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Should I Buy This Car?

A coworker is offering to sell her 96 honda accord to me for $800 - $1000. She is the second owner and the odometer stopped working soon after she bought it four years ago. The odometer reads 90k but i figured it is around 120k-140k.

The car did not pass inspection because it needs a driver side upper ball joint replacement and a passenger side front wheel bearing replacement. I figure I can get the car passed inspection with $500.

Is $1300 - $1500 a steal for this car? Should I be all over it? OR should I be hesitant. Are there any other issues typically with this make and model. Accords are supposed to be very durable cars.

It should also be noted this will be a second car for my fiance and myself, we already own a reliable first car.

Any opinions would be appreciated!!

If the car is otherwise in good shape, I think it’s a fair deal. Have a mechanic check it out first to reduce the likelihood of surprises.

But be forewarned…buying a car from a coworker can be risky. If the car develops a serious problem, it may spill over into the work relationship.

If the car is clean and drives out well I’d say it would be a deal and go for it. The timing belt issue is something that needs to be addressed but even with that repair it still may be a deal.

Hopefully the story about the odometer is true and the car has not had an instrument cluster change at one time wit the 300k miles cluster being replaced by one with much fewer miles. I don’t think that a cluster change is the case here based on the asking price of the car though. Just pointing out a what if.

I’d say a '96 Accord is a good car in general. Whether this particular Accord is a good car for the money is really your call. You can see it, drive it, and have a mechanic inspect it for other issues. If it checks out that seems a fair price as it sits. At least you have some history on the car and knowledge of what it needs at the moment. You really have to expect the car isn’t maintained very well based on the lack of repairs by the current owner.

If you buy it, plan to spend some money on getting it maintained up to date. For me that would be all new fluids, new spark plugs, and a new timing belt. If you can live with the motor being destroyed if the timing belt breaks you can buy it and just drive it until the belt breaks. At that point you are looking a getting another car, and dumping the Accord at a salvage yard for parts.

The 96 Honda Accord is a very good car, but I am a little partial on that as I have a 97 Accord, owned since new and it is essentially the same as a 96. However, you need to find out when the last timing belt service was done. If your coworker has never had it done, then you should count on that as being needed ASAP. BTW, I just had this done at my local dealer, timing belt, balance shaft belt, drive belt, water pump and all oil seals, coolant service and valve cover seals for $735.

The other thing to check it the transmission fluid. It should be a bright red. If it is a light brown, you can get the transmission serviced, just do a drain and refill, but use only the new Honda ATF. It shouldn’t cost any more than an oil change. The new ATF is about $9/qt and it only takes 2.5 qts (you have to pay for three), no filter to change. DO NOT flush this transmission, even if the dealer recommends it. Honda warns against this is their factory service manual.

If you need new wheel bearings, and I’m surprised that you would, you might as well have the brake rotors changes as well. Replacing the rotors involves splitting the hub from the steering knuckle, a time consuming and expensive job. Same for the wheel bearings. Honda uses really beefy rotors so they don’t have to be changed very often. I recommend that you replace with Wagner rotors though. If your pads are getting thin, this would be a good time to replace them as well, but use Wagner Thermo Quiet ceramic OEM replacements. If you use Honda pads, make sure they are the ceramic pads and not the semi-metallic.

Also, since you have to remove the steering knuckle to replace the wheel bearings and rotors, this is the best time to replace those upper ball joints, do both sides. Make sure the shop you chose is giving you the break on labor and not charging you the stand also rate for each part individually. Its not exactly a 3 fer, more like a 3 fer 2. That is the basic rate for one of the jobs, plus a little additional for each of the added ones, but not the whole fee.

That Car’s As Old As My Daughter And She’s Graduating From High School This Spring.

Trust your instincts. " OR should I be hesitant. [?] "
Age, regardless of brand, model, miles, and reliability ratings, causes cars to have a myriad of unusual problems. Since the car’s not worth much then it’s usually not worth putting money into it. Lots of headaches. It takes away from your saving for a worthwhile car.

Save the money and put it toward a newer model that is maintained and in good working order that you can plan on having for a while and has value. The fact that it’s broken, now and the fact the co-worker is dumping it, helps illustrate my point.


P.S. Look at the above comments and suggestions in other posts. Do you really want to get involved screwing around with all that ?

Your coworker has been up front and honest about what is wrong with this car. That’s better than you can expect at most dealerships or private sales from someone you don’t know. Have the car inspected by a trused mechanic. If they say it’s OK, go for it. Granted it’s not new. So what?

You don’t get much of a car for $1000. You are going to use this car as a second car. I would have a mechanic inspect the car to be sure it is safe. If so, make certain that the timing belt has either been replaced recently or have it replaced, do the ball joint and wheel bearing and whatever else is needed to make it safe. You may have $2000 in the vehicle. Suppose with all this the car only lasts a year. You then get $200 for it at the scrap yard. The car has cost you $150 a month. My guess is that with careful driving, you will get a lot more service out of it. If the car fit my needs, I would take a chance.

I’m going to jump back in here. This is a very good car and seems to have low mileage. If you have to do the timing belt service and new front brakes with rotors and wheel bearings, then you will have essentially 7 more years of trouble free driving as long as you keep up with fluid changes.

There will be the usual expense of tires of course, and as long as you use the ceramic brake pads, they should last 100k miles. The only other big ticket item to raise its head will be the front axles. When the CV joint boots go, that will be another grand, but on a cost per mile, if you keep this car for 7 years and 100k miles, you will be money ahead, way ahead.

I would get a second opinion on the upper ball joint though, these are pretty reliable and rugged. Do not be surprised if the whole upper control arm has to be replaced though as I’m not sure the ball joint can be separated from it.

The Car Didn’t Pass Some Kind Of Inspection Because Of Suspension Wear. The Car Is 18 Years Old And In Seven Years Will Be 25.

We don’t know where this car lives or has lived, but around here an 18 to 25 year-old 96 Honda north of 120,000k miles would be rusted to the point that the termites would quit holding hands and the thing would collapse or at least be unsafe to drive. That’s what kills cars in many parts of our great nation. I would think rust and body integrity would be a part of this “inspection,” but we really didn’t get a sense of how much rust this car has, if any.

I think the Honda purchaser-to-be has to weigh in on this issue before everybody says to buy it, put money into, and have fun. Who knows whether or not the car squeaked by the last inspection it passed or passed with flying colors ?

Funkymonkey, how’s your rust (underneath, too) ?


hey guys,

wow. I am very impressed with the response I got on this forum. Thanks for all the insightful opinions. After much thought and conversation with my fiancé, I’ve decided to put off buying a car until after we are married. Rather than make a small investment and then potentially many more small investments keeping up with this vehicle, I think it better to take a small chunk of money from our wedding gifts (great perk of getting married) and put it down for a newer model and taken a few years of modest payments.

A couple major turnoffs to the 96 Honda were the broken odometer and the fact that it seemed poorly maintained by the current owner. She is a perfectly nice girl and very honest (a little too honest… she let it be know today that the oil has only been changed 4 times in as many years). The tires are old and need to be replaced and I have learned that the timing belt was never replaced.

If I was capable of doing the work myself I would make a project out of it. As it is, we don’t need a second car right away, as I currently bike to work. When it is time to buy a second car we will most likely get something newer and safer, considering rugrats may very well be on the way.

I’d like to thank everybody for their input it is much appreciated. Cartalk truly is an awesome resource. I’ll try and keep you all posted about what the owner ends up getting out of this car.

Happy New Year!


The current owner has been honest with you. Still as a second car this might work. Buy it now and take care things “as you go”. Get the repairs needed to pass inspection, including the odometer. Get the oil change immediately and get the other fluids changed in the next 6 months. Get prices for the timing belt job and have it done as soon as you can afford it.

Offer the current owner $500. Figure to spend another $500 on it right away. Then figure another $500 in 6 months, and the $800 timing belt as soon as you have the money. After a year you might have a great second car that might last another 5 years. If this is a rust belt car (exposed to road salt every winter) then forget it, but a rust free '96 Accord could be a good second car for you on the cheap.

Good Decision. You’ll Sleep Better.

" I think it better to take a small chunk of money from our wedding gifts (great perk of getting married) . . ."
Thank you for giving me a great idea. Twice, I have had cars that the dealer gave me a better price for not trading one of these cars in for the car he wanted to sell me than if he took my car as a trade-in. I should have given these cars as wedding presents.
When I was growing up, we had a cat that would frequently have a litter of kittens. We would have a party and give the kittens away as door prizes. Unfortunately, 90% of the kittens were returned–probably the same thing would happen with the cars I wanted to get rid of.

I have 93 accord SE with 277,000 miles with a trailer hitch which pulled many heavy loads and still drives with the power it had out of the showroom. I always use full synthetic oil and change the oil regularly. I have had many cars and owned four Honda models and going strong and all close to the 200,000 mile mark. This includes an Acura with a hitch with 237,000 miles. The old rule of thumb holds true no matter what kind of car you are interested in. " It is better to have a high mileage car with a good service record than a car with low mileage with no service record." You made the right choice to hold out for a more reliable ride.