Honda 2002 transmission issue in the purchase of a used car?

I’m looking to buy a used 2002 Honda Accord LX automatic with 133,000 miles on it. One owner who I know.
He didn’t change the timing belt yet (manual says should have been done at 105,000 miles.) Car looks great and he seems to have done oil changes on a regular basis and brakes in 08, new rotors,pads.
I had it checked out by my local mechanic who said it was in really good shape Told me to have the timing belt and water pump done asap and buy new tires, if I buy the car. (would it be reasonable to deduct these from the purchase price say on NADA or KBB?)
HOWEVER, when I drove it back to the owner I noticed that when I started driving the car from a stop to a moderate speed on local roads, the rpm needle would race (blink of an eye) form 0 to 4000 rpms in a millisecond. (and I wasn’t gunning the vehicle at all, actually accelerating slowly) Didn’t happen every time I stopped but enough for me to notice. Is this a potential indication of a transmission problem? I also noticed when I drove on the highway that I could feel the gears change more then I do on my other car 09 Hyundai Elantra Touring.
I read in a few places that 01 and 02 Honda Accords had transmission problems. Are the symptoms I mentioned above a sign of bad things to come or is this normal for an “older” car and I’m just being a bit paranoid. Any advice?


If the timing belt hasn’t been changed, I’d guess the auto transmission has the original fluid in it. That could very well lead to future problems with the auto trans which is quite common on older Accords. Especially those that didn’t have regular (ie every 30 to 50K) auto trans fluid changes. Price out the costs of a trans rebuild and be ready for a big bill just in case.

Buying a car is a negotiation. Offer what you think the car is worth. If the seller doesn’t agree you’ll live and keep looking for another car.

Thanks for your response. I’ll ask the fellow about the AT fluid. Back to one of the original questions… Does the occasional racing needle rpm gauge in of itself signify a problem?

Yes, if the tachometer is indicating 4k RPMs when you are not flooring the gas and not gaining speed, this indicates transmission slippage. And, if the transmission is already slipping that badly, it is unlikely that a fluid and filter change at this point is going to remedy the situation. That would be like locking the barn door after the horse has already been stolen. The reality is that Hondas of that era do tend to have more transmission failures than the average for all cars, and that is why Honda did provide an extended warranty (up to 100k, IIRC) on these transmissions.

When you couple a bad transmission design with lax maintenance of the transmission, you have the perfect storm for big $$ problems. While it is speculation on my part and on Uncle Turbo’s part, it is reasonable to think that, since the current owner has ignored the vital timing belt replacement (which is about 1.5 years overdue on the basis of elapsed time, as well as 28k miles overdue on the basis of odometer mileage), he has most likely also ignored transmission maintenance. Don’t just “ask the fellow” about the age of the fluid. Anyone who buys a used car without documentation of maintenance is being…very foolish.

Used cars are like commuter buses. If you miss out on one, another one will be along shortly. Wait for one that is not giving overt signs of problems before you buy it, and make sure that whatever cars you are considering come with full documentation of their maintenance.

All too often on this board, people describe their troubled car as having been “well-maintained”, but when we press for details, it almost always turns out that the “well-maintained” vehicle has not been maintained even adequately. This Honda appears to be one of those vehicles.

Tires + timing belt job + transmission job = more than this car is worth. Keep looking.

Is this the 4 cylinder or V6? I think the V6 transmission had all the problems, not the 4 cylinder. I’d avoid the V6.

First off, thanks everyone for your input. Very much appreciated.
This is a 4 cylinder.
I need to clarify one symptom. When I press gently or moderately on the accelerator and the rpms do zoom up really really quickly, the vehicle DOES gain speed normally.

But back to the bigger picture, I agree with y’all, and will probably look onwards and upwards.



A friend of mine had a 2001 4-cylinder Accord LX, and it did have one of the problematic transmissions. And, he did receive a letter notifying him of extended warranty coverage on the transmission. I doubt if Honda would have volunteered this extra coverage if there was not a record of many early failures on the 4-cylinder models, in addition to the 6-cylinder models.

Ironically, he never had to use that extended trans coverage because the car was T-boned by a crazy woman driver a few months after receiving the letter from Honda, and the car was totaled!

Run away. Don’t look back. I was set back $3K. It was going to cost $6K but I called Honda corporate and complained that they have a serious problem with their 02/03 Honda transmissions. There are a lot of complaints on those years on the transmissions on Run.

I can’t really tell, based on the OP’s description, if the problem is with the transmission, the engine, or the instrument cluster.

I would never buy a car that was 28,000 miles overdue for a timing belt job. That alone is something I would consider severe neglect, and I would think it’s quite likely the car was neglected in other areas as well. Walk away.

If the rpms are zooming to 4000 rpm from a stop and the car is only accelerating normally, you have a transmission problem. I’d suggest skipping this one, but if you feel cpmpelled to keep looking at it at least have a tranny shop evaluate it before making a decision.

If the price is already reasonable, subtracting the timing belt, water pump, and tires may or may not be reasonable. The original owner does deserve some credit for being honest. But that tranny issue…don’t move forward without a good evaluation first. That could easily be a sign of a very expensive problem.

MB: “If the rpms are zooming to 4000 rpm from a stop and the car is only accelerating normally, you have a transmission problem.”

That’s the problem (the “if”). We don’t know if the engine is revving to 4,000 RPM or if the tachometer is malfunctioning. The OP didn’t say the engine RPM increased. The OP said the needle on the tachometer moves, which is why I suspect this could be nothing more than a gauge or instrument cluster problem.

@pistolpete, how about it? Would you please tell us if the engine revs when the tachometer needle moves?

Personally I would skip the 2002 Model since the motor has a timing belt. Also 2001/2002 in the 4cylinder show trouble spots in Consumer Reports only with the automatic transmission.

In 2003+(redesign) they lack these issues and to boot no timing belts to replace in 4cylinders. They all use chains.

Wow, you folks are good :-))
The 2 times I experienced the “event” I did not HEAR or feel the engine reving high,it “sounded” normal when I was slowly accelerating. But the needle on the tachometer did FLY up within a millisecond to 4000.

Given all we’ve discussed and given the possibility that this might be a gauge or instrument cluster problem vs transmission, and given that the owner is willing to sell the vehicle for $4,000, and given that it’ll need a water pump and timing belt, wadda ya think. Thumbs up or down???

and tires

Instrument cluster malfunctions on a car that old are pretty common. If that is the only thing wrong with the car, I might buy the car and not bother to get it fixed. However, I agree with your decision not to buy this car based on signs of neglect. I would still walk away.

I’d say if the owner couldn’t be bothered to change the transmission fluid or timing belt then why would they be fastidious about other needed maintenance.
It would be a safe wager that this car needs a few other things too.

Before I’d give a thumbs up I’d want to inspect the car thoroughly and have that 4 grand asking price come down considerably.

The definition of “regular oil changes” also leaves a lot to be desired. Some think that once a year/every 20k miles is fine.

Tires are ordinary wear and tear, if you can’t afford tires you can’t afford to own a car. The water pump is probably fine, it’s just a good idea to change it when changing the timing belt since you’ve already done most of the labor for the belt job.

You should have the car rechecked to determine if the transmission has any slip or if it is really just a bad tach before you buy it.

Do want this car to last a year or another 10? At $500/month for a new Accord, you only have to get 8 months out of this beast for it to be a “win.” Even if the original owner never changed the timing belt or transmission fluid, the odds are in your favor to get at least a couple more years out of the car, as long as the transmission is not slipping now. If you want a 10 year old car that will give you another 10 years of service, look for one whose owner changed the ATF at least every 50,000 miles.

Purpose of this car is to give/sell it to my 23 year old daughter who works in rural environments teaching elementary kids about ecology and agriculture, composting etc. Local driving with a few trips to visit parents (us) 2 hours away on occasional weekends. A few years is what we’re aiming for.