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Advice? Repairs, supplies before x-country trip

Hello CarTalk gurus!

Having landed a job, I have about three days to get my plans in place to drive my car across country. I need advice on three issues – replacing the stereo (or I’ll die of AM radio), doing a preventive checkup, and choosing a route. Would love your input.

1) STEREO: The car only has a cassette player, and I want to update it to an MP3 player, as well as swap out the 5.25 inch door speakers. I’m usually savvy, but on this issue don’t have the foggiest about the components.

a. What kind of wattage will I be limited to on the speakers if I don’t get an amp, just a console?

b. I have the directions for removing the stereo and the speakers, but am not sure how involved it would be, as someone who’s never tinkered with this '95 Civic Hatchback before. Should I make an appointment for the installation, or can I do it myself in 2-3 hours?

c. Component recommendations? I’m currently going by Buzzillions recommendations.

2. What preventive maintenance should I have done on the car before the drive? Tires and battery are good. Will swap wipers, oil and fluid. Want to get the brakes checked. Anything else?

3. What routes would you recommend from DC to San Francisco this time of year? I prefer trail running / hiking parks and rural scenery, and plan on making about 300-500 miles per day.



Swapping out the stereo and speakers will consume at least one of the three days you have. And that’s if you have the head unit and speakers in your hands NOW, which you don’t.

Even when they say the new speakers will fit there’s almost always some minor modification to be done. High quality speakers are almost always significantly thicker, or deeper, than factory speakers, and require more room behind them.

You don’t need an amp. Any decent aftermarket head unit these days has plenty of power, and decent speakers can handle it.

Crutchfield is my favorite place for auto stereo stuff, but there are others.

How many miles on the Civic, and how long ago was the timing belt changed? I think you have your priorities backward. I’d worry more about the car and less about the stereo. for stereo components, the nice thing is they will tell you additional items you may need. My fave has always been alpine component and blaupunkt speakers. As far as the trail you might consider a gps program with a large screen computer. My choice of computer was an older fujitsu stylistic 4121 with a a transflective screen, daylight readable and backlit for night, 160 bucks on ebay and gps usb antenna and software for 60 bucks. I red eye, infared keyboard seals the deal. You then have a large screen gps for figuring out routes, wireless for the hotel internet connection, drive directions and the ability to hike as long as your battery lasts, min though could still gets 4 hours. The northern route through the black hills, boise Idaho, yellowstone and tahoe are great places. I90 Cut down later to I 80 if you have time

Where is the timing belt/water pump/tensioner situation at? This is a pretty much a must if it has not been done and if it has not been done it’s a major miracle this car has not suffered some engine damage due to a broken belt.

I would avoid I-40 across OK (an utter screaming bore anyway) unless you have an infatuation with permanent road construction and roads that will beat your car to death immediately upon completion of said construction.

Ok, thanks for the heads-up about the timing belt, tensioner and water pump – and presumably valves too. I appreciate the consensus on Crutchfield. I’ve looked up the best-rated mechanics on Yelp, so will get some price quotes next.

McParadise and ok4450, the Civic is at 90,000, and the timing belt hasn’t been touched. It’s a '95, with the mileage nicely spread out, except for the trip I’m about to take. I’ll be straight about this. Presently, I’m very stretched for cash (as the back story indicates). This month, $500-1000 for a timing belt replacement is well over budget. I think all I can do is cross my fingers. I’ll do the belt replacement on my first paycheck if I do make it across country, and if I don’t, then the fallback solution is AAA and a rental to the nearest airport, selling the car for parts wherever it gives up.

The reason I am deciding not to sell it before the trip is that I have just enough belongings in DC to fill the Civic, and since I have the chance, I’d love to take the week to see some sights on the way out West.

I am considering selling the car after I get out West, but even if I’m looking at $1500 of delayed maintenance and a sub-$2000 resale value, I have a hard time envisioning finding a $2000-3000 car that’s as dependable as this Civic.


Much obliged.


Change your timing belt it should be <$500. If you have money left upgrade the cassette player. A $10 cassette adapter will allow you to play an MP3 player.

You will never get your money back on the stereo when selling.

The cost of replacing the timing belt is going to come close to what you’d spend on getting a tow and purchasing an airline ticket, especially if you’re in the middle of nowhere. Add the cost of shipping your belongings if you have a breakdown. The belt ought to be the top priority since, given mileage and age, the chances of it breaking are pretty good.

If the radio is original you may find that your dome light won’t work when you replace it. There’s a jumper wire that I had to install on my 97 Civic to correct that problem since the key entry system is tied into the original radio. Search on a Honda forum to find out how to do that.

You’ve been riding on borrowed time for several years with the timing belt. I suppose another few thousand miles won’t make much difference. If the belt breaks it’s over for the car. If you make it, you make it.

The thing is, the belt won’t last forever, and when it breaks the engine will be damaged.

I’d go with a cassette adapter and not put hundreds of dollars into a stereo. Have a nice trip.

You do know you can keep the unit you have and use a cassette converter to plug into the head phone jack of your mp3 player. That’s as far as I’d go, of an over the air that palys through your radio.
As far as your car is concerned, you don’t want a break down anymore driving to work than you would cross country. If you’ve been maintaining your car regularly, the nearest service interval is all you need. If not, the 90k service interval, doing as much as you can yourself.



Forget about your new radio!!! I am willing to bet you won’t make it to SanFran with a 17 year old timing belt…NO WAY !!!
If you want to make it out West, you need to have the “timing belt package” (timing belt, water pump, alternator+a/c+Power steering belts, a couple small oil seals, and new coolant) done to your Civic. It will cost you $400-600. That’s what Honda dealers are charging in my area. Carefully shopping around, will get you much closer to the $400.00 mark. Do you have a phone and 15-20 spare minutes? Then, start dialing.

Good luck.

Nobody ever died of AM radio. Prolonged exposure just results in increased conservatism.

You may have a hard time selling a DC car in 'Frisco. California’s emissions requirements are odeous. Rather than spend a ton of cash preparing this car, driving it there , and trying to sell it, you might be better off to sell it in DC, rent a car for the trip (national chains allow one way rentals), and buy another car there.

Alright, you guys are certainly giving me the picture. I appreciate it.

I do understand with the timing belt it’s just a matter of … ummm … time. But for the sake of my own understanding: Are you just telling me to play it safe, or is there something else at work mechanically? What kind of stresses are put on a car in a 300/mi x 10 day trip that aren’t put on it at shorter distances? Why is the belt more likely going to give out in THESE 3,000 miles, rather than the next 3,000 miles?

Your car has an “interference” engine. That means that if the timing belt breaks the timing between the pistons and the valves will go haywire and pistons will kiss the valves and a few valve stems may bend.

The timing belt isn’t more likely to break on the trip than around town. But you may be more likely to gate screwed in some strange midwestern town with your Washington plates and your stranded status than if you were at home. There’s no “upside” to waiting.

The point is that this belt should have been replaced 10 years ago and it’s just sheer luck that it hasn’t given up the ghost long before now.

The belt is dry rotted and it may last 3000 miles, 30,000 more miles, or it may pop by noon tomorrow. It’s anybody’s guess. Eventually the sheer luck just runs out; much like gambling money in Vegas.

There is no way I would feel comfortable making a cross-country trip knowing the belt situation. The new stereo and speakers may not sound so fine if you’re sitting on the side of a Montana highway with a catastrophically failed belt and engine.

Ok, I’ll make the appointment. It’s really going to break the benk, but I’ll see what I can work out. Thanks for all the advice on the timing belt.

Are the ater pump or valves on a '95 Civic equal priority this week? (I assume the tensioner gets checked at the same the timing belt gets changed).


The timing belt change should include the water pump and the tensioner.

Are you sure you wouldn’t rather sell it as-is and rent something for the trip?

In an ideal world, yes, I’d like to investigate selling it. The problem is that my schedule is very tight, and if it doesn’t sell within a day or two, I can’t conscience dumping the car with a friend for him to sell. That’s pretty uncool.

Current Blue Book on this seems to be around $1200 – I knocked it down $500 because the front fender needs replacing. Since I can’t get much for $1200, let alone $1700 (assuming saving $ from not doing the timing belt), it’s still worth driving until it dies. It’s nothing much to look at, but it’s been rock-steady.

Would be interested, though, in advice on selling a Civic. I know that even CXes retain some value to ‘tuners’ – Do Civic enthusiasts still call themselves that?

The only car marketplaces I remember are autotrader and mota. Any other suggestions?

I’m way too long in the tooth to know what the kids call themselves now.

Perhaps a friend would buy it for $500 knowing its condition and resell it? You could use the $500 to rent a vehicle.

If you end up with a trashed engine in some strange town in the midwest it’ll probably cost you more than that to get out of the situation.

You can buy an adaptor that will play an mp3 player or other device with a headphone jack through the the cassette player. It’ll cost maybe $15 to $25. I wouldn’t worry too much about sound quality.

Consider getting the timing belt replaced. If not, well, most places on most interstates have cell phone coverage and there’s a Greyhound every day or two.

April is not the greatest month to be traveling across the continent as there is chance of hitting serious snow. In Summer, I’d suggest I80 or I70. Prettier scenery and cooler. But this early in the season, it might be best to go hundreds of miles South and go I40 or I10.

In any case, make sure that you have a decent jacket, some blankets, a couple of grocery store gallon bottles of water, a cell phone. And stay on the Interstates and the towns along them. Oh yeah, make sure that the fluids are topped off before you start and that the spare has air in it. If the car breaks down stick with it unless you can see a gas station within walking distance. The highway patrol will be along sooner or later to help you out.

As to routes, your best bet is probably to hook up with I 70, then jog north to hit I 80 when you get to Utah, and that will drop you off in the Bay area. Have Google Maps compute the specifics. I wouldn’t take I 80 through the northern Plains or Wyoming in April. Spring snowstorms are the worst. That’s not as interesting a route anyway. However since I 70 takes you through the Rockies, the immediate weather report might be the most important thing to consider once you’re there.