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Old 09-01-2010, 03:56 PM
 
Location: Bellingham, WA
9,745 posts, read 13,659,852 times
Reputation: 14764

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I own a 1989 Civic Wagovan and I love it. It's practical, versatile, and surprisingly fun to drive. But somewhere along the line it has been horribly neglected. I bought it last December for $1000, which was a mediocre deal but I really like these cars. Then little issues started popping up, some of which I knew of when I purchased it, but others were surprises. The brakes have always been trouble, and now almost the entire brake system is brand new and they work fine (for now). I've replaced broken or worn out odds and ends here and there, it has a new battery, new tires, new alternator, new radiator, new right axle, new fuel filter, serviced the transmission, etc. Basically I've gradually tried to make it mechanically sound. The brakes have been the biggest pain, and I've probably spent about $1000 on them alone. The car has 131,000 miles and runs and handles great. The engine is amazingly smooth for its age, as is the 5 speed transmission. The car has some bad rust around the rear wheel arches, and a few other spots here and there that aren't too bad. The paint is really bad, and I know the suspension needs a pretty extensive overhaul, though it rides fine and seems to be fairly solid. I also expect to need to replace the timing belt soon, which my friend can help me do. The air conditioning works a little, but isn't very cold. Basically, the car has had several issues along the way, but with every repair I make it gets better.

On Craigslist there is a 1991 Civic DX hatchback for $1700. The car is very clean, has cold AC, timing belt changed about 7 months ago, and is all stock. It has 187,000 miles and appears to have been very well cared for, unlike my car.

Another option: My mom recently purchased a brand new car and no longer needs her old one, which is a 1998 Mazda Protege with 153,000 miles. The car is in pretty good shape, the AC works fine, and the engine runs rather rough. I don't think anything is wrong with it, I think it's simply not as smooth an engine as my Honda. It also has the original timing belt which definitely should be changed soon. The car has an automatic transmission, which I despise, but the suspension and brakes are in wonderful shape compared to mine. HOWEVER, I could get this car basically for free, except I'd want to change the timing belt. Plus I know almost the entire history of this car, as she has owned it since about 30,000 miles, and before that it was a demo at the dealership I used to work at. In fact, I used to drive this car on deliveries!

So I have a dilemma. I love my current car and it drives wonderfully. It's much smoother, gets far better fuel economy, and handles much better than the Protege, but I hate having the rust and bad paint. It would be nice to be able to actually tell when my car has been washed! The Protege is a solid car, but being a sedan it's not nearly as versatile, and it's soooo boring to drive it's ridiculous. The Civic hatchback would have the handling of my car and still have a manual transmission, but the paint and body are infinitely better, and it doesn't need a timing belt change. But it's $1700. If I were to sell my wagon now, I'd be lucky to get $1400 and $1000 is more likely, but I've spent far more than that fixing its problems. So the only way to get my money's worth from it is to keep it a really long time and try to spend as little as possible on it, but for all I know it may have constant issues as long as I own it. But the other cars might too! The Protege may be the most sensible choice since it's free, but I just really, really don't like it. I know that's not the level-headed way to look at it, but I can't help it.

One more thing I haven't mentioned: I'm planning to return to college in January, so I have to be careful with my money now and I need a car that will last at least ten more years. Ideally I'd live somewhere where I wouldn't need a car, but that won't be realistic any time soon. I may be able to move for graduate school, but obviously I have to get the first 4-5 years out of the way first. So which car seems like the best choice? I'm thinking the $1700 Civic is probably the worst choice, even though it's in great shape. And it would be a new-to-me car which would no doubt have new-to-me problems, whereas I'm very familiar with the other two by now and know what they need. The other two are tricky, though. Do I stick with the car I love and risk endless mechanical issues, or do I go with the car I hate driving but which seems to be more reliable? I don't know!
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Old 09-01-2010, 05:59 PM
 
19,122 posts, read 21,380,062 times
Reputation: 7314
PQR the rust, forget about the paint, as it makes the car just about theft proof. Just drive it and forget the frills. You might get the AC recharged and the timing belt done, but when you do that be sure it is right the first time! You only get one chance, so make it good.
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Old 09-01-2010, 06:31 PM
 
Location: Bellingham, WA
9,745 posts, read 13,659,852 times
Reputation: 14764
That's the option I'm leaning toward, the more I think about it. I really do like this car more than most I've owned and driven, it just needs to be treated well for once in its life.
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Old 09-01-2010, 06:43 PM
 
19,122 posts, read 21,380,062 times
Reputation: 7314
Face the fact it is a tin can beater and always was. Do what it needs to be safe and run right, after that forget it. The pay off is in miles driven nothing else.

I tend to buy cars for 200 bucks and fix everything wrong, and drive them into the ground. I am still driving a full size 83 chevy 4x4 and a 85 volvo into the ground. There are not worth the money I put into parts, but then they are better than a new car payment.

Buy other things that you like instead of pay for beater cars to bling up.

IMO there is no new cars worthy of the cost to buy one new. They are just tin cans now.
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Old 09-01-2010, 07:11 PM
 
Location: Bellingham, WA
9,745 posts, read 13,659,852 times
Reputation: 14764
That's true. I guess the only way I'll get my money's worth out of this car is to drive as long as it will go. If I sell it and take my mom's car, even though the Protege will be free I'll be losing a couple thousand from the Civic right away. And if I want a really nice Civic wagon then someday when I have more cash available I can look for one that's been well cared for. My main concern right now should be school and work and making sure I can get there.
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Old 09-01-2010, 07:25 PM
 
Location: Eastern Washington
13,395 posts, read 42,750,303 times
Reputation: 11477
Would it be impractical to take the Protege and keep the Honda too? A couple of older, cheap cars is a beautiful thing, you can (generally) drive one while working on the other.

I really like older VW cars, 1980's stuff, they are simple and cheap to work on, they have enough of a cult following that parts are not a problem, the early 8V stuff is "non-interferance" so if you break the timing belt you are facing a tow but that's all, no valve-piston encounter of the expensive kind.

While you are in school a cheap and reliable car is what you need, maybe not exactly what you want, but it's what you need.

In Tennessee you can find good old Detroit cars in usable shape as well, particularly pickups. Beware though that people will constantly bug you to borrow your truck. Learn to say "Hell no!" to one and all and stick with that...

Good luck in any case.
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Old 09-02-2010, 04:57 AM
 
Location: Bellingham, WA
9,745 posts, read 13,659,852 times
Reputation: 14764
Turns out my mom is planning to keep her car as a spare, unless I want it. So I can keep mine, and if it becomes problematic or is simply out of commission for a week or two, I can borrow hers. At least as long as I'm still living in the same town as her!
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Old 09-02-2010, 10:00 AM
 
19,122 posts, read 21,380,062 times
Reputation: 7314
I can never recall which engines crash and which can't. So i toss out that caution, since being wrong won't matter. The only 2 engines I know for sure is the B21 a can't and the B 23 a crash, both made in the same years. Both Volvo.

And then getting valve timing off may result in a crash on some engines.
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