questionswho has advice on maintaining a 1999 honda civic?

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Okay, even if you got the car cheap from a friend you always need to plan to spend the 75+ dollars on a mechanic to do a full evaluation of the car.

Did you get any service records from the guy or his father? How many miles are currently on it? How did your friend drive it? Hard? Fast? Mods?

You need timing belt checked, oil service, possibly a transmission flush, normally plan on a 175,000 mile job.

You need to get your rotors, cv axles, struts, tie-rods, rack and pinion(and boots), rear main seal, exhaust valve, head gasket, cap and button, waterpump, radiator, and so much more checked by a professional.

Hondas can take a lot, but as a rule of thumb, if the oil light is on, you've let it go down too low.

I own a '97 Honda Civic that has been through a massive overheat, a flood, a ditch, and a teenage driver. It will last, but you get out of them what you put in.

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Congratulations on your first car !!

You might want to check out [this old thread about what is important to keep in your car] (http://deals.woot.com/questions/details/fb551470-9767-408b-bd8d-8ac9e9053d43/what-are-essentials-for-a-new-car#24)

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If the dipstick says there's no oil, assume there's NO OIL and don't move the car an inch till you put oil in it. I'm inclined to think your best bet at that point is to go straight to a reliable mechanic for the once-over mentioned above by @xarous .

Civics usually run forever if they get the required TLC; I had one for 13 years (and would have had it for longer if some idjit hadn't totaled it out from under me, and a family member's Civic ran for well over 300,000 miles.

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The oil light only comes on where the oil pressure is low. That only happens (if the engine is leaking or burning oil) of there is so little in the sump that the oil pump can't maintain sufficient pressure in the system. Usually the dipstick will only show 1 quart low: if the engine is more than that nothing will show in the dip stick.

The previous answer is correct: you need to spend some $ and take the vehicle to an independent mechanic for a once over. I wouldn't be surprised if the engine is burning some oil; that would be normal for an engine of that age. It may be that they just weren't keeping track of the oil level.

Also, (as above) expect (for a car that age) that some of the running gear either needs replacing now or will in the future.

tl;dr: take it to a mechanic now.

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Ok, so it seems that I should do a once-over with a mechanic. Just one question though, because I still need to do the emissions inspection, can the guys there help me with a full evaluation?

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@jaaayzhu: They should check everything, yes. Start by finding a good mechanic you can trust. Ask everyone you know. It might be more expensive but especially for the first time checking over a new used car, it's important to go to someone who will put more care and attention into it than your local quick oil change place. If your family has someone they've gone to for years, that's a great place to start. The mechanic will know that your family will come back to haunt him if he says everything is fine and the belt breaks as you pull out of his driveway.

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The oil light may be out, and not telling you when the oil is also out. I drove a Honda Civic for 15 years, I can't recall what year it was but it would have been in the 90's. The only repairs I ever had to do were to replace the CV joints and the radiator. Otherwise the only costs were fuel and maintenance. After 14 years of good service it started blowing black smoke out the tailpipe and no one could figure out what was wrong with it. I drove it for another year, but couldn't pass TX inspection so I took it to nearby NM, where they don't test for emissions, and sold it for $1,000 cash (I'd originally paid $8,000 for the car). I have no doubt it went straight to Mexico, where it is still probably chugging along a decade later. That was my first ever new car, my first car was a highly combustible Ford Pinto. Congrats on your first car being a Civic. Take good care of it and it will likely take good care of you.