COAL: 1991 Honda Accord LX – More Than An Appliance


After the unfortunate demise of my ’91 Crown Vic, fall of 2001 found me looking for new wheels once again. I had a little more cash to spend thanks to insurance luck, and resolved to be a bit more open-minded in my search. Like my prevous search, I did my online “shopping” both in my city and my hometown, and again, Greensboro proved to be the place to find the right vehicle. Moving away from my usual preference for big RWD boats, I decided perhaps I should give something smaller and better on gas a chance.

At the time, one of my roommates drove a 1993 Accord EX. As the second Honda I’d spent any appreciable amount of time in, it solidified my already favorable views of the virtues of those cars, so an Accord was definitely on my radar. Initially I searched for a 3rd-gen model with the pop-up lamps, always my favorite Accord generation, but the few I found were all very high-mileage cars in somewhat rough shape.

So I moved slightly forward to the 4th-gen cars, and quickly found what seemed like a good one–a 1991 Accord LX sedan, pewter gray over light gray cloth, with 155,000 miles. A little high, but hey, it was a Honda. So the same sequence of events as last time transpired–Dad went to look at it for me, proclaimed it good, took it to the mechanic, who also proclaimed it good, and the deal was made. Caught a ride home with a friend to go pick it up.


And for a car of 155k miles, it looked good. Everything was there, all the power accessories worked, the paint was good if starting to show a little fading on upper surfaces. The interior had seen some wear, as one would expect for the mileage and the fact that the back seat had clearly been used by kids (the very light gray showed dirt all too well), but it was generally in solid shape and the seats were still comfortable. It carried 5 people around happily, though the middle rear seat passenger was going to be squeezed for room. The back seat also folded down, leaving a decent-sized pass through that I used on more than one occasion to haul lumber, signs, and other unwieldy items. And behind the wheel, it was almost everything the Crown Vic and Malibu hadn’t been.

AccordInterior1200The motorized “mouse belts”.  Thanks, passive restraint legislation.

Coming from 6 years of big-car piloting, the Accord felt vastly different. From the time I’d spent as a passenger in my friend’s ’93 I was familiar with the low seating position, supportive seats and the light, airy greenhouse, but the thing that really struck me was the handling. Compared to either of my previous cars, it felt like a sports car–direct steering, not heavy but not overboosted, and good communication with the road without being harsh or too firm. And this was on an example with 155k miles, so I can only imagine what it must have been like new.

Also contrary to my expectations, it wasn’t slow–in actuality it was probably faster to 60 and had more top end than either of my other cars, V8 though they may have been. The 2.2 liter fuel-injected I4 was rated at 125 hp and 137 lb-ft torque, which pales in comparison to today’s gaudy numbers, but it only had a little over 2800 lbs. to carry around. So it was brisk enough, especially for the time.

The transmission was Honda’s 4-speed automatic, which went about its business with no drama, and featured a “sport” button on the console shifter that appeared to do absolutely nothing except light up a little green light on the dashboard. Fuel economy was a revelation, too, averaging high 20’s in mixed driving that was more city than highway. On long trips I saw a best of 34 MPG, not too shabby at all.


As my time with the Accord progressed, I began to see why people were fond of these Hondas. It was drama-free; the only thing I replaced on it was an oxygen sensor. It was pleasant to drive, even fun at times. You could tell that this was the same company that brought you the CRX and the NSX, even if the family traits were expressed in a more subtle fashion. These are the things that made up that feeling of “Honda-ness” which has, at some point in the intervening years, gone missing. The styling was clean, sleek, with no gimmicks and some nice touches (one of the very early uses of projector lamps with clear lenses).

It was, in all respects, a Very Good Car.  It also proved to be good on the open road, taking me and a group of friends from North Carolina to central Florida and back twice. Honda love? Perhaps it was budding. There are appliance cars–this wasn’t one of them, despite what people sometimes say. This was a car that had all the durability, sensibility, and efficiency of an appliance car, but with a little bit of soul. And a little bit can go a long way.

TwoAccords21200My ’91 LX with the roommate’s ’93 EX.

After just about a year, though, life intervened, as it always does. I had graduated college in May 2002, but the job market was lousy in the wake of the burst tech bubble, so I had a hard time finding work. I ended up continuing what had been my part-time job on campus, working something close to full-time hours which got me by well enough.

In the meantime, my parents were hit with a double dose of automotive bad luck. They had been driving older cars, as was their custom, an ’86 Pontiac Parisienne and an ’84 Accord. In late July, the Accord refused to pass inspection, repeatedly failing emissions. Reluctant to spend big money on the necessary repairs to a car worth less than $1000, they got rid of it, going to one car for a time until they found a new old beater for Dad. Then, in early August, the Pontiac was stolen from Dad’s workplace, in broad daylight no less. So they went from two cars to none in the span of a month.

Their insurance provided a short-term rental only, so I brought my Accord back home for Dad to use to get to work since I was still within an easy walk of my on-campus workplace. Insurance declared the Pontiac gone and cut them a check…for all of $800. No amount of arguing about the pristine condition of the car or how that was a totally unfair replacement value did any good. So I convinced them to keep the Accord permanently, and I’d use that insurance money to get myself another car. After all, Dad couldn’t walk or take the bus anywhere, living in the suburbs as my parents did, whereas I lived a few blocks from campus and could walk or take the bus. I didn’t *need* a reliable car. They did. So the Accord stayed back in Greensboro with Dad.

IMG_2138_1200Circa 2007.  The clearcoat fade is easily seen, but still pretty good-looking for age 16.

That may have been the end of the car’s story in my ownership, but it wasn’t my last encounter with it. Dad kept that car for another six years, getting it well over 190,000 miles, still a record in our family for highest mileage achieved. I even was able to borrow it for a few weeks, years later when they had two cars again, when I was between cars after an accident took out my ride at the time. The years took their toll; as happens with 90’s Hondas, the clearcoat started to oxidize and flake off, causing Mom to refuse to be seen in it anymore. The A/C eventually gave up the ghost. One of the engine mounts went bad, giving it a nasty shake at idle. And in early 2008, the transmission needed to be rebuilt, the only major expense it incurred under their (or my) ownership.

But it kept right on, right until late 2009, when Dad braked a little late and rear-ended another car at a stoplight. Cosmetic damage only (evidently it still ran fine) but it was totaled regardless. So they bade farewell to a faithful soldier, one whose time with me wasn’t even a quarter of the time it spent in the family overall. A pretty good run, I’d say.