My parents and I have had good experiences with Hondas since 1973. The first car I owned was a brand new 1986 Honda Prelude Si that I kept until 2003. I traded it in for a 5-year old Acura CL3.0 with 97,000 miles. The only serious complaint I had about the Prelude is that it rusted sooner and more extensively that I would have liked, a problem a lot of Hondas had in the 1970s and 1980s. I was young and inexperienced when I first owned the Prelude and I did not give it the care it deserved, and it still gave me 17 years of faithful service. My memory is that it went through wear items (e.g. brake pads and rotors, muffler, and batteries) on a reasonable schedule, but that it had few real problems. It is possible that I had to replace the struts at some point, but I don’t really recall. I had to replace two or three of the fuel injectors, but I think that was as much my fault as Honda’s. During two years of graduate school and a year of working abroad (the car stayed in the U.S. that year and was mostly parked) I don’t think it was driven enough. My guess is that some gunk built up in the tank due to the lack of driving. The fuel system passed some of that gunk on to the injectors which got dirty and burned out. The most annoying problem I had with the Prelude was the driver door light switch was flakey, but that is the only gremlin the car had. I was a relatively inexperienced manual shift driver when I bought the car so I did have to replace the clutch after 40,000 miles or so. All-in-all, it was still a joy to drive the day I traded it in. The Prelude met my pre-purchase requirements: it had to always start and not leave me stranded (I did leave the lights on twice and ran down the battery, but I don’t think I can count that against the Prelude) and it had to be sporty enough, which it was, and safe enough, which fortunately I never really tested. The only performance knock I would give the Prelude is that it went better than it stopped, that is it accelerated better than the brakes would haul it back down.
The Acura CL with the J30A1 3.0 liter V6 and 4-speed auto has been the proverbial cream-puff used car. The previous owner had done all of the service at the dealer so I got a full set of service records with it. While I was wary about believing in those records when I bought the car, the lack of problems over the past six years has given me faith in their validity. I bought the CL with over 97,000 miles had have put on over 80,000 more. All of the service in the last 6 years has cost a grand total of $5,100. This includes two new sets of tires, a battery, rear brake pads and rotors and two of the extensive and relatively expensive 30,000 mile services. The only actual repairs that the car has needed are a brake caliper and ball joints.
Over the years I have learned more about auto maintenance and how to find a good mechanic. I do much of the simple routine work myself so I have saved some money there though I tend to over service it (e.g. I change the ATF more often than required). I also found a great local mechanic so I have probably saved a thousand dollars in labor costs over what a dealer would have charged. So with almost 180,000 miles it still feels, and pretty much still looks, like a new car.
My family has a long history with Honda cars. My father bought a Civic in 1973. My family has owned a total of six Honda vehicles (’73 Civic, ’86 Civic Si, ’86 Prelude Si, ’86 Accord, ’92 Accord EX, ’98 Acura CL3.0, and a ’99 Accord). The ’86 Accord and the ’98 Acura CL were purchased used, the others were all purchased new. The only one that really had serious problems was the ’86 Accord. It has some transmission problems, but I think the combination of the previous owner’s neglect, and my sister’s abuse probably had more to do with those problems than Honda’s design and build quality. As I mentioned earlier, the earlier Hondas had rust problems. The ’73 Civic had very bad rust problems and I believe it was eventually recalled and repaired by Honda.
1986 was the turning point for my family in Honda purchases. The only non-Honda purchase that we have made since then is a used Toyota Avalon that I bought for my wife. So in 22 years, with four drivers (my parents, my wife and me), we have split six cars (five Hondas), and three of them are still on the road and the only cars we own.
To me, the interesting comparison is my family’s 26 years of car ownership before that. My parents’ owned a 1960 Mercedes-Benz 190, a 1964 Ford Econoline (purchased used from a little old lady, my grandmother), a 1966 Mercedes-Benz 230, a 1968 Ford Cortina (imported English Ford), the 1973 Civic, a 1974 Volvo 164 and a 1976 Buick Skylark. The 1966 Mercedes was the nicest driving of the bunch, and the Volvo was probably the worst, though I can’t comment on the 1960 Mercedes or the Cortina as I never drove either of them. While in lots of ways the Skylark, purchased new, was a clunky car (bad paint, lots of rust, poor fit and finish), it was probably the least expensive of these cars to maintain. The Skylark also had the unfortunate desire to want premium fuel to keep from knocking, even though it was only supposed to need regular. It looked like [censored], but we kept it for 14 years/140,000 miles before giving it away.
In sum, I have had a Honda car for 23 years and they have worked well for me. My family’s experience is that if the cars are well cared for they will last a long time (’73 Civic – 13 years, ’86 Civic – 13 years, ’86 Prelude – 17 years, ’86 Accord – 12 years, ’92 Accord – 16 years, ’98 Acura – 11 years and counting, ’99 Accord – 10 years and counting). All of the older cars were still drivable when they went on to new owners. Taking good care of these cars is not cheap, but still seems cheaper than having to get a new, or at least a newer, car. Personally, I would rather put money into the cars as preventive maintenance on my schedule, than to sit by the side of the road contemplating expensive repairs on the car’s unplanned schedule.
I think my family’s experience is that Hondas have gotten better over the years. Some of these improvements are industry wide: greater safety, better performance powerful and greater reliability than in the 1970s. My impression is that Honda has led the industry in many of these areas, and that it had earned its good reputation over the years. I’m a decade back in experience as a 1999 model year car is the newest one that I have experience with, but they were good until then. The style and performance of other makes will tempt me to look at them the next time I buy a car, but I for sure will also look at Honda’s offerings also.