Piston Slap: Impending Coupe D'etat Edition

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

George writes:

I own a 1999 Honda Accord EX V6 Coupe with 103k miles. Should I sell it now or keep it?

The Positives:

1) Purchased new with 9 miles on the odometer.

2) Used Mobil 1 synthetic oil changed at 5k intervals.

3) Stays in a garage at night.

4) Reliable with only Delphi alternator failure outside of warranty.

5) Still looks good.

The Negatives:

1) Design defects in automatic transmission.

2) Only drained and replaced transmission fluid at 90k miles per manual instructions. Should have replaced earlier.

3) Due for expensive timing belt replacement.

Normally a fairly well maintained used car is worth more to its original owner than to someone else, but the 1999 Accord has an unusual combination of a high resale value combined with significant transmission problems. Looks like a case where I should sell it now before I have to spend more money on the car. Any thoughts?

Sajeev answers:

I’m a big softie for that vintage Accord coupe, so let’s discuss your concerns and see if a little more digging makes it more personally desirable for you.

Concern If you stay within the confines of OEM parts, you are screwed. Honda has a voluntary recall on 2000 and newer models, so you probably feel like a valued customer right about now! I can’t find the actual problem with this transaxle. From a Honda press release, the problem is “insufficient lubrication of the transmission’s secondary shaft second gear that can occur under certain driving conditions. Prolonged operation under these conditions can lead to heat build-up and under certain circumstances may eventually result in chipped or broken gear teeth or breakage of the gear.”

That (in the world of performance modifications) by itself is no deal breaker. First, install the biggest transmission cooler possible—it should be about $250 including labor. Run it in series with the stock cooler for double cooling: the stock one first, than the new one. That will reduce heat buildup and maintain the lubrication qualities of the fluid. Second, talk to rebuilders like Jasper or those catering to the Honda community to see what other internal improvements can remedy the problem. It might be nothing more than drilling a valve body to get more fluid into that secondary shaft. And that’s pretty easy for the right person.

Concern Not the end of the world, but I’d flush the tranny every 50k miles from now on. Again, install a big-ass transmission cooler.

Concern Timing belts are expensive, but they include preventative maintenance. Items like your serpentine belt, coolant, water pump and other accessories are examined/replaced at this time to avoid impending failure. If you have the belt service done at a reputable, non-franchise shop the bill won’t be very bad, even with the cramped engine bay of the V6 models.

Is this worth the effort? I think this vintage Accord coupe is absolutely beautiful to look at and drive, worth every penny. But it’s up to the B&B to set the record straight.

[send your technical queries to mehta@ttac.com]

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Windswords Windswords on May 20, 2009

    How about selling it private/trading it in and getting a 1 or 2 year old car? The new car will still feel "new" but the payments will be way lower. Let someone else take the depreciation hit. rocketrodeo: Your advice on Honda transmissions sounds exactly like what others have said about Chrysler transmissions, especially the part about using the recommended fluid.

  • Buickgrandnational Buickgrandnational on May 20, 2009

    I had the exact same car: '99, emerald green, EX V6. My first and only car, bought it straight out of college brand new. Maintained it perfectly, but... What a giant piece of crap. I sold it in '05 for chump change. The aforementioned trans problems really hit me, most likely because most of my miles were hard city driving. Honda was nice enough to replace it at 50k (shifting into second felt like getting rear-ended.) The problem started again at 90k. Not only that, the car had a lot of minor electrical problems. I was stranded a few times due to dead alternators, headlights constantly burned out, radio died. The leather was atrocious. Seams teared in the seats, and the leather on the wheel constantly came off on my hands. Oh, and a weld broke in my driver's seat frame so I had a rocking chair for a while until I went to a junkyard and got a new seat. I'm not a big guy, either- 5'11, 180 or so. The exhaust started rusting very early in the car's life as well, but there's a lot of salt on the roads around here so I don't know if I can really blame Honda for that. It's a shame, because (in my opinion) that was the last good generation styling-wise. The next model after that looked bloated, and the new one is a weird mishmash of angles that doesn't really work at all.

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