Up until 1998, the Honda Accord had always been viewed as a smallish sedan with a great track record for value, reliability and good fuel economy. But the sixth generation Accord Sedan (produced from 1998-2002) marked a major shift for the Accord, growing much larger and affording its occupants a true mid-sized car interior. 1998 also marked the first time the Accord coupe would have its own styling separate of the Accord sedan. Along with its larger size, the 1998-2002 Honda Accord gained more equipment, moving it closer to the realm of premium brands such as Acura, Buick and even Audi. In EX trim, the Accord could be had with leather seating, a power moonroof, automatic temperature control and a power driver's seat. Of course by 2011 standards, these don't seem like much, especially when you can get all these features on a Hyundai Elantra. But, in 1998, it was a big deal, and pushed the bar for the Accord's competitors to a point some simply couldn't reach.
Why You Want It
If you're looking at cars more than a decade old, we're going to take a big leap of faith and assume you're either looking for the best car on a tight budget, or you're looking for something safe and reliable in which to send the kid or kids off to college. In either case, a used Accord is a pretty good place to start. The 1998-2002 Accord sedan is fairly roomy, has a decent repair and reliability history (with the exception of some automatic transmission problems covered by an extended warranty), and features newly revised engines as well as the first five-link double-wishbone rear suspension used on an Accord. All these terms may sound fancy but what they mean is the 1998-2002 Accord feels much more substantial than earlier models, with a more controlled ride and more power under the hood. It is important to note that on these early model cars, safety features we take for granted today, things like front side-impact airbags, anti-lock brakes, and traction control, were only available on certain high-end models. If these safety features are important to you, be sure to check to see if the model your shopping for either came equipped or offered them as optional equipment. The 1998-2002 Accord sedan does feature three-point seat belts at all seating positions, as well airbags for the driver and front passenger.
Notable Features & Options
From 1998 through 2002, the Accord was offered in three trims: DX, LX and EX. In 2002, a fourth trim dubbed SE (Special Edition) was added. The EX and LX could be had with optional V6 engines, but all Accords came standard with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. Although a five-speed manual was standard, the overwhelming majority of Accords were sold with a four-speed automatic. The most basic trim is the DX which comes with dual manual remote mirrors, driver and front passenger airbags, manual windows and door locks, AM/FM stereo with cassette, 14-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, a tilt steering column, and a rear defroster. Air conditioning and automatic transmission were optional on DX models, so be sure to check for both if you want those features. The LX trim adds power windows, door locks and mirror, air conditioning, cruise control, manual driver's seat height adjustment, a four speaker stereo, 15-inch wheels, and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. The LX-V6 adds a 200-horsepower VTEC V6 engine, eight-way power driver's seat and anti-lock brakes. The EX four-cylinder adds a power moonroof, six-disc CD changer, and 15-inch alloy wheels; optional on the EX is leather seating and an eight-way power driver's seat. The EX-V6 brings steering wheel audio controls, full leather interior and fully automatic air conditioning. Front side airbags become standard on all V6 and EX with leather after 2000.
1999: The Accord receives an anti-theft alarm system.
2000: Front side-impact airbags are made standard on all V6 and leather-equipped EX models.
2001: All models receive a slight refresh, while V6 models gain traction control as standard equipment. Front side-impact airbags are made optional for LX and DX models.
2002: The Special Edition (SE) trim is added and features a host of popular equipment such as alloy wheels, power driver's seat, three-in-one audio (cassette, CD, radio) and wood trim interior inlays.
Engines and Performance
The Accord DX is powered by a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine good for 135 horsepower; the LX and EX use the same engine only equipped with Honda variable valve timing VTEC technology that boosts output to 150 horsepower. EPA fuel economy estimates for both engines range from around 21 mpg city to 28 mpg highway when equipped with the automatic transmission; the five-speed manual sees a one or two mile per gallon improvement. Optional on the LX and EX is a 3.0-liter V6 good for 200 horsepower and netting fuel economy figures around 18 city and 26 highway. For most driving situations, the 2.3-liter engine in the LX and EX is more than sufficient. The engine operates at a near hush, provides good power for passing and merging and returns good fuel economy. If you live at a high altitude, requiring instant power for quick passing maneuvers or regularly carry four adults for most of your driving routine, we would recommend the V6 over the four-cylinder.
On the road, the Accord behaves well, but its suspension is geared more toward comfort than cornering, so pushing this car like it was a BMW is not going return much in the way of excitement. The Accord is a fairly well put together car, but there is one glaring area that can't be overlooked. On both the four-cylinder and V6 cars between 1999 and 2002, a number of automatic transmissions suffered premature failure, prompting Honda to extend the Accord's transmission warranty to seven years/100,000 miles. If you get a car with a bad transmission that was not replaced under warranty, it is too late to apply. A new transmission can cost anywhere from $1,800 to $2,500, while a used replacement could cost around $1,200.
Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has issued the following recalls for the 1998-2002 Honda Accord Sedan:
1998-2002: Two recalls are issued, one for a possible defective ignition switch that could result in the car stalling, and the other for a possible defect in the ignition interlock system that could allow the key to be removed without shifting into the PARK position.
2000: Recalls were issued for a possible defective weld that could cause the rear control arms to fail, a defective weld in the front airbag assembly that may result in airbag failing to deploy and a possible defective instrument panel light dimmer switch that can overheat leading to failure and loss of dash lights.
2000-2001: Recalls were issued for possibly defective rear seatbelts that can become difficult to unlatch, and for the instrument panel dimmer control switch.
2001-2002: A recall was issued for a possible defect in the driver's airbag that could cause excessive pressure inside the bag. Should the pressure become to great, the inflator could rupture sending metal fragments through the protective airbag and into the passenger compartment.
2002: A recall was issued for V6-equipped Accords due to an improperly aligned timing belt tensioner pulley. The pulley could allow the belt to rub against a bolt, causing the belt to wear and fail, causing the car to stall.
Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed and if not, will fix the car at no charge to you.
As for safety, the government gives the 1998-2002 Honda Accord Sedan good marks in its frontal and side-impact crash test, ranking the Accord with four out of five stars in both tests. Cars with side airbags do a bit better in both tests, scoring five out of five stars in the front crash test and five out of five stars for the passenger side crash test (the driver retains four out of five stars.). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Accord a grade of "Acceptable" in its frontal offset crash test, but did not perform a side-impact crash test for this model.
As for warranties, the 1998-2002 Accord is now well out of its manufacture's warranty and is too old to qualify for an extended warranty through the Certified Pre-Owned Program. You may be able to get the dealer to extend coverage out to a year, but be sure to ask what warranty, if any, is offered. With most reputable dealers, on a car this old, the there is usually a 30 day full coverage warranty. After that, you are on your own.
Word on the Web
If you search the web, you'll find most complaints for the 1998-2002 Honda Accord center around the automatic transmission issues, some noisy sunroof complaints and more interior rattles and squeaks than one would expect. There are also some issues around the clear coat paint peeling from early 1998-2000 models. Consumer Reports gives the 2000-2002 Accord excellent marks in all but one area (hint: it's the transmission.) Most owners are pretty happy with their Accords, but while many found the engine to be very reliable, the cost of replacing normal wear and tear items such as brakes and wheel bearings, and even more mechanical parts such as the steering linkage and suspension, can be quite expensive.
In this class, the Toyota Camry is certainly as good as the Accord, maybe a bit better, but it too can be expensive to repair. The Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus are also worth looking at, and although they do not have as good a repair history as the Accord, they also don't hold their value as well, meaning you might be able to tuck some cash aside for unexpected repairs and still remain well in your original budget. The Mazda 626 also makes a good second choice, offering a good repair history, a bit more style and a sportier ride.
Shopping for a car dating back 10 plus years is really a crap shoot. It's probably best to buy from an original owner who can show you the car's service history as well as alert you to any problems the car may have. If you have your heart set on the Accord, avoid the DX trim; it's just too Spartan and the price difference between it and a nicely equipped LX or EX won't be that much. If we were in your shoes, we'd go for a 2001-2002 EX with leather and the four-cylinder engine. The car is nicely equipped, comes with side airbags and lots of cool features and gets great gas mileage to boot.