By on December 25, 2012

Periodically, I’ll be featuring some outstanding vehicular examples from the bodacious photo archives, as I have done already in the past (see “LO-LUX”). I wanted to get this one out before the end of the year, so here you go!

Hearing about the outrageously high-mileage original vehicles is one thing—and continues to be the stuff of urban legend—seeing physical proof of one is another matter, entirely. Of all of the well-worn autos I’ve had pass through my shop, I’ve never seen one displaying this kind of mileage, and in this kind of bodaciously original condition.

he first time I was granted the privilege of laying a wrench on this 1989 Honda Accord Lxi Coupe, I had to do a double take of the odometer reading, as I was writing the repair order up. It just didn’t seem to jive with the general condition of the vehicle. While showing signs of definite use, upon closer inspection, it was the kind of use I’d normally have associated with an example displaying one-third the mileage.

Yes, the paint was somewhat “swirly” and dull—if not even in appearance and devoid of impact damage (even on the bumpers, which possessed a notoriously wimpy painted “shell”)—and the interior controls (steering wheel, gearshift and HVAC interface) were worn a little smooth in places. But overall, the unit neither looked nor drove like a motor vehicle that had made the equivalent of a round trip to the moon and change! The customer told me pretty much EVERYTHING was original and undisturbed—including engine and transmission—save for the usual and customary maintenance. I was a bit skeptical about that, but I wasn’t going to dismiss it out of hand, either. People in the know were (and are) aware of the high level of materials and build quality, and fit and finish of Honda products from this period.

It’s doubtful we’ll ever see such examples of this combination again.

To add emphasis to this statement, I’ll relate why this car was in my shop in the first place. It wouldn’t start at the beginning of the day. The engine would spin all right, but it would no fire. Typically on these models, the problem would be something like a failed fuel pump or relay, worn distributor, or ignition switch. It turned out to be none of these.

We had been having some damp weather, but it was sunny and dry the next morning when I went to test it. It fired right up.

I would then typically have a look at the secondary ignition system (especially the spark plug wires—a design concept long since supplanted by coil-on-plug spark delivery systems). I figured that somewhere along the way, someone performing maintenance would have found it necessary to change those spark plug wires.

On most Japanese vehicles, the production date would be printed on the wire itself. I would generally recommend replacement at the ten-year mark, regardless of mileage. I found their performance to be somewhat suspect beyond that point.

These particular leads read 1988, however. Somehow, this set of wires had slipped between the proverbial cracks! They were the original units—well over twenty years old! The customer hadn’t been exaggerating—the car really WAS that original!

With a new set of wires installed, the ol’ Accord ran as good as new.

No joke. And the pop-up headlights (a design exercise whose passing I’ve lamented ever since) still worked, too!

Phil has written features and columns for a number of automotive periodicals and web-based information companies. He has run a successful Auto Repair Business in the past for many years (See “Memoirs of an Independent Repair Shop Owner” on this ttac site). He can be contacted through this very site, or

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32 Comments on “BODACIOUS BEATERS and road-going derelicts: UNANIMOUS ACCORD...”

  • avatar

    IMO this era represented the pinnacle of value for Hondas. I had a fourth-hand 86 CRX Si that had lived a much harder life but the build quality was pretty fantastic for such an economic and inexpensive little coupe.

    Easy to see how this could engender a lifelong feeling of goodwill towards Honda.

    Also kinda proud that I knew exactly what the “fix” was in your story before you got to it…although the first time it happened to me it did take a bit longer!

    Merry Christmas and thanks for the stories!

  • avatar

    My ’84 Jetta GLI looked that good when we finally parted it out about 10 years ago with somewhere over 400K on it. Floor finally rusted through though. Of course, that car spent it’s entire life in Maine… Had it been a California car, I am sure it would have looked showroom new. Engine had never been apart, transmission was swapped out for a wide ratio unit for about 1/2 its life but the close ratio was back in it at the end. A/C still worked, and had never been refilled. Definitely did not have the original plug wires, that is just neglect.

  • avatar

    We sold our 1992 Accord EX with 245,000 miles on it – original clutch, let alone original engine and transmission. It required nothing but routine maintenance from us, and was a pleasant car to drive – I loved the flexibility of the 5-speed.

  • avatar

    Wistfully remembering my beloved 1988 Civic DX hatchback. Earned my driver’s license in it two days after turning 16. In retrospect, I flogged that poor car far harder than it deserved, but it held up remarkably. The only thing that ever failed was the electric fuel tank pump. Salty Wisconsin winters finally took their toll, and the right rear wheel departed the unibody trailing bits of suspension while driving down a country road a couple of years ago. It left this world engine purring like a kitten at 238,000 miles. It is dearly missed, and if Honda would build a new one exactly the same, I’d buy it all over again in half a heartbeat. Stupid safety regulations.

    • 0 avatar

      Same here… I had an ’85 Civic S 1500 hatchback that I beat to death – with the seats folded down I used it as delivery van of sorts, then stuffed a good 500-800lbs of car audio bits into it. Other then brakes and CV boots the car didn’t seem to care about carrying the weight. At one point a resister in the A/C failed so the fan only ran at one speed and the valve cover leaked a tiny bit of oil. I put 160K of abuse into it so another 160K of “normal” driving would have been easy. I wish I had kept that car, other then being underpowered (all of 91HP on tap) it was near perfect transportation.

  • avatar

    I had a 1986 Civic so that ran upwards of 200,000 miles before rusting out the floor and frying the computer under the passenger seat. I fixed the computer and sold it off to a college kid for what I paid for it. I replaced the Civic with an ’89 Accord lx-i. That car made it 170,000 miles before I gave it to my sister. well-engineered cars with easy maintenance. My Scion xB is well-built but may not be as easy to keep for the long haul.

  • avatar

    I guess there’s something wrong with me; I like this body better than the new ones. hate the retractable seatbelts though.

    • 0 avatar

      My first new car was a 1989 SEi coupe, and that was the best car for the money I have ever owned. The memories of that car and the 200k trouble free miles I got out of it keep me thinking of buying another (new) Accord coupe.

      The retractable seatbelts worked well if you just cut the lap belt out and left the shoulder belt in place; you could just step into the car that way. Not exactly “safety first” but back in the late ’80’s I would be surprised if most people wore seat belts at all.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Maybe it’s unusal there but here in Australia it’s normal for 1980’s cars to turn up looking good with massive milages on the clock.Strangely thugh, 1990’s onwards cars don’t appear to have the same duabilty.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      I regularly see cars in the classifieds with 300K+ kms. Thing is, I think people is getting rid of cars once they reach a level close to that number.

      I actually remember a 93 Celica with 500K+ kms a couple of months ago. And from last year, a 5.0 VT Calais with 400K+. And that is without counting the ex-taxis.

      • 0 avatar

        Back when I lived in New Zealand, I very nearly bought a 93 Citroën Xantia diesel with over 400,000km. It still drove beautifully, and the only thing showing wear was the seats! A friend of mine has a Peugeot 306 HDi with upward of 300,000km on it, on the original clutch. Those PSA diesels seem to be pretty long-lived.

        My family has an old Triumph 2500 that’s still going strong, north of 320,000km. It’s had no major work done aside from regular preventative maintenance. When we bought it used (for a pittance) the transmission sounded like a cement mixer and the radiator was on the way out. 23 years, 200,000km and 3 learner drivers later, it finally has a new radiator, but the transmission still sounds like a cement mixer, with no signs of imminent failure yet.

      • 0 avatar

        You are right on the spot. My uncle’s 1989 Ford Laser Ghia Sedan was junked at 333k. I regularly see cars for sale with 300-550k. I saw a Hilux with well over 650k and still running like a top.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Huh…nice to see really high mileage cars and such…growing up with cars fom the ” golden” era of he sixties and seventies, it was a real big deal to see something go 100k, but now, its a bit of a yawn…i had three 91 cummins powered rams, and all had north of 400. Wouldnt have had three, but two got stolen….go figure…i always thought that only when dodge hucked the cummins into the ram trucks would the chassis finally go more than 100 k,….but it seems to me now that if i really want to get a low mileage vehicle, i either have to buy new, or look at classics from a long ago age…..dont really know who or why a car can have 150 k after only a few years, but ” low mileage” seems to be “less than 200k”….! Merry christmas all!

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    3rd World countries are replete with old, Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas with little maintenance, crummy roads and gas and still labor on, here in So Fl beater Japanese cars from that era get shipped out to these countries, often rescued from junkyards to begin a whole new life.

    • 0 avatar

      If Castro had come to power in the 1980’s things would have been a lot different, car-wise

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        Sorry, those cars don’t make it to Cuba, there’s this embargo thing…. More like Haiti and other Caribbean and Latin countries.

      • 0 avatar

        The Cuban Embargo is a combo platter of inconvenience, pandering political theatre, and illusion.

        The US exports to Cuba, as does the rest of the world. It’s done in all sorts of convoluted ways to maintain the pretense of embargo functionality, but all it has done is hurt the very poor.

        One the very real upside, Cuba’s lack of being raped economically for the last 50 years, means it actually has nature and plants and animals instead of looking like the shores of Florida, USVI, or Hawai’i.

  • avatar

    The Japanese over engineered and underpriced these cars to gain market share during a recession. Thanks to currency manipulation it worked for a while, member when dem japs bought all the golf courses and Rockefeller Center? No? ask your dad. Then they let the currency float naturally and now their debt is 200% of gdp and they all lose money on every car sent here. Good on Em, Yay boring ass car made it to 600k! Meanwhile a taxi in nyc that was once a state trooper, then a townships cruiser then a taxi goes past a million miles and not one shit is given.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen to that. NOTHING Japanese can hold a candle to a Ford product in the reliability department. Just saw a Crown Vic with 880K on the clock!

    • 0 avatar

      Gee – too bad the US carmakers didn’t decide to build good cars just to – hmmm – sell a lot of cars. What other nefarious tricks do the imports have up their sleeves?

      And to even imply that a Crown Vic of the era was really really good is a joke. Ask yourself how many engines does it take to reach a million miles – answer”:to get to the other side”

      Oh that was another joke.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t get me wrong the 80’s were dark days for Detroit, and they were producing some horribly vile schisse. But this is when Honda hit its peak, they had momentum and they used it well. But after that it’s been downhill for them. Look at a new civic and tell me it’s gonna do 600k,ain’t happening. The Koreans learned where the Japanese went wrong and acted on it, and have been eating their lunch ever since. Friends got a 10 year old hyundais she’s done all the necessary maintenance on it, it just broke 100k. Everything works but it’s all falling apart. Compare it to the 2012 accent and if you took the badges off no one would believe that they were made by the same company, its like comparing lada to lamborghini. If Honda had stayed on track and improved at the same rate they did from 85-95 onward, there would be no American auto industry to speak of it would have ended up like the British. Yes the crown vic of 1979 – 2012 was just that good, sure it used more gas. But you can drive them 1000± miles a day through scorching hot weather and you will arrive at your destination with balls so cold its like you were sitting on a bag of frozen peas the whole way. If you want to test the new reliability of something go buy a bunch of twice used in police duty cars, turn them over to people who don’t own nor give a shit about them and run them in a 24/7/365 rotation and see what happens. Once the 4.6 mod motor was dropped in the old crown vic magic happened. It’s right up there with your slant sixes and small blocks and power strokes for reliability, hell some people are running with a stock bottom end at 1000 hp. Much like the tow trucks where Ford and dodge dominate. When your business is on the line ya go with the winner.

    • 0 avatar

      Apparently you missed this story of a 2006 Civic with nearly a million miles but don’t let your personal biases get in the way.

      • 0 avatar

        High miles racked up in continuous highway driving is one thing. I think most cars can do that pretty well today; back in the 80’s a Honda would excel at this whereas a midsize GM might not. But the abuse that a taxi in a large city endures is much more of a punishment than steady state highway cruising will ever be. It used to be that NYC taxis would be driven until they fell apart. With sloppy body repairs and failure-only repairs, they were driven to their deaths, only to be patched together again. Today, the TLC does not allow that in NYC; the cars must be replaced by a certain age/mileage level which I believe is 400K or 500K miles. After that they get sold and usually get sprayed black and are then uses in the “black car” business where the TLC mileage standards don’t apply. It is not at all uncommon to see yellow peeking out from the scratched black paint.

        All that aside, this Accord’s mileage is impressive by any measure. BTW, Ford products also marked the age of manufacture on the plug wires; at least my Mk VII LSC did so.

    • 0 avatar

      Comparing a Crown Vic to a Honda Accord is really comparing apples to oranges. Sure the Crown Vic was durable, but it handled like a waterbed, got comparatively bad fuel economy, and basically had a truck style body on frame design. Nobody would accuse the Crown Vic of being fun to drive; it was more like a living room on wheels. The vast majority of panthers were bought by fleets for their workers to drive in, not by owners as their personal vehicles.

      The Accord was nimble, fun to drive, had great visibility and ergonomics, was extremely reliable, got great fuel economy, and for those reasons rapidly surpassed the Panther based cars in sales. To most buyers the Accord was a better car and a better value.

      Lots of cops and taxi drivers used panthers as work vehicles, but I’m willing to bet very few wanted them as their personal cars.

  • avatar

    This is a great article Phil. Thanks!

    By the way, I too wish pop-up and otherwise hidden headlamps would return.

  • avatar

    It IS a really nice car, and I don’t know how it managed 400k on one set of plug wires. That said, while the 400k and the general xl condition is impressive, it’s not as impressive in California it would be in most of the rest of the country.

    I’m probably quibbling here, but 404k is not a round trip to the moon. The moon, at nearest, is 220k, and as much as 240k.

  • avatar

    Ah man, I had a ’89 Accord lxi a few years ago before the man towed it on account of parking violations. It had 243,000 NYC miles on it. It was an awesome car. Sure a Crown Vic will reach similar mileage around here too, but the Accord was just way more fun.

    Not only did the pop-up headlights still work but the pop-up headlight movement impeded idiot light did too, although I had to go into the owners manual to find out what it ment.Turns out a pice of trim was preventing the headlamp from closing all the way. Not bad for car old enough to drink.

  • avatar

    The domestic automakers also date coded their plug wires, did it for decades. Musclecar owners pay big bucks for NOS date coded wire sets.

  • avatar

    I’m not even going to get into the “how many miles you can get from a car” conversation this time. It”s been rehashed about a million times.

  • avatar

    Doesn’t its paper “12” extension mean it failed CA’s smog test? If so, it likely needs something expensive like a cat or the engine itself.

  • avatar

    “Joe LoCicero purchased “True Blue,” his 1990 Accord LX, from an elderly couple in 1996. At the time, the car had roughly 74,000 miles on it; that’s an average of around 12,000 miles per year. Today, it has 1,002,515.9 miles on the odo—meaning Joe’s averaged in the neighborhood of 58,000 miles per year since.

    A former Honda mechanic and an inveterate tinkerer, Joe set out to prove that proper maintenance could extend the life of his Accord. After soaring past the 700,000-mile mark, though, Joe figured he just had to go for 1,000,000 miles. He accomplished this extraordinary feat in early 2011. After 15 years, Joe’s Accord has racked up 185 oil changes, 72 tires, 31 transmission fluid changes, 13 sets of front brake pads, and a new muffler. In all that time, Joe never opened the engine, never got in an accident, and was only towed once—when the original fuel pump finally died at 741,000 miles.”

  • avatar

    That was my first car! 1989 Honda Accord LXi Coupe, 5-speed, black with tan interior. I loved that car. Bought it at 120,000 miles and drove it to 168,000 miles. Only issues were a dead driver’s side power window and dead tape deck. Other than those issues, the car never failed me. Day after I bought it I drove from Boston to Rochester, NY in a blizzard to see my girlfriend who was still in school — 12 hours in a whiteout, only car on the highway, while learning to drive stick. After I got my next car (a ’97 Prelude), I garaged it for six months while I was figuring out what to do with it. Got in an accident in the Prelude and had to go back to the Accord while it was repaired. Started up on the first try. Finally lost it when the battery died and I had to move it into the street for my landlord to do some work on the driveway. The city towed it and I couldn’t afford the bill at the time. I’ll hate that $%#[email protected]& tow driver forever.

    I have driven faster cars, more luxurious cars, better handling cars, more comfortable cars… But in my opinion, there has never been a better overall car. If I had the opportunity today (and a garage to work on it), I would buy one in an instant. I’d fix it up, keep it running and give it to my daughter as her first car… 14 years from now. :)

    And yes, the pop-up headlights always worked. Plus there was the wink! There was a button on the dash that opened the headlights and kept them up (so they wouldn’t get frozen shut in winter). If you tapped that button really lightly, just one of the lights would open and close quickly.

    Man, I loved that car.

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