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Repair A/C for $1400 or more on 91 Honda Civic OR sell as-is/no a/c - and buy used car $5000+/-?

The A/C on my 1991 Honda Civic failed in 2007 and we took it to our local KY honda dealer for repair, paying about $1300 +/-. Drove away from dealership and air was warm. Returned to dealer who said "you gotta drive it on the expressway 5 or 10 miles to jumpstart the air. Drove 30 miles home, no cold air. Returned to the dealership who said the car was old and that was the best they could do. A few weeks later the a/c compressor blew up. Well, as you can imagine it gets very hot here in KY, you really need A/c. After several months without it we took the car to a local car repair shop…he wanted ANOTHER $1400 to do the job right. That was 2008 and we didn’t have another $1,000 PLUS to redo the job. And not sure the A/C really could be fixed. Still have this 23 year old Civic and it’s a GREAT car with 366,000 miles on it. But no AC. It’s been 95+ degrees so I returned to repair shop–owner now doesn’t know how much it will cost to fix since it’s been operated without a/c for 5 years. I cannot survive another year without a/c. do we pay the $1,400+/- to repair the a/c in an otherwise great car OR sell as is and buy another used car with A/C. Used car budget $5,000. Help! What do I do here?

1991 Civic with 366k (!) miles doesn’t have much life left. Ditch it and buy the best used car you can. For $5k you should be able to get a decent 2000-ish Civic.

And by the way, the reason your previous A/C repairs didn’t work is that the compressor exploded and blew metal shards through the entire system. The only way to fix this is to replace the entire system, not just the compressor. Otherwise the metal shards just recirculate and destroy the new compressor. To fix it right would probably cost over $2k. Get rid of it.

thanks Jesmed1. We’ve been thinking the same thing but would need to travel 2 hours 1 way in high heat driving to Nashville to find Honda Dealers ( I don’t want to buy from the same local Honda dealer who took $1300 to tell us the car was too old for repair!) Local craigslist is full of con artists…can’t find true owners selling their own cars there. They are all backyard car dealers. Respect your thoughts and will probably just head to Nashville if we decide to buy used.

****Also appreciate your add’l information on WHY the repairs didn’t work! I did not know that and do not want to invest $2000 in the a/c. Even $1400 was a stretch. Thank you again so very much.

Would those shards of metal have blown through the system if we had the a/c repaired as soon as it failed?

Thanks again!

Yes, once the compressor explodes the entire system is immediately contaminated, so it doesn’t matter whether you repair it the next day or the next month, the entire system still has to be replaced.

Good luck with your new car search.

Say ur compressor is bad. A used one will probably get a/c working. Don’t cost much

At $5000 you are looking at a well used vehicle at least 10 years old. Even a Cobalt LS from a dealer will be around $5000. If it can be verified that the ignition switch has been replaced, it might be worth it. A comparable Civic will cost about $6500 from a dealer. The 2003 Civic would be around $5000 and will have at least 20,000 more miles.

But the Cobalt would have to be in top condition, as would any car you buy. If it was not maintained well, any car, including a top notch brand like Honda, can be a terrible buy. I would search for the the newest car with the lowest mileage that meets the $5000 requirement and also meets you space needs. This is not a knock on Honda or Toyota for that matter. They have great reputations and that will be reflected in the price. Find an unpopular car in great condition and have it inspected by a mechanic you trust, even if a dealer is selling it. This will give you the best shot at driving the car for 5 or more years.

Jesmed1: shouldn’t the dealer’s service mgr. have known to flush out the system of these metal fragments inside the pipe instead of just replacing the compressor and then turning it on and destroying the whole thing? This cost me $1300!

Replace the vehicle.

It has one foot in the grave, and the other on a banana peel.


"Returned to dealer who said “you gotta drive it on the expressway 5 or 10 miles to jumpstart the air.”
"Returned to the dealership who said the car was old and that was the best they could do"
He actually had the chutzpa to say those things? The more I hang around here is the more dealers confirm my opinion of them.

Considering the mileage, I’d put a Styrofoam cooler in the back full of ice and water bottles (or soda - your choice) and use it to start shopping for a replacement. But if the car really is in great shape, then I disagree with myself… I’d get it repaired. Where else you gonna get a good car for $1400? Consider your experience with the dealer to be an educational cost.

First, I’d ask the mechanic how much to guarantee the AC will work.

My opinion is to let it go. There is no way $1400 at any shop is enough to do a proper job to restore the a/c, but is enough to do a job that will work until you are off the lot. A compressor that grenaded on you contaminated the entire system. 5 years ago. So, the system has been open to additional exposure. There’s no way a compressor replacement alone will be enough. On a 23 yo car with 366,000 miles on it? No thanks. Just not worth it.

“Say ur compressor is bad. A used one will probably get a/c working. Don’t cost much”

I respectfully disagree

A new one will not get the a/c working.

The debris in the system will make mince meat of that used compressor . . . unless you flush the system and install an inline suction filter. You’ll definitely need a new receiver-drier. You might even need a condenser and an expansion valve.

Lots of parts to replace

Lots of labor

Not worth it for this car

Not in my opinion

A used compressor is little savings in this case. Even if you could get all the parts, compressor, condenser, and drier used, the price of installing all the parts…testing for leaks…and rechargeing the system, would be more than I’d spend. And you have to hope that one or more of the used parts were not leakers.
You spend all that and another 2000 miles down the road and you blow a head gasket.
This engine has lived it’s life and may only have a little time left.

As for HAVING to have AC…what did people do before AC came out in most cars.
I can tell you…they opened the wing windows and pulled the floor vents open. Two of the things that the manufactures should never have eliminated!!!


thank you all for your thoughtful comments and shared experience. Should I avoid buying a used honda? my $5000 budget will mean it is 10 years or more old–will I love THAT a/c too??? Are hondas bad with a/c?

Honda CRV’s had some years with bad compressors. Don’t know about Civics. Just do your research. Websites like will have owner reviews and reliability ratings for used cars, and you can find out what the common problems are on specific models/years and avoid them.

For example, here are owner reviews for the 2002 Civic:

And you can find a list of commonly reported problems here:

This model year doesn’t appear to have had problems with the AC compressor. Based on the above, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a 2002 Civic, for example. Just have any car checked thoroughly by a mechanic before buying.