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Discussion Starter #1
Since I’ve begun participating in the forum, the number of posts looking for advice on buying First Gen Pilots seems to be increasing. Perhaps a First-Gen Buyer’s Checklist would be a useful sticky in the ’03-’08 sub-forum, since the responses to these threads are pretty consistent.

I’ve started a list of the topics I’ve found to be the most useful / relevant. I imagine each point as a link to existing threads. I haven’t done the R&D for the links - adding the best ones is still needed. The categories reflect my biases - I’m sure that these can be improved for a more balanced perspective.

Finally, this is written from the perspective of a “civilian” buyer. Those talented folks who bring Pilots back from the dead are much more qualified than me to point out the rules-of-thumb for the hard-core side of used-car purchases.


Shopping for a First Generation Pilot

Pilots are popular, so asking prices can be relatively high. Paying significantly more than Kelly Blue Book for a really good one might be fair, but Pilots that good are rare. This list is intended to help prospective owners identify Pilot-specific issues in addition to following a generic used-car checklist.

As of late 2020, first-gen Pilots (2003 - 2008) are 13 - 18 years old. Even those that are well maintained with low mileage have parts that are wearing out or aging out, some for the second time. Unless you’re buying it as a “disposable”, consider the "Self Check" section before you pursue a vehicle that isn't a good fit for your situation.

If a vehicle checks out for you, paying an experienced mechanic to do another inspection before you buy is still well worth the cost.

Self Check

First-gen pilots are not great vehicles for everyone. If this isn’t you, consider a newer model.

  • You plan to do most of the work on your Pilot yourself.
  • You know and trust a local independent mechanic (not a Honda dealer) to do any work you don’t.
  • You expect to invest over time in non-critical repairs and upgrades.
  • You expect “stone age” (1990’s vintage) tech and media, and relatively difficult upgrade options.
  • Your budget (time and money) will tolerate doing deferred maintenance after you buy.
  • You’re comfortable with the low but non-zero risk of major repair like transmission replacement.
Deal Killer

Don’t make someone else’s problem your own.

The attachment point of the rear subframe to the unibody is a weak spot in these vehicles. Repair is possible, but is more complicated than taking it to your trusted mechanic. Red flags include:
— rear subframe mount rust perforation
— widespread or locally severe unibody rust on the underside.
— any indication of significant rear-end or rear-side impact.

Potential Deal Killers

Unless there are big positives that balance these issues out, keep looking.

  • 250k+ miles. Pilots don’t last forever. There are plenty out there with more life left.
  • Red flags on the transmission. Replacement by a pro is $4,000.
— shifting is harsh or loud
— ATF is very dark or smells burned
— Metal flakes in the transmission

Big Negotiating Points

These Pilot-specific issues are listed in order of importance. Use them to your advantage. An approximate price concession to request is noted. All of these jobs except the safety recalls are DIY-feasible for a driveway mechanic.

  • Lack of recall services. There have been several. If they were neglected, what else was?
  • timing belt past due for replacement (105k / 7 years) or status unknown ($1,000)
  • valve-clearance check past due (105k???) or status unknown ($500)
— lack of documentation means you should assume timing belt and valve check are due
  • worn struts and shocks indicated by a soft, floaty ride or 100k+ miles ($500)
  • worn front lower control arms indicated by cracks or tears in the rubber parts ($350)
  • worn CV boots/joints indicated by cracks or tears or grinding on sharp low-speed turns ($400)
  • original radiator (primarily 2005, $250)
  • worn front and passenger-side motor mounts indicated by cracks or tears ($350)
  • ignition switch works smoothly without sticking or binding ($500)
Other common issues to check and haggle over

These are common minor issues. They are all easy to DIY, but be aware of cost of parts.

  • rear console blows hot / cold and fan speed varies (thermistor replacement, $120 for OEM part)
  • door locks all operate remotely (actuator replacement ($40 each for OEM part)
  • second row seats fold and slide normally on both sides (OEM replacement is expensive, salvage recommended)
  • original spare tire (It’s worn out and dangerous. $150 to replace with new full-size wheel & tire)
  • DVD player for rear entertainment system works. Hint: Blu-Ray won't work. ($1000+ for new OEM replacement)
  • lights on center console climate control buttons burned out (cheap)
  • if aftermarket stereo present, steering wheel controls are properly integrated (good luck. Post if you figure it out.)
 

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Great idea!
I would add that the 1.5 generation (2006-2008) features VCM on all 2WD EX-L (and SE) models. That is something I'd probably avoid if possible or at least be aware of the potential issues that come with it.
 

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Super idea and post. Now if only we could talk a friendly moderator into making it a sticky. :)

A couple of suggestions:
  • The lists go back and forth itemizing things that should be good and potential problems, for example:
So try to make them all either one or the other.​

  • Perhaps add checking fluids for levels, conditions and leaks.
  • A good indication of if the vehicle was well cared for is the brand of tires, regardless of tread depth. Crappy, cheapo tires can be indicative of an owner who didn't care about, or couldn't afford, good maintenance.
  • A clear title is a must.
  • Good service records are always a big plus. Don't just look at the thickness of the pile; read through them.
  • Run the VIN.
I might add other items if anything else comes to mind, and I'm sure fellow members will also.

Great initiative. (y)
 

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Maybe as a second post and follow-up in that sticky could be what fluids to attend to right after purchase, like something along the lines of this:

What fluid to put in the rear end?


Don't know if mods have the power to do that. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Great suggestions - thanks! I had plplplpl's item about cheap tires in it, but it was already pretty long and I was thinking "Pilot-specific" to leverage the expertise here on the forum. Maybe the best approach is to flag the Pilot-specific items separately from the others.

I think that the format used in the Popular Mechanics list is really clear and concise, and it organizes the evaluation process efficiently. That looks like a good approach for the next draft - maybe reference our items into the PM list and sticky both.

I'll let it run another day or so and aggregate the input.
 

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This list is intended to help prospective owners identify Pilot-specific issues in addition to following a generic used-car checklist.
My bad, I missed that part. So I think your approach is really good: Focus on Honda-specific issues for prospective Gen 1 buyers and add it as a sticky in that subforum.
 

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Start with only consider buying a 2006-2008 with AWD/4WD.
Before I purchased my 08 EX-L FWD, I was looking at all years of the 1st generation, but once I learned that the 06-08's added side curtains to 2nd & 3rd row, my search narrowed to 06-08, and eventually stumbled on the one I ultimately purchased. While I wouldn't have minded the 4WD version, I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity on the one I found, as with a little elbow grease has cleaned it up nicely, and based upon the oil analysis the engine is running healthy. Only thing pending with it is some new control arms because I noticed when I changed the oil & trans fluid the compliance bushings were cracked/dry-rotted (since it spent it's life on the desert side of California).

Still on the fence about the VCM on mine, and getting a "Muzzler" or equivalent. I've noticed zero oil consumption over the last 3 months I've had it. I find it dumb that Honda has the "eco" light, and it doesn't correspond with the VCM system being on. Only time I've really noticed VCM kick on is when doing about 55 mph. It seems most of the in-city traffic doesn't give VCM enough time to activate, and most of the time on the highways cruising speed is 70+mph (posted speed limit is 65). If I lived in a more rural area that requires 15 minutes to drive "into town", I could see it being a problem.

Correct me if I'm wrong, the main issue with VCM is that it eventually causes oil consumption? Does anyone have a clear reason why that is? (Piston rings shouldn't wear unless there is an oiling issue)
Secondary issue with VCM is the wear it causes on the hydraulic engine mounts resulting in them only lasting about 60k miles at a time? (thus with replacement costs, any savings in gas from use is negligible?)
 

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Before I purchased my 08 EX-L FWD, I was looking at all years of the 1st generation, but once I learned that the 06-08's added side curtains to 2nd & 3rd row, my search narrowed to 06-08, and eventually stumbled on the one I ultimately purchased. While I wouldn't have minded the 4WD version, I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity on the one I found, as with a little elbow grease has cleaned it up nicely, and based upon the oil analysis the engine is running healthy. Only thing pending with it is some new control arms because I noticed when I changed the oil & trans fluid the compliance bushings were cracked/dry-rotted (since it spent it's life on the desert side of California).

Still on the fence about the VCM on mine, and getting a "Muzzler" or equivalent. I've noticed zero oil consumption over the last 3 months I've had it. I find it dumb that Honda has the "eco" light, and it doesn't correspond with the VCM system being on. Only time I've really noticed VCM kick on is when doing about 55 mph. It seems most of the in-city traffic doesn't give VCM enough time to activate, and most of the time on the highways cruising speed is 70+mph (posted speed limit is 65). If I lived in a more rural area that requires 15 minutes to drive "into town", I could see it being a problem.

Correct me if I'm wrong, the main issue with VCM is that it eventually causes oil consumption? Does anyone have a clear reason why that is? (Piston rings shouldn't wear unless there is an oiling issue)
Secondary issue with VCM is the wear it causes on the hydraulic engine mounts resulting in them only lasting about 60k miles at a time? (thus with replacement costs, any savings in gas from use is negligible?)
2006-2008 are also way more attractive too. The ECO light does correspond with VCM and it activates at lower speeds. I muzzled it because it was causing a ton of shuddering at lower speeds. I enjoy driving my car so much more now. I haven't had any oil consumption before or after. The engine mounts have been replaced twice by the previous owner and they could probably be replaced again, but I'm going to hold off for a while.
 

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The ECO light does correspond with VCM and it activates at lower speeds.
Based upon my observations, the ECO light does not always mean VCM is active, it just means the engine is operating at it's highest efficiency. When cruising about 80mph on flat ground home with it, the ECO light was on, but I'm pretty sure the VCM wasn't actually on then. Only time I've ever really felt the VCM (and my pilot got new front/rear motor mounts from the previous owner around 8k miles ago) is when doing 55-60, and the ECO light needs to be on for 3+ seconds at a minimum before VCM kicks on (kinda feels like a gear shift, I can pickup on the added vibrations when checking for operation, and feel the throttle peddle's input/response is delayed when I push on the pedal to accelerate, like an old school "overdrive" mode).
 

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Based upon my observations, the ECO light does not always mean VCM is active, it just means the engine is operating at it's highest efficiency. When cruising about 80mph on flat ground home with it, the ECO light was on, but I'm pretty sure the VCM wasn't actually on then. Only time I've ever really felt the VCM (and my pilot got new front/rear motor mounts from the previous owner around 8k miles ago) is when doing 55-60, and the ECO light in my observation needs to be on for 3+ seconds at a minimum before it kicks on.
So if you're traveling down a flat road around 40 mph, the ECO light doesn't stay on until you slow town or accelerate? The amount of shaking and shuddering that goes on as soon as the light comes on tells me the cylinders are deactivating but I could be wrong.
 

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So if you're traveling down a flat road around 40 mph, the ECO light doesn't stay on until you slow town or accelerate? The amount of shaking and shuddering that goes on as soon as the light comes on tells me the cylinders are deactivating but I could be wrong.
The ECO light comes on with very light throttle input at various speeds from what I can tell, and VCM doesn't appear to kick on unless sustained for 3+ seconds. Where I live, there aren't many places that are flat/level enough to do 40 mph or so before hitting a stop sign or traffic light, or you hop on the freeway and end up cruising 70+ MPH. Given the drive-by-wire throttle, gotta have a feathers touch (or cheat with cruise control), and my Pilot likes to creep on speed and will happily have you doing 80+MPH if you aren't paying attention. (Maybe that's a factor of being used to a small cars by comparison, and viewing angle).

All that aside, in the end, I'm just curious if anyone has a solid reason for reported oil consumption due to VCM with 06-08 FWD models? Just trying to understand why, because I haven't seen any clear answer to the source than just saying "it's because of VCM".
 

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The ECO light comes on with very light throttle input at various speeds from what I can tell, and VCM doesn't appear to kick on unless sustained for 3+ seconds. Where I live, there aren't many places that are flat/level enough to do 40 mph or so before hitting a stop sign or traffic light, or you hop on the freeway and end up cruising 70+ MPH. Given the drive-by-wire throttle, gotta have a feathers touch (or cheat with cruise control), and my Pilot likes to creep on speed and will happily have you doing 80+MPH if you aren't paying attention. (Maybe that's a factor of being used to a small cars by comparison, and viewing angle).

All that aside, in the end, I'm just curious if anyone has a solid reason for reported oil consumption due to VCM with 06-08 FWD models? Just trying to understand why, because I haven't seen any clear answer to the source than just saying "it's because of VCM".
To be honest I haven't encountered a Honda that didn't burn oil. Our old 2006 Odyssey had non-VCM engine and burned quite a bit of oil and of course it wasn't due to VCM.
The cases of oil consumption are so random, it makes me wonder if it wasn't related to VCM. Some people have no problems and some people have tons of problems. Our 2013 Pilot with VCM didn't consume any oil and it doesn't now either. If my 2008 didn't shudder so badly with VCM enabled, I would have no reason to disable it and the only reason the '13 got it muzzled is because I got a crazy good deal on the VCM Muzzler.

There are many Piloteers who think the VTM-4 system is superior to many other SUVs and therefore it would be a waste to not have it. I avoided 4WD Pilots initially because I didn't want to deal with additional maintenance/things that can break. I have since learned more about it and kind of with I had 4WD, but having never owned a 4WD vehicle, I figure at this point I don't need it.
 

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Correct me if I'm wrong, the main issue with VCM is that it eventually causes oil consumption?
Fouled plugs, from reports on this forum.
 

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Fouled plugs, from reports on this forum.
So people need to stop driving like "Ms Daisy", and do the "Italian Tune-Up" more often. :p

Might also help to change the oil more frequently, and/or use a quality synthetic with a good detergent package, and "Top Tier" fuel.
 

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Don’t be afraid of first generation Pilots. Mine lacks TPMS VCM and all the other wonderful things when they work. But the first generation Pilots are old and need some TLC like the radiator if not already mentioned. Sixteen years later digging into the reliable Pilot showed a radiator needing some TLC and let’s not forget the infamous rusty transmission line. Take care of these issues as well as the timing belt and this Pilot will be pointed in the right direction for 300K+ or more
286C7C5C-D534-4BE5-B04E-4A0F6793FD4A.jpeg
 

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So people need to stop driving like "Ms Daisy", and do the "Italian Tune-Up" more often. :p
Just did one today with the wife in the car. Suffice it to say she was not nearly as thrilled as I was.

139888
139889
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Updated to reflect comments and suggestions. If those interested will suggested additional or replacement links to their favorite threads, we should be close to wrapping it up.

I’ve used the color codes from the Popular Mechanics checklist that cloudasc posted, but couldn't find the "Background Color" tool, so it's just text for now. For reference:

Green - noted, not serious
Yellow - Cause for concern
Red - Serious issue
Deal Breaker

Shopping for a First Generation Pilot

Pilots are popular, so asking prices can be relatively high. Paying significantly more than Kelly Blue Book for a really good one might be fair, but as of late 2020, those are rare: first-gen Pilots (2003 - 2008) are 13 - 18 years old. Even those that are well maintained with low mileage have parts that are wearing out or aging out.

This list is intended to help prospective owners identify Pilot-specific issues in addition to following a normal used-car checklist like the one from Popular Mechanics attached below. This list is organized and color coded to follow the Popular Mechanics system. The goal is to identify a reasonably well-maintained vehicle that can economically be spruced up to serve you well for another 50k - 100k miles.

If the vehicle checks out, paying an experienced mechanic to do another inspection before you buy is still well worth the cost.

Self Check

First-gen pilots are not great vehicles for everyone. They require regular attention to maintenance unless you’re buying it as a “disposable”. Maintaining them is not inexpensive if you're paying someone else to do it.

If you can’t say “Yes” to most of the following, consider a newer model.

  • You plan to do most of the work on your Pilot yourself.
  • You know and trust a local independent mechanic (not a Honda dealer) to do any work you don’t.
  • You expect to invest over time in non-critical repairs and upgrades.
  • You expect “stone age” (1990’s vintage) tech and media, and relatively difficult upgrade options.
  • Your budget (time and money) will tolerate doing deferred maintenance after you buy.
  • You’re comfortable with the low but non-zero risk of major repair like transmission replacement.
The Basics

Yellow: The 2WD variants for 2006-2008 models include VCM (Variable Cylinder Management), intended to improve fuel economy. VCM also spawned a cottage industry dedicated to disabling it to avoid it’s unintended consequences. It’s been blamed for excessive oil consumption, spark plug fouling, misfires and misfire codes, worn engine mounts, and excessive vibration.

On the other hand, others like the updated features, don’t want 4WD, and don’t have complaints about VCM. There’s ample reading material on the forum to research this further and form your own opinion.

Deal Breaker: 250k+ miles. Pilots don’t last forever. There are plenty out there with more life left.
Deal Breaker: Missed recall services. There have been several recalls. If these were neglected, what else was?

Interior

Green: The lights that illuminate the center console climate control buttons are burned out (cheap to repair)
Green: Any of the 5 door locks doesn’t operate remotely (actuator replacement, $40 each)
Green: DVD player for rear entertainment system doesn’t work. Not playing BluRay discs is normal. ($1000+ for new OEM replacement)
Green: Steering wheel audio controls don’t work with an aftermarket audio head unit (probably impossible to fix)
Green: Rear console climate control fan speed doesn’t vary automatically (thermistor replacement, $120 for OEM part)

Yellow: Ignition switch works smoothly without sticking or binding ($500)
Yellow: Rear console climate control only blows warm (A/C service)
Yellow: Second row seats (potentially expensive and difficult; some parts are not available separately.)
—don’t fold almost flat on both sides
—don’t fold half way and slide forward on both sides to allow third-row access

Exterior

Green: Minor checking or crazing in the paint. Paint on these cars is tough. A thorough detailing will solve a lot of cosmetic problems.

Red: Cheap tires. Good tires for a Pilot aren’t cheap. Can be indicative of an owner who didn't care about, or couldn't afford, good maintenance..

Chassis / Underbody

Green: Compact spare tire. If original, it’s aged out and dangerous. If current, it’s still terrible. $150 to replace with new full-size wheel & tire.

Yellow: No record of VTM-4 (rear differential) fluid replacement in last 30k miles. Link is for Honda Ridgeline, but identical.
Yellow: Worn front lower control arms indicated by cracks or tears in the rubber parts ($400)
Yellow: Tears or cracks in CV boots ($400)
Yellow: Original struts and shocks, regardless of condition ($500)

Deal Breaker: The attachment points of the rear subframe to the unibody are a weak spot in these vehicles. Repair is more complicated than taking it to your trusted mechanic. Look for:
— rear subframe mount rust perforation
— widespread or locally severe unibody rust.
— history of significant rear-end or rear-side impact.

Engine

Green: Original radiator, primarily 2005. Failure blends coolant with ATF and quickly destroys the transmission. $250

Yellow: Valve-clearance check past due (100k) or no receipts. ($500)
Yellow: Front and passenger-side motor mounts showing significant cracks or tears ($350)

Red: Timing belt past due for replacement (105k / 7 years). Without a sticker on the firewall or receipts, assume its not done. ($1,000).
Red: No record of transmission fluid replacement in last 30k miles.

Deal Breaker: Serious transmission warnings. Replacement by a pro is $4,000.
— Shifting is harsh or loud
— ATF is very dark or smells burned
— Metal flakes in the transmission (requires draining ATF to check).

On the Road

Green: A soft, floaty ride indicates worn struts and shocks ($500)

Yellow: Vague steering indicates worn ball joints or steering links ($400)
Yellow: Grinding on sharp low-speed turns indicates worn CV joints ($400)

After You Bring It Home

There are several excellent threads on what to do next.
 

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Looks pretty good ^^, prices I presume are parts + general labor (e.g. not DIY). Maybe split costs by part & labor? E.g. Control Arms (new Mevotech Supreme) from RockAuto was $211.82 with tax & shipping, and was the most expensive option available. Otherwise, if one is willing to put in the labor, and maybe rent some (free) tools from your local parts store, can get parts costs down to half that. Compliance bushings (new OEM via Majestic Honda) are like $15/piece. A new ball joint from RockAuto will run you $30, so for around $120 (or less) could go that route as well.
 
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