By on February 16, 2011

Sean writes:

I am looking to purchase either a 2002 Acura RSX automatic with 105,360 miles for $6995 from a dealer or a 2005 Scion tC manual with 86455 miles for $7986. Which car do you think is better and a better deal?

Sajeev Answers:

Yes, dear reader, I am aware this question strays deep into our “New or Used” series. But it is specific enough to merit a Piston Slap on basic used car inspection techniques.  Both vehicles presented are often driven by hoons of various ages, so there’s no safe bet.

Aside from usual inspection points this is one time where getting a third party inspection ($100-ish) is a great idea. Looking for signs of previous frame damage, fender-benders are my biggest concern, since both come from otherwise bulletproof platforms with good powertrains.  Checking for aftermarket upgrades of subpar quality or questionable durability is also critical. You’ll be surprised at what some people do with wiring harnesses, induction/exhaust systems and aftermarket ICE and lighting bits.

That said, my gut suspects the Acura RSX is a safer bet: even with the extra age and miles, it’s an automatic gearbox.  There’s a better chance that this Scion tC was abused on transmission alone, not to mention their high insurance rates.  The RSX might just be a nicer car with a more respectable owner.

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53 Comments on “Piston Slap: …and Behind Door Number Two...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Check insurance rates and then as the man says, pay for an inspection.  Ask around to find an independent mechanic who can be trusted.  A car with 100,000 miles on it can have another 200,000 miles left to go in it, but that depends on the previous owners.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      The difference in insurance costs could easily add quite a bit to the price of the Scion.  By a strange confluence of events I happened to ask my insurer for a quote for full coverage on a new Toyota Matrix and a six year old Boxster.  The Boxster was significantly cheaper.

    • 0 avatar
      tbp0701

      I think both of these will have absurd insurance rates, so definitely get quotes first.  I’m a middle-aged man with a clean driving record and asked for quotes a few months ago.  I had found a clean, non-riced RSX-S (with a manual), but the yearly insurance quote was double that of a BMW 3-series, and nearly twice that of a Subaru Legacy GT, Acura TSX, a Mazdaspeed 3, and a few other cars.  I didn’t ask about a Scion.

  • avatar
    jmo

    2002 Acura RSX automatic with 105,360 miles for $6995

    Is it me or is almost $7k a ridiculous amount to pay for a nearly 10 year old car with +100k miles that retailed for $19,950 to $23,170 back in 2002?

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      It seems ridiculous to me too, but I grew up in the days when a car that had 100k on it was a used-up rusty smoking wreck for the most part.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      No, it’s called a high resale value or a low depreciation rate. It’s common for a Honda/Acura product, no matter the region. A Subaru would warrant a similiar price in the northwest, regional demand also plays into the asking price.

      At the same time though, it’s from a dealer which may warrant a higher retail price.

      The RSX is a much more enjoyable car to drive, even in “base” trim and I always liked the interior layout…highly functional. Shame that couldn’t have carried over to the Civic.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Lectro & Tex,

      What would be the median maintenance expense per year for getting a (typically hooned) CSX from 100k to 200k miles?  If it’s $750 a year then the new car works out to be cheaper than the used car even when you include depreciation.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      If you do it all in one year, it will be about $1,500. If you take 6 years, it will average out to a couple hundred bucks a year. How do you know that Canadians hoon their Acuras? There may be a few teenage boys with CSXs, but most of them are probably driven by yuppies. Thats how it is with RSXs in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      JMO: I have no clue, every car is a bit different. I believe the K series does have a timing chain so that knocks out a major maintenance item within that interval. 

      There are so many variables in your question, that I really can’t give you a good answer. 
      But, if you’re paying cash as opposed to a 4 or 5 year note, then you’re still ahead. As you can spend the next few years saving cash for your next vehicle. Maintenance is still involved for a new car, may not be as high but fluids and wearable items will need changing.

      I don’t oppose purchasing new vehicles, but I have always paid cash for mine (but I’m only 28 and have had 3 vehicles-90 Integra, 07 Outback, 98 TL). TL’s replacement will probably be in the 10k range, maybe a Legacy…but not new.  

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      But, if you’re paying cash as opposed to a 4 or 5 year note

      I don’t think that 0.9% for 60 months that Honda is offering is really going to tip the balance in favor of used.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I guess it depends on your desire for a long term car note or not. Of course, there are alot of other factors in determining if a person qualifies for the interest that Honda is offering.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      I guess it depends on your desire for a long term car note or not.

      Why not?  Even keeping your money in a  5 year CD 2 2.75% is going to generate almost $500 a year over what you’d be paying to Honda.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      jmo,

      Your math and your arguments are faulty. This is a $7,000 car. Put 7K in a CD earning 2.75% apr and you don’t get $500 a year, let alone ‘$500 a year over what you’d be paying Honda.’ Assuming you are a ‘most qualified buyer,’ you’d be paying $391.40 a month for a new Civic Si, the closest thing in the catalogue to an RSX. $4,700 a year for 5 years instead of a one time payment of $7,000 is going to be difficult to justify when the time value of money is very little. Chances are anyone shopping for a $7K used car is NOT a ‘most qualified buyer.’ Honda’s default payment calculator which is attached to the “.9% APR!!!” banner assumes 5% interest for average qualified buyers. That makes the new Civic $431.19 a month, or almost $5,200 a year for five years. Then you’ve got double the property tax, higher comprehensive and collision insurance, the need for full coverage,.. I am a new car buyer, but I never stretch or get in debt for one.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I’m a little confused if you’re saying it’s prefereable to purchase a new car, or to buy a used one and stick the cash in a CD/savings. $500 is still a gain to me.

      At the same time, if Sean had preferred a new car with a note, then we wouldn’t be considering the option. He is obviously limited to a budget (whether cash or some sort of a loan), and for his own reasons that we are not neccessarily privvy too…and don’t need to be.

      It’s all about personal cash flow and what we’re comfortable with. While I’m a car enthusiast, paying monthly on a car is not a desire at all. I’d rather be sticking that money into a various fund/savings account. I have more worries than making sure my cars are newer and shinier than my neighbors.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      @jmo:
      I don’t think that 0.9% for 60 months that Honda is offering is really going to tip the balance in favor of used.
       
      Just because Sean here has $8K to spend, it doesn’t mean that he has the needed credit score or history to warrant Honda giving him the .9%.  I doubt that Honda finances .9% for 60 months to just anyone.
       
      He also might be looking to modify this car, which can be a major hassle on a new vehicle.
       
      Plus, Honda doesn’t make new RSXs anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      I’d rather be sticking that money into a various fund/savings account

      But, with a used price of $7k he could easily end up paying more for the used car than the new car.

      I know, I know, every Honda goes 350k miles on its original tires and brakes and never needs an oil change…  Got it….

      All I’m sayin’ is, if the car was $3500 I’d agree with you, it’s a great bargin. But, at $7k, the math just doesn’t doesn’t support just an astronomical price for a fancy Civic that’s 10 years old with +100k miles.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      “But, with a used price of $7k he could easily end up paying more for the used car than the new car.”
       
      Except for the V6 automatic transmissions in the Accord/Odyssey/Pilot/Acura TL, modern Honda products don’t just blow up except from gross abuse. This isn’t a Volkswagen we’re discussing.

    • 0 avatar
      itsgotvtakyo

      How could he possibly end up paying more for this used car than a new one? He could drive it for five years and put another 50,000 miles on it and end up paying about $115 a month for the car. And yes, that’s earmarking $500 a year (a preposterous amount in reality but fair for the sake of argument) for maintenance and repair items and assuming you get that right back when you sell the car for $2500 in 2016 (a completely reasonable figure when you consider the fact that clean 5th gen civics and early 3rd gen integras will pull that kind of money all day long right now, even more for particularly clean and unmodified cars). Regular fluid changes will keep these cars running drama free for a couple decades and hundreds of thousands of miles so he could realistically get his average monthly commitment below $50/month.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    If the Scion uses the same manual tran$mi$$ion as my Matrix, don’t even think about it.  When mine failed, I “Googled” it, and found it fails all the time.  Mine was mostly easy highway miles.  I didn’t beat it like my Neon.  Neon never let down.

  • avatar
    redliner

    I must disagree. The Scion is newer and has a slightly larger back seat, lower miles. In addition, Camry motors aren’t known to be fun to rev and abuse, unlike low displacement Honda motors. Besides, it is just as likely that the RSX will need transmission work as well (ahhh! Honda automatics… RUN!). At least manuals are relatively cheap to fix.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought that only applied to Honda automatics bolted to a V6?

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      redliner – the RSX doesn’t come with the same automatic used in the v6 powered cars that had the abnormal failure rates for a Honda transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      Yes, and only certain V6/AT combinations. Not all a concern with I4/AT combinations, those hold up quite well.

      At the same time, my 98 3.2TL V6/4-AT has 135k miles and no signs of concern (just had the fluid changed and transmission inspected last Friday). But, it’s a different animal, a longitudinal FWD layout.

    • 0 avatar
      redliner

      Yes, I realize that, but I had to say something (anything!) to keep him from buying the automatic. Automatics bolted to low power engines are like having sex through a sheet. But yes, your right, this particular automatic is benign.

    • 0 avatar
      colin42

      I considered an RSX type S last year – once thing that concerned me is that the manual (I know the one you’re looking at has an auto) has an issue with the syncomesh (2nd gear I believe) due them to short shifter – there is a TSB on this.

      I ended up with a Merc C230 Sport Coupe  – honestly don’t bother (Unless you’d like to buy my C230 then it’s a wonderful car with completely renewed front suspension!)

      How about the Toyota Celica? – much better than the TC

  • avatar

    Jeez Sajeev, now my poor little TSX will get a sideways glance when I try to sell it just because it’s a stick and thus you think I drove it harder.  I like to think that those who do drive stick, know vehicles better, and maintain then better.  Just a theory mind you.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      My fiance drives stick cause she’s frugal (raised on the belief that a manual get’s better mileage than an auto, something I’m very aware is no longer true depending on the car.)  But she’s not really a saint about preventative maintenance.
       
      @65 Corvair, her Vibe manual trans lost 3rd and 4th at 40,000 miles and she’s not abusive.  The local Buick, GMC & Pontiac dealer was nice enough to rebuild it for free.  But yeah it’s made me leery, what will it be like at 80,000 miles?

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Acura TSXs are used car gold. As long as you’ve left it stock, you will be better off come trade in time than 99% of the car buying world.

  • avatar
    Almost Jake

    I bought a 2005 tC new with a manual when they first came out. It was a reliable car that was plagued by repeatably bad dealer experiences. It’s a good car but the handling is sub-par for a car that tries to be sporty. I swapped the tires for something stickier, but it still didn’t handle well. The 2007 Ford Focus SES (auto) I bought for my mother was more fun to drive and took corners better.

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      The Scion tC is a very heavy FWD sporty car.  However the “sport” is only skin deep as it has terminal understeer as the heavy engine/transmission from the Camry just overwhelms its shorter wheelbase and heavily outstrips the weight bias.

  • avatar
    thesal

    Do yourself a favor and buy a 2001.5-2004 Mustang GT for the price of that RSX. By that time the drive train was sorted out and most parts are dirt cheap, especially on the used market. Oh. and FTLOG make it a 5spd :-)

    • 0 avatar
      trueblue23

      This. Hell dig around and I bet you can find a ’96-’98 Cobra w/ that sweet Quad Cam V8 in the same price range, and it is likely to be easier to find a non-abused, well maintained clean Mustang than finding a non abused Japanese sport-compact. Plus, IIRC the Mustang drivetrain is pretty reliable, and there isn’t much else to go wrong with SN95/New Edge era Mustangs. It seems like you want something sport-y & reliable for around 8 grand but neither the TC or the RSX really strike me as particularly good, or actually sporty options.
      Another thing to keep in mind, 8 grand will buy you a very nice, very clean, very fun SVT Focus. Reliable for the most part, more fun to drive than the RSX w/ auto-box, less of a stigma than the TC (and I would wager much more fun than the TC).

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    I’d get the tC just based on it having a manual transmission.  Not because the transmission is more reliable, cheaper to fix, or whatever… just because I always enjoy driving a manual over an automatic.  If I were going to get an automatic, I’d go all the way to the bottom of the entertainment spectrum and get a 4-cylinder stripper Camery or some bland American equivalent.

    Heh. I see that both cars in the picture have what my family calls “cop lures” mounted to the trunk. That doesn’t speak well of how the cars were driven (at least from the perspective of the 2nd owner).

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      They’re definitely running too much wing for this track.

    • 0 avatar
      R.Fortier1796

      Those are both factory wings, not aftermarket pieces, so I wouldn’t instantly use them speak of how the car was driven.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      That RSX wing is NOT stock… you may be thinking of the Integra Type R wing from years ago.  Even the RSX-S didnt come with a wing standard at all, they were all dealer installed accessories, and the one in the pic isnt even a Type S.

    • 0 avatar
      itsgotvtakyo

      It’s a dealer installed A-spec kit and that’s about as stock as stock gets on these cars.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      But you realize the only people who pay extra for a factory A-spec kit on a non-Type-S are the Fast and Furious types right?  Stock isnt quite the same as dealer-installed… someone actually had to select and pay for that horrendous wing.

    • 0 avatar
      itsgotvtakyo

      Or they’re just people that bought a car the dealer had installed an A-spec lip kit on it, a not uncommon occurrence. There’s always the possibility the car was hooned, I’m not denying that, but in the world of “sport” compacts this car would be very far down the list for the aspiring miscreant. The reality is that neither one of us will be looking at the car so all we can do is warn the OP to be wary and have the car inspected independently if he’s not comfortable doing it himself, or throw the idea of an auto base RSX out the window and look at real cars.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    A friend had an RSX (his was a Type S with the stick).  He found it to be thoroughly enjoyable and trouble-free.  The RSX was a really nice car.  I would pick it over the Scion in a heartbeat, so long as that particular car is sound.  I agree with the comments to have it checked out.

  • avatar

    I’d similarly opt for “none of the above.” There’s little point in getting an RSX unless it’s the Type-S. And while the tC is a solid car with a good amount of room inside, it’s not much fun to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      hgrunt

      I would agree the tC looks far sportier than it drives. Numb steering, slow throttle, etc.
      A manual base model RSX can still be fun! An acquaintance of mine bought one because it cheaper to insure. He spent a few bucks on aftermarket suspension and turned it into a very formidable canyon carver.

  • avatar
    obbop

    “…grew up in the days when a [car] human that had [100k] 50-plus years on it was a used-up [rusty smoking] wreck for the most part.”
     
    While vehicles have certainly changed it is NOT the same for Disgruntled Old Coots.
    Adored this thread but no personal experience to offer but too childish to bypass commenting totally so here I are.
    Pax from the shanty!!

    HEY!!!!!!!! Where’s the formatting????
    Brackets surround words that should have shown “strike-throughs.”

  • avatar
    B.C.

    Don’t forget to test drive them first.  The interior of the RSX is more cramped than the tC (no center armrest), and the seats of the 02-04 in particular can be quite hard.  (I have a 2002 RSX-S.)

  • avatar
    JMII

    A Honda product with a slushbox? Umm that is a big NO from me. Shifting a Honda/Acura is 80% of the joy of owning one, the other 10% is pushing it to redline often and the last 10% is its trade in value. Of course finding a clean RSX is difficult, they are normally “riced” too death. Insurance should confirm the RSX tends to disappear from its parking spot way too often. I never heard of TCs being difficult to insure but Sajeev as provided the link that proves both are pricey. Like another said: a Ford Focus of similar year / mileage is a good 3rd choice, I know someone who owned one and was pleasantly surprised by its sporty nature. However why not try to find a used Civic Si, its pretty much the same as the RSX but in TC coupe form. But do yourself a favor a get the manual. Full disclaimer: I’ve owned (and loved) 3 different Hondas over the years.

  • avatar
    pauldun170

    Buying an RSX with an automatic?
    I just dont know how to respond to this. Its like marrying a gymnast and never straying from missionary position.
     
    I vote for option C

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Both of those cars are loser deals… stay away.   First off, in that price range, you need to stay away from dealerships, they are just adding a bunch of markup to those cars.  Second off, at the age of those cars, you are not going to get good financing terms.  If you are not financing, then once again, why bother with the dealer.  Take your cash to a private seller and you will get more for your money.

    But mostly, those are two of the most hoontastic cars in existence.  Whoever said that yuppies drive RSX’s here in the states must not know the difference between an RSX and a TSX.  Both of those cars have too high mileage to even consider, especially for $7k.

    If you have cash, choose a car you can actually afford, something with lower miles and less likely to have been beat up by a Fast and Furious wannabe.  The peanut gallery can give you tons of ideas there.  If you dont have cash, either spend more money on a newer car that will finance out to a decent term, or spend less… much less on a car that will fit your budget.  There is no reason to spend over $4k on a car with 100k miles.  There is a guy around here with a 95 300zx in mint condition with around 80k miles for $4200.  Would you seriously rather have a Scion for almost double that price??

  • avatar
    itsgotvtakyo

    Base automatic RSX’ aren’t the ride of choice for hooligans, I don’t know  why that’s being repeated. If it was a type-S then I would urge him to be wary but this car, if it has service records and no obvious evidence of abuse, is about as low risk as it gets. It’s for hairdressers, “hip” “young” female teachers and sorostitutes.
    OP- I would look around for an ep3 Civic Si. As the unloved Si model they can be had dirt cheap and I’ve seen enough of them out there to be pretty confident you can find a clean version somewhere in your area.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      You are under the impression that hooligans only choose the good cars.  The ones that are most feared are the ones that hoon the wrong cars.  Just count the number of Sunfires with fart can exhausts and rattle can painted interiors.  Dumb ricers mod the “wrong” cars all the time.  Automatic RSXs still can look like a Type S, can still be abused, and many are.  Almost every Scion Tc I have seen is driven buy a young person who thinks they own a sports car, and drive it like they stole it. 

      Sure… SOME of them are pretty good, but thats why I said BUY FROM A PRIVATE OWNER.  So you can judge for yourself how it was treated, and not pay the dealer his extra profit.  You dont want to buy one that wasnt well cared for, so whats the point in buying one from a dealer who “polished the turd”?

    • 0 avatar
      itsgotvtakyo

      I don’t disagree at all, as I said in a response to your previous comment. Obviously there’s a chance the car was beat on, you run that risk with any used car (and some new cars, if you bought a Mustang GT at the Ford store I worked at after college in 04-05). My point is that I would assume (doesn’t matter enough to do anything that amounts to legitimate research) that the majority of cars sold were base autos and lived lives as upfit civics. Good advice about looking for private sales though, especially for this type of car in this price range.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    I’d go for a Honda Fit S instead. It won’t be fast, but it won’t get stolen either. Great little car.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    The prices stricke me as high . . . but there are expert resources available to judge that.  So, use them.  Also, with a vehicle this age/mileage and, at best, the typical dealer 30-day warranty, an independent inspection is valuable.

    Apart from the relative merits of the two cars — as new — and how much they might cost to insure, understand that with a vehicle of this age/mileage, a substantial part of what you’re buying is how the previous owner(s) maintained the vehicle . . . much less important, IMHO, (with one exception below) than how they might have driven it.  Get the carfax on both vehicles and see how many owners each has had.  Fewer owners, with longer times of ownership is better, mostly because owners who keep their cars a longer time tend to maintain them.

    Finally, on the autobox vs. manual question — apart from which is more fun to drive (D’oh! The manual!) — there are two competing considerations.  With a manual, the most likely failure point is the clutch, and the failure rate is a function of its original design and how it’s been driven.  It’s certainly possible with that amount of miles on the car that you could be looking at a clutch replacement in your near future, especially if they were “city” miles (lots of starting and stopping) and/or the driver abused the clutch.  OTOH, the cost of replacing the clutch is likely substantially less than the cost of repairing or (as seems to be the case more often than not today) replacing the autobox.  A good autobox should be good for over 100K miles.  Unfortunately, unless failure is really imminent, it’s pretty hard to diagnose the condition of either the autobox or the clutch.

    Much as I love a manual, with this amount of miles and if my goal was to minimize the likelihood of having to pay big repair bills, I would go with the autobox car . . .  I’ve never personally driven either of these vehicles, so I can’t offer an opinion about which one is more “fun to drive” comfortable, etc.

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