My car is worth $2k and needs $2k of work - what now?

I have a 1992 Honda Accord Wagon. In general, it’s been very reliable. But over the past few years I’ve had to put a lot of money into it. I just took it in for inspection and learned that it needs:

1) new radiator

2) new spark plugs, caps & rotor

3) new passenger front axle

4) new battery

5) new drive belts

6) repair of several oil leaks (spark plug tube seals, engine front seals, oil pan gasket, distributor o-ring)

7) other miscellaneous items

The work will cost approx. $2,000. According to KBB it’s worth $1,940. It has 170,000 miles on it.

The guys at the shop said the engine is in pretty good condition overall, aside from the repairs that need to be made, and they think I could get another 50k miles on it if I fix it.

I have to weigh that against trying to sell it for $1,500 or so and applying that towards a more recent year used car. I’ve only got about $3,500 to spend, which would come to $5k if I got $1,500 for the Honda.

I don’t drive much. About $10k miles/year right now.

So what makes the most sense? Invest $2k for another 50,000 miles (with the very real possibility of a lot more repairs) or invest $3.5k for a newer (used) car?

Those items are pretty much normal wear and tear things and I would say yes, fix it.
The radiator is not a wear and tear item so to speak but it’s old enough that a failure could be normal.

You mention front engine seals so this would bring up a timing belt/tensioner/water pump issue. Where do you stand on that?

Thanks for your reply. According to the inspection report, the water pump is ok. The timing belt also needs to be replaced, although for some reason they didn’t quote me a price on that. I asked him to prioritize the repairs because I’m going on a 1,000 mile road trip next week, and apparently the timing belt is in good enough shape that I don’t need to repair it before I go. How much will that add to the repairs?

That’s a pretty long list of repairs. But I don’t see anything that would be a safety issue. So why would you fix this stuff all at once?

Radiator? Is it leaking? Is the engine overheating?

Spark plugs/cap/rotor? How does the engine run?

New drive axle? Does it make noise while turning?

New Battery? How was that determined?

New drive Belts? How old are they?

Repair of several oil leaks? The spark plug well seals just requires replacement of the valve cover gasket set.

The things you listed don’t need immediate attention, except for replacing the valve cover gasket set. Drive the vehicle until a symtom shows up that relates to the items listed, and then have that system repaired.


If the timing belt has not been changed yet at 170,000 Miles, you are driving on borrowed time. I would fix that first, as well as any bad drive belts, before going on any trip.

If the engine runs smoothly and does not hog gas, you can do the plugs and other ignition stuff later.

Please note that the average American spends $1100 or so yearly on repairs and maintenance. And that’s on a 5 year old car or so. If you can’t manage an ongoing budget like that, you should seriously think about not driving. A $5000 car will likely incur about $700-$800 per year in maintenance and repairs, based on your driving.

If the radiator is in serious condition, I would replace it and any hoses as well.

There Comes A Time When You Must Say Good-Bye To Your Best Friend.

This car is too old on which to hang more money. Upgrade to something newer, now.
Keep in mind that this advice comes to you from someone who drives cars “until the wheels fall off”. This car doesn’t owe you anything.

Sorry to hear of you loss, CSA

I wish Honda still made Accord (and Civic) wagons. Therefore perhaps my recommendation is tainted, but I’d vote for fixing it and keeping it going.

The items you mentioned are very consistent with the age and mileage on the car. If there is no significant body rust the car should have many miles and years left in it.

If you decide not to fix it, hold out for a good price and sell it privately. These Honda wagons are getting more and more rare and there are folks out there that appreciate them.

The engine seems to run fine. The idle is a bit high, and the car kind of vibrates when it’s in gear. I’m not sure what that’s about.

Otherwise, we haven’t noticed “symptoms” per se. The reason I took it in was to get it checked out before a long trip (1,000 miles round trip) we’re taking next week. Keep in mind I know next to nothing about cars, so it’s hard for me to tell whether these guys at the shop are being honest or trying to milk me for all I’m worth.

That said, let me give you a bit more info from the diagnostic report.

  • The radiator is leaking. (We just filled it up with coolant about a week ago in the mountains, and it’s already completely empty. So this is not a surprise.)
  • Spark plugs are soaked in oil (don’t know significance of this?)
  • Timing belt needs to be replaced
  • Oil leaks in the places I mentioned in my original post
  • Grease leak from R/F inner C.V. boot
  • Battery has corroded terminal and the battery test returned a 0% state of health and 20% state of charge
  • Passenger front axle is cracked or damaged in some way?

I don’t know how old the drive belts are. I bought the car in 2002 (it was 10 years old) with about 80k miles on it. It was impeccably maintained by the previous owner (above and beyond required service) but unfortunately I lost the service records.

I really want to keep the car since I love the Honda Wagons. It sounds like if I just replace the radiator and the “valve cover gasket set” (whatever that is!) I should be okay for the trip?

Perhaps the drive belts you listed was for the timing belt as well.
It’s a tough call for the cost of everything, so it’s ultimately up to you. However, a $3500 car might not have a complete history of maintenance, and could wind up costing you $2000 in repairs/maintenance as well.

Unless the water pump was replaced in the last couple of months it is not ok, no matter what any report says.
The fact that it’s not leaking at the moment does not mean skip this when replacing a timing belt.

Replace the timing belt, ignore the water pump, and there is a strong possibility that Murphy’s Law will go into operation a week later.
Water pump goes which takes out the new timing belt which then causes engine damage. This kind of catastrophe is not that rare either.

If that’s the original timing belt then you’re one of the luckiest people on Earth and your trip should include a stop in Las Vegas.

You’re missing the most important thing; the timing belt.

If the belt breaks, the engine will suffer internal damage, and you won’t want to pay the repair costs. If you’ve never had the timing belt replaced you’re already running on borrowed time, and it should be done today. The water pump should be replaced at the same time, regardless of how it “looks.”

A timing belt/water pump job will cost you $600-750 or so, but it’s absolutely essential if you want to keep this car, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t keep it. My independent Honda mechanic has customers whose Accords are still running at over 300,000 miles.

The oil-soaked spark plugs are nothing. The oil is on the outside, because the spark plug well O-rings are leaking. No big deal.

The radiator is leaking. OK, carry a 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze and add as necessary.

The bad CV joint is also essential. Let them replace the axle.

Here’s what it comes down to: You can spend $2K on maintenance for your reliable Honda Accord wagon, or you can dump it and start over with an unknown vehicle.

I’d stick with the car you know. Spend the money. Do the maintenance, as the first owner did. This is the right way.

Pretty much agree with the majority but the timing belt and water pump will be another $500. You can cut you cost significantly by doing some of the work yourself with a manual. It really depends on how much more you will drive it and if you will put enough miles on it to get your money out. On my daily driver, at 500,000 I ended up doing ball joints, tie rod ends, front brakes, struts, and a little more front end work. Then fuel pump and tires. I didn’t add it all up but I’m sure it was more than what it was worth. I already put 6000 on it though so another 6 months and I’ll have my money out of it.

There is more money involved for parts that weren’t mentioned. If you have never had calipers or wheel cylinders changed and you can’t remember brake rotors being changed, they are probably due. Your choice is dependent on whether or not you can afford another car. Since you don’t know for sure if the engine is causing the coolant loss, I recommend getting your next car. You are in the costly repair zone as far as mileage is concerned.

So what makes the most sense? Invest $2k for another 50,000 miles (with the very real possibility of a lot more repairs) or invest $3.5k for a newer (used) car? Which may also need repairs and maintenance.

“I don’t drive much. About $10k miles/year right now.”

Have you considered renting a car when you need one?

Joseph, You Hit It. That’s The Dilemma!

Plan A is possibly not cost effective, a waste of money.
Plan B is underfunded and would be very difficult to pull off satisfactorily.

Plan B could work. I’ve done it. But it takes a lot of searching and time, requires car knowledge, and still has an element of risk. I got a super car for $4,000.

The only real solution is to gather more funds and kick up into a price range where the cars aren’t all used up or from the stone-age.

I’m not sure what that range is, but it’s a little higher than $5,000.


I don’t recall anyone mentioning it . . . but I will . . . how’s the body? Rust an issue? Anything (broken or worn-out) mechanical can be replaced . . . but rust can kill an older car. The battery/plugs/cap/rotor/misc seals are maintenance and not that expensive. A timing belt with water pump is essential. If compression is good and rust is not an issue, I’d say fix it. Rocketman

In Op’s case it’s the devil you know vs the devil you don’t know. A good $5000 car without $800 a year set aside as a maintenance and repair budget will quickly lead OP to the same situation he is in today.

Rocket Man, Good Point. It Has Been Rust That Has Ultimately Killed Every One Of My Former Cars, Not Mechanicals. And The Pattern Continues.

I hate road salt. I wish it was never used. Too bad it isn’t cost prohibitive.


Hi everyone,

I really appreciate your replies. As I mentioned, I don’t know much about cars so this is very helpful.

The body is in remarkably good shape. No rust to speak of.

It sounds like replacing the timing belt, water pump, axle and CV boot is essential. Tester recommended replacing the valve cover gasket set. I’m not sure what that refers to on my list?

I agree that getting a new car for $5k could put me in an even worse spot if it turns out to be less reliable than the car I have now.