Reader Question: The $1,000 2002 Honda Civic

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Michael asks: I found a 2002 Honda Civic with 250K miles for $1,000.00. Is this worth rebuilding or putting in a new engine? Is it a keeper because it may lack unwanted “black box” or unnecessary “safety” features?

My reply: It depends!

What is the condition of this car? Is it basically sound as it is – or will you need to spend more money on it to make it sound? How much money? This is important! If you can more or less get in it and drive it without having to put much money into it, then I think paying $1,000 is a great deal. But if you have to put a lot of money into it . . .

So, for openers, make sure you know what you’re buying before you buy it. Especially as this is a modern car with a computer and lots of electronic systems. Make sure the critical ones – especially those relating to emissions – are in good shape. If the car won’t pass smog check – in states and counties where this is mandatory – then you won’t be able to register and drive it.

Is the “check engine” light on? Does it come on – and go out – when you first start the car? If it does not come on – or comes on and stays on – there is almost certainly an issue with the emissions system. Possibly several.

How are the brakes? Does it need tires? Exhaust work? Keep in mind that any of those things can cost you $500 or more. A $1,000 car can be more expensive than you thought!

On the other hand, it could be a steal of a deal. It is definitely worth considering, in my opinion.

I would not, however, consider rebuilding it. Or even putting a new engine in it. Not unless you are capable of doing all the work yourself and have a way to get the engine and all the related parts dirt cheap. Otherwise, you’d be much better off just spending $2,500 on a basically sound beater.

As a 2002 model, this car will have multiple air bags (at least two and probably four) and may have an Event Data Recorder (i.e., the “black box”). However, this car does not have “send and receive” capability, so unless someone physically accesses the car, your data is safe!

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