To buy or not to buy: '88 Civic, 16,000 miles, with rust

Hi! Quick question - we found quite the deal: '88 Honda Civic hatchback, 16,000 miles, from the original owner for $1,500. Only problem is the body is rusting out. There is a hole behind the passenger side door on the underside of the body. We’re only planning on driving this car for 3 years max. Should the rust be a deal breaker? Thanks for your help!!!

YES…it should. Severe rust is worse then ANY mechanical breakdown you can think of. It is what makes a car useless, dangerous and a total junker. What you see is the tip of the ice berg. I would never buy a car with rust perforation that I plan to keep FOR AS LONG AS THREE YEARS !

I wouldn’t buy it. That’s the approximate value of my 1998 Civic, and it has no rust.

Run away. Instant crunch in a crash.

Even omitting the rust and safety factors, there’s also the mechanical issues related to aged brake hydraulics, rubber coolant and fuel lines, etc along with what is quite likely a 26 year old timing belt that is probably on the verge of snapping and ruining the engine.

I see red flags all over this car deal. You should too. Run away and don’t look back. The seller would be the only one getting a deal here.

Rust kills a car. If you can see that rust, there’s a whole lot more you can’t see.
Walk away.

4th gen Civics were known for rust spreading like wildfire once it started. If it’s already made a visible hole, in 3 years it will be a giant hole.

I made the mistake once of getting an 88 CRX that had just a tiny little piece of rust visible on the rear fender, about the size of a pencil eraser. 3 years later, the hole was big enough that you could see the hatch light shining through it down on to the pavement. It had spread from the lip of the fender about a foot forward, and beyond the hole was a lot of bubbly paint that meant a lot more rust was hiding below. This was before I’d learned anything about cars - a mistake I didn’t repeat when buying my next, mint condition CRX, which I still have.

Here’s a question - how does an '88 Civic only get 16k miles? Broke odometer?

Here's a question - how does an '88 Civic only get 16k miles? Broke odometer? -

Or How does a 88 Civic get rusted out with only 16k miles??

Maybe it was driven by a little old lady but only on Sunday’s like a beach buggy?

my aunt’s 88 crx had rust all around the hatch frame, the inner part falling down into the car, and when someone pulled off a loos piece of side trim the sheet metal came with it and you could see the wheel well (the outside of it) through the quarter panel. Hers had over 200k on it from living on both coasts (Maine/New Hampshire/Washington) must have been sitting outside next to the beach for the last 20+years

Hondas are great cars but they can rust like all gitout. They always seem to rust in the same places, too.

Run away fast! If you only need a car for one year, and can get it for $300 or so it may be a deal. Don’t expect to get more than one year out of this one.

The late Tom McCahill in his book “What You Should Know About Cars” advised against buying a rusted car or a car with a bent frame. He said that if he were buying a cheap car, he would reject such a car even if the engine ran like one in a new Bentley. He said that an automatic transmission that doesn’t shift properly, a rear axle that howls, rust, an out of whack front end or a bent frame are reasons to reject the car. He would check the engine for excessive oil burning, but not worry about that. A replacement used engine, he thought, was small potatoes as compared with the other problems. Tom McCahill published this book in the early 1960s, but I think his advice is still good today.

@mdb1632 - go to, do a search in your area, I found 79 cars within 50 miles of me listed for $1000-$2000, all much newer than this Civic, no rust, either.

This car is used up.
Toss it in the recycle bin like an old toaster (which is about what it is).

despite the low miles, at $1500, this rusty car is overpriced by $1700

I agree. Run! Do not take this car as z free gift.

Yes, Hondas of this vintage are very prone to rust damage, and–yes–the rust issue should give the OP pause about buying this old car, but my immediate concerns would be more related to the extremely low odometer mileage, rather than to the rust issue.

If the OP has correctly posted that this car is a 1988 model, and that it has a total of 16,000 miles on the odometer, that is a VERY bad sign–unless there is documentary evidence of the oil having been changed at least 50 times during the 25 years that this car has been in service. Oil needs to be changed at least every 6 months, despite odometer mileage, when a car is driven exclusively in local driving–as this car was most likely driven.

Additionally, the OP should only consider this car if there is documentary evidence that the timing belt was replaced within the last 4 years or so.

Unfortunately, all too many people (perhaps including the OP) think that the classic “only driven to church on Sunday by a little old lady” is a positive quality for a car. If we were talking about a car from the 1940s, perhaps that would be a good thing, but for a modern car, being driven–in this case–for less than 700 miles per year, is a major red flag indicating an engine that is likely to be filled with sludge. Or, in other words, despite that 16k on the odometer, the engine could well be very close to self-destruction, as a result of low usage and insufficient maintenance.

The OP needs to ask for hard copies of maintenance for this car.
If it has had the oil changed every six months for its entire hard life, and if the timing belt was changed w/in the past 4 years, this car might be a candidate for purchase (as ling as it is very low-priced), with the knowledge that its rust issue will probably mean an end to its usefulness w/in a couple of years, at the most.