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Used Civic - how much of a risk?

Hi, First I appreciate all the knowledge that is shared here and have learned a lot. I made a big mistake and sold my 1996 Accord wagon and have regretted it every day. I’ve been shopping for a Civic to run around town, have test driven a variety of them in the last few months, and have lurked on bulletin boards. I want to spend less than $3000. Yesterday I drove the best one yet, a 1996 EX that has been well taken care of by the original owner. All maintenance has been done, new BFG ties, brand new A/C system (condenser, compressor, everything). Car drives great, very tight, shifts well, feels solid, and looks good too. Like I said, the best of the handful I’ve looked at and driven. Here is the deal, the car has 327,000 miles! The lady that owns the car has about a 100 mile daily commute plus had family obligations that required a 500 mile round trip every weekend for 10 years. For this car she is on her 3rd timing belt, clutch, cv joints, all the usual things. Her oil was changed every 3-4k and the car doesn’t leak or smoke or anything. As nuts as it is to think about this car, I like it. What else would you try and check on a car with that many miles? What would you look for other than the usual maintenance items. The lady drove her mid 80’s accord for 500k miles and after I looked at her civic (we met at the grocery store) she took off for a 3 hour trip to see a friend in it. How much would you offer? Am I nuts (my wife thinks so)? On a related note, why is it that some used cars feel “tight” and like they are close to new (like this one) while others with even less miles, and seemingly cars that haven’t been abused, seem to show their age a lot more? Thanks for your opinion.

That “tight” or loose feeling can be due to suspension parts like bushings and struts. I would check the compression. I wonder why the new A/C system? If this is the 3rd timing belt (original plus two others? or third replacement?) they must be the 105K kind and due for another change soon (unless is 3rd replacement). How does the engine compartment look like from above and below? How much is it? Hondas can make 500k easy. Why does she want to sell? Has it been wrecked? How were the tires worn?

Hi, Thank you for the response. The AC system was recently replaced because the compressor stopped working. The car is in central Florida, so AC is essential here. She has replaced the timing belt every 90k miles, so last replaced at 270k. There are no leaks in the engine compartment, no leaks under the car, and the engine compartment had not been pressure washed or steamed clean to wash away any leaks (some dust evident). The tires are very nice BF Goodrich (Touring TA’s) that had probably 75% of the tread at least. She is selling the car because she bought a brand new CRV. She clipped a deer and had to have the hood and headlight replaced at one time, but the tire wear seems to indicate the alignment is ok, the repair looks good, and the airbags did not deploy. She is asking $2700.

Don’t see any reason not to buy this car with 327K miles. Auto transmissions are expensive and sometimes replacing them exceeds the value of the car, not an issue in this case as it has a manual trans.

As for “tightness” this is a matter of engineering and wear on the suspension components. A well engineered and built car feels tight longer than a normal car. As front end suspension parts wear the car developes looseness. These are ball joints, tie rod ends, struts, steering rack, etc. If the frame and body are engineered to be stiff and maintain that stiffness over time then the car will have a “solid” feel as it hits the bumps in the road.

I meant any unusual tire wear to indicate needing struts or something else. I would get it before someone else does. I would like to know if it is ‘like new’ compression, but for under $3K I would go for it. Is your wife just against the mileage, or too small for her? If just mileage, go for it I’d say.

Thanks for the replies. What is interesting with the “tightness” that I’m trying to describe is that it is not just what the steering and suspension feels like, but the overall feel of the car - how well it seems to have held up. I’ve looked at several of these same generation Civic and there seems to be a fair amount of variation in how each car feels, even if they have similar mileages and similar “care histories”. It just seems interesting that the engineering is identical between the cars, but some must just age better than others, likely dependent on how they are used every day.

The size of the car is fine for commuting to work and dropping one kid off at school and such.

I might take it if it were free but would spend no money on it.

I’ve seen some cars, which even if free, are too expensive. You could spend $5,000 repairing a car that would be worth $3,000 when you are done. There are too many cars with lower mileage for $3k or less in today’s troubled economy. Keep looking.


A newer Chevy Prizm, for instance. A Toyota Corolla with a Chevy badge. You get Toyota reliability, with the depreciation of a Chevy.
Also, in the price range you give, the brand is almost meaningless compared to how well it was maintained. A mechanic checkup on the vehicle before you buy could save you money down the road.

You need to spend some money to get the car checked by a mechanic. It might be OK, but with all those miles, there might be something lurking inside that could break soon and be expensive.

Any car with 300K+ miles on it is worth $500-750. No more. The $2,700 asking price is exorbitant, and you’re crazy if you pay it.

I would not buy a car with this many miles on it, no matter what. I wouldn’t even take it if it was free.

phlatcat; Civics are basically good cars, but any car with that many miles on it will require steady replacement of parts, even if it is in good condition now! A mechanic could do that a lot cheaper that you.

Agree with others, if someone gave it to you, you would just do routine maintenace and run it into the ground, in a manner of speaking . At the first major repair, you would scrap it.

There are a lot of cars on the market with far fewer miles; shop around.

You Are Nuts.

This car could go 3 more years or 3 more miles.

Buy something with fewer miles, way fewer. Don’t balk at something that doesn’t carry the Asian Car Myth and that is priced more sensibly.


Thanks for the replies and insight. I know that my interest in this car was motivated really by how well it drove and ran, after driving several with much lower mileage that did not seem to have “aged” as well. I find the variation that I have observed in the same models interesting. This car has aged exceptionally well, but is still 13 years old with 300K miles.

There Could Be Something To That “Highway Miles” Sales Gimmick.

It sounds like maybe the owner kept it on highways. The other cars, not so much.