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Arthritis On Wheels? The 199K Mile 2001 Honda Accord "Rachel," Reviewed

Amou "Joe" Seto |
March 13, 2015 | 9:17 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Rachel pictured in Dark Emerald Pearl (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
Rachel pictured in Dark Emerald Pearl (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

What is high mileage to you? 80,000 miles? 100,000 miles? 150,000 miles? What about 200,000 miles? Most people, including myself, would never, ever, ever in a million years buy a car with that amount of mileage. What most people are probably picturing is the car going about 20 feet and a plume of white smoke promptly erupting from under the hood. No, your car hasn’t elected a new pope, that’s your head gasket. 

SEE ALSO: 2015 Honda Civic Si Coupe, Reviewed 

There are but a handful of cars which are known to reach 200,000 miles, one of which notably is the Honda Accord. I managed to locate a Honda Accord with 199,000 miles (okay, it’s not at 200,000 yet, but it'll get there soon), nicknamed “Rachel." Rachel is owned by my friend Leland, who states that he is the second person to have bought this car, at around 163,000 miles. So, how's it feel to drive a 14-year-old car with this amount of miles?

Due to her age, there are some many things that have gone wrong. For starters, the Accord badge on the back has fallen off, showing its model designation in the form of dried glue. And somebody should file a missing person report for the driver-side door's lock switch -- it’s gone missing too. Other niggles include a rear driver-side window that makes a frightening grinding noise when you try to roll it down, a dysfunctional CD player, and a few broken center console lights.

Her paint isn’t in the best shape, either, a hodgepodge of dents, chips and hairline scratches. It didn’t help that Leland used the hood of his car to open a glass-bottled coke, chipping the paint in the process. Furthermore, trying to pull a car charger out of the 12V socket resulted in me pulling the entire socket out of the center console. Before you ask, no, I’m not an abnormally strong guy -- even the slightest bit of force will literally cause the socket to detach. Leland says he doesn’t consider this to be broken, but as I’m pretty sure this wasn't how Rachel was made, I’m calling it here. 

Rachel's Accord badge has jumped ship (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
Rachel's Accord badge has jumped ship (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

The car's mileage has caused her to develop a rather high oil consumption problem. According to Leland, oil consumption is about half a quart every week. An alternator failure once left him stranded, and a VTEC solenoid failure cost a whopping $410. Despite these two problems, Rachel runs (mostly) fine. The only worrying problem I experienced is that during light throttle cruising, the car will randomly start vibrate furiously from the drivetrain. Taking your foot off the throttle makes the vibration go away immediately, but it’s still a scary ordeal. What makes the situation unique is that it truly is random, as I couldn’t replicate the situation and it only happened once during my drive. 

When revved out, the engine provided smooth delivery throughout the whole rev range and delivers a surprisingly satisfying engine note. As expected, the engine was very slow, refusing to chirp the tires from a full throttle start. Despite having zero suspension work done, the car provides a balanced ride -- not firm, but not soft either. The seats are very comfortable, and the stereo sounds very good, even by today’s standards. 

Rachel’s four-speed automatic transmission is very finicky about gear engagement, as you have to wait a full second before it happens. The car must be completely stopped before you put it in reverse, unless you want to hear the unmistakable sound of gears being stripped of all their teeth. The car won’t tell you if it's in D3, as the light has stopped working. At 80 mph, Rachel rotates at 3100 RPM, not very far off from the Civic Si coupe we reviewed a few weeks ago. The transmission provides access to all four gears manually, though manual upshift times are sluggish. But hey, what else would you expect from a car made 14 years ago? 

Driving at colossal speeds, the wind noise sounds like you’re trudging through a heavy storm. It's not as bad at lower speeds, but noticeably worse than today’s cars, due to Rachel's being shaped like a tetris piece on wheels. The road noise is what you’d expect from a car of her class at the time -- quite loud.  

Rachel's dangerous Takata Airbags haven't been fixed (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
Rachel's dangerous Takata Airbags haven't been fixed (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

I’d like to take this opportunity to address the biggest problem with the Accords and Honda Civics of this generation. You may have noticed that most cars are fitted with a trunk-opening latch or button on the trunk. This means you can simply use the button or latch to open your trunk once the car has been unlocked. It's opened using a latch near the driver's seat that also opens the fuel cap, depending on how it's pressed, or by using the trunk-mounted keyhole or the key fob. The problem is that the trunk automatically locks when you close it.

Imagine this: you’re trying to get something you left in the trunk. You don’t need to drive anywhere, so you just go straight to the trunk, open it and set your keys down for a second, grab what you needed and then, BLAM -- shut the trunk. You start going back to your house only to realize that you’ve forgotten your keys inside the trunk. Can’t you just grab the key using the -- oh wait, there’s no trunk button, and the trunk automatically locks. Sorry, looks like you’re locked out. What if you're home alone, locked out of your house with a pie in the oven? Well, looks like it's a charred mess for dinner or a house fire.

Seriously, Honda? What was wrong with a trunk button?

From certain angles, Rachel does look quite good. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
From certain angles, Rachel does look quite good. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

To add to my gripes, Rachel didn’t fare too well in our handling and performance test. In fact, she did horribly. Our stomping grounds for the day were Glendora Mountain Road, a long, winding path near Mt. Baldy. The road had many slow corners, hairpin turns and blind, swooping bends. In a car of Rachel’s size, the drive was quite scary, as the road demands you to have a small, agile car.

The Bridgestone Ecopia tires didn’t provide much grip, and if I overstepped the mark even slightly, I was met with large amounts of understeer. Unlike all the other cars we’ve tested, Rachel uses a hydraulic power steering unit, as opposed to an electric unit. The old-fashioned unit gives better feedback than today’s electric steering, and doesn’t make feel you like a simple twitch will send you careening in another direction. 

Aside from missing trim pieces and malfunctioning electrics, Rachel is a very solid car, considering her age. The most annoying thing (that isn’t broken) is that completely pointless trunk keyhole. It’s amazing that our biggest fault with Rachel wasn't a remnant of her remarkable age, but a “feature" from when she was built.

Leland tells us that he plans to keep Rachel until he “finds a [Tesla] Model S abandoned in an alley with a signed pink slip in the glovebox.” In other words, he’s planning to keep her for a while. 

Overall Score: C

Midsize Cars score: Disqualified due to age and mileage

Reach Staff Reporter Amou (Joe) Seto here. Follow him on Twitter here 



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