Piston Slap: Trust In Yourself, Love Thy Acura

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap trust in yourself love thy acura

Jeffrey writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I had a question regarding one of the vehicles I own and the potential for head gasket issues. Suprisingly, this is not in regards to the Subaru!

We have a 1998 Acura 3.2TL, a great vehicle and perfect sized. I am the second owner and it does have just over 134,000 miles. It was first purchased in Boise, with an easy commute…spent some time in California with a more grueling San Jose commute, and back in Boise for 6 years. I drive it pretty easily on a 20 mile, roundtrip, commute every other day and a couple trips on the weekend. I enjoy this car. It has the classic Honda feel to it; low cowl, buttons and switches with a fluid movement, handles nicely, double-wishbone suspension, longitudinal drivetrain means no torque steer, heated mirrors/seats, excellent climate control (cold A/C). The only item(s) that do need replacing are the shocks. But overall, I’ve put minimal money into a car I purchased for $4500. Only accessory I added was a PIE Hon-Aux auxiliary port. Only dislikes are excessive wind noise in winter, due to frameless windows. Yet, I always liked frameless windows on a four-door…Subaru has them too.

Since I’ve had for a few years, I’ve always had it serviced at the local Honda shop and he takes a look over everything carefully. ATF was recently changed, not a flush but all new fluid (3 drain/fills). EGR was replaced due to triggering CEL, belts and a pulley have been replaced, brake pads/rotors and 2-year-old Continentals. Transmission shifts smoothly, engine runs strong…only a few times I’ve floored it and run it to redline but even just 200hp, you don’t really need too.

I feel like everything on the car will last quite a long time, but I’ve read about a few people having headgasket issues with this engine in older Legends and early TLs. Do you know if this is a widespread issue, in the back of my head I feel like it could be…but only from reading a few forums. Forums don’t sample all the owners of a car model.

The Honda mechanic I visit says he has never seen a Legend or TL with a blown headgasket, but those people may not be going to him or may be dumping them. He also stated that the engine looks to be in great shape, the only visible leaks are from the rear main seal, which amounts to a dime sized oil spot in winter months. And a slight seep from the rear side of the left cylinder bank (I’ve noticed this on Toyota Tacoma V6 models with high mileage).

I have not seen any irregular behavior yet. Such as an erratic tempature gauge, overheating, or white smoke. I really like the car and would like to get another 5 years or so out of it, is it worth spending a few grand to replace the head gaskets? And the valve cover gasket too. I’d like to think so, with everything else on the vehicle being sound. Starters, alternators, pumps, compressors…those are bound to go out on any vehicle.

I feel like there is always a point of diminishing returns on a vehicle, at 13 years and 134,000 miles, I’m not sure if I’ve hit that point. Have I?

Sajeev answers:

I generally feel these models are well crafted for luxury and well engineered for durability: a former co-worker of mine is in your shoes but with well over 200k on his TL’s odometer. So listen to the dude with a 16-year-old car with 172,000 miles: the point of diminishing returns is absolutely, entirely in your head.

You will know it when you hit that point. But I’m here to convince you that, with proper upkeep with a wise mechanic, you’ve got a long way to go.

Eventually you will reach the point where the repairs will outpace the time value of money lost in downtime, but I just don’t see that happening any time soon. Head gaskets are not a common problem from my (limited) forum searching, and you really don’t have a lot of miles on yours. If I were you, I’d start worrying about head gaskets after another 100,000 miles. Or after you (unwittingly) overheat the motor while driving for an extended period of time. Not that I expect that to happen…

That’s a nice car, by the way. Keep on lovin’ it. Say yes to replacing any and all part that is wearing out, if you trust your mechanic’s word. From what I’m reading, the shocks and valve (cam) cover gaskets should be on your hit list. But also trust yourself: you know what part is not behaving like new anymore, you are the one who knows when something feels different.

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

Years from now, you will need a new car to keep you on time for your job. Or for your family needs. Whatever that need shall be, the time is now to think of your back up plan. I did just that in a recent New or Used column. Or at least I alluded to it. But I digress…

I’d start thinking about what you’d want in the distant future, maybe plan on keeping this Acura as a “spare car” as you’ve invested far more than its actual worth…to anyone else but yourself. It’d make a good part time daily driver, letting you can buy something completely different: maybe something totally looney! Just think about it before you have to take action.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

Join the conversation
2 of 19 comments
  • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Aug 15, 2011

    You have reached that mileage/age standpoint where every day you drive the car is a bonus day without a car payment. Keep driving, keep enjoying.

  • Deckard Deckard on Aug 16, 2011

    I enjoy reading Piston Slap! Nothing better than near depreciation-free motoring for me. Just wondering, this question may have come up before. I ask this to all of the Piston Slap or The Truth About Cars Masses. What are the top 10 reliable, and/or easy to repair beaters from 1987-up? I live in Ontario Canada and 1987 is the last year that emissions testing is required for vehicle permit renewal. Anything worth driving before 1987 is either turned to dust or has reached "survivor" status and worth more than $4000 safety certified and emissions tested. If there is a link to the answer to this question please post it. thanks in advance

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