Home » A Cleveland Clunker And A Boise Beater: 2004 Honda Civic vs 1996 Mercury Sable

A Cleveland Clunker And A Boise Beater: 2004 Honda Civic vs 1996 Mercury Sable

Sbsd 5 17 2023
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Good morning! It’s time for more crappy cars and awkward alliterations here on Shitbox Showdown! Today’s cars are miles apart in age, design, and physical location, but only a little different in price. But we’ll get to those in a minute; first we need to get the tally from yesterday’s Pennsylvania pair:

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The Dart takes it in an absolute landslide. I’m not surprised; at first glance that car seemed like an absolute mess, but the closer you looked, the better it got. Apparently someone else thought so as well, because it’s already sold. Good luck, newly-minted Dart owner! We’re pulling for you.

Today’s focus is beaters. Sometimes, you just need a cheap runabout car, something that doesn’t need much maintenance or fuel, is cheap to insure, and will start reliably when you turn the key. It’s handy to have a car like that around, if you have the room, even if you have nicer cars. You can leave it in long-term parking at the airport, drive it through construction zones, or lend it to a friend who’s visiting, and not worry about what happens to it. But it doesn’t turn into a project either, because you just don’t care that much about it. I’ve found a pair of sedans that would fill this role nicely; let’s check them out.

2004 Honda Civic – $1,650

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.7 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Parma, OH

Odometer reading: 200,000 miles

Runs/drives? Very well, according to the seller

The Honda Civic, of course, is Default Small Car Number 1, or Number 2, depending on whether or not you prefer it to the Toyota Corolla. For fifty-one years now, this little marvel has done everything the world has asked of it, from providing excellent basic transportation for millions, to serving as a starting point for an entire generation of young hot-rodders. Clever engineering, excellent build quality, and a low price make it a great small car choice to this day.

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This seventh-generation Civic, in what I believe is probably LX trim, is a fair representation of a twenty-year-old Honda. It has a lot of miles, a little rust, and no mechanical defects to speak of. You could probably hop in this car in its current location in Ohio and drive it to Los Angeles without doing anything more than filling the gas tank a few times. It won’t be a thrilling ride, and you certainly won’t impress anyone along the way, but you also won’t have to meet a tow truck driver somewhere outside Ogalalla, Nebraska. Unless you want to, of course; that’s up to you.

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I just hope you like beige, because boy is there a lot of it here. Whoever ordered this car originally had a serious aversion to color. I remember a nice jewel-tone green being available on these, but no such luck. That ice blue? Forget it. Red was absolutely out of the question. Even Honda’s sharp-looking bright silver was too wild and provocative. Nope, when it came time to select a color, they checked the box marked “None.”

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At least it has held up well. There are a couple of little wrinkles in the sheetmetal here and there, and maybe a bit of rust forming at the rear wheel arches, but it’s a sub-$2,000 car. And the whole point of a beater is to not obsess over it. Just change the oil once in a while, make sure there’s air in the tires, and you’re good.

1996 Mercury Sable – $1,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Emmett, ID

Odometer reading: 147,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Currently daily driven

No, you’re not seeing things; this car is mauve. And yes, it’s a factory color. I remember seeing it on a few other Tauruses and Sables, and maybe a Cougar or two, back in the 1990s. Ford had a hell of a color palette back then, actually: there was that bright fuchsia, a couple of really good blues and greens, a burnt orange that I remember seeing on some Mustangs, and the ubiqiutous teal and yellow. We didn’t know how good we had it. Can you imagine a carmaker voluntarily painting a car this color these days?

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I mean, it’s not a pretty car, regardless of the color. Ford’s 1996 redesign of the Taurus and Sable was bold; you couldn’t deny that, but to say it wasn’t to everyone’s taste would be an understatement. It looked like a catfish from the front; all you had to do was install curb-feelers for the whiskers. Everything was an oval, and I do mean everything. Check out this stereo:

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No double-DIN slot here. And note that the HVAC controls are in the bottom half, so you couldn’t change it out even if you wanted to. But hey, it has a tape deck and a CD changer. What more could you ask for? The seller says the air conditioning works, which is always a selling point on a car this old and cheap.

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The rest of it looks all right, especially for being twenty-seven years old. There’s some wear and tear inside, some missing clearcoat – you know the drill. The seller is currently driving this car daily, so we know it runs well. They don’t specify which engine it has, but if I recall, the Duratec-powered Sables and Tauruses had a “24V” badge on the front fenders, so I think this is the old Vulcan pushrod V6. Less power, but less stress on the sometimes-fragile transmission, too.

Getting change back from two grand for a good-running car is no mean feat these days, but it is still possible. Of course, you never know until you look at a car and test drive it what kind of shape it’s really in, but these two appear to be viable contenders. Which one looks like the better choice to you?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Zac H
Zac H
1 year ago

Funny how 90s fords get shit for all-oval-everything interiors when 986/996 Porsches also have oval-tastic interiors that everyone is fine with. Source: drove an oval-tine Escort ZX2 in college and drive a 986 now.

Last edited 1 year ago by Zac H
1961ford
1961ford
1 year ago

The Taurus/Sable radio was simple to swap. Oval face plates for aftermarket radios were available (almost) anywhere car audio was sold. Very simple to swap climate controls from the original to the new face plate.
But the original sounded great if equipped with the factory amplifier. And they were pre-wired for trunk-mounted(!) CD changer.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 year ago

I appreciate seeing a mauve (mauve!!!) car, but my gosh, those rolling slug things were hideous. Both the Mercury and Ford versions—hideous.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 year ago

The Honda is easily the better vehicle to live with. The only advantages the Sable has are more space and probably a smoother ride

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago

I had an 89 Civic DX. i was in an accident it rolled over 4x according to witnesses. I was fine except for pulled chest muscles from holding on for dear life. I had the car ugly but back on the road for less than a $1,000 and sold it running good for $450.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago

I have always wondered if the huge percentage of rental fleet sales and the sales managers aversion to risk is the reason the most boring colors are the highest sellers. I mean hertz and avis arent ordering plum crazy purple or orange, and most cars are bought off the lot so sales manager going blah it will sale vs wild cherry to bright for grandma so we got blah. That being the case the increase of ordering your desired color might bring back color. I mean they are charging extra for it, there might be a reason.

Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed
1 year ago

Civic. Likely easier parts availability, will outlive me, and better aftermarket if I want to change anything (such as the bloody RADIO). Also, I won’t hate it every time I look at it and the interior looks to be much nicer.

STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
1 year ago

I’m really not a Ford guy at all due to previous nightmare experiences with them, but mauve beats beige any day.

Another great Showdown, Mark!

DirtyDeez
DirtyDeez
1 year ago

I’ve owned five of that gen civic. If I had to I’d take that one over the Sable for sure. Obligatory nitpickyness: that is likely not an 04 as they changed the headlight style for 04-05 from the 01-03 style and swapping over would take a new bumper and fenders, minimum.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago
Reply to  DirtyDeez

Now how in the hell did you have 5 Honda Civics. That should last you like 100 years.

Drew Slaughter
Drew Slaughter
1 year ago
Reply to  DirtyDeez

Yeah, that Civic is a late 2001. The wheel covers were on 2002 models, but the cup holders were also moved under a retractable cover for 2002 on. Also, the rear headrests are integrated humps rather than the upright versions on the 2004 and later cars. Had an ‘02 for a dozen over a decade, so I’m a bit of a 7th Gen nerd.

Thancr
Thancr
1 year ago

I could definitely be wrong but I don’t think the Civic is a 2004. I had an identical one except mine was a manual. Mine was a 2001. I don’t think it was sold after 2001 with the black door handles and even during 2001 they all became body matched. Wheel covers are also the same as a 2001.
I’d still take the Civic.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
1 year ago

The Honda will win this because it’s in much better shape for less money. But I have a soft spot for this era Taurus/Sable; they get more hate than they deserve.

Also, this Sable is an LS, which came standard with the 24-valve DOHC V6 in 1996. The fender badges were added later.

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
1 year ago

If I’m going to buy a blobby GM, I’d rather have a 2001 Buick Park Avenue. Joe Pera knows.

CRX89
CRX89
1 year ago

Infiniti used to sell the QX30 in rose gold, sadly it is discontinued.

Ricki
Ricki
1 year ago

If required, I will take the Basic Beige Civic.

That Sable should be taken out to the Idaho desert and shot and left for dead. That generation of blob-shaped sedan absolutely wrecked Ford for me for many, many years, and that’s not just because I had one.

Just kidding: it’s because I had one. That V6 is a piece of shit and so is the car around it.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
1 year ago

If either was smoked in, then that’s a deal breaker for me. Then again, that generation of Sable should be ovoided as a matter of good taste.

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
1 year ago
Reply to  SlowCarFast

Ovoided! That Civic was 100% smoked in. There are telltale burn marks in the crotch area of the driver’s seat. The interior will smell like a ashtray for ever.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago
Reply to  SlowCarFast

Yes some poor minimum wage earner needing a basic transport is highly unlikely to base it on a cigarette odor. You are buying a $2,000 beater not a collector car.

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
1 year ago

I daily drove a 1999 Mercury Sable for almost five years from 2009 to 2014, well in used car range. The center console/armrest situation was truly bizarre. It turned into an almost third seat without a seat belt. Very weird stuff. By about year three, I truly quit caring about that car. It was an absolute appliance. It had several things wrong with it that I could not be bothered to fix. It would occasionally not start when hot. It would not hold an idle. I never wanted to work on that thing as I was restoring my RX-7 and we had two young kids in the house. Spare time was devoted to them and then the RX-7, not fixing my POS daily. I “traded” it in for a new Mazda 6, i.e., they gave me a $500 discount on the 6 for the privilege of hauling this thing to auction for me.

Oh, I’m taking the Civic. I’d trust that thing way more. My Sable gave me 60k mostly trouble free miles, but not many things in life are more trouble free than a Civic.

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