Car Mechanics (UK)
Honda Civic 1.8 I-VTEC
Part one: The Civic is renowned for reliability, but how will our sub-£1000 auction buy fare?
We’ve all heard about the reliability of Honda’s vehicles, from the Jazz to the Civic Type R and various Accords. To put these claims to the test, we’ve taken on a 2006 Civic 1.8 petrol with 107,000 miles. It’s still oil-tight and uncorroded, in marked contrast to other vehicles of a similar age, so hopefully we won’t be burdening our sponsor, GSF Car Parts, with too many requests for replacement items.
The eighth-generation Civic FN was built in Swindon from late 2005 for a January 2006 UK launch. In fact, the Civic was built in 15 different factories around the world: Japan, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, two plants in
America, Vietnam and the UK. There are various different body styles, but the one we Brits know and love is only sold in Europe.
The European Civic is completely different underneath as well, with just a few interior parts and the basic engine carried over. These engines were the 1336cc L13 from the seventhgeneration Civic in 80bhp standard and 98bhp I-VTEC guises, a 138bhp 1.8 I-VTEC, the 198bhp Type R 2.0 and a 2.2-litre turbodiesel with 138bhp.
The R18 petrol engine used in the 1.8-litre car was an all-new I-VTEC unit, using a cam chain rather than a belt and featured balance shafts, as well as various friction-reducing ideas such as ion-plated piston rings and oil cooling jets for the pistons.
The Civic FN replaced the independent rear suspension of the previous model with a twist beam axle not unlike that on a VW Golf MKII – this may have been cheaper, but it meant the ride wasn’t as refined as the previous model. It is, however, still very pliant and has sharp steering and handling, even if the Type R version isn’t as highly-regarded as the previous car. US and Asian Civics used a more sophisticated set-up.
As standard spec, Civic buyers got ABS, traction control, side and passenger airbags, remote locking with an alarm, front electric windows, folding rear seats, steering wheel rake and reach adjustment, heated mirrors, a heightadjustable driver’s seat and rear Isofix. However, due to a protrusion on the dashboard, Euro NCAP only gave this Civic four out of five stars for safety.
ES and EX models added alloy wheels, remote radio controls, a CD player, rear electric windows and front fog-lights, while the EX GT model had headlight washers, heated seats, park distance control, sat-nav and a leather interior.
Our EX features a multi-function steering wheel with cruise control, audio remote controls and sat-nav, although the first owner didn’t bother with full- or part-leather or parking sensors. Si and Ci models added half-leather trim to the ES/EX spec, plus climate control, with CI-T cars adding sat-nav. Type S cars were Ex-spec but with electric front seats and an audio remote, with the Type R cars adding leather and sat-nav.
Production of the FN ended in 2012 after two facelifts. The first was in 2009, when the front grille gained a pair of air intakes, the rear bumper was slightly restyled and the 80bhp 1.4i engine was dropped in favour of the 98bhp 1.4 I-VTEC. The 2011 facelift was just a grille change, new wheels and some different colours and minor spec.
This generation of Civic has only been subject to three safety recalls. Why do Japanese car-makers get vehicles right in a way that Europeans can’t?
Our project Civic was spotted at BCA’S Blackbushe sale and it looked OK: bright red, motor trade-friendly dark trim, plus the usual climate control and electric windows, with optional 18in alloys. This was the 138bhp 1.8 I-VTEC six-speed manual EX model which included a sat-nav that still seemed to work (sort of ).
Sadly, this three-owner car has no handbook or service book – how do these get lost? – but it does have super-clean oil and some service receipts from 2017 and 2018. The MOT history was as clean as a whistle, limited to one fail in 2010 for a tyre and screen washer jet, another in 2017 for a numberplate light and one more this year for a balljoint. Advisories were limited to the usual ‘undertrays obscuring view’ and air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror.
Upon collecting the Civic from BCA, where it cost us £900 + buyers fees, editor Martyn Knowles found little wrong with it mechanically. The aircon doesn’t do much, so it may have a leak or might just need a shot of gas, and all four alloys had been used for target practice on kerbs. However, the wheels are shod with four very recent Maxxis tyres, so while we will be restoring the rims (gunmetal grey metallic rather than boring silver), we won’t need new rubber.
The steering wheel is also on at the wrong angle, probably because the tracking wasn’t done in January after the worn balljoint was replaced. We can either sort the tracking or remove the wheel and refit it correctly – we’ll probably go with the first suggestion, to avoid wear on the front tyres.
Like most cars older than 10 years, this one has had one comical body repair to the front bumper corner. It’s not too ugly, to be fair, but should be fixable with filler and a matched aerosol can, while the weather is still warm enough. There are also a multitude of minor scratches to the bodywork that are shallow enough to be wet-flatted and mopped out – the car could use a good polish anyway and the grey trim edging around the sills and arches has turned the usual pale grey – we’ve found that teak oil can restore the factory blackness, so we’ll be giving that a shot.
One potential problem we were worried about was the Honda-fitted roof bars. These are a superbly aerodynamic design, but the key for them is missing – not to worry, the internet came to the rescue. More in the next issue.
The passenger side folding exterior mirror no longer folds when you press the button. While the driver’s mirror moves out of the way smoothly, the passenger one emits the rattle of worn plastic gears and doesn’t do anything, so we will be removing this and attempting a fix before shelling out for a used one – we dread to think what a new one costs.
Last but not least, the glovebox doesn’t close, meaning it was hanging open.
We sorted this the next day by removing it, repairing the damaged handle with Araldite Rapid and refitting the return spring, before gluing the two halves back together and refitting it. It now works, but as one of the support struts had broken off, we will be replacing it with a good used one. Luckily, there is no key lock on these to worry about.
What goes wrong?
Not a lot. Read the reviews and owners struggle to find fault, although certain features of the car are disliked, such as the lack of a rear wiper. Having said that, seized rear calipers get a mention, as well as a faulty thermostat at 70,000 miles, but neither of these is a serious flaw. It says something for a car when the biggest complaints are noisy brake pads and uneven tyre wear!
The R18 engine has proven to be excellent and, with regular oil changes, seems to have no real vices, although apparently the adjustable non-hydraulic tappets need looking at periodically.
The three recalls mentioned earlier comprise one in 2006 for loss of power steering, another in 2007 for a handbrake lever issue and a final one in 2010 for a missing brake pedal pin on a small number of 2010-built cars. Our car should have been cleared for the first two, but we need to confirm this.
The seized rear caliper issue seem to be a fairly common problem due to the front brakes doing most of the work, so we’ll be removing and cleaning ours to prevent any future problems – the car certainly seems to pull up nice and straight. We’ll also be scrutinising things like the top mounts and droplinks, which get a real pounding on the UK’S potholed roads.
So is the Civic the most reliable hatchback in its field? We’ll be finding out.