Is it time to put my '99 Honda Civic to pasture?
July 22, 2015 11:01 AM   Subscribe

'99 Civic Four-Door. 101k miles. $2k in repairs over the past year. Now needs new O2 sensors and brake lines, coming to $850 or so. Should I stay or should I go? Snowflake details inside.

- Car's getting about 22-24 miles to the gallon in the city.
- I've been rear-ended hard four times.
- I've been conscientious about getting oil changes and upkeep. Not conscientious about the Chicago-bred dents and rusty spots.
- $2k in recent repairs include an airbag replacement, new radiator, new battery, multiple exhaust repairs.
- Guy from the garage is telling me that this is all normal for a Civic, that the engine isn't even really broken in yet, that a bunch of these sorts of things break at the 100k mark and it's routine.

So -- junk it? Keep it?
posted by HeroZero to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yeah, in my experience a lot of the replaceable stuff just wears out right around the same time. I have a 2003 Hyundai Elantra that just needed a bunch of stuff right around 80,000 miles (yes, I have a 12-year-old car with only 80,000 miles on it) including tires (second set), a radiator, a timing belt, a water pump, and a number of other things totaling around $2500. I figure I haven't had a payment on the car for eleven years and it's still in good shape mechanically and body-wise, might as well keep it for another decade or so!
posted by kindall at 11:17 AM on July 22, 2015

I would keep it and fix it if there aren't any engine or transmission issues, unless you hate driving it and can afford an alternative.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:18 AM on July 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

$3k in repairs in a year? Wouldn't a new car cost much more than that in monthly payments?

Run that thing into the ground, man.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:18 AM on July 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

As long as you don't have major engine or transmission problems, I'd keep it. You could probably get at least another 60-80K out of the car and you've already made a lot of the repairs that you'd be looking at near the 100K mark. I like to run cars into the ground (best value!) and really only balk when the engine or transmission needs significant repair, though I have elected to get an engine rebuilt and got another 85K out of that car, so sometimes even major repairs do also pay off.
posted by quince at 11:21 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

What can you afford? A car from this decade will have safety features far beyond what was available when your car was designed.
posted by sageleaf at 11:31 AM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

$2850/year is a shitload cheaper than a car payment or a decent used car - and you've got a very decent used car already.

This is all normal for a '99 Honda. If you had an '09 Civic at 100K I would expect a slightly different configuration of stuff that needs to be done at this point, but with general caretaking you should be able to get well over 200K out of a Honda without ever spending more than a couple-few grand a year. If it took you this long to get to 100K, you may have something not-worth-fixing age out before 200K, so you may want to assume you will need a new car in the next 3 years or so and save accordingly, but there should still be a little more life to wring out of it for a pretty minimal outlay on your part.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:33 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

If it's purely a "is it cheaper to keep this" question, I'd say keep it. This stuff is normal at 100,000 miles, especially for a 16 year old car. I'm also guessing based on the mileage and your location that you don't need it all that much, which is even more reason to not replace it.
posted by cnc at 11:34 AM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Those late 90's Civics are awesome cars. Keep it until the engine or transmission goes, as others have said, unless you're just completely sick of driving it.
posted by Kwine at 11:38 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

My 98 Honda CRV has 225k on it right now. I don't know if you've never driven a car this long before or what, but you are simply dealing with "routine maintenance" and that car will last for at least double the milage and remain cheaper than a new vehicle assuming it doesn't get totaled.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:41 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

The only thing I might worry about is that "rear-ended hard four times" part --- other than that, you've got a low-mileage low-cost car that, as said above, should be good for at least another 50-60 thousand more miles, if not 100, and $3K in yearly repairs is way cheaper than car payments would be. Okay, it ain't pretty, what with the dents & rust, but think of that as a feature rather than a bug: it's a pretty good theft deterrent (at least with joyriders!) since they'd rather steal something cool to impress their friends.

As for the rear-endings: did any of them damage the frame, or just the body? In other words, was the accumulated damage cosmetic or functional? If it's functional, that's when you might have to consider replacement. But it sounds like you've got a good mechanic, so it sounds like you've got an ugly but cheap keeper.

(At the very minimum, if you do decide to trade it in: consider hanging on to it until at least next spring --- you know it'd kill you to have a nice shiny new (or new-to-you) car suffer through a Chicago winter!)
posted by easily confused at 12:10 PM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would still be driving my '96 Honda Civic if it hadn't rusted out to the extent that the repair place said I would "pancake" in an accident (that's a scary word). Those repairs are normal and reasonable, in my opinion. But I am another drive it into the ground type.
posted by clone boulevard at 12:12 PM on July 22, 2015

My 98 Civic has 300k miles, and I spent a chunk of money on some bodywork repairs after a stupid low-speed collision because I want to keep it running as long as possible. It has things wrong with it, but I know all of its problems intimately. The engine is still sound, the chassis is still sound. [touches wood] Unless I were to spend a lot of money on a new or newish car, I'd be buying somebody else's problems.

The mechanics I use (and trust) don't think I'm pissing away money on repairs. Likewise, I don't think your guy from the garage is trying to milk you for repairs.
posted by holgate at 12:18 PM on July 22, 2015

new O2 sensors and brake lines; airbag replacement, new radiator, new battery, multiple exhaust repairs.

Did you mean brake liners? Those are parts that wear out every 50-100k (depends on your driving), in fact wearing them out is how brakes work. Normal.

I'm guessing the airbag replacement was a result of one of your rear-endings? I've never heard of those needing replaced, outside of the broad recall that's been in the news. And if it was the recall, then, well, that's "normal".

Batteries last 5-10 years, and replacing it is normal.

I've replaced an O2 sensor; normal. Radiator is less normal to me, but not a big deal like transmission or head gasket would be.

Exhaust repairs: if those came from rust and wear in a northern city where you park outside -- normal. I had to replace a muffler and that expensive B-pipe in Boston, they just got rusted through.

Have you had your timing belt replaced? That's an expensive-ish repair, but a normal-maintenance item.

On balance: seems pretty normal to me, and if you were looking for a mid-$Y,000 used car, people would tell you Civic in a heartbeat. Your mechanic is right -- keep the car, and keep them.
posted by Dashy at 12:38 PM on July 22, 2015

I have a 1998 Accord with somewhere around 145K miles and I've had my brake lines replaced (along with the muffler as well). That stuff just corrodes over time and is really a function of where you live and where the car is stored (for me Cincinnati and outside).

With that said, I don't think there is anything wrong with you keeping this car for many years. I don't have figures handy but I'd say I'm averaging ~$500/year in work over the last 5 years on the car. That's roughly 1 month's car payment for a new really nice car or 2 month's car payment for a cheap car. I'm perfectly fine having that cash flow go to other aspects of my life.

Depending on your financial situation you might want to set aside some money each month in anticipation of a new car in the coming years but you should be ok with this car for the foreseeable future.
posted by mmascolino at 12:55 PM on July 22, 2015

Guy from the garage is telling me that this is all normal for a Civic, that the engine isn't even really broken in yet, that a bunch of these sorts of things break at the 100k mark and it's routine.

This guy isn't trying to rook you or anything, this is true.

My dad and grandpa drove several cars to >200k, and you do need to do minor-ish but not super duper cheap stuff like this to get there.

Any used car under 10k, and probably up to quite a bit over it is going to need work like this relatively soon. I've bought a pretty nice used car and had to do $500 of work on it relatively quickly before.

I also think, that with the rear end damage(even if it was repaired), this car is worth more to you than it is used/as a tradein. You're basically "upside down" on value here. This is a reasonably reliable and normally relatively expensive car used for its age and mileage because people know they're reliable and well made, and there's a demand for them like subarus.

I'd keep it unless you had the money to drop on a similar quality car that was 5 years old or less with low miles.
posted by emptythought at 12:56 PM on July 22, 2015

I have a '99 Civic with 165k miles, and looking back at my little spreadsheet of car service, I see that in the years after 100k (I hit 100k in 2007), most years I spent $300-$400 in maintenance and service (which includes oil changes by my mechanic, so pricier than Jiffy Lube, but it allows them to keep an eye on things and catch problems early), and one year $1400, and another year $1600. So, significantly cheaper than new car payments.

I budget like $125/month for car maintenance, so it is there when big things come up (e.g. new catalytic converter and exhaust manifold at 128k, new timing belt and water pump at 150k). If your budget allows you to put money aside for the inevitable stuff that will arise, I say keep it.
posted by misterbrandt at 12:57 PM on July 22, 2015

How is the motor? Any evidence of burning oil (do you ever have to add oil?) How is the compression (that is an easy check and gives you a very good idea of the status of the motor.) How is the transmission? Any evidence of slippage, especially on very cold winter days?

If the engine and transmission are in good shape, then I think your chances of a truly expensive repair in the near future are small, unless rust / body rot becomes an issue for your old car.
posted by Doc_Sock at 12:58 PM on July 22, 2015

Exhaust repairs: if those came from rust and wear in a northern city where you park outside -- normal.

She had 4 rear enders, I can imagine exhaust problems all the way up to the header. But seems all repaired.

I'd keep this car a few years if I liked driving it.
I'd know that there will be future repairs to do (suspension parts, interior switches & bulbs, injectors, etc).
posted by artdrectr at 1:02 PM on July 22, 2015

Somebody else mentioned this, but just to emphasize - you are really due for a timing belt replacement (service schedule has it listed at 105,000 miles or 7 years).

Will probably cost several hundred dollars, but if your timing belt breaks, the engine will have severe damage.
posted by dforemsky at 1:31 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just want to pile on the timing belt thing. Absolutely get it done - if you don't, and it goes, it can and likely will kill your entire motor. This is a major issue for mid-to-late-90s Accords and Civics.

Also - seconding the earlier inquiry about brake LINERS vs. brake LINES. Brake lines do not need to be replaced. Pads, calipers and rotors, yeah.
posted by Thistledown at 2:01 PM on July 22, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks all. I guess I just wanted confirmation that my garage (which is new to me) was on the level. Repairs being made as we speak.

(I'm all about running cars into the ground -- just wasn't sure if I'd hit ground yet.)
posted by HeroZero at 2:39 PM on July 22, 2015

The question more depends on "can you afford to buy a car that is MORE reliable than this one, and how much will you save to make the difference back?"

Your prices sounds quite reasonable. My Volvo S70 (99) has 275K miles and has replaced transmission and engine already, so I plan to keep it until at least 300K if not 350K. :D I may need new seats though. :D
posted by kschang at 2:14 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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