Piston Slap: Pre-Purchase Inspection a Civic Duty?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap pre purchase inspection a civic duty

Josh writes:

About three months ago, we went out to buy a BMW 3 Series with a six-speed manual. The end result? A gray 2009 Honda Civic Si sedan followed us home instead.

Now, admittedly I did NOT do my homework. I did not run a Carfax. I did not drive it. I did not even pop the hood. (I can hear you laughing, you know.) I came across the ad on Craigslist and went to the Buy Here, Pay Here that had it for sale. (It was the only place I could find a Civic Si — in the extended area Craigslist, mind you — with low enough miles yet within our budget.)

The love of my life took a drive in it as I waited nervously in my prehistoric Suburban. I had told her about the six-speed manual gearbox. How it would give her a spirited drive after a hard day at the office, yet should be ridiculously reliable in a typical Honda fashion, sans the typical timing belt and water pump replacement at 100k mile or so intervals. I sang praises of the K20 mill which, although a torque monster it is not (not in the slightest)… that it does love to rev. And good grief, with a 9,000 rpm or so red line… yes it certainly does.

She came back after a test drive with a smile on her face. She was sold. Immediately. She said she wanted it, and I didn’t need to check it out first. And the boss gets what the boss wants. We paid the princely sum of $7,400 cash money and the Honda Civic Si with 120k miles became part of our family.

Where is my concern, you ask?

How do I say this? This car has… history.

It’s been wrecked. Twice.

It’s been repossessed.

It’s been pushed endlessly and mercilessly and ridden harder than a lady of the night. Why you ask? I have a hunch that this car was street-raced, judging by the short shifter, and the new aftermarket clutch, and the crappy HID lighting kit (uninstalled for two regularly functioning headlights).

Furthermore, the car had a bent wheel. It was bent so bad that I couldn’t repair it… I had to replace it. (Hub damage.) The wheel tech vowed that it had been — and I quote — “drifted into a curb”.

The radiator support is damaged on the passenger side. You can clearly see where the car was impacted, and impacted hard (so hard that the hood prop barely stays within the support). The radiator has a slight bend in it, but keeps a full coolant level. Should the radiator be replaced?

I noticed that I have to come to a complete stop before shifting from 1st into reverse; otherwise, it gives me a crunch, so to speak. And I mean a dead stop, even a slight roll will give that crunching noise. My Honda Accord Coupe V6 six-speed does no such nonsense, and I have NEVER changed the manual transmission fluid. Should I just change out the fluid and go from there?

Lastly, what other surprises could we expect with a rap sheet like this? From a preventative maintenance standpoint (because clearly nothing has been done), what would you suggest?

My lady loves her little troublemaker. And as much of a problem child this car could be down the line, it makes her smile. And I want her to keep smiling for a very long time.

Sajeev answers:

It’s always nice when the OP openly admits their mistakes. And damn, son, talk about mistakes!

  1. Shame on you for not doing your homework. “Whatever the Boss wants” comes after you do (or hire) a used car PDI and run a Carfax (or similar).
  2. Since the radiator doesn’t leak, since we have no photos of the core support damage, I reckon you can safely it drive it until it does take a piss. Because optimism!
  3. The transmission fluid could be original and marinating in metal shavings from hamfisted shifting, so change it. Nothing may change, but it’s worth a shot.
  4. For any impending repairs, have the Civic professionally inspected. Make sure they show you the trouble spots. Get either a local independent shop, or a local Honda dealership on board. Dealers sometimes give free inspections in hopes of garnering high(er) margin repairs. Plus, they might cut you a deal on said high-margin work if you ask nicely. Which doesn’t suck, if you lack a trustworthy, Honda-savvy independent tech.

Indie mechanic or dealership, do that vehicle inspection. You’ll be an informed consumer of whatever the hell this bucket’s gonna throw your way.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

[Image: Josh the OP]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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  • A4kev A4kev on Jul 30, 2017

    Joeaverage I don't want to burst your bubble but if your garage "Honda dealer here serviced my 5MT and “burnished the gears” " I would suggest you "burnish his gears" and find somewhere else you can have your work done !

  • Shortest Circuit Shortest Circuit on Jul 31, 2017

    Meh. My friend "Josh" called me to do a PPI on a _very_ nice automatic Golf MkIV (backup camera, satnav, the lot) and after that checked out ok, the next day he went and bought a stanced Corolla SR. And crashed it a week later. I almost went back to buy the V-Dub for myself.

  • MaintenanceCosts Will the Bronco have a four-motor configuration a la Rivian? That seems to me like the right approach for an EV off-roader. Enables lots of neat tricks.
  • Lou_BC ERay? A southern model will be the BillyRay.
  • Lou_BC I've never used a car buying plan service. My Costco membership did get me 1,000 cash back on my last truck.
  • Jeff S I can understand 8 cars is a bit much unless you are a serious collector. I always loved the Challenger when it first came out and now. I don't need a car like this but I am glad it exists at least for 1 more year. If I had a choice between a Mustang, a Camaro, and a Challenger I would opt for a Challenger but probably with a V-6 since it has more than enough power for most and I don't need to be burning rubber. Challenger has the classic muscle car looks, more cabin room, and a decent size trunk which makes it very livable for day to day driving and for traveling. The base models of the Dodge Challenger has a 3.6-liter V6 engine that gives you 305 horsepower with 268 lb-ft torque. The car attains 60 mph from a standstill within just 6 seconds, which is quite fast. Even with their base engines, the Challenger and Camaro are lightning-fast. The Camaro reaches 165 mph, while the Challenger can go up to 11 mph faster!
  • Inside Looking Out I would avoid American cities if I can. European cities are created for humans and Americans for cars.
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