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Used Honda Accord

I’m considering buying a Honda Accord, model years 1996-2000, or whatever I can get for around $2000, from a private party seller.

My question is what to look for when I’m checking out the vehicle. If the seller refuses to let me take the vehicle to a mechanic to look at, should I pass?

Just looking for your experiences/advice.


First of all, good luck finding any Honda or Toyota for around $2000. People think these cars are made of gold. It’s a challenge to find any decent car for that price range, especially if you are not mechanically inclined. Count on budgeting another couple thousand dollars for repairs and maintenance for the next year or so if you can’t or won’t do these things yourself. If possible, take along a friend or family member when you go car shopping. Someone who is mechanically inclined is preferable, but anyone you can trust to be a second set of eyes and ears will be good, to prevent you from making a bad impulse purchase decision. You can inspect things yourself like fluid levels and condition, belts, hoses, tires, and the way the car drives in general. An inspection and test drive by a mechanic is also a must. Expect to pay $50-100 for a comprehensive inspection. It will be money well spent. If a seller won’t let you do this, walk on the deal. They may be hiding something.

Don’t expect anything perfect in this price range. Definitely pass if the seller will not let you take it to a mechanic first.

Depending on the state you live in, you may want to get the inspection done first so it can be registered. If you have $2000 to spend on the car budget $1000 at least for repairs to pass most states’ inspections and registration process.

If the “check engine” light is on, pass. This can be anything major or minor, but is an indication that the previous owner did not keep up with the necessary maintenance.

This car may also have a timing belt that needs to be changed at 100k mile intervals (depending on the engine)–evidence that it was changed is valuable.

You need to examine/analyze maintenance records, and you need to compare those records–at your leisure–to the maintenance schedule contained in the car’s Owner’s Manual. If you try to do this while sitting in the car as the car’s present owner glares at you, you will be unlikely to be able to figure out whether the car has actually been maintained in accordance with the mfr’s maintenance schedule.

While there are service procedures that may have been skipped by the previous owner(s)–and, there could have been MANY that were skipped over the course of 10-14 years–I would be most concerned about the age of the car’s timing belt and the length of time since the transmission fluid was last changed.

If the timing belt has been in place for more than…let’s say…7 years or more than 90k miles, it is at risk of snapping with no warning. If (or perhaps I should say when that happens), the resulting engine repairs could possibly cost more than the purchase price of the car.

If the car’s transmission fluid was not changed every 3 yrs or 30k miles (whichever came first) the transmission is in danger of failure any time after ~8 years or 90k miles. If the car’s transmission needs to be overhauled/replaced by you, the cost would likely be equal to or higher than the purchase price of the car.

Ergo–poor maintenance is a no-go.
Ergo–lack of maintenance records is a no-go.

Buying a 10-14 year old car without evidence of proper maintenance is…not wise.
Buying a 10-14 year old car with a timing belt and automatic transmission…and no evidence of proper maintenance is…a sure way to waste your money.

For $2,000 you’re going to be looking at Accords that have very high mileage, crash damage, or severe lack of maintenance. None of these things is good.

If your budget is $2,000 I suggest you consider other cars. The Chevy Prizm comes immediately to mind.

If you’re looking at Accords of this vintage, the most important thing is the timing belt. If you don’t have absolute, undeniable proof that the timing belt was replaced (in this case perhaps more than once), walk away.

As I said before, if your budget is $2,000, I suggest you look at something other than an Accord.

$2,000 Accords are the bottom of the barrel.

You don’t want that.

I just bought a 97 Accord with 140,000 miles fully loaded for $1,200 in great condition. The vehicle did have issues.

It needed a halfshaft.-Replaced.

It needed a cat-back exhaust system-Replaced.

Speedometer acted erratic.-Replaced instrument cluster/speedo head.

ABS light was on.-Replaced a wheel speed sensor.

The timing belt/water pump were replaced on schedule by the original owner.

So you can find these vehicles at these prices, but don’t expect then to be in pristine condition. They may require work. And if you can’t do this yourself and hire out your auto repairs this can be expensive.

If the owner won’t allow a prepurchase inspection, walk away.

But do have a prepurchase inspection done. The $100.00 or so you spend for this may save you hundreds/thousands of dollars later on down the road.


Thanks for your responses everyone. I’m new to this forum (about 2 hrs. now), and didn’t expect such quick and comprehensive replies.

I realize I won’t find a perfect used car for $2000, but am hoping to minimize ‘after-purchase’ repairs by buying a reliable car, such as the Accord.

If I may provide some specifics now; I live in southern Maine, and have found some Honda Accords advertised on Craigslist for around $2000, in various conditions. There aren’t many available, but the prices seem to be lower than the rest of the country, and a little lower that Blue Book value.

I’m going to look at a '97 Accord this Wed. - 132,000 miles, no rust (a huge issue in ME), timing belt replaced at 110,000, needs new tires and a muffler, fading paint (clear coat issue), radio and A/C don’t work (not a big deal for me though), safety inspected through May 2011, repair history is available by seller, $1,900. I have a mechanic I trust within a 10 min. drive from the seller’s location. I don’t have a mechanically inclined friend available for the initial inspection (partly why I’m asking here).

mcparadise - I hadn’t considered the Prizm, I’ll check it out.
Tester - I have an appointment set up with my mechanic to inspect the car. I’ve been communicating with the seller, and suggested the pre-purchase inspection, but the seller didn’t answer to that. A definite red flag.

Thanks again.

I wouldn’t buy a car from anyone that wouldn’t let me take it to a mechanic, even if I wasn’t planning to take it to a mechanic.

You might also consider looking for a used Saturn in that price range. A friend who’s a machinist and a former gearhead has owned several $1000 Saturns and has had good success with them. He says they’re well engineered and have timing chains instead of belts, which is a plus.

Your comments seem to infer that because a car has the Honda Accord badge on the tail end that it’s a reliable car. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. All bets are off when it comes to used cars, and that includes 3 year old cars with 30k miles on them.

Regarding the car you mention, the timing belt was changed 20k miles back but what about the tensioners and water pump? Failure of any of those can be just as bad as a snapped timing belt, which will probably be the result if a tensioner or water pump goes south.

Tires and muffler is not that big a deal nor is the radio. The A/C could be pricy to fix if you decided to go that route.

Agreed that a stubborness on the part of the seller to allow a mechanical inspection can raise a red flag but that does not mean the seller is trying to hide something. Some sellers are afraid that someone will take the car and not come back, may damage or have something damaged by the prospective buyer or mechanic, or that a buyer may have no intention of buying the car at all. They’re simply wanting the car for a few hours to do some parts swapping followed by bringing the vehicle back with a “decided against it” statement.

I’m not saying for one second that you would do any of the above; only that it does happen and that could be the seller’s perspective.
Some years ago a guy here bought a 3 year old clean Chevy van from the Chevy dealer and carped about the engine leaking oil. They wound up buying the van back from him and found out, much later, that this guy had swapped the engine out for a high miles used engine with a fresh coat of engine paint. :frowning:

Thanks ok4450,

I get your comment about the seller’s perspective re: having the car inspected. I had suggested that we drive together to the shop (a 10 min. drive), but the seller hasn’t responded yet.

As to checking out the vehicle myself, can you tell me what else I should look for?

I appreciate your advice,