Although the sixth-generation Honda Civic was the best Civic ever at the time of its October 1995 release, it was still a cheap car when it was only the poor exchange rate that dictated its high purchase price. Joe Kenwright looks at how it stacks up as a used car...
New Civic buyers in late 1995 had to pay $24,900 for the most basic three door Honda Civic hatch with air-conditioning plus another $2000 on roads for an all-up cost of around $27,000 or start at $27,500 for the most basic sedan with no air-conditioning or on-roads for an all up price that usually topped $30,000.
In today’s terms, the basic 1995 Civic CXi three door hatch with air-conditioning would be worth no more than $17,990 when 2005 Civic models are now up to $8,000 cheaper than comparable models were in 1995.
These massive downward pricing movements mean that the used price for a 1995-2000 Civic must be calculated against today’s replacement cost, not the substantial 1995 price. This can place used Civic buyers and sellers at loggerheads when the higher prices of earlier Civics were once justified by rock solid resale which has since had $6-8,000 shaved off the top.
The most important piece of advice when buying a near new Civic is to check out the price of a new one first. Today’s Civic is built in Thailand and therefore benefits from the new free trade agreement between Australia and Thailand which gives it a 10% tariff advantage over other small cars. Don’t forget to add in the transfer fees and impending registration renewal on a used example when making the comparison as these can take you over the new price in some cases.
Providing the price is right, this can make the EK series Civic one of the best small car buys. It also remains the last opportunity to buy a three door Civic hatch.
Not all Civics were the same during this era as some were sourced from the US which were not as good. As Honda desperately pulled money out of the car in 1997 to bring down the price, the cost cutting went a little too far in some areas including cabin noise and a number of mechanical parts that were left unpainted.
Honda also resorted to other more subtle cost-cutting measures that included packaging all the vital ignition parts inside the distributor. This leaves them too close to engine heat for comfort and generates a big repair bill when the whole lot has to be replaced if a part fails. There are other examples of integrated parts assemblies but this is the one every owner has to face at some point.
After being exposed for silly low speed crash repair costs, Honda made this Civic series one of the best after lifting costly components out of the way and providing far more substantial bumpers. Crash safety was lifted as well although offset crash standards are not as high as today’s. Its extra strength is immediately apparent in the way it rides and drives but it is still smaller and lighter than most of today’s small cars which have grown in size. The hatch’s light 1030 kg is reflected in outstanding fuel economy but tight rear seat room and little rear crash protection.
The heavier sedan with its extra boot section is a better bet for rear passengers and luggage and has always enjoyed a keen market as a frugal family runabout or an easy to drive single car for elderly owners.
There were several outstanding VTEC-engined VTi-R twin cam performance models that boasted 118 kW for an outstanding power to weight ratio. Too many of have these have been thrashed or modified or stolen so they carry extra risks at purchase. While a good one is well worth finding, your radar needs to be working overtime to ensure that you don’t get ripped off.
The popularity of this VTEC engine ensures that some reached here as parts imports and were given the identity of a local wreck, an equally common ploy to hide a stolen one. When there are serious suggestions that these cars must be traced and put off the road, your purchase could be made worthless. If there are discrepancies between badges, trim, colours, ID plates and compliance plates, walk away. A state registration check won’t reveal any discrepancies if the numbers come from a legitimate Australian car so don’t depend on it. Checking with Honda Australia can be useful.
Also, there are two VTEC engines. The other is a simpler, less powerful single cam engine so don’t get them mixed up. This simpler VTEC engine fitted to the VTi sedan and coupe offered better economy. In the VTi sedan, it was teamed with Honda’s Multi-Matic, first as an option then standard. It is a clever constantly-variable stepless auto transmission (CVT) that can generate big repair bills as it wears.
Conventional Honda automatics are sealed for life except for fluid and are also more expensive to replace. Secondhand transmissions from local cars and Japan are in high demand but may be your best hope of keeping a Civic on the road at this late stage in a car’s life.
The high price and high demand during this Civic’s glory days attracted more shonky operators than most small cars. This prompted write-offs to be put back on the road while concealing severe structural weakening.
KEY CIVIC CHANGES:
- Oct 1995: New series launched as CXi and GLi hatch with all-alloy 1.6 88 kW engine and high performance 118kW VTi-R VTEC 3-door hatch. Sedan came as GLi or VTEC single cam 88kW VTi.
- Feb 1996: US-sourced Coupe presented at sedan VTi level with power boosted to 93 kW.
- Jul 1997: Price cut added air-cond at no cost.
- Nov 1998: Major facelift and feature upgrade to both CXi and GLi hatches with changes to bumpers, lights, bonnet pressing and front fascia panel. The VTi-R hatch was dropped. VTi coupe gained rear discs. The VTi sedan now offered only with CVT Multi-Matic after manual was dropped. Upgraded coupe and sedan progressively released as old stocks cleared.
- Mar 1999: New US-sourced Coupes launched as auto-only GLi and manual-only high performance VTEC VTi-R spec. US GLi coupe engine similar to base hatch engine but power reduced to 77 kW.
- Jul 2000: Limited edition Civic GLi Sport sedan as a 5 speed manual only with alloys, rear spoiler and gold badging.
- Nov 2000: All new current series released.
SPECIFIC CIVIC CHECK ITEMS:
All Honda engines if serviced by the book are long lived and trouble-free. Unfortunately, the car’s inherent reliability can encourage owners to become slack in servicing and leave the next buyer to pick up the massive damage bill.
Not all US-sourced body and mechanical parts on the Coupe are interchangeable with the Japanese hatch and sedan parts even if they look similar.
All-alloy engine construction is strong but sensitive to missed coolant changes leading to head gasket and other woes on neglected examples. It does not tolerate overheating which is ready to happen on some examples.
Specified cam belt changes are critically important in Civic engines to avoid destroying the engine. If there is no record of a required change, do it anyway as replacing an engine is too high a risk for the relatively low cost of a belt change.
A huge expense is showing up in all Civic engines where the extended service intervals are too long for short runs or owners who skip services. The oil sludges and blocks vital oil ways which then starves the camshaft and the head and causes catastrophic damage as the whole lot seizes up. After expensive repairs to the head and its 16 valves, owners face the same repair all over again within weeks as dislodged sludge in the engine block clogs up the head again. Check for the presence of sludge and walk away as in most cases, it will require an engine replacement. Service centres who are seeing the extent of this damage suggest that stop-start city owners should replace oil and filter every 5000 km.
The Civic has a light aluminium radiator core crimped to a thin plastic top tank and a rubber seal which can all let go under Aussie heat. Cheap local upgrades can be much stronger than the original. If a used example still has the original radiator, check it regularly to avoid cooking the engine. Be aware that once it causes the coolant to leak out, the temperature gauge won’t work and can’t warn you of the impending overheating.
The hydraulic cam belt tensioner can also fail and experts advise on pre-emptive maintenance at each belt changeover.
The VTi-R’s higher engine speeds, extra complexity and lightweight alloy block demand top shelf oil, coolant and filters changed at specified intervals.
Distributor bearings can wear out. Certain Civic engines had a fault where they would cut out without warning. This is usually traced back to the distributor which contains vital electronics including sensors and coil that are too close to the engine under Australian heat. Repair normally requires a complete and very expensive replacement but as this becomes more common, check on the availability of a much cheaper exchange unit.
In rare cases, engine stalling has been traced to a faulty brake booster.
If engine has been swapped for a Japanese import replacement make sure that all registration records are up to date and any compatibility or engine management issues have been addressed.
Both manual and auto transmissions are reliable. Import replacement auto may be cheaper than overhaul. Autos require specific Honda fluid. Check that all clutch components are fresh and properly maintained.
CVT auto can be a headache as it ages so check for worrying noises and other woes. Before specifying a new replacement, check alternative sources.
Brake hardware is outstanding and long lived but check for fluid leaks and minimum rotor thickness on high mileage or abused examples. Check ABS operation on all examples where fitted. Rear drums on base examples can rot out if fluid is not changed regularly destroying linings and other components with rusty, dirty fluid.
Quality shockers are long-lived and highly effective but must be replaced with equivalent items to maintain original Civic feel. Short travel suspension may look good if lowered or if fitted with big alloys and low profile tyres but it can destroy ride quality. Rear suspension has big doughnut bushes in the lower trailing arms which wear with age and can destroy ride and handling.
Four wheel independent suspension requires a four wheel alignment if disturbed. Treat unusual tyre wear with suspicion.
Some aftermarket exhaust systems can ruin refinement and performance.
Rear wheel bearings can be noisy and may need to be replaced.
Main concern is the presence of the original red and black keys which must have the original chip inside them to start the car and not just match the locks. Starting again with new keys and security module can cost hundreds of dollars
Check all cabin parts for heat or sun damage. Unprotected seat trim and carpet can wear quickly on base models and are not easy to replace. Check operation of all electrical accessories including air-cond, electric windows, sound system.
Outstanding paint finish, quality fittings and fine panel gaps are part of Civic appeal so check carefully that they have not been compromised by rubbishy replica panels and sub-standard lights which leak and distort. Imported used original parts are now cheap so there is no excuse for cheap replicas. Full wheel covers are easily scraped and not cheap to replace.
When car was new, it was a popular target for theft and some may still be wearing bogus identity from a write-off. Check history carefully.
Check for poor body repairs and if in doubt, seek second opinion from Honda expert who knows what these cars should look like in vital check areas.
Key data confirmed by Civic experts Hondaspares (03) 9798 4133