Car pre-purchase question on 1999 Civic?

I have a friend who doesn’t have a lot of money and has been offered a basic form of transport by her family for what I think is a decent price ($1000). She asked me what I thought. Anyway, it is a beater 1999 Civic that runs reasonably well but has an unknown history. She says it is likely a higher mileage car and that it seems to run and drive just fine. If she buys it, her family will give it a basic tune-up, change the oil, replace the brakes, replace the tires (not sure if with new or better used ones) before she gets it, otherwise they are selling it as is.

With an unknown history, what else should one look for? I am concerned about the timing belt as this appears to be an interference engine. It looks like you also do the water pump as they are driven off the belt. How easy of a DIY job is this? I don’t even know the model of the Civic and don’t know if it makes a difference in the style of belt.

This is also an automatic transmission if that makes a difference. I am assuming the fluid should be changed.

Hi cwatkin,

We sold a 98 Civic, 5-spd with 220k for $1700 last summer. And that car was running like new (didn’t look new, but ran like it). So these cars can certainly run a long time. This was a fantastic car and my son really became comfortable working on cars with this Civic (our third).

Check the shocks for leaks, CV boots for leakage or cracks, look around the engine for oil or any other leaking fluids.

Here’s what I would do in addition to brakes and tires. Fluids, inc transmission, timing belt, water pump and idler pulley at the same time. It’ll run $700 or so.

Sounds like a great deal, as on all used cars have a mechanic inspect it, and see what near term maintenance items are needed.

If you do all the maintenance, the $1000 car suddenly becomes a $2500 car…If it’s an automatic and that fails, add $3500…Now we are up to 7 large…

If there’s no record of the timing belt being changed, it must be done, add that to the cost.

Yeah, I think anything timing belt related will be done for sure and I told her to have them do it before she buys it and just add that to the cost. I think someone in the family might be a mechanic. As for the other stuff like the transmission, this is the risk you take with a $1000 car.

I don’t know if I made it clear but the $1000 includes a tune-up, oil change, and tires being done before she gets the car. She is going to tell her family to do the timing belt unless there is a clear history that it has been replaced somewhat recently.

A Civic with all that maintenance and a timing belt, that drive fine, for $1,000? Fine by me.

@cwatkin Only skip the timing belt if receipts can be produced which conclusively prove that it’s been replaced recently. Word of mouth doesn’t count.

I’m driving a 1998 Civic with almost 240,000 miles on the odometer. It sounds like this person’s family is putting at least $1,000 worth of work into the car and then selling it for $1,000. That sounds like a heck of a deal to me.

Like others have said, see if you can get the maintenance records to see when the timing belt and water pump were last replaced. Either way, it’s a good deal, but your friend might want to budget for a timing belt job soon if it is due.

I have told her that she should have the belt changed ASAP if she gets the car as it would essentially destroy the engine if it failed. She is pushing to have her family get it changed locally and then drive it up to her as it is several hundred miles. With an unknown history, she figures it will blow on its way here! I told her even if they charge her more for the car, it was still a good deal.

Anyway, her family knows she doesn’t have a ton of money so I am sure they are basically giving her the car but charging her for the repairs to make it reliable for her to drive without breaking down.

She’s a lucky lady. She should take the deal.

She sounds like an ungrateful college student.

The automatic transmission on this car is notorious for failing, so regardless of what the maintenance schedule says, she should change the transmission fluid every 30,000 miles.

I regularly take my '98 Civic on 500 mile weekend trips. As long as she takes good care of it, it will last a long time. It’s a Honda Civic, not a Dodge Neon.

I don’t think she is ungrateful at all. She was just asking me some questions although I still thought the car was a good deal before getting the feedback here. She has some health issues of her own as well as family issues and is under lots of stress too.

I will add the transmission fluid to the list of required maintenance if the history of that is unknown. Yes, I agree that Honda makes a much better car than something like the Dodge Neon and that they go forever if cared for. I really wish it was a manual instead of an automatic but this is what is available to her.

I’m glad to hear I was mistaken.

Yeah, here is some additional news about the car that may indicate the trans is just about shot! It got stuck in the mud somewhere and they must have floored it trying to get it out. The transmission is “skipping” and revving up very high before shifting. Anyway, I don’t know what this indicates but figured it may be a dealbreaker. What would a used or rebuilt one cost?

If she was in la and belonged to a Honda club maybe she could get someone to put in a used trans for cheap. Otherwise, used install is 1000 or so. Maybe 2k if you don’t shop around

@cwatkin here’s an idea

Perform a transmission fluid and filter service BEFORE buying the car.

If it’s still slipping, DON’T BUY IT.

“The transmission is ‘skipping’ and revving up very high before shifting.”

This sounds like what happens when the transmission fluid is low. Check the fluid, and if it stops doing it after getting the fluid to the correct level, the damage might not be permanent.

Generally, transmissions don’t rev the engine. The driver has to do that, and I recommend that when it seems to miss the next gear, that you not rev it, but instead let up on the throttle. This might help minimize the damage if it’s just low on fluid.