.
Given the differences in powerplants, equipment and structure between overseas and North America (and even between Canada and the US), I'd be inclined to use curb weights as relative, comparative measures, not absolute ones. You're doing that already, I know.
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