Keep 1996 Civic or 1999 Dodge Intrepid ES?

Thanks for reading!
Which car would be a more reliable choice for long distance trips, in your opinions?

The Intrepid is an ES which I read is a much better engine than the 2.7 liter that came on the standard version. 157,000 Miles, did not work for a year, while various things were replaced, like computer & relays. Once it started working, it wouldn’t start after driving, until it cooled off. This was solved by keeping the fuel tank above 1/2 full. The transmission slips going up a fair incline, but I don’t notice it otherwise. I hear that the transmissions are usually what kills these cars. The fluid is full and clear reddish, so that’s not the issue.

Also, the check engine light came on briefly when I was going pretty quick on an hour trip. I slowed down, and it went off. I have not taken the car to get the computer checked.

My Mom just got a new car, and now I have her '96 Civic with 257,000 miles, manual, and wonder which I should keep.

I want a reliable car for highway traveling, I have an intown gas guzzler already.

The Civic has been meticulously maintained by my mom, and it got to the point where she has spent more than the car was worth trying to fix a hesitation issue, so she got a new car.

The car will kind of “gasp” or hesitate when you are accelerating at low rpms, maybe 1 or 2 times per trip, for short trips. When the car is warm, it doesn’t, and maybe 1 out of 200 times driving on the highway, it will, in 5th gear, but at low RPM. In the cold weather, the issue seems to be significantly reduced.

It doesn’t bother me to drive, but I don’t know if this is an impending sign of engine failure, or just an issue that will always be there.

Guess work done to try and fix the issue are:
New Wires, Alternator, Cap, Valve Adjustment. I also put some seafoam in the vacuum line, and it seemed like it fixed it for a drive, but then it was back.

The Honda Dealership mechanic told her to get a new car because the next area they would check was to take apart the fuel system, which was expensive. He also told her that ethanol levels may have damaged the car over time and caused this issue.

He said that he couldn’t find anything wrong with the car, but stopped short of telling me that the car would not break down because of the issue if I took it cross country or something.

So, I guess with these details, which car would you guys take if you wanted a reliable and efficient long trip (more than 1 hour) car?

Thanks very much for your help. The car that I don’t keep will be given to the wife’s dad who will use it to haul tools around town, and do landlord stuff to rental properties.

  • Patrick

I would dump the Intrepid and keep the Civic.

These things are totally unpredictable. Flip a coin.

I would:
keep the Civic
stop taking it to the dealer, find a good independent non-chain shop

get a compression test
replace the distributor, if original, with a remanufactured unit

Thank you Steve and circuitsmith!
Here are more details about the electrical repairs that have ben done while chasing this issue.
Spark Plugs
Wire, Ignition
Heady Assy, Rotor
Cap Assy
"Replaced destributor cap and spark plug wires"

Low Compression in Cylinder 1 - s
Valve Job, corrected compression

Rod Bearings
Ignition Coil
Main Relay

Thanks Uncle Turbo!

When I say distributor I mean the distributor, not just the cap.

I didn’t mean to sound too flippant with my original answer. I was pressed for time. Here’s my actual thinking.

Most responders will automatically select the Civic simply because, on the average, this species has a better reputation for reliability and longevity than most other cars. The Dodge, not as good.

But this is a reputation based on thousands of reports. When you are dealing with one particular car, it’s a matter of luck. A roll of the dice. Either one of the pair can be the first to have a fuel pump or starter call it quits before the other one. Or the radiator leak, alternator, you know what I’m saying.

My advice is to simply choose the one you like better and go with it. It may be ride comfort, a better audio, or whatever. Since you are clearly a chap who cares for your cars, either one will last and last. Make your trips with confidence.

Check back with us in five years and let us know that you have had no breakdowns at all in that time period. That is my prediction.

Thanks Steve!

I hope to not have to do anything to either of the cars, My Mom maintained the Honda, meticulously as you noted, and my wife, didn’t really maintain the Intrepid while she had it, but her dad had the transmission serviced 4 years ago, and the car has sat, not working for 2 of those years, so I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

The intrepid is definitely a more pleasant car to ride in, no doubt about that. The record of breakdowns just worry me, whereas, the Honda has never broken down, only had issues that were worked on. I suppose it probably would have broken down if those issues had not been addressed though.

Neither one is worth much nor is likely to last a long time. Why not keep both. Drive one until it dies, then drive the other.

At that age, mileage, and history a coil flip is the best method of determining the answer.

“Most responders will automatically select the Civic simply because…”

I chose the Civic because the Intrepid has already had some more serious problems, including a currently slipping transmission.

The 2.7 is not a bad engine. You are no doubt referring to the internet stories about oil sludging problems but this is caused by not changing the oil regularly enough. The people who own the affected cars, per the usual, place the blame elsewhere.

The vast majority of transmission failures are caused by fluid neglect. You would also be incorrect in assuming that because the fluid is red and looks clean that all is well inside.

Keeping the fuel tank above 1/2 has nothing to do with the starting problem.

The words “meticulously maintained” might not be the proper ones to use on the Honda.
Meticulously maintained means the valve lash should be inspected every 30k miles and failure to do this is what likely led to the valve job.
There’s also the issue of why the rod bearings were replaced and any timing belt, water pump, and tensioner issues which may or may not haven taken care of.

Sorry to be so critical but there’s a lot of incorrect assumptions being made.

The 3.5L engines in the Intrepids were pretty much bulletproof. The transmissions… another story. Both cars seem to have problems at this point. I think the Intrepid will be cheaper to fix. I agree that either car would be a crap shoot and can’t really make any recommendations except to weigh which car you like better and which seems to have more problems, and make a decision if you can only keep one. I have a 1994 LHS with essentially the same powertrain as the Intrepid has, and I can vouch for its overall reliability as I have over 260K on mine. The idea that the Honda has had its engine bearings replaced and other work done is worrisome, but again, both cars have problems.

“You are no doubt referring to the internet stories about oil sludging problems but this is caused by not changing the oil regularly enough.”

No, I’m referring to this individual car and the list of problems the OP described.

Go with the Honda. Intrepid transmissions have made my shop a lot of money swapping in certified rebuilts or “no problems when it was wrecked” transmissions from salvage yards… depending on what the customer wanted.

With the upgraded transmission with beefier parts, the problems are much reduced. I have 130K on my rebuilt trans. It’s very important to use genuine ATF+4 and not some generic with a ‘friction modifier’ with these transmissions.

One thing I guarantee: Any old car is going to give you some headaches.

RE: Oblivion - the fluid used was always ATF-4, so that is good to know it has been the right move.

RE: other comments
Hey Thanks so much for the feedback. It has really been helpful. The Intrepid drives so much better, as far as comfort goes, and so it was a hard decision. It was made somewhat easier when my wife told me it had 187,000 miles, not the 157,000 I had remembered.

We are going to keep the Honda, but it sounds like her Dad, who will get the intrepid, may have a lot of time to enjoy the car, and haul all his tools, lawnmowers, and found items in.

It is strange how 2 cars built in 1999 by the same company can have such different lives.

The 1999 Dodge Intrepid’s KBB is very low compared to my 1999 Jeep Wrangler, and the Intrepid has had issues, while the Jeep has not, except for what I have caused through punishment. Same mileage, different stories.

Now I will be pimping the Honda :slight_smile: for awhile, until I can get a used 2012 Subaru Impreza Outback with the CVT transmission thing like the Prius has. AVW & fuel efficiency!

Thanks again for all the input