By on December 15, 2009


Old Volvo’s don’t die. They just get increasingly decrepit. But they’re far from alone in my neck of the woods. Cars in North Georgia enjoy a low salt, smooth road diet that can keep even the worst vehicles roadworthy. Hyundai Excel? A dozen here and there. Old AMC Pacer? The weirdo down the the road has one. The paint may be toast, but the body’s intact. An early 1990’s Honda Accord? Well now we’re talking about what I lovingly call ‘a beater leader’. Like Waffle House, Baptist Churches and Kudzu, they’re everywhere.

In 1990 Honda decided to get into the refrigerator market. Seriously. Most of these cars have as much personality as the late Roger Smith. Three box design. Lines that only give out the softest of curves at certain angles. The Honda Accord was/is/will always be a toaster on wheels in much the same way as a Volvo 240. Except this generation marked their first battle in the Taurus dominated midsized world. Soichiro equipped the Japanese virgin in plain-Jane garb… but with some surprisingly well kept secrets underneath.

The first was a 2.2L four banger that made it virtually indestructible. Rev it like a bastard. It won’t care. This engine came from the same company that dominated everything from scooters to sports cycles by this point. Even in a midsized market dominated by V6’s, the Honda four made enough power to make the Accord above average. Acceleration is there when you need it… and most still people didn’t care.

The interior was nice as well. Everything was easily found and extremely simple to operate. With that said though, the Taurus was better by the time it got reskinned in 1991. The Accord’s ride was a bit more involving than the floaty Taurus. But Honda competed in the ‘appliance’ market. The taut ride wasn’t worthy of best in class either.

There were three things that made this vehicle remarkable. The first is that Honda simplified everything. From the design, to the assembly, to the upkeep. Honda offered one model. One engine. Two transmissions (manual or automatic), and surprisingly few assembly parts.

The focus on ‘simplicity’ made the Accord a quality leader. While the Americans were still struggling to offer quality products, Honda had an assembly line in Marysville, OH that simply wouldn’t quit (and never needed to). GM would struggle to sell a few dozen Cavaliers in Japan while Honda would export thousands of Accords to the land of the rising sun. By the time Chrysler was on the brink (again), and Ford was busy ignoring rampant tranny issues with their Taurus, Honda was rapidly becoming a best seller without the help of the domestics all too vital rental car business to inflate annual numbers.

The second landmark achievement for Honda was their five-speed manual. It was simply the best in class. Forget about Luminas and Camrys, not even a Corvette or Camaro handshaker of the day could match it. Shifts are as pure as silk with only the slightest bit of notchiness after many years of use.

Speaking of which, Honda was still blessed with a sporty soul at this point. You can get any body style you wanted with the handshaker. Coupe, sedan, wagon. They all offered that option along with each trim line. Loaded EX’s (cherry vanilla), mid-level LX’s (plain vanilla), and stripper DX’s (cheap ass vanilla) would inevitably offer thousands of teenagers and budget minded folks an escape from the numbness of most family haulers.

Honda’s culture of sport at that time would eventually make many of their cars the equivalent a poor man’s BMW. But not really. The Prelude at the time was an equal to the 318i. The Integra was well on it’s way to becoming a legend in it’s own right. The Accord Coupe? Well, it was better than both on the highway. By offering the handshaker in coupes, sedans and wagons, Honda would offer a welcome escape from a midsized market riddled with slushboxes and V6’s bent on pushrods. On the used car market these cars are still worthy of their premium.

Finally, and it pains to me to even mention this. The 1990-1993 Honda Accord is a far more reliable AND durable vehicle than the Volvo 240 can ever hope to be. It’s lights and switches don’t futz out. The blower motor doesn’t require a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering to remove. And the powertrain offers a comparable level of longevity with about 20% to 30% better fuel economy. The result?

These cars are more common than any other beater on the road. Period. At one major intersection, I saw no fewer than five of them. Drive five miles in any direction, you’re guaranteed to see at least one. Of course, many have paint that’s starting to discombobulate and others have road scars that indicate their eventual expendability with their younger drivers. But they work.

Parents don’t have to worry about their kids being stranded somewhere between civilization and Deliverance. Budget minded folks don’t have to worry about getting constant repair bills that require selling or junking. These cars last. Ten years from now I’m willing to bet that folks still look at this Accord in the same way we now look at a 1980’s Mercedes. Just another car on the road.

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32 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1990-1993 Honda Accord...”

  • avatar

    Yes, overall they were good cars and certainly what “most” people wanted their Accord to be in the 90’s, but some of us lamented the loss of the quasi-sporty “tossable” ’86-’89 version.  And the ’86-’89 5 speed car had a much nicer shifter action than the next generation.  The ’90 and later cable actuated shifter is rubbery compared to the earlier torque-rod shifter. 

    And a minor nitpick, but have you tried to replace the blower motor on a ’90-’93 Accord?  It’s a huge pain in the neck compared to “most” Honda models.

    • 0 avatar

      Indeed earlier pre-90 Accords have the nicest liveliest shifter. All the later ones are detached (although I wouldn’t say ‘rubbery’) in comparison.

      And, relatively, I feel the 1986 Accord made a bigger splash styling- and technical-wise than the 90.

  • avatar

    Manual transmission family sedans.  Man I wish the Mazda 6 sporty model would and had sold better.  It just reminds me of how nobody seems to want to be “involved” in driving anymore. 

  • avatar

    Even in the Salt Belt, it’s still common to see these everywhere. The body will be totally shot, but they soldier on as if nothing is wrong.
    I had a 1992 Accord LX Coupe, and that thing was indestructible. The head gasket was starting to go at 185,000 miles, but that was fixed in my garage with basic hand tools and without sending the head out to be machined. It was still perfectly square.
    I found that when comparing the Accord to a Civic of the same era, the Accord seemed downright overbuilt.
    My only gripe about this car (and the generation following this one) were the god damned trapped front brake rotors. If this car was designed with maintenance and simplicity in mind, why the hell should you need to pull the spindle and axle apart to get the rotor off???

    • 0 avatar
      Via Nocturna

      I’ll attest to this, as I live in MN. I saw an Accord coupe of this vintage in the parking lot the other day. Looked pristine. In contrast to the article, the blue-green paint showed no signs of peeling or discoloration, the engine sounded fine (at least judging by the exhaust note), and there wasn’t any damaged bodywork at all. Of course, it could be that this particular Accord was blessed with an obsessive, mechanically adept owner, but I digress. A neighbor had a sedan of this generation too, and he only surrendered it a couple of years ago when his wife had another kid.
      Probably my favorite generation of the Accord. It’s truly incredible how the (US) Accord went from a model of simplicity and efficiency to the bloated, compromised car of today.

  • avatar

    A 91 Accord EX was my first car an adult, my first Japanese car, my first FWD car, and my first sedan.  Along with all these firsts, this was an absolutely great car.  I bought it used in 93 with about 35K on it, and gave it away in 2005 with about 225K.  Over that time, we replaced the front rotors, quite a chore as krazykarguy mentioned (the dealer service dept had to bail me out), radiator, and timing belt.  This car was as reliable as gravity.  I have since bought or leased 3 more cars from Honda, er I should say Acura, an Integra GSR, a TL, and an RDX.  Only the TL has failed to come when called due to a fuel pump issue.

  • avatar

    Our fourth Accord sedan was a 1992 5-speed car, Seattle silver with a maroon interior. It completely fulfilled our expectations of being indestructible, reliable, and reasonably enjoyable to drive. I really liked the flexibility of the 5-speed, and wish that our current car wasn’t an automatic. When we sold the 92, it had 220,000 miles on it and hadn’t required any major work at all; still had the original engine, transmission, and even the clutch. It lived outside all its life, and there was a little body rust at the edges of the rear quarter and deck lid above the exhaust pipe when we sold it. The car was in two accidents, one in which my wife hit a deer and one in which the car was sideswiped hard enough to require replacing both doors on that side. There were still no water leaks even through the sunroof or in the trunk.
    What’s this kvetching about blower motors? I thought every Honda went to the boneyard with all that electrical stuff still working.

    • 0 avatar

      Blower motors….not really common to replace, but like any electric motor, they eventually wear out.  Still the ones I’ve done have mostly been on cars with 250K miles plus.  
      Power windows on these cars are probably the weakest electrical issue, especially the rear doors on 4drs/wagons.  

    • 0 avatar

      The driver’s door window had considerable slop in it by the time we sold the car, but it still worked.
      +1 on the low cowl on this car – that’s one thing that endears any car to me.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought I was the only one! That’s one of the reasons I loved my ’91 civic, being 5’4″ I could see EVERYTHING due to the low cowl. I remember my girlfriend had a ’93 grand am and the way it sucked you in compared to the civic was laughable

  • avatar

    1988-1992 was Honda’s golden years with some of the best cars they have ever made.  From the 88-91 Civics that were incredibly fun to drive and fast for 1.6 / 1.5 liter powered cars – faster than most other 4 cylinder and v6 cars.  The 90-93 Accords – one of the best family cars ever made.
    Honda wasn’t perfect and as noted the “press on” front rotors was asinine – why would you need a press to change front brake rotors?  The US market Civics/CRX were nuetered and only came with sohc engines (versus other markets got the hot dohc vtec versions).  Imagine how special these cars would be today if you didn’t have to do your own swap?
    However the end of 1992 saw some problems…Acura went down hill from there and never recovered with Honda’s inability to admit they are wrong about rwd and V8s.  1992+ Civic and Accords just got bigger and heavier.  Del Sol – neat car but terrible package – and only Civic (besides the 99-00 Si coupe) to ever get a stock dohc vtec motor.  Honda killed the hot hatch by selling us a neutered (02-05) Civic SI hatch with mac struts in the front – got killed by the SVT Focus and most other cars (if it came with the k20a2 – same dohc vtec engine as EDM and JDM).  Hatchbacks do sell if you equip them right – see GTI.  Acura again…lost in translation of the poor mans fwd BMW.  My favorite car is the 88-91 Civic Hatchback with proper Si trim (dohc vtec, lsd short gear tranysmission, firm suspension, some nice 15″ meaty track tires, decent roll bars and some seats with lateral support – add some lightness with some respectable [not ricey] carbon fiber goodies and you can get the car down to 1800lbs with still the interior [though no a/c]).

    • 0 avatar

      You don’t need a press to change the front rotors on a ’90-’97 Accord.  You do have to break the lower ball joint, remove the axle stub from the hub and unbolt the hub/bearing assembly from the knuckle.  not that hard after you’ve done one, and no press required.

    • 0 avatar

      jaje makes a lot of good points and, while I don’t entirely disagree with any of them, I think the civic peaked with the G5 car as opposed to the G4 he seems to like. The weight remained nearly identical across the models and the cars actually got lower and wider, resulting in a a lower center of gravity and a flatter, better looking car. Make the well advised modifications he suggests and the end result is a legitimate sport coupe/hot hatch that handles so well it’s easy to take back what’s lost by being relatively underpowered. Drop a dohc motor in and, with the multitude of modifications available for them, you have a legitimate sports car that can play with almost anything with more reliability and less money.

  • avatar

    My only experience with this car was to rear-end one in 1993.  There is something strange about the tail lights of this series that makes them almost invisible to me, and it has nearly happened several times since.  The car I hit was 1 year old, and built like a tank.  My 85 Lebaron GTS was totalled, but I had it rebuilt anyway.
    It’s truly amazing how many of these old Hondas are still on the road.

  • avatar

    <i>Parents don’t have to worry about their kids being stranded somewhere between civilization and Deliverance.</i>

    Great line…made me laugh. 

    I agree that the 4th gen Accord was a great vehicle but it still wasn’t sized right for the midsize market.  The Taurus you mention as a competitor was far larger at the time.   My father picked the Taurus over competitors #1, the drivers seat fit a larger person better #2, the back seat room was larger and #3, more trunk capacity.  It’s just not an apples to apples comparison IMO.  That came later with the 6th gen Accord, of which I am a big fan.

    Still the 4th gen Accord is a great little vehicle.  Does it still top the most stolen lists?  The biggest complaint here in the rust belt about the older Accords, and Camrys for that matter, is that they are rust bombs.  A Taurus of equal age might be a rolling shitmobile mechanically speaking, but on average they will have fewer rust issues.  I know people that to this day won’t consider Honda out of fear it will rust out in 5 years.

  • avatar

    I had a Seattle Silver 1992 EX (similar to the ’91 pictured but without the dents) automatic that I bought very lightly used in 1995. Overall, a reliable but dull in every way choice.  But it wasn’t perfect even in that area.  The interior door handle trim on these cars (including mine) were notorious for breaking.  Unfortunately, the trim itself was incorporated into the handle mechanism somehow.  So, it wasn’t just a case of doing without a minor trim piece — you needed it to open the door.  The dash-mounted cupholders held up OK but they felt like they could break at any moment.  The ABS sensors gave out at around 80K mi, and for a while (around 60 or 70K mi) it seemed like I was replacing A/C parts on a regular basis (dryer, evaporator, etc, etc).  The seats in this thing (like in every Honda I’ve had) suck.  They’re way too firm.  The handling was first rate which made taking this thing around corners too fast fun.  But the automatic was terrible.  It shifted very hard.  I complained to the Honda dealer about this, and the service advisor actually told me that Honda had a name for this: “Positive Shift.”  LOL, sounds like BS.  At least the tranny was reliable.  Comparing this car to some American cars at the time I’m surprised how little difference there is in the appearance of the interior plastics.  But the mindset was that Honda had far superior interior quality.  Looking back, if I knew how dull this car was going to be I would have bought an Olds.  At least I’d have some style and comfort.

  • avatar

    My sister had a ’91 Accord Coupe that was replaced in 2004 by an Accord Sedan, only because she’d grown bored of it.
    I think this is one of the best looking accords.

  • avatar

    “Like Waffle House, Baptist Churches and Kudzu, they’re everywhere.”

    A: Scattered, covered, smothered and chunked.
    Q: What kind of hash browns did my friend Dave tell me he wanted to go eat every. single. freakin’. time. he came to Lilburn from his home in Valley Forge, PA to pay me a little visit?

  • avatar

    You praise the 2.2 engine and the stick shift transmission, but don’t forget the autobox on these cars, which merits some praise of its own.  Although the 4 speed auto may seem crude today (and it was never much for smooth shifting) it is one of the few automatic transmissions that can sometimes outlast a nearly indestructible engine.
    I presume that it is essentially the same unit as on my 96 Odyssey.  Owner forums indicate that these trannies often don’t start to have issues until about 350K or so.  There are mighty few automatics that can boast of this kind of durability anymore (Honda’s modern units included).

    • 0 avatar

      All of the ’90 and many of the ’91 models were recalled because the shaft nuts in the A/T could come loose.  Once that issue was fixed they were pretty reliable transmissions, although with age the AT control units have a fairly high failure rate at high mileages.  Usually costs more than the car is worth to fix, which unfortunately will be the downfall of most “modern” computer controlled cars.  

  • avatar

    These cars are amazing.  What I remember most about these cars is how low the cowl is on these cars, and how thin the pillars are… it made them almost panoramic to drive.

  • avatar

    I had a 90 LX auto.  Absolutely loved it.  Bulletproof.  Nice to drive.  Dumped it in 2003 for a Mini S.  Big mistake, especially in terms of build quality.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    We put 186,000 km (115,500 miles) on our ’91 Accord EX. It was an excellent car, though the costs to replace the timing belt and brake master cylinder were shockingly high.

    It was our first Japanese car. We were so impressed we wanted to replace it with another Accord but we didn’t like the looks of the restyled ’95 model, so we bought a Camry instead.

  • avatar

    These Accords are by far my favorite.  The coupe is one of the best looking cars of all time and the wagon is in the top 5 for me.  They’re proportioned very well, the interior is uncluttered and super-clean.   The front end with its sleek, clear headlight housings are beautiful and really cherry this cake for me.

    Today’s Accord is a chunky, bloated and confused styling failure.

  • avatar

    I still miss my ’90 EX. After almost a quarter-million miles it needed a new automatic transmission, which would have cost more than the car was worth. A delightful vehicle.

  • avatar

    My next door neighbor had one in white, and the guy across the street had one in beige.  They were both in reasonable condition the last time I saw them, about three years ago.  They were both stolen the same night.  One was recovered within a day.  The other may still be out there serving as spare parts to one and all.

  • avatar

    Having owned a ’92 EX and driven a “92 DX, it was amazing how much difference the 15” wheels/tires made in the steering/handling of the EX.
    Late in its life, my wife drove it 15mi. @ 60mph with max. overheating, finally stalling it on off-ramp. A new heater hose and we got 2 more years of trouble-free driving!
    They did rust above rear wheels, and felt a little clumsy shifting around town, with a large turning circle.

  • avatar

    I own a cherry 1991 EXR. Bought it new. It has the nicest velour interior I’ve seen in any car — too bad Honda de-contented it out of the 1992 and subsequent models.

     It also has the best visibility of any car I’ve driven – like sitting in a bubble – which was a key reason I bought it. Here’s a pic (EXR trim) that helps show why the view out is so good.

    The car has zero rust, even though I’ve never lived anywhere the roads weren’t salted. However, it has always been kept clean and parked indoors. Not long ago I gave it all new belts, all fluids, rear shocks, muffler, and four Nokian WR tires, and I reckon that ought to hold it for a good long while.

  • avatar

    Man oh man..

    My first car was a 92 Accord with 158,900 from a Volvo shop.
    It was my first car. My first japanese car, and my first sedan.

    I ran it for 5yrs, eventually leading to a sensor in the trans that tells the motor when to shift.. that and a rear main seal issue.

    Car isnt worth it, to yank the motor, and fix the cheap seal.

    But by then.. I had 2 Accidents.. and got side swiped. She started having stupid issues.. like the gasket around the inside of the pass door always got stock.

    I loved driving the car.
    I loved the interior, nice red mousy fur.
    Loved how the car handled even in the worst weather.

    I miss the car.. just poed I never got to drive the wagon.

  • avatar

    I still have a 1992 Accord EX.  It was a hand-me down from my mother who bought a new car a couple of years ago and the dealer wouldn’t give her anything for it on a trade.  Rather than see it go off to the crusher or auction I took it as a winter car.  It does great in the snow so long as it is less than 6″ or so.  Much deeper than that and the low ground clearance causes the car to try and become a mini snowplow.  However, it does start readily to all temperatures down to -40 degrees and has never left me stranded or needed work more major than brakes and exhaust.  One tip on these cars though, over time the heater cable in these cars bind up and the control knob breaks.  There is a very simple fix which is to find the point on the firewall where the cable enters the body of the car.  This is where corrosion causes the cable to bind up.  Spray the cable with plenty of PB Blaster or other penetrant and rotate the knob back and forth to free it up.  You’ll probably need  a new control knob at the dealer, but that is about it…

  • avatar

    I have had a few of these cars, and in my enthusiastic exhuberance I have killed 2 of the 3. They are incredible cars though, and while a solid low mileage version is getting harder and harder to find, the good examples still on the road show why Honda dominated in the early-mid 90s (ESPECIALLY compared to its American competition).

    They have a strong enthusiast following as well due to their plug-n-play interchangeability with same year and following Preludes. My 1st and 3rd cars both had various engine parts from the 2.3 DOHC Prelude that really opened up the top end, and my 2nd one had what was speculated to be a built DOHC VTEC Prelude engine that really had some kick (enough to impress my friend who owned an S2000 at the time. We determined through controlled lab testing that his car was marginally faster though).

    The solid build quality combined with the space age suspension, BMW quality shift linkage and family car practicalities make this a hidden gem for cheap gear heads in search of the one car solution. I know several gearheads with an almost unhealthy obsession with these cars (a friend of mine has whittled down his collection from about 6 to 3; a pristine ’93 SE coupe that serves daily driver duty, a built turbocharged sedan and his brother’s Fast N Furious heap)… they’re just that good.

    Being in NYC though, with the rust and these cars current popularity amongst the poor and young, it grows damn near impossible to find a good example. Hell my 1st car outright died (oil pump failure a few months after an impact with a huge pothole) and my 3rd one has a rod knock (3rd engine replacement in a year). Still though, the East will rise again in my future garage, as soon as I’m out of the rust belt with a space to work on them.

    In short, I love these cars.

  • avatar

    “Ten years from now I’m willing to bet that folks still look at this Accord in the same way we now look at a 1980’s Mercedes. Just another car on the road.”

    its been ten years.

    these are still going strong but the numbers are finally dwindling. early examples will be able to sport antique tags here in florida next year. the ones i do still see are pretty clapped but still going strong. the automotive landscape was very different then it is today. 80s mercedes and lexus ls400s used to be constant and common sights here as well but have all vanished mostly.

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