Is it smart to buy a '91 Civic with 245k miles on it?
January 12, 2015 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Is it smart to buy a '91 Civic with 245k miles on it? More details inside.

Last month, the timing belt on my car failed and destroyed my engine. I am now looking to buy a cheap, dependable car to get me around town until I save the funds to resurrect my other car. I recently looked at a 1991 Civic DX that was in excellent shape. It drove fantastically well, and it shifted incredibly smoothly (new clutch). The car has obviously been impeccably maintained; all the innards (e.g., the engine, etc.) looked clean. The seller is asking $2000, but I wrangled him down to $1700. However, I have not yet bought the car for I have a concern: it has 245,000 miles on it.

Would it be a categorically unwise decision to buy such a car, however well maintained it is and however well it drives, if it has so many miles on it?
posted by fignewton to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
Response by poster: I should have mentioned that I don't want to spend more than $2000. My budget certainly plays into this question.
posted by fignewton at 12:43 PM on January 12, 2015

I bought a 97 Honda Civic for $1500 that had 80K miles on it 2 years ago. Also had been impeccably maintained with no problems until the lack of ABS on a rainy day led to its demise.

I'm confused at the price your seller is asking. What does Kelly BB say?
posted by discopolo at 12:51 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just ran a search on 'best cars for $2000' and found this from 2011.

Cost of living in your location may be higher, but it seems to confirm my gut reaction that you are probably over paying. If I was going to gamble on a 4 cylinder with 250K miles on it, I don't think I'd spend over $750.

BTW, a clean engine is easily available from any car wash for $10 - it doesn't mean anything.

I think you can find something younger and with less miles for the money.
posted by COD at 12:51 PM on January 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

Have it evaluated by a mechanic so that you can understand exactly what the status of this vehicle is. Frankly with that much mileage and age, something is going to need to be taken care of frequently. Frankly, unless you can afford a couple hundred a month for repairs for the vehicle, it's not a good purchase. The guy who has taken TLC of this beast is ready to get rid of it. That should be a clue.

If you buy this without having a mechanic's report on it, you may as well throw the money in the street.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:52 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you're paying way too much for that car.

For comparison's sake, in 2012 I bought a '97 Civic DX with automatic transmission, in Los Angeles where people are willing to pay on the high side for cars with good gas mileage, for $2000. And that car only had 130,000 miles on it.

Also, just as an indicator of the longevity of a car like this -- said Civic died unceremoniously on the side of the road over a year ago, after I had only owned it for a year. So, to me, while Hondas are very reliable car, a '91 with 245K miles on it is basically a ticking time bomb.
posted by Sara C. at 12:53 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

$2000 will pay for a fair bit of your engine repair-- are you sure this is your smart option?
posted by Dip Flash at 12:56 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Price seems way high for a 25 year-old car, but I don't know. That's about right in terms of mileage per year, so it hasn't been over-driven during that time.

The car has obviously been impeccably maintained

That's the rub. You think so, but without documentation there's no way to tell. Has the guy been filling in the maintenance record? How many owners has it had? What has their usage been (no to the pizza guy, yes to the long commuter)?

I will say that, at 250,000 miles some of the big things that could go wrong have probably gone wrong. But if you don't know, then you don't know.
posted by resurrexit at 12:56 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just ran a KBB on this. A 1992 Honda Civic with 245000 miles, in EXCELLENT condition is worth $1,200.

So run, don't walk away.

Also, don't resurrect a car after you've thrown a rod.

Perhaps it makes sense to put the $2,000 on a newer, fuel efficient vehicle, you may save money in the long run, even if you do finance it and pay a bit in interest.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:58 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

The official tax valuation for my 98 Civic is $1500. It has 300,000 miles on it, but mileage isn't part of the valuation.

300,000 miles on a 90s Civic is doable with the right maintenance (as is a million miles on a 1990 Accord) but you need more than a glance at shiny innards to know what work has been done on it, including more expensive stuff like timing belt replacements every 100,000 miles or so.
posted by holgate at 1:00 PM on January 12, 2015

No way. I paid $1500 for a '91 Accord with 135k over ten years ago. I'd maybe pay $700 for this car. Also, expect to drop $400-1500 upkeep per year.
posted by mizrachi at 1:04 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You all are confirming my suspicions. Thanks for the advice.
posted by fignewton at 1:04 PM on January 12, 2015

For $2000 you can fix your existing car. That is way too much for a 245K mile car.

Having said that, on second hand values, and according to your profile location, you can buy significantly better cars (some 10 years newer) for $2,000. I have no idea why you are considering this one. At all. Options for the same money have 10 years more life and 100,000 less miles without even looking for more than 30 seconds.

But more importantly you should easily be able to get a second hand engine for $2K. Of a car that age, you do not need reconditioned, you do not need 'new' you just need a lump that makes noise and is good for 50,000. So $2,000 is a good budget to get an engine and maybe even get it installed (depending on what car it is). If it is the same as your previous questions, here is an engine for $1,161 including shipping. You should be able to get that fitted for $900 without any issues.

Do not buy another car unless it is not worth fixing your existing one. If you need a car while you are getting yours fixed, your price point is $500. Tops. Try craigslist or equivalent. Spending $2000 (or $1700) on a stop gap car is insane and a waste of money.
posted by Brockles at 1:09 PM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Also, don't resurrect a car after you've thrown a rod.

This makes no sense. At all. Just replace the engine.
posted by Brockles at 1:10 PM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

A useless single data point here, but I also had a blown engine and decided to have a rebuilt engine installed. The car was never right again and the money would have been far better spent on a down payment on something more reliable. I wouldn't try and resurrect your dead engine, but maybe your mechanic is better than mine and has a better source for engines.
posted by TheAdamist at 1:34 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a '91 Civic, 4 speed, with 205k miles on it, decently but not impeccably maintained. $1000-$1200 might be a reasonable risk for that mileage, $1700 probably is not. I went ahead and bought a new to me car for daily driving because my Civic is at the age and mileage that my last car started having huge expensive repairs and blowing out brake lines on the expressway at rush hour.

And mine still has its original clutch and transmission and they work with no problems at all, so I kind of wonder just how impeccably that one's been kept if it needed a new clutch.
posted by dilettante at 1:53 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I kind of wonder just how impeccably that one's been kept if it needed a new clutch.

Just for reference, 205k miles is an exceptionally long life for a clutch. It is not at all typical. With majority highway driving it is possible to get that sort of life, but the clutch is a wear component so a greater percentage (or any sizeable amount) of city driving (especially with hills) will require a clutch change for even the most careful driver. If you are pushing your foot up and down, you are using (and hence wearing) the clutch. If you leave it alone (as you do on the highway) you're not wearing it at all.
posted by Brockles at 2:29 PM on January 12, 2015

My coworker got a honda this age with the same milage for free. He's a prodigal shade tree mechanic, the kind of guy whose done multiple engine rebuilds in his garage.

They both agreed the car was worth so little that it wasn't worth even trying to exchange cash for it since his friend was moving very far away, and didn't really want to deal with the process of selling it.

I honestly don't think that car is worth $1000, even. It's 25 years old with that many miles. This is one of the most egregious cases of the honda tax i've ever seen.

He's put another 20k+ on it without doing much of anything maintenance wise other than oil changes and such, but he's basically driving it until it explodes. Which likely wont be all that long.

Everything on that car is going to need work. The car my friend got was owned by the same lady its entire life, and everything was done by the timings in the manual maintenance wise or the instant it even became a tiny bit of a problem. And still, tons of stupid stuff is really screwy like the AC and even the mechanism that actuates the defroster vents. Transmission doesn't slip, but is, for lack of a better word, "tired". Everything is adjusted correctly, it's just tired.

Go buy the newest toyota echo, or similar base-model economy car you can find for that amount of money. I'd much rather buy something 10-15 years newer with a salvage title than that car.

I think you'd be shocked at how nice/new of a hyundai/kia with relatively few miles you can get for around that much if you're willing to ignore the fact it's been rear ended before.
posted by emptythought at 4:37 PM on January 12, 2015

Mod note: Several comments deleted. Do not fight or debate with other commenters. Address the OP and their question, and keep it helpful.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:30 PM on January 12, 2015

$1,700 is an awful lot of money for this thing. I know people claim that Hondas run forever, but for cars, forever is about 250,000 miles.

I'm not sure why you would want to spend money to buy a new (to you) car when you could pay a substantial portion, if not all, of the repair to your old car with that $2,000. What's your goal here? You're going to end up spending $2,000 to buy a new car and $2,000 to fix the old one, only to be left with two $500 cars.

Also bear in mind that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. Even with a thorough mechanic's check, there could be intermittent problems with a car this old that will cost a pretty penny to get to the bottom of and repair--electrical issues, water leaks, that kind of thing--that may not make themselves apparent for several days or weeks down the road but could cause enormous headaches. Really, with a car this old, you are rolling the dice and there are things that may never be able to be fixed. I wouldn't pay more than $500, expecting to pour at least another $1,000 into it in short order.
posted by Leatherstocking at 5:15 AM on January 13, 2015

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