By on February 13, 2017

1992 Honda Prelude Si Manual, Image: Austin Hartman

This is my new 1992 Honda Prelude Si five-speed, which passed 100,000 miles last week while I was driving it home from Tampa to Tucson.

The car was for sale on eBay and I was in the market for a vintage stickshift Prelude as the ultimate souvenir from my Honda days. In addition, my wife and I had always wanted to do a cross-country drive. My sister and her husband recently moved to Florida, a hundred miles south of where the car was located. My wife had never been to New Orleans. We decided, what the heck, let’s buy the car and drive it home.

Did I mention that this Prelude was the closest thing to a barn-find car I’ve ever bought?

I first spotted the Blue ‘Lude on eBay a few months ago, advertised at $7,600. It had a near-perfect pedigree: owned by an elderly New York couple who kept it stored in the garage of their Florida home the majority of the year for 23 years. It was subsequently purchased by a young man who installed a new timing belt, water pump, hoses, Yokohama S tires and Brembo rotors. He was in possession of all the car’s documentation back to the original 1992 invoice from Honda of Saratoga Springs, New York, showing a purchase price of $18,057.

The seller was a Japanese car enthusiast, owner of a NB Miata and a 300ZX with only 30,000 miles. He was also a clever marketer; witness the first line of his ad:

“For sale is my very rare, unmolested 1992 Honda Prelude Si that is in pristine condition with only 97,863 original miles. That’s right, no hideous aftermarket wheels, no sub-woofers, and no penile shaped pod filters.”

A couple of weeks ago, he relisted the car and dropped the asking price to $6,900. I made a couple of bottom feeder offers that he rejected. On my third offer, the last allowed by eBay on Best Offer items, I bid the most I was willing to pay, $5,700, and he accepted. I admit I paid all the money for the Blue ‘Lude, but it helped that we Arizona residents pay no sales tax when we buy a vehicle from an individual.

1992 Honda Prelude Si Interior, Image: Austin Hartman

My wife and I hopped a plane to Tampa from our home in Tucson. We met up with the seller and, other than a few tiny whiskey dents and a hole in the muffler, the car was as described. The luster of the Prelude’s paint was amazing for a 25-year-old vehicle.

Heading out, I was immediately impressed by its five-speed transmission — it shifted as slick as new. It brought back memories of the Prelude company cars I drove. I imagine the only new cars today that shift better than this would be any other Honda and the Miata. How does Honda do it?

The clutch, brakes and suspension were excellent. We would discover various squeaks, bugs and broken bits over the course of the next week, which was to be expected on a 100,000-mile car — but the electric antennae worked!

I have always rejected the perception of the Prelude being boring. (Q: What car did the Honda Quaalude replace? A: The Plymouth Valium.) We found some curvy roads outside of Crystal River and the ‘Lude was definitely entertaining to drive. The car weighs only 2,840 pounds, nearly identical to a Honda S2000, and the combination of light weight and a great stickshift always makes for a fun automobile.

In typical Honda style, the car does everything well, but nothing really great or really poorly. I imagine auto journos back in the day used the word “balance” a lot to describe Honda cars, as in its balance between ride and handling, its balance between power and gas mileage, and so on.

1992 Honda Prelude Si rear on its way to Arizona, Image: Steve Lynch

We headed west from Florida and it was 1992 all over again, the strange half-digital, half-analog gauges glowing in the dark, enjoying the NBA player-worthy front leg room, slapping the dash with my palm to quiet its creaks, and hey, let’s put in Garth’s new cassette! We went to the famous Flora-Bama bar, spent two nights on Bourbon Street, toured the Tabasco factory, gawked at a Buc-ee’s convenience store in Texas and ate at La Fogata, our favorite restaurant in San Antonio.

We also enjoyed the couple of times a fart can Japanese sports car would zoom up alongside and the occupants’ facial expressions would change from admiration to surprise upon seeing an old white guy behind the wheel. We did not see another fourth-gen Prelude the entire way.

The Blue ‘Lude was a good but not great highway cruiser. Wind noise was a bit tiresome above 75 mph. We achieved 29 miles per gallon for the 2,600-mile journey — terrible by today’s standards for a four-cylinder automobile but good for its day. I had forgotten how low cars were geared back then: the Prelude’s 160 horsepower motor spun 3,900 rpm in fifth gear at 80 mph!

I plan to shell out for a muffler, axle, floor mats, a modern Bluetooth sound system and some paintless dent repair for my new toy. I do not see a problem getting most or all my investment back if I ever decide to sell it.

I now own a cool “vintage” Honda and enjoyed a great road trip — but what does the future hold? So, Best and Brightest, what do I face here, buying my first 100,000-mile car? What is your experience in purchasing a six-digit mileage vehicle?

1992 Honda Prelude Si odometer turning 100,000 miles, Image: Steve Lynch

[Images: Austin Hartman and Steve Lynch]

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100 Comments on “I Flew Across the Country to Buy a $5,700 Car Sight Unseen...”

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    Needs more pics!

  • avatar

    Great looking car, and a fun story.
    Hopefully you can park it under a “sunbrella” or garage out in Az and keep it looking just as good for years to come.

  • avatar

    So, Best and Brightest, what do I face here, buying my first 100,000-mile car? What is your experience in purchasing a six-digit mileage vehicle?

    I’d be looking carefully at gaskets, seals, etc having sat so long. The young man did right by the things he replaced but I’ve heard of low mile elderly owned cars weeping all of their transmission fluid out of dried out gaskets.

    As always YMMV.

  • avatar

    Expect to need to replace some control arms and tie rod ends as well. I’ve had to do significant suspension maintenance/repairs on every older Honda I’ve ever owned. My current old Honda, a 1995 Legend, has had the control arms and tie rods done but could also use new struts, strut mounts, and motor/transmission mounts.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Cool story, Steve, and congrats on the nice find. I haven’t bought a car this old or with this mileage, but after seeing this and remembering the delightful unmodified 96 Integra my BIL used to own, it is tempting to reconsider that.

  • avatar

    I’ve never bought a 100k used vehicle but did have a friend drive me 1.5 hours away to buy an 8-year old E36 M3 with 86k miles back in 2005. Against all advice you’ll ever read, I bought it without any sort of inspection other than my own untrained eyeballs. I did have a “pre-purchase” inspection done when I got it home that revealed a bunch of work that needed to be done but I had mentally cached away some funds for that. Turned out to be the best and most fun car I ever owned and I will probably always regret selling it after 6.5 years and 55k miles of mostly trouble-free fun.

    The second best and most fun car I have ever owned (and the real reason for my taking the time to log in and reply to this)??? That would be the 1987 (previous gen to this article) Honda Prelude Si I got back in 1989 when I graduated from high school. Loved loved loved that car, which I kept for 7 or 8 years. It was the first 5-speed I owned, and I haven’t bought an automatic tranny car for myself ever since, except for the Chevy Tahoe I had for about 5 years immediately before the BMW. This article brought back some memories for me, so thanks for that!

  • avatar

    I want the seats from this car. I really miss cloth like that, they look brand new.

    I’m currently fascinated by an array of first-generation Mazda RX-7’s along the eastern seaboard that are in a similar price range. I need someone to stop me, I think.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Good for you! Nothing really compares to these era hondas, I bought a ’91 prelude new, and really enjoyed it, although as you have found they are not really high speed highway cruisers. That and the seats for me were a tad tiring on long drives, but loved the sight lines and the overall airiness of the cabin with the logical and quality feel present.
    I would do what you did in a heartbeat, so enjoy your new car, the both of you!

  • avatar

    “I had forgotten how low cars were geared back then: the Prelude’s 160 horsepower motor spun 3,900 rpm in fifth gear at 80 mph!”

    This isn’t a “back then” thing: Hondas still do this, or at least the Fit certain does.

    • 0 avatar

      My 5-speed Element does too. Also, 29 mpg seems off, my ’93 1.9 liter Escort could hit 35 with ease. Although that was at 70, I rarely did 80 in it.

      Regardless, great find, enjoy that little beauty!

  • avatar

    I’ve had two cars I bought at 100k+.

    The first was a ’99 E320 4Matic that delivered the best ride/handling mix of any non-sports car I’ve owned. But it ate four right-front half axles in the two years I owned it. I decided to sell when the sunroof started leaking and cooked the electrics (the driver’s seat started adjusting itself) and fourth gear started slipping badly. By that time, I had already put about $6k in service and repairs into it. It never stranded me and it drove like a dream, but it just ate at my wallet too much.

    The second is my current DD. It’s an ’04 LS430. I got it in the Fall of ’11 with 104k on it. The timing belt hadn’t been done at 90k as it should’ve been. Whatev. I paid way too much ($17k) for it at the dealer. Since then, I’ve put about $4k into it, all in (two sets of tires, all-dealer service…right down to the wiper blades). I’ve also put another 75k-ish miles on it.

    Everything on the LS works except one of the rear-seat vanity mirrors. While appropriately floaty, it’s been as reliable as the sunrise. Not bad for a 13-year-old car and nicer than most of what I else I could’ve gotten for the same money.

    Very stereotypical on both counts.

  • avatar

    I owned both 1987 second gen Prelude (2.0Si 3-valve per cylinder engine) and a 1988 gen three 2.0 (4-valve) with the wonderful 4-wheel steering system. Fine cars the both of them.

    After throwing my back out helping a friend to move house — the other painkillers were all packed up, so she gave me Midol instead; never got a single menstrual cramp! — the anatomically shaped seats in the 4WS were the only place I could sit comfortably. Alas that car was totaled while parked outside someone else’s house.

    • 0 avatar

      I had an 89 Si and yes those seats were wonderful. So was the forward visibility, between the excellent dash layout and low hood you could see everything. Still the best handling car I have ever owned. The only downside was Honda’s high-rev but low torque 4 cylinder engines. I swore if the brakes ever failed all I needed to stop the car was turning the A/C on.

  • avatar

    Don’t even need to read it… very nice buy and congrats.

  • avatar

    Having owned a few of that vintage Honda’s, the only thing that is obvious are the front half shafts, especially the right. Probably run around $450 a side. They are remarkably sturdy and really nice drivers, a light car with a decent stick and a high revving motor is just sublime. Otherwise, the usual wear items come into play, anything rubber in the suspension, radiator, etc. Be nice to it, a non-ricered (can I say that?) version of that car is almost impossible to find.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Lynch

      It’s funny about the non “rice” thing – my insurance agent gave me the 3rd degree asking about what modifications have been made to the car. I guess he had never insured a stock Prelude…

    • 0 avatar

      And if it’s just the boot that is bad on the CV joint and the grease is still clean, I’d opt to keep that axle and re-boot it with an OEM boot. It’s tragic to trade in a true Japanese axle for a garbage Chinese-made one.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    What, no cupholders?! Next!

    Lol…jk. Congratulations. Sounds like a proper peach of a Prelude.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Lynch

      Actually, I think it has Honda’s first-ever cupholder! It is behind the parking brake, below driver’s right elbow, a little square hole. Of course, Honda moved the center console to the back seat to accommodate, truly one of their rare ergonomic miscues.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        My 1990 Accord had them. They were inadequate, flimsy little things, and IIRC, they were part of a single surface that slid out from somewhere in the center console. BMW continued to use such cupholders through 2013 on the E92 coupe, although I would hope they were sturdier).

        However, I think 1992 was the first year in which Honda used driver airbags.

      • 0 avatar

        The ’89 Accord SEi had two cupholders that slid out like a drawer from the center console under the stereo. They were very sturdy but not big enough for anything more than a 12 oz can of soda. They’re quite rare and sell for a pretty good price on ebay now.

  • avatar

    Wow, that car’s in amazing shape. Congrats!

  • avatar

    Nice find and glad it worked out for you. Finding an old Honda with paint that still pops is no easy feat. I have not had the same luck in my latest search for an older car – I’ve been disappointed so many times I don’t think I want to leave a 50 mile radius to look at one, nevermind fly across the country.

    I’ve only bought one car with less than six digit mileage, no reason to be afraid of that mileage. It’s all about how the car was cared for anyway. This past weekend I looked at a car with 75k miles and the rock chips on the nose and seat wear suggested twice the miles. My untrained eye also noticed several needed repairs.

    If you haven’t already, replace all fluids (engine, transmission, and differential oil; coolant; and brake fluid). You would have noticed this by now, but mismatched tires is something I typically have to sort out. Brakes on at least one axle usually need attention too. On your car, age is going to be a much bigger problem than mileage. Look at anything made of rubber, such as brake lines.

    Good luck and enjoy!

  • avatar

    Sounds like you did really well!

    In fall 2009, I had a similar idea. I saw a great-looking Rabbit in “good mechanical condition” in Vermont on e-bay, and put down $500.

    I flew from Detroit to ?, one-way car rental. The car looked even better in person. But it didn’t run all that well. More importantly, the parking brake didn’t work. THAT was all I needed to walk away (“everything works”), as that is a safety item.

    But I did not.

    About 80 minutes after I had paid for the car and left, the engine started revving. It turned out to be a slipping clutch.

    Later, as the day progressed, up grades, the car couldn’t make it. If I pressed the gas it slowed down more…

    So, my visions of a fun road trip in a fun car during the fall were replaced with the reality of “get home quick, before this dies on you in the middle of nowhere, or somewhere where you will have to trust unknown mechanics…”

    I made it back to Detroit, and promptly took it to my mechanic, a VW veteran (Steve’s European, does excellent work).

    He told me we was impressed I made it.

    While I replaced the rear brakes, and fixed the parking brake in the process, and other minor nits, much of the work needed (fuel injection system!, starter, and more) was beyond my ability. About $5000 beyond.

    Once it was fixed, it was a great toy. But in the end, I sold it for what I paid for it after 2 years–and took about a $5000 loss.

    I wish I kept it. However, it was a sobering experience.

    I’m glad your experience lived up to it’s potential, enjoy your new car!

    • 0 avatar

      “(fuel injection system!, starter, and more) was beyond my ability. About $5000 beyond.”

      Jesus christ for $5k I’d expect a built up engine swap and a steak dinner, what exactly did they do that warranted charging so much?

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t remember now. Fuel Injection/Pump/Fuel Tank was biggest. Clutch and Flywheel. At least 1 CV boot Starter. Ignition switch (that one I debated).

        A host of other things. I wasn’t happy, but the fixes were legit. Good, honest car work is not cheap(I already knew this). It took me forever to replace rear drums and shoes and Park Brake Cable, but even so, they would have charged $1200 for same work.

        Other than an annoying rattle, car drove well afterwards, was a lot of fun.

        However, over the years, added another car (daily driver) and I couldn’t keep 2 toy cars, so the Rabbit got the boot. I miss it, but I like my Mk II GTI that I kept more. Not as much fun, but a better all-around car, and still fun–and no bad memories, lol

        • 0 avatar

          Sorry but they are ripping you off big time if they wanted $1200 to replace the rear brakes on a VW even considering it needed new cables and assuming everything was heavily rusted in place. It’s a 3 hour job tops, if rust doesn’t mean busted off bolts and having to remove the remains.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Lynch

      Your experience was our greatest fear. Plus we had to cross desolate West Texas…

    • 0 avatar

      Years ago I picked up an 86 XJ6 while vacationing in SoCal. Made the drive to Oregon no problem…aside from an iffy starter. Once it got here my new mechanic friend became $5000 richer. He ended up earning it, for some reason Bosch couldn’t rebuild a starter to save their lives, we went through 4 of them in about 2 months

      • 0 avatar

        Bosch doesn’t “rebuild” starters, they have the same people who “rebuild” starters for everyone put them in the fancy Bosch box instead of the plain white box that gets a sticker to brand it. The fact is that the standard “rebuilt” starter is a used starter that has been cleaned up. They literally just clean up a junk yard unit and send it out the door in many cases. In others they just piece together a working unit out of the used parts from other cores. I think the one plus to the Bosch units are that their suppliers are supposed to replace the brushes in every unit.

        If you want a replacement starter or alternator to give you a good long life you want a 100% new unit, a fully re-manufactured unit like Napa sells or find a local electrical re-builder and have them replace every wear item.

  • avatar

    Nothing too crazy about buying a 100k mile car IMO, I’d point more to the age as causing more question marks. I bought my 99k mile ’96 4Runner under somewhat similar circumstances. I bought it from a younger guy who bought it from the original owner, who in turn stored it during the winter for much of its life in the MidWest. Except in my case, the young guy had just installed window tint and a stupid touch screen double-DIN head unit. All of the maintenance catch-up was on me. A few somewhat unexpected things to repair (rear axle seal, muffler and not just an exhaust gasket, fan clutch) but I can’t complain, this thing is mint. Rolling up on 140k miles now with minimal repairs in between (rebuilt the starter contacts and replaced a fuel injector, replaced rotors once for warping). I’ve taken it on more long road trips than I care to recall, and am planning a big trip out West in it.

    ES was bought with 203k miles, not a creampuff but well maintained and not abused in the slightest. Been commuting in it for the past 4 months, no surprises either. Have put t-belt/WP, accessory belts, new blower motor transistor module ($6 jy part), rear swaybar bushings, and brakes all around on it when I first got it. A smooth riding winter-commute beast once I swapped on some fat snow tires on junkyard steelies.

    I sometimes miss driving a newer car, but these old Toyotas have a ‘feel’ to them that most newer vehicles fail to replicate, at much higher cost.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      gtemnykh: That’s great for you but can you imagine what it would cost the average driver to replace a timing belt, water pump, accessory belt, blower motor, transistor module, swaybar bushing and brakes all around.

      My guesstimate is more than the value of the vehicle.

      • 0 avatar

        To be fair I got the t-belt/wp done at my bro’s place, $375 in labor (5hr book time) that included some time to diagnose/replace the blower module (I already narrowed it down to this via google/forums, he just wanted to make a youtube video of it), the module is just two phillips head screws, easily accessible in the driver’s footwell. T-belt kit was about $185 for a good Aisin kit. Accessory belts cost something like $15 for both, and labor is obviously included in the t-belt job. Swaybar bushings cost about $20, 1 hour labor at most at an indy shop. Brakes were $150 for a 4 wheel kit (I did the labor on this at a friend’s place), and yes this is where most generic places would overcharge like hell. But with just a bit of asking around you can find someone in the hood that will do brakes and other routine work like that for chump change.

        You’d be a real fool with your money to take a $1600 Lexus to the Lexus dealer (or even Toyota dealer). My local Toyota dealer wanted me to replace both calipers+rotors to the tune of $1200 on my wife’s ’12 Camry with 65k miles because one of the pads was dragging a bit. My brother replaced pads, lubed up the caliper pins and I was good to go for about $60 parts and $100 labor.

        In short, I’m not exactly sure of the point you’re trying to make. Anyone can get ripped off on anything, and even non-car inclined people can find affordable and honest mechanics if they’re willing to do a bit of leg work. I have no sympathy for someone that just willingly forks over exorbitant amounts of money for car servicing, that’s their own decision to make.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          gtemnykh: the point is rather simple. To get that work done by an honest, independent mechanic would still cost more than the worth of your vehicle. In Ontario only a licensed mechanic is allowed to perform brake work. They need to complete an extensive apprenticeship and earn a government ‘red seal’ as a skilled tradesperson.

          For your timing part the average cost for that work in our area is around $400 plus parts (at least $80 per hour). Plus the necessary water pump change while doing that. Figure $1,000. You paid about $560, not including the water pump.

          Brakes on all 4 wheels including calipers. Figure on around $700 or around 60% of what the dealer quoted.

          Changing the sway bars would be another couple of hundred dollars.

          And don’ t forget the mandatory tax which here in Ontario is 13% on everything.

          And that is only part of your extensive laundry list of repairs.

          Those are not dealer charges or exorbitant or throwing money away. An independent needs to earn a living income, pay his rent, pay his insurance, buy shop materials, equipment and tools.

          Someone who can perform their own wrenching or who have a family member willing to do it for ‘cost’ should not be disparaging the vast majority of those who for various reasons must pay a professional for the same work.

          • 0 avatar

            “In Ontario only a licensed mechanic is allowed to perform brake work. They need to complete an extensive apprenticeship and earn a government ‘red seal’ as a skilled tradesperson.”

            I can guarantee you if you asked around you could find a local guy with a garage that you could bring the parts to ($150 for 4 rotors and pad sets in my case) and he’d slap it together for $200 or so. And why are you changing calipers?

            T-belt kits are very commonly sold with the WP, and tensioner and all idler pullies included. Like I said my kit was about $185 bought on Rockauto for a top-shelf Aisin kits. Gates or Continental would have been cheaper. Yes at a shop they have their 30-50% overhead on parts.

            My overall point is that in a pinch, even a non-DIYer can find the services they need at quite an affordable cost. If you’re that worked up over your mechanic having a government ‘red seal,’ then by all means pay what you want. Here in the US, you can have an insured, legit shop and not be an “ASE certified” mechanic. I’d take my car to my brother or his friend (neither of whom are certified) before I went anywhere else, including the dealer. Plenty of people here hungry to do side-work on cars as well, easy to find with neighborhood social media like and craigslist and such.

          • 0 avatar

            At Arthur:

            These are all good points, time is another factor when one has a family/job/gf/bf to deal with.

            Ive been down the “Buy old beater, drop bucks into fixing it” route. Great for gearheads, not so for common Joe.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            gtemnykh: Please excuse me but that demonstrates the old Soviet Bloc attitude of ‘good enough’.

            Sorry, but having some back alley, non certified person whose warranty lasts until you leave their driveway working on a car that my family will drive is not a 1st world solution.

            More than likely they are working outside of the required environmental and health & safety regulations and without proper insurance. Probably taking cash and therefore not paying taxes. Therefore operating illegally.

            Supporting the underground economy may be required and even commendable when living in a dictatorship. However in North America it helps to close down legitimate business people and therefore reduce taxes going to schools, hospitals, the military, law enforcement, firefighting and road upkeep etc. Some might support this, but most do not. This is what got Greece into trouble, a cultural commitment to avoiding taxes.

            I admire your ‘get it done’ attitude, your writing ability and bow to your superior wrenching skills. However regrettably disagree 100% with your attitude in this regard.

          • 0 avatar

            Way to go off the rails trying to denigrate my resourceful and frugal first generation immigrant ways :p

            Like I said, there are bonded, insured, registered shops here in the US whose mechanic owners happen to not be ASE certified. In this case it has nothing to do with legality or lack thereof. They have their reputation to stand behind, in both cases of my acquaintances they 100% stand by their work, and will re-replace parts that fail (and deal with the warranty/labor claims on their own time and dime), and will take come backs as many times as necessary to finally fix the problem. In fact the one shiesty Russian shop owner I know is the one that has his ASE certification from working at a Honda dealer in his formative years.

            Moving on to the ‘back alley’ subset, I personally see absolutely nothing wrong with the working poor turning to members in their own community for affordable services. Keeps money in that very localized economy. The customer gets a repaired car that gets them to work without putting them further in the poor-house, the (perhaps equally poor) mechanic gets to put food on his family’s plate. I’d say if anything that back alley guy will not practice incredibly predatory behavior on upselling useless junk to uninformed jalopy owners common to some chain service places. Certainly everything comes with risk. But having seen steering rack boots get slashed and filled with motor oil to try and sell a power steering rack job by an ASE certified independent shop before, and not as nefarious but equally laughable having the local Toyota dealer try to sell me an entire new brake system on a 4 year old Camry with 60k miles, I’d argue being “legit” in no way protects against bad behavior or bad quality repairs by shops. You might have some extra legal recourse to pursue a lawsuit, but that is nothing if not academic in most cases.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Did you roll your eyes as well? I am not an expert at emoticoms so a little unsure.

            Can’t denigrate something that I know and understand all too well.

            However to steal another phrase sometimes we need to “unpack our suitcases”. If we maintain Old World customs then we may also bring along Old World problems. Such as a disregard for the rule of law.

            Using a legal operation is one thing. Paying someone ‘under the table’ is another. As they say “if you lay down with a dog, don’t complain when you get fleas”.

    • 0 avatar

      That generation of 4Runner is really neat. My sister-in-law used to have one. Those cloth front seats were so comfortable. Great shape and great fabric. For a truck, in 1996, awesome interior. And just a cool vehicle all around.

      • 0 avatar

        Unfortunately(?) mine’s a Limited with leather seating surfaces. In a strictly utilitarian sense it’s a good thing, I can just wipe dirt off of them when I camp/off-road. But the leather, particularly on the seat cushion, is some of the weirdest, stiffest stuff I’ve ever seen. Would have gladly taken a cloth-equipped SR5 in exchange, although the optional rear diff lock I thankfully have is much more prevalent on the Limiteds.

  • avatar

    My guess is you’ll invest another grand in this and get another 100K miles.
    I’m not sure I would suggest the same investment to get from 200-300K, but nice car regardless, and if you treat it right, I would expect 300K.

    I bet that if they made these today, it would have an Acura badge on it. I remember them with all-wheel-steering, which I’m pretty sure was never on an Accord or Civic. The Prelude seemed to have a little something extra beyond the standard Honda.


    • 0 avatar

      Prelude was traditionally a place for Honda to test out some technology that would (maybe) then spread to other cars in the lineup. Double wishbone suspension and fuel injection (Si) was first seen in the US on the ’83-’87 gen Prelude. 4 Wheel steering on the 3rd gen starting in ’88. One of the earlier applications of VTEC on a US Honda (not counting NSX).

  • avatar

    I had a 95 Prelude VTEC, it was the second car I ever owned. Yes, it was definitely a “ricer,” but I absolutely LOVED EVERYTHING about that car. The 94-96 had the electronic dashboard, like the Millennium Falcon. Or, as I called it, the “pantrydropper dashboard.” I think it was a great car and I truly miss it.

    Congrats on this thing. Looks nice :)

  • avatar

    I’be bought a couple of toys like that.

    The first was a “low” mileage ’92 Volvo 240 sedan with about 150K on it. The biggest issues with that were the plastic trim pieces crumbling apart after spending two decades in the Florida sun.

    The other was a ’96 BMW Z3 with about 180k miles on it. This was supposed to be my weekend cruiser. From what I’ve noticed on the Z3, most of what normally breaks on an old car has been fixed by the previous owners who’d taken reasonably good care of it. The biggest thing so far has been valve cover and oil pan gasket failures that have left my garage storage area looking like a cat litter factory.

  • avatar

    I currently drive three cars that have gone over 100k on my watch. An SL450, a Mark VIII and a Mustang GT ragtop. Both topless cars were purchased with my son and wife in mind, but neither bit and I like them too much to part with, although the Merc is testing my patience with an odd and random unseen “kill” switch. The Lincoln is my DD as I had two others to learn what to look for and how to repair the wrongs you do encounter. The Mark has now been in service for 5 years, and since it is my highway cruiser, has logged 44k miles, mostly at speed. A retired person with a sensible wife will have an iron clad budget for wheels as I support these drivers and two garage queens on my former costs of two new vehicles. This works much better. Ask me again when the injection quits in the SL or the timing chain and guides are needed for the Lincoln. I completely understand your mindset and applaud your ideal.

  • avatar


    Good looking car, but better still, great story. It is articles like this that first brought me to this site. I hadn’t been here in a while do to the political/social justice tone that had seemed to envelop every other post. It is good to see an honest to God actual car story for a change. Enjoy your new toy.

  • avatar

    It’s a Honda-weld the hood shut right?

    Nice pick-up. I loved those Preludes. My friend had a 1st generation and while reliable, it was nothing to write home about. I know they got better with each generation.

    After my beloved LS430 was totaled in 2015, I looked hard for another but all available seemed either over priced or over used. In a pinch, with my insurance loaner time almost up I bought a 2007 Avalon with 189K miles for $5000 to hold me until I found another LS. Fast forward two years and 60,000 miles and I’m still driving it and have replaced the wiper blades, tires, and oil. So for less than 1/2 the price of my settlement, I got a usable car that works for me. I’m no longer looking for a different car. Besides, I spent the remaining $7K on…well I don’t remember but it was important.

  • avatar

    Great story! Not my all-time favorite older Honda, but what a nice find! I often find myself scanning ads for “vintage” cars along the same line as this. My sister traded her 1989 CRX Si for a 1993 Prelude. While the Prelude was much more “grown up,” we both agreed that we preferred the CRX and she wishes she had kept that versus buying the Prelude. While I like the generation just prior to this one, I can’t fault you for buying it. I think a majority of us here on TTAC daydream about finding a fun car that harkens back to our youth for under $10k…and you most certainly did that. I hope it brings you much joy and happiness, because it isn’t always about the 0-60 times!

  • avatar

    I did the same thing 18 months ago, only it was a 1-owner, 113k-mile, 1990 Acura Integra 5-speed.

    The difference being that I didn’t really desire the car, I did it to help out a friend who didn’t want to sell it herself and couldn’t trade it in because of its age.

    I thought like you did, that I could always get my $2500 back out of it if I didn’t like it. It turns out I can’t. Nobody wants a bone-stock Integra at that price, even in lovely condition.

    Now I’m stuck with it. At least you got yours because you want it. Good luck, Steve.

  • avatar

    At any time did you consider a mechanical break down on the long trip back home? It would have been a costly situation for you.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Lynch

      We figured if something would go bad, it would happen early on and there are plenty of Honda and independent dealers between Tampa and San Antonio. It was the 563 miles of nothing between San Antonio and El Paso that worried us.

  • avatar

    Was the Prelude based on the Accord of the time?

  • avatar

    Ah man. Nice pick up, but I wish you had got a VTEC. That had, obviously, the 2.2L DOHC VTEC engine (good for another 30 HP with a nice top end resurgence) and the ultra cool electroluminescent gauges.

    Clean though and I am a huge proponent of the binnacle free dash. This is one of the best dashboard designs ever in my opinion.

  • avatar

    Congrats! I’m actively looking for a Honda/Acura of this vintage…if we hadn’t moved from Portland (big mistake), I would have another DA Integra in my driveway now.

    I hope that you have many years of happiness with your new ‘Lude.

  • avatar

    I’m totally blown away by the condition that Prelude is in. Great find.

    Brought back memories of my wife, when she bought a 2nd Gen. Acura Integra about 10 years ago and, it had a hole in the muffler too

  • avatar
    Hamilton Guy

    My purchase of my 2001 Miata with 75K miles 2 years ago was a similar experience. I was going to southern Florida in the last 2 weeks of February for a winter getaway from Canada. About 2 weeks before I left I got this bug in my head about Florida cars, low mileage, no rust and specifically a Miata. I went on and stuck in the zip code of the hotel I was going to be staying at in Miami and did a search in a 100 mile radius.

    I turned up 3 or 4 possible candidates. Flew in on Sunday, Monday morning I drove an hour north and looked at the first one. British Racing Green Special Edition model. Took it for a brief test drive and bought it on the spot. Mind you it had a very complete carfax, it had been dealer maintained all its life. Bonus too was that the timing belt (but not the water pump) had been done at 60K miles.

    I later had a dealer to a thorough inspection and it was fine except for a couple of worn tires. I took the rental car back and drove it around Florida for a week and a half and then drove it north in the dead of winter!!

  • avatar
    Haze Grey

    I had a 94 back around 2006-2008 and I loved the car. Mine was a red si with a factory leather interior that I have not seen on any preludes since. Great car, fun to drive, and I don’t remember ever having any issues.

    That said, for the price I would be looking for one with the H22 vtec motor. I just think with all the “quick” compact cars new and old on the market this one is a little over priced. That kind of money can get you into a clean (enough) 5th gen.

  • avatar

    I really liked the lines on the generation after this one, but I though both were great cars.

    I do think though Honda made a mistake not putting a bit more horsepower under the hood.

  • avatar

    Way back in 2000 I purchased a 93 legacy awd with 138k. clutch failed immediately and was replaced at no cost. 2 months in heater core leak was $$, and the gummy crud that had kept it from leaking for 2 months foreshadowed the eventual radiator replacement. Brakes … one front caliper was rattling, but since I would have upgraded to “turbo” sized rotors and bigger calipers anyway it didn’t matter. With that all done, it lasted until 200k when I sold it with “only” tires, battery, pads, hoses, and oil(s). OH, umm … and the spark plug that had been stripped and then loudly ejected while my wife was driving requiring a thread in sleeve so I didn’t need new heads … the driver side rear one under the steering, brake booster and fuse block that can’t be reached. “Boxer joy”.

    Edit: left out roadside alternator replacement in the snow, fuses, wiper blades, various bulbs, refrigerant charge, windshield (x2) insured, and about 8 aluminum tire valve cover caps before I got tired of supplying the kids bikes and switched to black plastic.

  • avatar

    Great story! I currently daily drive a 2007 S550 I bought in late 2014 at 151,000 miles. So it was a lot of miles for a 7 year old car, but I figured it had to be highway miles, and CarFax showed dealer maintenance by the book since new. I bought it (somewhat accidentally) on eBay when I wound up being the high bidder in a no reserve auction. Got it for less than trade in value, so I was pleased (the wife, not so much). It was about 10 hours away, so likewise it was sight unseen. It has been a great car. It had some quirks which I have repaired myself with internet research…..there’s so much information, how-to videos, etc. out there now, even for cars that aren’t usually DIY oriented, like the S Class. Oil leaks were a $2 plastic plug, slow gas filling was a clogged charcoal filter, stuck driver power seat just needed patience and WD40, cabin filters were easy after watching a YouTube video, etc. I’m up to 182,000 miles, it burns no oil between 7500 mile changes, and it gets 27 mpg on the interstate.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      You have fared far better than some Mercedes owners of that vintage:

      Whether that comes down to your good karma or the reliability of the S550 vs. that AMG nightmare is beyond me, but Mercedes maintenance costs were not born from $2 plastic plugs and cabin filters. Many expensive, expensive parts are waiting to break. When will they? Who knows. You are braver than I!

    • 0 avatar

      @ Importamation -You might enjoy this: The owner has the same charcoal filter issue that you had and is not fixing it, under the theory that leaving one fault in place will ward off others.

  • avatar

    Great post and I love that interior! In my experience, any Honda shown that sort of TLC over its lifetime will serve the new owner well. That’s true about many other cars, but especially a Honda. Congrats!

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    Nice find and a great story. I daily drive a ’94 Miata with much higher mileage 7 or 8 months of the year and I’d expect this Prelude to be similarly reliable.

    I had to refresh the cooling system, replace most of the oil seals, install new shocks all around and replace the engine mounts. But it’s a dead reliable vehicle now and I do road trips all over North America in it.

    Over time you’ll experience the occasional wear item – a ball joint or wheel bearing as the miles accumulate but it should be a very durable car.

  • avatar

    Lynch, how many debis sales reps can you get in that bad boy?

  • avatar

    Nice find, and I would even call it cheap for the condition.

    I’ve bought MANY cars with over 100K, in fact, under that figure has largely been the exception, with the top being a ’95 Volvo 945 with 215K on it. I find mileage to be largely irrelevant to anything. You can have a beautifully maintained and kept 200K car or one with 50K that is an absolute money pit (my ’87 Porsche 924S).

    I love car retrieval adventures. From Maine I have gone to Oklahoma City of a Saab 9-5 wagon, Chicago for a Saab 900SET, Birmingham for a Volvo 745T, and the best one of all, San Antonio for a P38 Range Rover. No major issues, a couple stories here and there like the broken gas pump in rural OH that would not shut off in that 9-5, shooting gas like a fountain – kid manning the station had no idea where the emergency shutoff was. Good times…

    I was not brave enough to drive the Peugeot 504D back from LA though – that one I had shipped!

  • avatar

    Last fall I bought a 200k mile 2001 Ford Ranger 4X4 with the 4.0 SOHC. Off road package. Got it for $2600 from a one-owner. Rust on the bottom of the tailgate and just a little on driver side “rear” door. Thus, no rust on anything that can’t be easily replaced.

    New shocks, outer tie rods, wheels, tires, serpentine belt, tensioner, idler, spark plugs… took off the rusty nerf bars. She cleans up great and runs great and everything but the passenger side window switch works.

    206k miles now. It is our… 6th vehicle. So, don’t drive it as much as I would like. Gonna take it off-roading as soon as I can find the time and freedom to go!

  • avatar

    Nice find Steve! You’ll love it.

    As far as high miles, my Altima had 122k on the odo when I got it. 31 months and 33,000 miles later, everything’s still good.

    The only unfixable thing is the info screen, which was a known defect for that model year. It can’t be fixed, only the entire instrument panel would have to be replaced. Not about to spend that kind of money on a 10 year old car. The master window switch might need to be replaced (up/down doesn’t always work on rear windows, but the rear door switches work fine) but I’m going to try some contact cleaner on it first.

    Just wear and tear stuff I’ve had to replace otherwise. I’m selling it early next year so I will have gotten 3.5 years (and about 45,000 miles) out of it by then.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    Steve, in the era of “asset forfeiture,” what is the safest/best way to pay a seller when doing a fly-and-drive purchase like this one? (Assuming your bank does not have branches in the destination city.)

    Great find, and you have more willpower than I do. I’d have caved somewhere between $6000 and $6500. Those 4th-gen Preludes were great cars, but here in the Rust Belt, I don’t remember the last time I saw one without rust over the rear wheels and the back bumper hanging loose.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Lynch

      I overnighted a cashier’s check and seller in turn overnighted the title and signed buyer’s order.

      Before that, I also googled mapped his house and saw the Prelude parked there!

  • avatar

    Last September, I flew from Seattle to San Jose to pick up a 1998 Volvo S70 T5 with 166K miles on it. I met the seller right in the airport parking garage, put my bag in the back, we did the paperwork and cash was exchanged, and I drove it all they way back to WA the same day! I did stop at a Walmart for some fluids and a funnel.

    Yes, it was taking a chance, but I have no regrets and I got a great deal on the vehicle. The seller had posted detailed information and pictures of every tiny little fault on the vehicle.

  • avatar

    What a car.

    In Canada, the the top model was the Honda Prelude SR-V.
    It had the 190hp 2.2 litre motor.

    Looking back, my absolutely favourite things about the car were:
    – Interior design was spot on. I think superior to the generation that followed
    – The top-end VTEC rush especially with headers and intake
    – The style of the car. It actually had wide rear fender haunches which Honda generally doesnt do

  • avatar

    The only car Ive bought site unseen was a Honda Z600, forgot the mileage as this was a decade back. The only real issue with it was the timing was off (well and some dents). The timing both limited the already low speed and made shifts very hit or miss.

    I’ll admit Preludes are nice cars when they can dodge rust/rice, at the same time it’s interesting how both Honda and Buick of that time had Jag influences in their styling.

    The Prelude came out much, much nicer, but I’d still take the Buick.

  • avatar

    I’ve purchased two >100k vehicles.

    The first was when I was in college; I was commuting and putting 60 miles a day on my ’65 Buick @ 12mpg did not seem terribly bright. I picked up a 1987 Olds 98 Regency Brougham in 1994 with 132,000 on it. (Buick 3.8L FTW!)

    The sales guy said it was owned by an older couple who drove from northern Illinois to southern Florida a couple times a year. That’s what they all say, but apart from the clear coat peel, the only wear on the car was the silkscreened lettering worn off the cruise controls on the turn signal stalk so there may have been something to that.

    Anyway, I drove it all through college and sold it to a mentor with 204,000 on it for his high school kids to drive. Apart from routine stuff I had to have the A/C serviced once for a reason I can’t recall but was apparently common with that model. The only complaint I had was that the cruise control would randomly cut out. Otherwise the car paid for itself in saved gas agaisnt the Wildcat and I have fond memories of it.

    The second was last year; with the specific wants and needs of our family (and not wanting to pick up a car note) we needed a 3-row crossover and settled on a 2007 Chrysler Pacifica AWD Touring with 185,000 on it. A lot of miles, but the Carfax showed one owner and a steady accumulation of miles on it. Interior was in great shape and the liftgate had four dimples that suggests a bike rack so it was clearly a family car.

    Since getting it we’ve had ongoing issues with the drivetrain and a couple of electrical gremlins that weren’t obvious at the time of purchase but the dealer support has been better than expected. We love the vehicle but in retrospect I probably would have looked for a different example of the model had I not felt time-boxed at the time by my wife being 9 months pregnant and knowing I would have no time or energy to car shop for at least 3 months after.

  • avatar

    Bought my car new but when my Integra hit 100k there really isn’t anything wrong with it. The usual like timing belt at 90k, oil pan gasket at 10 years, wear items like plugs and brakes and tires, etc, that’s about it.

    Honda sold OEM remanufactured axles for my Integra, it was something like $200-300 each, a pretty good deal compare to new OEM axles. Boots didn’t tear until around 15 years 210k miles for me. Struts were worn out by 140kM, but I carpool with 3-4 people at all time and drove 85-90mph all the time.

    Still driving the Teg at 260kM, but it isn’t as reliable since around 180kM.

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