Fix or replace old car

My son drives our 1991 Honda Accord that we bought 21 years ago. It has 250k miles on it and hasn’t given us any trouble other than routine maintenance issues. That is, until this past year. It started burning through the oil and not starting well. We had a trusted mechanic look it over and the repairs to fix it will be about $1200. Work order says “replace front oil pump and crank seal, camshaft seal, valve cover gasket and tune-up. Also, will replace bad coolant temp sensor, timing belt and water pump”. The mechanic feels like the engine is still in good condition and that the oil leaks are the critical problem. As far as the body condition, it has some dents and peeling paint. The trunk has a small leak. The interior is still in pretty good condition for its age.
Here is his situation. He only has about $2500 to spend on a different vehicle as he still has 2 years of Pro-school for Engineering to pay for. He commutes about 30 miles each way to school, 5 days a week. So, is it worth repairing the car and hope to get another couple years out of it or should he scrap it for money and buy an older used car with less miles, taking the risk that it won’t have issues pop up as well?
Appreciate your input…

$2500 for another vehicle won’t get much, and you’ll be buying unknown problems.

I’d stick with this car since it’s been well cared for and you know its history. I would not, however, pay to replace all those oil seals. Those are external oil leaks that, while possibly annoying, aren’t worth fixing IMO unless oil is actually dripping profusely onto the ground beneath the car. The worst that happens is that you have to add a quart of oil every month to make up for the oil that has leaked out. A lot less expensive than replacing all those seals.

“Burning” oil is a different issue entirely, as is “not starting well.” The not starting well is an important issue that you should fix, as well as replacing the timing belt/water pump if due.

If the engine is in fact “burning” oil as opposed to “leaking” oil, there’s not much you can do about that except keep adding oil regularly.

I’d spend, say, $600 on the timing belt, water pump, coolant temp sensor, and fixing the “not starting well” issue. Save the other $600 that you would have spent on all those oil seals and keep it for other more important issues when they arise.

IMHO it is absolutely worth it to repair this vehicle.
Where else are you going to get a known reliable car with a known history that’s already been gone over by your mechanic for $1200? IMHO he’d be crazy not to spend the money fixing it.

Although it’s very old, I lean toward fixing this car and hoping to get a little more time out of it. I would fix the trunk leak, as you really don’t want a mold problem to start.

Thanks for your responses. Thought I’d add some additional information…
The problems, as I understand them, are:
1 - The oil is leaking into the spark plug tubes causing them not to fire correctly. It actually has damaged the wire set.
2 - The leaky valve cover is causing oil to spill onto the timing belt, making it soft, which is why it needs to be replaced.
3 - The faulty coolant temp sensor is dumping in more fuel than necessary.

Can’t be certain if the engine is burning oil or just losing so much due to the leaks. He was having to put a quart in every few weeks. Didn’t really notice a lot under the car after being parked. He had forgotten to check it and let it get extremely low one time. Not sure if that caused any lasting damage…

That’s not a lot of oil. Replacing the valve cover gasket is an easy job and should resolve the oil issues. Even if he gets 6 more months out of it, it’s cheaper than a car payment and the higher insurance.

A timing belt/tensioner/water pump job is $750? Or more? When did u do it last? 2-3 times since u owned car? But now u say belt is bad due to cam cover oil leak seals? Hopefully u did not replace belt 1 yr ago for 750 and now cam seal is making u do job again? Did ur mechanic recommend changing seals during last belt job?

Yes, then replace the valve cover gasket. Still, the other oil seals are probably not really necessary. Losing a quart every few weeks is not excessive, and the engine is probably burning (as opposed to leaking) most of it. Letting the oil get very low even once can cause enough wear to make the engine start burning a noticeable quantity of oil, and that’s probably what happened.

$1200 seems a very reasonable estimate for the work to be done. It should keep the car going for number of years, I’d vote to do the repairs.

Fix the issues and hope it lasts the two years when he graduates.

The goal is getting two years which is honestly a flip of a coin on a car this old.

If he buys another car it will need some repairs immediately, possibly costing as much or more than th $1200 it will cost to get the Civic back in working order. I’d keep the Civic.

@KJ74 I’d definitely fix it instead of replace it. A wise man once told me some good advice on this very type of situation:
"You know the problems that you have on the car you own. If you buy another car, unless it is new, you run the risk of getting into even bigger problems. Fix what you have, and you’ll have a fixed car."
With the used car option, you are rolling the dice. If you have a good mechanic, spending $1,200 should be a guaranteed fix.

If you want to save a little $ and teach the son a little valuable lesson, have everything except the tune up done at the mechanic shop, and then do the tune up at home on a nice spring Saturday morning. watch a few youtube videos or buy a Chilton book, and have 3 hours of dad & son bonding time. Some of my favorite memories involve my dad, my grandpa, and myself all covered in grease and solving problems.

Invest in the Accord. The cost to bring another car up to drivable standards will be double what has available to fix the honda. He should be cognizant that it is old and will need more care, just the same as his grandparents would, since they are about the same ages (dog years and all).

If the car has been well cared for under your ownership, it is a better candidate for his future use after he exits school and until he can afford a much newer car. I would budget around $1k per annum on care and feeding of the car (tires, brakes, repair)

Here’s a thought . . .

Maybe it’s not starting well, because the valves are in dire need of adjustment. Valve lash often gets tight, as engines age. That results in low compression, which results in extended cranking before starting

Thankfully, it’s easy to adjust valves on this engine

hmm … 250 K and 24 year old car? That’s stretching the limits. But it’s still possible the car has a few years of useful economical service life left in it. I’d bet against it if pressed to make a bet, but it is still possible.

Here’s what I’d do. Test the compression, and if the compression tests ok, replace only the valve cover gaskets and the spark plugs (if they need replacing). Monitor the oil situation, it may well be most of the leaking is coming from the valve cover gasket, which is inexpensive to replace. If it still leaks a little, just park it in a spot where it won’t matter if it leaks, and check the oil once a week and top it off if necessary.

If you want to do more than that, replace the timing belt and the water pump and the cam and front crank seals at the same time.

Edit: Replace the coolant temp sensor and the PCV valve too.

Just a clarification if I’m not too late…
When everyone says that changing the valvecover gasket will fix the oil issues, they’re also referring to the oil in the spark plug tubes. The “kit” includes O-rings that seal the bottoms of the tubes, and they’re generally replaced as a set, valvecover gasket and O-rings. Replacement of those seals will keep the oil out of the spark plug tubes. Toyota actually makes the gasket and O-rings one piece, but I think Honda makes them separate.

As gaskets remain compressed over time, the rubber engages in a process engineers call “cold flow”, where they actually slowly change shape to meet their cavities. The compression, which is what seals the path, disappears and fluids can seep past. If you ever have the opportunity to compare a removed gasket to a new one, you’ll find that the used one has changed its cross-sectional shape to match the cavity it was compressed in. You’ll even find imperfections in the gasket to match those in the corresponding metal surfaces. Sort of like a dental mold.