Rusty 97 Honda Accord LX - Blown head gasket, worth fixing?

Our car that we’ve had since 2001 just received news that it has a blown head gasket. Our usual mechanic said at the least it would be a $900 job but since the car is so rusty from many year in Maine, that it could be a few thousand if other things happen while fixing the gasket. Should we get a second opinion? Should we invest in fixing it? We have an opportunity to buy a 99 Volvo S70 that is in perfect condition 134,300 miles on it for $3500.

What does everyone think?

If the Accord is rusted out and the head gasket is blown, I would use the $900 for the Volvo. Also, you can get a few hundred dollars for scrap from the Honda.

I would never try to repair a rusted vehicle. A 15 year old Volvo is usually a money pit because of expensive repairs. I would sell the Honda and look for another vehicle to purchase like a Toyota or Nissan. Have it checked out completely by a good independent mechanic.

I think that you should forget both ideas.

A badly-rusted 12 year old car is not worth sinking $900 into, as the repair bills will continue to mount because of its age, and within a fairly short period of time, the rust on the undercarriage may well make the car dangerous to drive.

A used Volvo will be exercise in frustration, due to very frequent, expensive trips to the mechanic, and one that is 14 years old will be in the category of “money pit”, no matter how good the car looks on the exterior.

If I had less than $5k to spend on a used car, I would be looking at, perhaps a Hyundai Elantra or a Ford Focus. Besides being historically much more reliable (& cheaper to maintain) than Volvos, you can probably find Elantras or Focuses (Foci?) in that price range that are only ~7 years old. Younger is better.

But, no matter what you buy, try to limit yourself to cars that come with full maintenance records that you can compare (at your leisure) to the mfr’s maintenance schedule. No matter how reliable a particular make or model has the potential to be, if it has not received good maintenance, it will be a ticking time bomb waiting to explode inside your wallet. Buying a used car with full maintenance records usually means buying from an individual, rather than from a dealership, and this has the added advantage of (usually) a lower price.

Good luck with your quest!

Two things not to do. Take what money you get for the Honda and buy some non-European car.

My vote is for neither one. If the head gasket on the Honda blew due to severe overheating then a can of worms may be opened up due to other related problems. Rust just makes the scenario worse.

The Volvo is described as “perfect condition”. Says who? The seller?
Ask to see receipts for a timing belt job performed in the recent past. If that has not been done and verified with paperwork then the word “perfect” cannot be used.

Unless a car has been fastidiously maintained and backed up with a folder full of receipts, odds are a 15 year old car with 134k miles needs a few things that may not be readily apparent.

Thanks everyone for your comments. The Volvo owner didn’t himself claim “perfect condition” but we determined that after seeing the car, driving the car and seeing his pile of receipts for all the work he’s had done to it. He got the timing belt changed at 100,000 miles. Our mechanic said he has worked on the car for almost its entire life and he agrees that it is in fantastic condition. In addition to looking for the timing belt history, what other receipts do we need to look for before we buy? Any thoughts on negotiating price?



Just because a bunch of money’s already spent, does NOT guarantee more expensive repairs

No offense to Volvo fans, but the cars are NOT known for excellent reliability


My suggestion is to buy a much newer family sedan

Accord is reliable and holds its value, therefore a bit overpriced when buying used
Camry is reliable, is a little cheaper, but is very boring
Kia and Hyundai supposedly make very decent cars nowadays
As far as domestic cars, it depends on the car, manufacturer and the year

Stay away from the Volvo. Pricey, unreliable crap.

From a rusted Honda to a Volvo is from the frying pan into the fire! Agree with others that there are many good used cars out there.

The only “perfect” Volvo would be a brand new one, and even that is not always the case.

Wise consumers who like Volvos know enough to sell/trade these cars once the warranty runs out.

I had a 1999 S70 new and I lived 1/2 mile from the dealership, with free towing and loaner car. Repairs were so frequent that I swore off Volvos. Dumb crap like broken door hinges and bad turn signal sockets and on and on. I had Fiats and Jags as daily drivers and they were all more reliable. An old FWD Volvo as a daily driver could be a very bad idea.

If Fiats and Jaga are more reliable, Volvos must really be POS cars


In my opinion, yes.
Apparently Ben T Spanner & I belong to the same club, which is called the, “I owned a Volvo ONCE” club.

Before I finally dumped my Volvo (at 76k miles), it had gotten to the point where I had to carry so much motor oil, trans fluid, and spare parts in the trunk that it limited the amount of luggage that I could take on a trip. No, I am not kidding.

The S70 is grossly overpriced for a private sale. If it is a GLS, it should be $1000 less in clean condition and with 134,000 miles. Even a loaded T5 is $800 over an average price. There is something to be said for a well maintained car, and it might be worth buying even though luxury cars are expensive to fix. If you can get the price down to around $2500 for a GLS or $2700 for a T5, it might be worth buying.

How about a newer Honda? 2003 they dumped the pesky timing belts in 4cylinder Accord’s.

If there’s any amount of rust on the Honda it’s not worth fixing. The Volvo seems a little overpriced but if the maintenance and records are as golden as you describe, it may be worth buying. $3500 isn’t that much money in car terms and more important than the $ is “do you like the car?” If so, buy it. Aging Volvos can come with a certain cost of ownership that’s higher than a similarly aged Ford Taurus but I’m sure you’re aware of that. What’s the point of an affordable reliable car if you can’t stand driving it?

Thanks again for all the feedback. jtsanders - what makes you say that the $3500 is overpriced? I’m asking you so that we know how to negotiate with the owner. When we look on kelly blue book the top value for this car is $3,500 so based on its excellent condition this is where the seller is starting. We are infrequent drivers - we mostly need the car for weekend road trips. We will not be using the car on a daily basis. Yes, we really like the car!

Until we get a new/used car, is it dangerous for us to be driving the Honda with the head gasket blown? What is the worst that can happen? Do you think we’ll have any luck selling the Honda at this point - if so, for how much?

Thank you all for your thoughtful advice and feedback!

I looked up the TMV in my zip code at I’ve found their prices to be reasonably accurate. You might check for yourself using your zip code. You will also need to know what trim level (base GLS, T5) and what options are on it. Most private sellers have an inflated sense of value. If you can show an impartial value for the car, like Edmunds TMV, you might convince them to lower the asking price. If not immediately, they will when they can’t sell it. Just leave the offer on the table if you have time to wait a few weeks.

Thank you for the TMV idea from edmonds. The car we are looking at is a S70 Sedan and I don’t see that option from Edmonds price quote area unfortunately. Is there another place I can look for impartial values? It looks like Kelly Blue Book is putting the Volvo at $2,960. Do you trust KBB? Should I negotiate lower? I also see similar Volvos selling nearby for $5,000k so maybe $3,000 is a good deal for both parties? Thanks for your help!