I am considering purchasing a 1997 Honda Accord Wagon with a repaired head gasket. I do not know what caused the damage, only that it had to be fixed. It also has a brake line that needs to be replaced. I am only paying 700 dollars for the car but am concerned with having a major issue in the near future. Any advice would be helpful.
Paying $700 for a 21 year old car pretty much guarantees you will have a major issue in the near future. I’d suggest you walk away from this car and find another unless you have access to at least $2700. $700 for the purchase and $2000 for repairs a car this old is likely to need. I’d also spend $100 having your mechanic give the car an inspection.
Buying a car like this with no “emergency money” is high risk.
As for the actual issue of the head gasket, sometimes they just blow and you have to replace them. As long as the repair was done properly you shouldn’t have a problem, but I’ve seen a lot of those repairs done improperly.
Were I considering this car, I would get this:
and use it to test for combustion gasses in the coolant. If you find any, you know the repair wasn’t done properly. I would also inspect the coolant and make sure it wasn’t foamy, and I would inspect the oil and make sure it looked like motor oil and not like chocolate milk. Either of those two conditions mean head gasket problems.
Besides wondering if the head gasket repair was done properly is the question of how much damage was done to engine before the new gasket. This tends to show up in the long run, like high oil consumption, and is not subject to a quick check. If there are unburned hydrocarbons detectable at the open radiator neck, there is still a leak. An “exhaust sniffer” tool is pretty common in good repair shops these days and if you don’t want to buy the tool, have your mechanic use it while doing an overall inspection. And a wet and dry compression test can give important clues about the condition of the pistons, rings, and cylinder walls.