There isn't much you can do by looking except for obvious signs of leaks. The main thing to worry about is the timing belt. If the previous owner can't tell you when it was replaced last, have that done. It's a somewhat expensive repair that takes at least half a day, but if it breaks, it will turn into a REAL expensive repair.
Around that time period Honda recommended timing belt replacement at 75,000 miles, and they typically broke at 65,000 miles. The 1.8L engine is an "interference" engine. That means if the belt breaks, any valves that are open at that time will be hit and bent by the pistons as they coast to a stop. That repair usually exceeds $1500.00. I personally will never own any car with an interference engine, but all manufacturers have some that are.
You might want to consider having a safety inspection done at a local shop. That will cover things like the brake, steering, and suspension systems. They will check that all safety systems are working. You can also ask them to do a chemical test at the radiator for a leaking cylinder head gasket. If that needs repair, it involves removing the timing belt, so that's the time to do both repairs. They should also measure the front and rear ride height. If it has sagged a little from age, that is not serious, but it will affect handling and braking. If the ride height has been altered by the previous owner, walk away from it and find a better car.
Look at tire wear patterns too. Most car owners don't know how to read those wear patterns, but anyone at any tire and alignment shop will be able to tell if there's any potential problems causing abnormal wear. Other than suspension and alignment specialists, not all mechanics can interpret tire wear.
Monday, February 24th, 2014 AT 1:29 AM