As the regulars here know, I have got a kick out of working
on my 1991 Civic over the years. But (1) it has rust around
the gills and I want to look sportier (I surrender to
vanity); (2) I think for the next several years I will
always fear that it has a major engine breakdown yada and I
will have to find another car fast and at some loss of
money; and (3) I have the time to maintain two Hondas.
I have said I'd lean towards new (my last two cars were
brand new) but now knowing more about maintaining cars, I'm
leaning towards the price-savings of buying used. I see a
1999 2-door, 5-speed Civic with 90k miles for sale in my
area. The owner says it runs great. Photo looks good. Price
is consistent with Edmunds (it's also "or best offer"), so
far, though I'm betting it needs a new timing belt (no
problem, Elle says, knock on wood). Of course I would
inspect it. Questions for the group:
How will maintaining this car compare to maintaining my 91
Civic, generally speaking? I have looked at the parts
drawings of the 99, and it looks awfully similar.
What's the best way to get a carfax or whatever report
indicating whether the car has been in an accident?
Any other caveats? Tegger, I bear in mind your recent
caution about how even cars this new are usually just a
whole other ball game. Can you (with others) take a look at
this one and opine on how much, ya know, overlap between
maintaining it and my older, 91 Honda will be, technique
My used car guide is that at
I'd go for the newest car your budget can afford.
Although that model ran from 1996-2000,and it's popular with the tuner
It's also very easy to break into,FYI;one of my neighbors had his trashed
when the Midnite Auto thieves tried to steal it at 3AM.(then they came for
my 94 GSR...but it's got an alarm,and I own guns!)
Those tabs that guide the Civic's windows at the top of the door frame are
used as levers to pop out the window to gain access.
Hm, just spoke to the owner of the '99 Civic (DX, as it
turns out). Said he bought it a few months ago with the
intent to sell, so no maintenance records, for one thing.
And I'm sure not wild about the car's vulnerability of which
you speak, either.
Funny but my insurance company said my rates would be lower
with a 99 Civic than with my 91 Civic.
Thanks for the input, Jim.
i owned a 2000 civic and sold it in favor of keeping my 89 civic
instead. the 89 is faster, handles much better and is invisible to thieves.
specifically, the "moose test" is not something that generation are good
at. the 91 comes with front sway bar as standard. the 99's only have
it on the si and ex. if you don't have that on the model you're
considering, get one. it makes a huge difference to emergency
lane-change stability - i retrofitted mine as soon as i'd finished
cleaning my pants after the first time i had to do that in the 2000.
similarly, road-tripping to visit relations, i drive a couple of 10 mile
6% grades. on the 89, i drop a gear and the car rocks up them at
80-90mph, no problem, maybe 40-60% throttle. the 2000, with its extra
1,000lbs of body weight has a hard time reaching 80mph at 100%. you can
almost see the fuel running out the tail pipe when you're doing that too.
the plus side is that the 99 is almost identical mechanically to the 91.
only real difference is 4-point injection and air bags.
I'm with you on this. In fact, I would even look for something older.
The farther one goes back, the simpler the vehicle. For me, 1983 is the
limit. After that time, more stuff was stuffed under the hood, the cars
gained weight and as you stated, the older cars don't have thief appeal.
May be different as you get away from the Mexican border, but early '90s are
the peak model years for auto thefts in Arizona. Most of the stolen cars are
chopped for parts, which net far more than the intact car's value. In
Glendale, our neighbor's early '80s Monte Carlo was stolen three times in
one year. It was recovered partially stripped each time. New cars are more
rarely targeted; air bags and wheels are the usual casualties for those.
Hm. Comparing a 1990 CRX to a 2000 Civic DX on Edmunds.com
puts the weights within 300 lbs of each other, not 1000. The
2000 Civic has more horsepower, more torque, etc.
Jim, I do appreciate the opinion, and it will affect my
decision (biasing it towards returning to a search for a
CRX) but I am not the same kind of driver. Lately I set my
cruise control at 65 mph. I get 45+ mpg with my old 91 with
this. Plus no bathroom accidents while driving! ;-)
But I do drive down mountains several times a year, so
handling is important to me. Sway bar comments noted!
Some early 1980s Hondas are available in my area, per
newspaper ads. And you bet, I keep in mind your rebuilding
experiences with your two 1980s Civics. Plus AFAIC the good
looks of those cars. I am not wild about trying to master a
carburetor, though. OTOH for under $1000, I might give it a
whirl. I will keep an eye peeled for the next six months.
And sure, I don't want any of my Hondas to be a target for
Thanks for the input, Jim, JT, and Michael.
the helm manual lists my 89 at 2,088lbs for the stick hatch dx.
similarly, helm lists the 2000 at 3,285 for the same model. 92hp for
the 89 vs. 106hp for the 2000 gives power/weight ratios of 0.044hp/lb
for the 89 and 0.032hp/lb for the 2000. hence the 89 is better
equipped, and that accords with my experience driving.
crx's are utterly awesome, and offer the best economy as they're
slightly lighter than the civic, but they're considerably more
expensive, hereabouts at least - every ricer and their dog wants one.
Personally, I'd say if you're not absolutely stuck on a Civic, take a look at a
third-gen (86-89) Accord... I'm on my third now, and I love them. Definitely
look for one with fuel injection, as this generation was when they made the
changeover, so a lot of them still have carbs (not that there's anything wrong
with the carbed versions per se, they work great, but they are pretty complex,
with about five gazillion vacuum hoses). If you find one in good shape, it'll
serve you well - there's one guy from Winnipeg on 3geez.com whose family has an
'87 sedan with well over a million km on it.
I'm pretty much absolutely stuck on a Civic (or Civic CRX),
'cause of the smaller displacement engines and so better
fuel mileage. OTOH, if I see and can obtain a bargain price
on an 87-89 Accord, then I realize this might offset the
higher cost of fuel. I do like the look of Accords of that
Thank you for the input.
displacement: 1.5 liter Civic vs. 2 liter (minimum) Accord
weight: 2262 lb. Civic vs. 2733 lb. Accord
No doubt both weight and engine displacement are factors,
AFAIC. The Civic sacrifices acceleration for fuel economy.
Vice versa for the Accord. And so forth.
Fuel-per-acceleration costs I don't think end up being that different... you
just trade off a bit less power for a bit more economy. Still, I find the 2.0l
Accord pretty good on gas - even not running as well as it should, probably
needing a ring job, I get a good 500-550km on a 50l tank (works out to around
28-30mpg, I think), mostly city driving (and admittedly, with a lead foot).
I've got well over 700km out of a tank with highway driving with my first
Accord, too (for those familiar with the southern-BC area, I once gassed up in
North Vancouver, got to Whistler, had to double back to Squamish, then continued
on through Pemberton, Lillooet, and north well past Quesnel before needing to
fill up - Streets and Trips shows that as over 750km - and that was with two
people and a bunch of tools in the car). That was for a work trip, and I was
getting 30 cents per km for mileage, too :)
Shucks, Matt, I'm getting 40 mpg almost all year 'round with
my suburban driving in my 91 Civic. Never goes below 37 mpg.
30 vs. 40 is beaucoup difference to me. Baby needs a new
pair of skis, etc., not more money wasted on gasoline, nor a
muscle car. :-)
90 mph... good lord!
Mines seems to vary quite a bit.. The more stop-go the driving , the
worse mine seems to get. Also, if the a/c is on with city driving, the
really drops.. Maybe 20-22 mpg?? With the a/c off, and mixed driving
about half on the highway, I seem to get about 27 or so. I've never
it on an interstate trip yet, so don't know about the mpg at a constant
70 mph. I'm guessing it might edge towards 30 or so if I get lucky.
I think the a/c has a good bit less effect at highway speeds, than
For one thing, you cut the wind drag, if the windows are up.
I have the auto tranny which gets a bit less than a manual.
I don't get near what a light manual civic would get. But... They don't
all the electric windows, mirrors, etc, etc that adds all that extra
The accord is a more comfortable car to drive overall, but you pay for
it in less mpg..
I'm kinda mixed.. I like the fancier doodads with the accord, but I do
real high mpg numbers too. If I had someone that wanted to trade a
stripped down manual civic for my accord, I'd probably seriously
The idea of 40's mpg numbers is quite attractive to me.
The main reason I ended up with an accord, is thats just what I ran
When I was looking at cars, I wasn't narrowing to hondas only.. Was
looking at toyotas, etc also.. I didn't care as long as the mpg was
decent. One thing about the 89 accord I have.. It seems small compared
to the recent year models.. Heck, the newer civics look dang near as
my older 3G accord...
A '99 will have very similar maintenance and repair requirements to your
'91. Honda did a lot of detail updating between '91 and '99, but little
fundamental change. Other than airbags and OBD-II of course.
Does this one have VTEC?
Carfax isn't necessarily a reliable resource, in my opinion. In order
for anything to show up in Carfax, it must be reported to Carfax to
begin with. If an event is not reported, it won't get listed. California
cars seem to be better represented than most from the little I've seen.
Even emissions failures tend to get reported in CA.
A car that's sven years old can have had seven years of superlative
care, or seven years of haphazard and slothful attention. Seven years is
plenty of time to cause plenty of damage. I have seen some pretty
horrible examples of *five* year-old cars in my travels. If it's not
poor maintenance, it's nightmarishly bad "custom" work, like remote
starters and stereos.
Look at lots and lots of cars, both private and dealer. Unless the first
one you come across is a stunningly obvious creampuff, consider your
early subjects learning experiences as you work your way towards knowing
what's good and what's bad in the particular model you desire.
How best to tell if a car has been in an accident? By using your own
eyes. The first and very best clues are the body panel gaps.
Luckily, Honda puts extreme care and attention into their body panel
alignment, so you can be sure the car left the factory with near-perfect
gaps (Hyundai of late has copied this approach).
Take your intended car to a fairly empty lot, park it, close all the
doors and windows, then clear your mind and slowly walk all around it
from a short distance, noting the gaps. They should be perfect. Squat
down and study how the doors, hood, trunk/hatch, bumpers and lamps line
up with each other. Are the bumpers straight? Do they bow down in the
middle so gaps there are bigger than gaps at the ends?
Standing right in front of the front bumper, look straight down. Is the
bumper lined up nicely with the grille and headlights, or does it appear
pushed in, slightly under the headlights and grille? Most impacts are
Check the bumper ends. How do they line up with the curve of the wheel
wells? Should be perfect. If the ends are too far forwards, too far
back, off to one side, then the car's been repaired.
The hood should line up equally with both front and rear fender corners,
and should be centered perfectly between the headlights. A Chev Cavalier
will be loosely lined up here; a Honda will be perfect.
Check for overspray and evidence of masking-off around trim that's not
normally removed, like window moldings.
Lift the hood and study the bumper rebar, if you can see it. Any
stickers? Yellow writing?
Any evidence of primer or rough, dull paint on the fender tops where the
bolts are? Inside the door seams, trunk seams?
Any scraps of blue tape? Any fasteners missing? Is there an EPA sticker
on the underside of the hood?
Take the car to an underground garage or other dark spot. How is the
headlamp aim? Repair shops sometimes neglect to aim the lights (or
cannot) after the car is fixed, and one or both can be wildly out.
Check the tires, of course. What kind of wear do they have? Run your
hand (flat) along the tread, forwards and back. Does it feel different
one way than the other? That in itself is OK, but if it's in conjunction
with badly uneven wear, you've got a case of either neglect or poor
There are many other checks along this vein. However...just because a
car's been in a crash doesn't mean it's worthless or a bad buy, it just
means you need to be extra careful when checking it out. You *can*
properly repair a car, but to know whether or not it's been properly
repaired takes some effort and knowledge.
New-car dealers tend to get the cream of the used-car crop, and those in
at least some areas (like mine) will not put anything on their lot that
has had an insurance claim against it. Private sellers and used car
dealers are a riskier bet. My approach is to disregard all the above and
treat every car as suspect.
At some point Congress mandated that all new cars must have VIN stickers
on all major body panels. I don't know what year this started. You may
wish to check for the presence of these
How I check a car's mechanical condition:
First I insist the seller leave the engine stone cold. If I get there
and the engine has been started, I walk away unless the seller has a
*very* good reason for having started the engine.
Before starting the engine,
* Pull the oil cap, and with a strong flashlight check inside the valve
cover. Bring a small mirror so you can check inside beyond the filler
cap hole. Sellers can change the oil, but they normally NEVER touch
inside the valve cover! There should be nothing more than a skin of
* Pull the brake/clutch MC cover, remove the screen and stick your
finger in, feeling for sludge. * Pull the auto transmission dipstick and
study the color and smell. Was the dipstick easy to remove? Did it show
signs of having not been removed in a long time?
* A manual transmission is harder to check. If seller is uncomfortable
with you raising the car and pulling the plug, take it for a drive.
Should be smooth and quiet, with fast shifts easy even at high revs. Pay
special attention to low gear shifts, 1-2, and 2-3. Your big worry here
is low fluid.
* Of course, check the power steering for leaks and sludgy deposits in
* Remove the rad cap and check inside with a flashlight, AND look inside
the expansion reservoir. Is the fluid clear? Can you see to the bottom?
* Check the condition of the CV joint boots. Are the shafts original?
The boots? Any cracks? * Open the driver's door just a bit. Lift the
door up and down. How much play? Lots means a car that's had lots of
* Check the door hinges. How old is the white grease? That's how long
since it's seen a dealer's service bay. * Reject any car with
aftermarket accessories of any kind, from radios to remote start to
alarms. Way too risky.
ONLY after that will I start the engine. And even then I will ask the
*seller* to start it, so I can watch the tailpipe fof smoke, and be in a
better postion to listen to the engine as it fires.
Finally, I budget about $1000 for fixup items, just in case there are
still some surprises afterwards. With our '99 Tercel I bought a couple
of years ago, I did just this, and was very pleasantly surprised to
discover no snakes hidden anywhere at all.
It turned out to be a DX, but I have not checked as to
whether it has VTEC. I did not like the tone of the guy on
the phone--sounded too much like a used car dealer looking
for a sizable markup as opposed to someone just tired of
their car wanting to sell at around blue book. Plus what
others said here about the '99 made me not want to pursue
snip (for brevity) very good suggestions.
You ought to put these suggestions onto your web site, under
something like "buying used... " Or are they there already?
I think I am going to price getting the two rear wheel wells
fixed up on my 91 Civic, and maybe see about a paint job.
Then I think it would look really good. Maybe buy a new
driver's seat, too. If the engine conks out, I'll buy a
second-hand one from Japan. Darn near everything else I can
fix on my own.
Except that the body looks a little beat, I know this car
too well, and I like it too much. Plus I see no reason to
throw upwards of $12k at a new car I will not know well; may
not be repairable by me; etc. A car is a terrible
investment, except that for some of us, it buys fun.
Fortunately most of the fun is in maintaining it. So I win
on all levels (money-wise and fun).
Meanwhile, like you say, I'll take my time and keep an eye
peeled for CRX's, since that might be more fun... :-)
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