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Civic (Honda 1996 LX) Rust Problems

I have had a 1996 Honda Civic LX, 5-speed for the past 20 years, and if I could keep driving it for another 20+ I would do so happily. Had I never taken it to New England to live with me (I am now back home in Georgia) I probably could keep driving it forever. Apart from routine things (timing belt changes, alternator replacement, that sort of thing) it has always run perfectly. I love this vehicle and have no desire to replace it with a costly, and new-fangled vehicle. But sadly, 8 years of the road salt in New England seems to have done a number on it. I’m curious what options might exist.

Two years ago, the vehicle was brought back to the south and was not used often for several months.

About one year ago, I noticed two things: (a) the brakes were getting very soft; (b) the vehicle lurched and bucked excessively when shifting from 1st to 2nd gear. I initially thought that problem (b) was an issue with the clutch, which has gotten a bit ‘touchy’ over the years (difficulty keeping the transition from active clutch to active transmission when shifting at low speeds, clutch ‘sticks’ when shifting into 1st gear and vehicle is still rolling slowly, etc.), and underwent some adjustments several years back. I took it to a nearby mechanic, a Vietnamese fellow who specializes in Asian makes. I’ll call this shop “V” for short. “V” seems very popular and successful but his English is very hard to follow and thus, it is very hard to explain ‘complex’ problems. He diagnosed it by test driving it, and explained that the problem with the lurching (and possibly also the brakes, not sure) was that one or more of the motor mounts was loose/failed. He fixed this problem as well as replacing parts on the brakes and the vehicle resumed normal functioning. I was happy with his service, but reluctant to take the vehicle back to him without a translator. He made no mention of “rust,” but then as I said, language barrier . . .

About six-months ago, I noticed the brakes starting to become soft again. This time I took it to another mechanic whom I trust very much; he worked on our vehicles for many years in the past. This fellow, “Rob” (a pseudonym). Rob’s assistant called me back after about one day and told me “Rob cannot work on the car, it is too rusted out. Too much liability.” Based on the tone during this call and when I went to pick up the vehicle, I sensed that Rob did not want to talk about it, and really did not want to work on the vehicle. Nonetheless, when I got the vehicle, I realized he must have done some work on it (and not charged me, so as to not be on record I suppose) because the soft brakes were fixed. Rob hails from New England and is very familiar with rust damaged vehicles. When I spoke to him, some of the things he said indicated to me that he was ‘fed up’ with working on rust damaged vehicles for some reason, and also indicated that, in some cases, the rust damage can simply get to the point where the vehicle is not fixable.

I was honestly a bit traumatized when I heard his assistant tell me he would not work on it, and while that was all I was told (along with ‘You should trade it in while you can still get something for it . . . there are probably mechanics out there who will work on it, but Rob refuses to do so . . .’) the strange tension I detected made me averse to pressing him for more information. Once I realized he had fixed the brakes I understood better the predicament he was in: he had already put hours and parts into it, when he decided he didn’t want to take on this vehicle as a regular service job, so naturally this amplified his longstanding irritation with dealing with rusted vehicles and thus the strange taciturn manner of his assistant when I picked it up.

So this brings my tale to the present. I continue to use the vehicle several days a week, including 12-mile roundtrip commutes on Interstates and in traffic. It continues to function normally, and while it definitely ‘feels’ like an old and slightly rickety car, it seems superficially fine to me. The vehicle recently passed the Georgia license inspection (which, I understand is nothing more than a test to see if the onboard emissions computer still works or not) and apart from the slightly touchy clutch problem (which has been ongoing for years) and the brakes seemingly going bad routinely the vehicle has not issues that I can detect from driving it . . . At this point, the brakes may be starting to soften up again, I’m not sure.

As I said at the outset of this long narrative, I do NOT want to get rid of this vehicle. I imagine a new Honda Civic (or similar type of car) would cost in the ball park of $25,000 (not to mention operating costs) and this vehicle: (i) still runs; (ii) costs me ~$1000 per year in maintenance (averaged over the last five years); (iii) I am psychologically (if not emotionally!) attached to the vehicle. It is not that I “cannot” afford a new one, I just would prefer NOT to take on that additional expense if there is any other option.

Some months back, I spoke with some of the automotive students at the Technical College I attend, and I learned that “donor frame parts” (if not whole chassis) were a real thing, and that it might actually be an option in my case. I have not investigated this further and that is why I’m here, to inquire about what sorts of options I might have, and how best to explore those options.

Does anyone have any experience with this sort of problem? Can anyone advise a sensible course of action? Would seeking a mechanic who could organize “donor frame parts” (if not the whole chassis) and implement a “transplant” be sensible? I have no idea how much that sort of work might cost, but I reckon that it would be cheaper than a new vehicle?

Brother…its a lost cause. That Trusty Friend of yours served you well and owes you nothing. If it truly has Cancer…methinks its in its advanced stages. Rust never sleeps and is akin to an Iceberg…What you see is only 1/4 of the story.

I would maybe sit in her one night and have some drinks together…talk about old times…and fondly let go…

OR you could kill yourself trying to save it…Up to you… How deep are your pockets? Ive seen guys turn a rusty pair of fenders back into a car before…but logic had long since vacated the space between their ears.

I say its time to move on…and I am not wont to say these things easily…I am very attached to my machines usually


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Once your car has this much rust and is 20 years old you have reached the point of no return. Even if you could replace all the rusty body and chassis parts (which would be very expensive) you still have rusty suspension and mechanical parts and VERY worn (and old) components that will continue to fail at a rate that will make a newer vehicle seem like a bargain. I agree a brand new Civic will be pricey but decent used ones are out there for less than $15,000 and will have many years of trouble free life in them.

Argh . . . sob . . . thank you friend(s). The voice of reason . . . difficult to accept . . .

Re: new versus used . . . back in my teens and early 20s, I had a series of used vehicles, and the only one that provided any satisfactory service was a Nissan Sentra. Based on those very old, bad experiences with used vehicles, I’m not inclined to buy a used car. I probably would’ve kept driving that Sentra for 20 years if it had not got killed by a hit and run collision while parked on the street at University of Missouri! Totalled it!

It was at that point in ~1996 that I investigated buying a new vehicle. I spent a couple days analyzing Consumer Reports information, and created a fairly nifty spreasheet with the top candidates “quantified” and analyzed on a “cost per function” basis in MS Excel. I determined that, the civic was an exceptional model for the money (and at the time the base model had not been changed for at least five years, so there was good data on the ones that were being sold). I determined that a Mercedes Benz really was a better car (more functionality), but that it wasn’t really worth it on a price/unit of value analysis. Same for the Subaru Legacy (which was the number two candidate).

I guess it might be time to let the Mr. Spock in my brain have his way, silence Dr. McCoy’s sentimentality, and move on with a logical and rational analysis of what new vehicle I should purchase . . .

I seem to recall that, November through February are the best times of year to purchase new vehicles?

You must be referring to @bloody_knuckles because “reason” seems to elude me to this day… hahaha

Never fall in love with something that can’t love you back…

I think Ive known a few women who fit that bill… But maybe it was just me… :frowning:

Its funny you mention “women” at this point in the discussion Honda, because the “woman” I had acquired some years before the vehicle only lasted about 6 months! :smiley:

Maybe you can find a used one (car) with a blown engine and swap engines.

I think I’ll just buy my wife a Mini-Cooper and take her Toyota SUV! Donate the Civic to a museum or something . . .


Please do NOT buy your wife a Mini-Cooper :worried:

They deservedly have a reputation for being complete garbage :fearful:

I would have used harsher language, but this is a family-friendly forum :tongue:

It’s the end of the road! In the past cowboys had great difficulty parting with their favorite steed when the tome had come.

At least you don’t have to shoot it!

I’ve taken two trusted friends to the recycling yard to be shredded and be reborn as a stove or fridge.

Yep. What’s that song by Dan Seals? “Well old Red is getting older and last Saturday he stumbled but I just can’t bear to let him go.” It only hurts for a little while. Take a few pictures and bye bye.

If you really like driving a 20 year old Accord, why don’t you look for one that spent its whole life in Georgia. You have a ready made perts car for it.

That Civic that served you so well has morphed into a top ten vehicle in later generations. I owned a 97 Civic for many many years…never had so much as a hiccup in that thing…sold it to a good friend who is still driving it today.

If you have grown out of a Civic…then the Accord is a fantastic machine…get one thats 5yrs old or something… Stick with the 4cyl…they are fantastic engines. The V6 is also nice…but I rarely find the need when the 4cyl moves so nicely. You have tons of options…let someone else take the depreciation hit

But since you know and loved a Honda…I promise…their latter vehicles are only more of the same and better


My 1999 Civic EX is going strong at close to 170,000 miles in WI and MN. The only functional rust problem so far was a brake line to the rear wheels that rusted out. Brake lines and other things are under the floor along the center line, protected by a perforated black plastic shield, which also collected and grit, snow, salt, etc. I had both rear lines replaced. The plastic shield did not survive the repair process but I think that’s OK.

A little paint blistering has started on a rear quarter panel, just above the plastic piece that hangs below there and sweeps around to cover the rear bumper. I’ve seen much worse rust there on many Hondas of that era.

Before condemning the car, I’d want a mechanic to inspect its undercarriage, visually and with a hammer, while I watch. And yes, we’d both be wearing eye protection because some rust will fall.

I’m going to disagree with most of the people in this thread, because none of us have seen the car. There are plenty of Hondas older than that still running around here in Minnesota where I live. Hell, I’ve got an old Mitsubishi truck that has over 200,000 miles on it, all of them racked up here. Is it rusty? Yeah! Is it ugly! Absolutely! Is it dangerous? No more than any other 1988 vehicle.

Southern mechanics are spoiled. Up here when you crawl under a car you need to soak everything in penetrating lubricant first and then wear eye shields because as soon as you touch the car your face will be covered in rust flakes. Everything’s harder because everything’s rusted shut which requires more work and mess to take off.

That isn’t fun, and mechanics who don’t see such things every day might understandably not want to bother with the one guy in 5,000 who comes in with a rusty car.

In short, I’d take this with a big grain of salt. I’d personally be pretty surprised that only 8 years rendered a mid-90’s Civic unsafe. Sure, it will be rusty, and the body might be starting to look like Swiss cheese, but I highly doubt that the rust has compromised the structural integrity of the car already. It could be that yours is a special, unlucky case, but I find it more likely that your mechanic does not have to deal with working through rust very often and is hoping to reduce that frequency to zero.

@Bing When we took our 1965 Dodge Dart to the wrecker, my wife actually cried! This was our dating and honeymoon car and it brought both our baby kids home from the hospital. After 13 years it was hard to say goodbye.

I’ve got a 2003 Civic EX with a 5 spd ;manual trans, 175K miles and lived it live in NE PA where we have snow and salted roads in the winter. About 5 years ago I got an oil change while on a trip in Florida. The guys at the shop were all too happy to tell me how “rusty” my car was compared to the local Florida cars. There is a “southern” bias against rust on cars from the north.

Still several years later my Civic is fine, there are no rust issues on the body. On the '96’s you often see rust holes behind the rear wheels. I’ve had all the metal and rubber brakes lines replaced just to age and rust before I had any brake problems. Otherwise the underside still looks OK for a northern car and there are no safety issues due to rust. I know the car won’t last forever, but it is fine now.

To the OP, if you really want to know what is going on with your car take it to a body shop for an evaluation. I’d suggest you have all your brake lines replaced, perhaps that will stop the periodic soft brake issues you have.

Your car could be in bad shape, but I suspect it is really OK. If you said you have holes in the body due to rust that might change things. A lot of rusted parts can be replaced if needed. Yes, working on a car with rusted bolts isn’t easy or fun, but it doesn’t mean the car is ready of the crusher.

If you decide to get a new car there aren’t that many available with manual transmissions. This makes getting a used car with a manual tranny pretty tough. Someday I might order a new Civic with a manual transmission, because I don’t think there are many sitting on dealer lots on any given day.

Sure I suppose all the above is possible… I was only working with the info provided…I didn’t question it… But sure…its a logical conclusion to make that the mechanic isnt familiar with what makes up an truly Rust Unsafe vehicle.