What do I most likely need?

I have a 2003 Honda Accord EX (4 cyl) with approx. 36,000 miles on it. Bought new, just had a 2 mile commute, thus the low mileage. I almost always do short stop and go driving. Some days I don’t drive at all. So here’s the deal. I’m on a fixed income so don’t want to go hog wild, but my mechanic is going out of biz. He’s the best mechanic ever, honest, trustworthy, etc etc. I figure I need an oil change and would also like to have a fairly thorough inspection. I’m paranoid about any new mechanic so want my current one do whatever needs to be done. I am aware that the low mileage should mean I don’t need much. But on the other hand, since I only do stop and go driving, I’m guessing that will make a difference. And on the 3rd hand, I’m in Texas and the summer could get really hot. I am most concerned about my brakes (maybe just need pads?) and my AC. Last summer, a record, the AC would intermittently up and quit on me. B/c it was intermittent, it eventually went away. Once, just once, this year (or maybe twice) I had the AC quit Intermittent. Not on an especially hot day. So, any advice on what might need to be done as far as regular maintenance given the age of my car and the type of driving, and any advice on how to know if it’s time to do anything about brakes before they up and disappear? Sorry not to ask sooner but I only learned 2 days ago that my mechanic’s property is being sold to nasty developers. Very soon. Sob. Oh, I’m getting increasingly bad fuel mileage which I think is due to the fact that I need to get out and cruise some highways.

Welcome to the site, it was not that hard to post a question.

I thought that Musketeers were nice people and you’re sticking out your tongue at us :blush:

If your trusted mechanic is still on the property, maybe he can give your car a quick once over to check the suspension parts. Ball joints, tie rod ends & bushings. Also have him check the brakes while he’s at it.

He also may be able to give you a recommendation for a mechanic for future repairs.

The only thing i’d be concerned with is if this engine has had the timing belt changed. It’s not over due from mileage, but in years it is way past due. That will be an expensive repair, but that’s what happens with age.


“I am aware that the low mileage should mean I don’t need much. But on the other hand, since I only do stop and go driving, I’m guessing that will make a difference.”

Your second assumption is correct, as some maintenance procedures should be done on the basis of elapsed time, regardless of odometer mileage. And, doing only stop & go driving is actually the hardest type of usage to which you can expose a car.

Here are my suggestions:
First, take out the Owner’s Manual, and look at the maintenance schedule contained in it.
Note that most (if not all) of the listed maintenance procedures are specified at a particular mileage interval OR at a specific number of months, with a “whichever comes first” proviso.

For instance, it might list oil changes as “every 7,500 miles or six months, whichever comes first”. The six month part of that specification is for people who don’t drive very much–like you. Please note that I just picked those intervals out of thin air, and you will need to see exactly what intervals (both odometer mileage and elapsed time) are specified for your car.

The person who does only stop & go driving and who does not add miles very fast is actually the one whose engine is the most likely to be choked with damaging sludge build-up, so adhering to the elapsed time proviso is very important.

In addition to the timing belt replacement that Yosemite mentioned, the other maintenance procedure about which I would be very concerned is changing of the brake fluid. Because brake fluid is hygroscopic (it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere), after several years the fluid can become diluted with–believe it or not–water.

The effects of this water in the brake hydraulic system are twofold:

Internal damage to the brake hydraulic system (which can lead to brake failure)
Lowering the boiling point of the brake fluid (which can also lead to brake failure).

If I recall correctly, Honda specifies that the brake fluid should be changed every 30,000 miles or three years, whichever comes first. Thus, your car is coming up on the need for its 4th brake fluid flush. If it has never been done, or if it has been more than 3 years since it was done, I suggest that you drive very slowly and very carefully to a shop where you can have the brake fluid flushed.

People become enamored of their mechanic for various reasons, and one of those reasons can be because he makes few maintenance recommendations. (Translation=I love my mechanic because he doesn’t recommend much more than oil changes!) Believe it or not, that is a very bad reason to love your mechanic, as he may be saving you so much money on maintenance that your safety is compromised and/or that you are being put in a position of having to do repairs as a result of lax maintenance.

The best self-defense for a car owner is…knowledge!
Coming here was a great step, but now you need to open the glove compartment, take out the Owner’s Manual, and carefully compare the Honda Maintenance Schedule with your service records. You may well find that a lot of vital maintenance has been skipped, on the basis of elapsed time.

As to finding a new mechanic, if you go to the top of this page and click on the Mechanics Files link, you will be able to enter your zip code into a searchable database in order to find recommended mechanics in your neck of the woods.

Good luck in your search for a new mechanic, and please feel free to return whenever you have a car maintenance/repair question!

You’ve gotten some good advice here. I’ll add my 2 cents. Brakes don’t usually wear out with time, only mileage. Rotors may rust away to the point that they no longer work properly and your mechanic can spot that easily.

AC can lose a little refrigerant over 12 years and that may be your only issue and a good AC guy should be able to diagnose and repair that easily and cheaply.

Since your mechanic is going out of business, ask HIM who he would suggest as his replacement. He likely knows who is good and honest and who is not and if you give him the chance to do one last service he likely will give you a referral for a new mechanic and a good AC tech. Good Luck.

The loss of MPGs could be due to a sticky thermostat.
Only use an OEM (like from the Honda dealer) part, not aftermarket.
Good time to change the radiator cap too.
The coolant should also have been replaced at least once by now, based on time.
I’d also be concerned if the tires are over 10 years old.

If I recall, the '03 4cylinder had a timing chain, not a belt.

That said, I also seem to recall some complaints about stretched chains wrecking valves.

In addition to what others suggested I would have the exhaust system checked. Short drives are hard on exhausts because the engine doesn’t get hot enough to evaporate the water, which then sits in the exhaust system and over time rusts it out. It wouldn’t terribly shock me if you needed a new muffler sooner than later.

How about letting the mechanic check it all out and do whatever it needs? Sounds like he can be trusted, and he’d be in the best position to make that determination.

Have you maintained this vehicle properly according to the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual? We need to know that.

…on the basis of elapsed time, specifically.
When a car is driven only ~3k miles per year, much of its maintenance needs to be done on the basis of elapsed time, rather than on the basis of odometer mileage.

Excellent post by @VDCdriver. My late mother in law had the exact same driving pattern, and she took her Pontiac Sunfire in twice a year to her trusted mechanic, who changed oil and filter, tested the coolant, and did a general inspection. I visited her once a year and had the transmission fluid and filter changed and a belt replaced at 36,000 miles. The car had no ABS and she never changed the brake fluid.

The car was sold when she stopped driving and by that time the A/C compressor had failed, but the rest of the car was fine.

Thank you all for your advice. I need to start digging thru the mess of my office to find all of my receipts from my mechanic as I do save them. I hope I’ve still got old receipts from the Honda dealership where I used to go for maintenance. Not saying that these receipts will prove anything other than to jog my memory as to what has been done and when.

(BTW, Yosemite, I don’t know how that picture got here. I was surprised to see it when I logged on. When that pic was taken I was sticking my tongue out at my older bro.)

Again, thanks much.

I would suggest putting the info into a spreadheet. I recently inherited my FIL’s F250. While he was meticulous about a lot of things, keeping track of his vehicle maintenance wasn’t one of them. I was able to piece together a history from the receipts. I use that to guide me so I know where to spend my time and effort on the truck.

Thanks, @Docnick!

And, one of your points, namely…tested the coolant…reminded me of another elapsed time sensitive issue that may be relevant in the OP’s situation.

@TX_Flower_Child The coolant should have been changed every 3 yrs–regardless of odometer mileage. If it wasn’t, your cooling system could contain a mass of rusty muck at this point–and that is not good. In addition to damaging the radiator and the heater core, if your engine is running hot as a result of ignoring coolant changes, it is possible that this is affecting the efficiency of your A/C.

“I would suggest putting the info into a spreadsheet”

Yes, if the OP is technically inclined, that would help to organize his/her maintenance records, but that high-tech approach is actually not necessary.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a simple chart, drawn on a horizontally formatted piece of 8.5 X 14 inch graph paper. Along the left side, I vertically list the required maintenance procedures, and along the top of the page I leave spaces for the inclusion of the date and the odometer mileage of each maintenance occasion.

Where the vertical and the horizontal intersect, I put X marks for everything that was done on a certain date, and at a certain mileage. While it is unquestionably low-tech, it enables me to see what has been done (and when it was done) and therefore it also enables me to see what will need to be done in the near future. I even put a post-it note or two on the chart to remind me that the tires will need to be rotated at X miles, and that I need to change the cabin air filter at X miles or by X date.

I began doing this after discovering that I had flushed the cooling system and replaced the coolant of my father’s '66 Ford Galaxie twice w/in about one year. Wasting money as a result of trying to rely on my memory and/or by trying to sort through a mass of receipts and invoices was enough to motivate me to construct something that would allow me to see everything on one page, at a glance.

Whether a high-tech approach is used, or whether somebody relies on a simple chart, organizing maintenance records on one page is extremely useful and will help to save money in the long run.

Don’t be afraid to call your old mechanic and ask for a recommendation for a new one.

I’d do the ATF change, just a drain and refill. The original coolant would only last about three years, but the newer coolants are good for 5 years or more so if that has not been done in the last 5 years, it should be.

The big ticket item here to watch out for is the CV Joint boots. They are probably getting weak and about to split, if the haven’t already. Your mechanic should look at them.

Excellent advice above. I think the most important objective at this point is to find the next mechanic. Do this before you need it. A good, trustworthy one. Ask your friends, relatives, co-workers who they use to service their cars. And ask your mechanic who he/she’s going to use after they retire. Interview what you think are the best two or three choices from the list, then when you make the final selection, be sure to tell the shop manager who it was that recommended you to them.

As for what to do now, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to get everything that’s possible to do, done. If you like your mechanic, and since he’s worked on your car already, ask him what’s the highest priority, then have him do that.

All I have done for years is to keep a three ring small binder for ALL maintenance and repairs. I simply record the date, mileage, what was done, and the cost. I have one book with a section for every car, and other equipment like lawn mower and snow blower. I also have a section on the yard and house. Its easy to keep up and very helpful. The older you get the harder it is to remember when air filters or smoke detectors were replaced. As a tickler for things that I know will be coming up in 10-20,000 miles or so, like a transmission fluid change, I just use a post it with the note and mileage of what needs to be done. I also just put all of my receipts in the book, at least until the pile gets too big and put them in a separate envelope.

In each section, on the index page, I keep pertinent information like VINs, cost, date, paint code, part numbers for filters, etc., socket size for the oil drain plug, etc. etc. as a handy reference. I have found it works well in managing the equipment and household maintenance chores.

Yeah spreadsheets are fine but I don’t have a computer in the garage or shop and I still prefer the paper and pen records that I can just take out and put in the file folder when I get rid of a car. Plus, I’ve lived through too many computer software changes in my life and paper doesn’t change.

Again, thanks everyone. I have been hunting down maintenance receipts and have found more than I thought I would. Of course the ones from the Honda dealership are nicely printed and will last many years. The ones from my mechanic are handwritten and getting faded. Will clarify a few with him once I get my car to the shop. He & his sole employee were too swamped to work on my car today, giving me time to sort the receipts and keep track of the great suggestions from y’all.

I think GeorgeSanJose is right about not being in a hurry to get everything done at once. I may have gotten overly paranoid when a developer told me last weekend that my mechanic’s property had already been sold. My mechanic was surprised to hear that since no sale has taken place yet. I’ll feel better when I find out a projected timeframe. (Sorry if that was a little off topic.)

I am seeing some of the things y’all have mentioned on various receipts. Of course I don’t know if they were done frequently enough. But I’m working on it. Got carbon copy ink all over the place.

Feel free to offer more thoughts and suggestions. Y’all all are just too wonderful for words!

Perhaps you posted the pre-flowers-in-your-hair picture back in January 2008 with your very first post. It would be easy to forget it by now. It got over 1300 views before it was closed.

I can’t add anything to the good advice you’ve already received.