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A friend's wife is ready to sell her 2003 Pilot EX. It has 185K miles but she has all service records and has a decent price on it. They took it on a 400 mile round trip just a couple of weeks ago and still consider it the family go-to for longer trips. We went over and drove it yesterday. It drives very well. It is the first AWD we have looked at or driven in quite some time, and being an off-road capable vehicle, the handling is a bit strange after our Dodge Grand Caravan, but it is still a comfortable drive. We noticed you can feel all the bumps in the road due to the stiffer suspension.



Cosmetically all is good; there are a few rock dings here and there but completely within reason. The interior needs a couple of worn pieces replaced (peeling door handle, cracked rear A/C vent, center console lid won't open fully). The front passenger door lock actuator doesn't work so you have to lock it by hand.


Mechanically, I only noticed two things. When I got up to traveling speed and braked quickly, the rear passenger wheel would chirp for just a moment, never in a way that control of the vehicle was in question, but I'm not used to an ABS equipped car grabbing like that. The ABS dash light is not illuminated.

The second thing I observed requires decent hearing. When accelerating onto and on the highway, somewhere in the mid-range RPMs between shifts, I heard a faint vibration/growl that disappeared as soon as the transmission shifted up, but it repeated before the next up-shift. My friend doesn't hear as well as I do, and his wife listens to music in the car and hasn't noticed it.

I can handle the non-mechanical repairs and am patient enough to wait for a Pull-a-Part donor car to show up, but I would appreciate some feedback on the Mechanical observations.
 

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I've not experienced either issue but given the vehicle's age, I would start with the fundamentals first unless you've got a code giving you specific information.

1. Brake fluid replacement, maybe pad and rotor replacement. You can inspect the calipers and make sure that they're lubed and in good external condition while you're in there.

2. ATF replacement. The state of the magnetic ATF drain plug will tell if you're generating more than just fine metallic dust.

There have been a number of recent posts here regarding transmission sensor failure. If replacing the fluid doesn't do anything, that's where I would start looking.

3. While you're at the junkyard, I would find a full-size wheel and tire to replace the donut spare. The full size won't be a perfect fit, but as long as you're careful to not pinch the speed sensor wiring or lean against the muffler heat shield, it rides high and solidly.
 

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The second thing I observed requires decent hearing. When accelerating onto and on the highway, somewhere in the mid-range RPMs between shifts, I heard a faint vibration/growl that disappeared as soon as the transmission shifted up, but it repeated before the next up-shift. My friend doesn't hear as well as I do, and his wife listens to music in the car and hasn't noticed it..

This sound might point to the transmission, or to the VTM4 rear differential. If the engine RPM blips up briefly at the same time as the growl, it could be a shift flare--a momentary slip just before the next gear engages. If it's a shift flare, then transmission problems are likely.



As for the VTM4 rear end, the type of driving you were doing--accelerating under load--this automatically triggers the engagement of the magnetic clutches in the rear end, giving you automatic all wheel drive when you need it. It's a great system, and you normally don't have to think about it. Manual engagement of the VTM4 by use of the dash button is for when you are stuck in a snowdrift--people rarely use the dash button. Anyway, the growl might be due to worn or dirty VTM4 fluid in the rear end. Check on the service history for this component. If its the rear end, clean fluid might quiet it down.


It might be worthwhile to have a local mechanic who is familiar with Honda Pilots to ride with you and listen for the sound.
 

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Hmm...it all depends on the price, ...what is it?
You're looking at an old vehicle that got important updates in 2005, so I'd look around for the price of a 2005, which is also old and might not be much more than the 2003 but offer a lot more mechanically speaking - just my 2 cents
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Hmm...it all depends on the price, ...what is it?
The starting number is $4,000. KBB lists the value for Very Good condition at $4.111, and I have listed everything we found, so if it is mechanically where it seems to be, that's probably fair.
 

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You state that all the maintenance records are present. Does that include transmission fluid changes as well? This is an important item in a high mile Honda with an automatic transmission. (I use Honda ATF and replace it often.)

The interior items can be picked easily from a salvage yard.

Agree with Tacoma'03Pilot that a full size spare is a good idea. I posted some video on YouTube of how this looks under a pilot. YouTube

I have other Pilot videos there, too.
 

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Steve, where do you live, and where did the 2003 Pilot that you are looking at live? If you are in a snow and road salt state, then I suggest you give it a pass. The Pilot rear suspension mounting points in the unit body tend to rust out. I live in Minnesota, and purchased a 2003 with 197k miles a couple of years ago. One of the suspension points failed in my Pilot. I did come up with a fix, but it is not an easy repair. If you live with road salt, the best advice is to get a younger Pilot.


Search these forums for "rear suspension rust", and you should be able to read about other owners' problems, with photos of the rust areas. If you are in Tucson or LA or Vegas, not an issue.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Steve, where do you live, and where did the 2003 Pilot that you are looking at live? If you are in a snow and road salt state, then I suggest you give it a pass.

Sorry, I neglected to go complete my profile. I'm in Alabama, and the seller is an Alabama native as well, so it has not been exposed to salt.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
You state that all the maintenance records are present. Does that include transmission fluid changes as well? This is an important item in a high mile Honda with an automatic transmission. (I use Honda ATF and replace it often.)

I will check. Thanks!
 

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A friend's wife is ready to sell her 2003 Pilot EX. It has 185K miles but she has all service records and has a decent price on it.
When was the timing belt last changed?
It's due every 7-years or 105K-miles - which ever comes first - and can cost close to $1K for a dealer/shop to do the job.
 

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2003 owner with 210K miles

full synthetic oil every 7500 miles
drain and fill Honda trans fluid every 15k miles - weak point of the Pilot
rear diff every 15K mile
usual air filters, cabin air filter replacements
coolant replacements
usual brake rotors and pads

major repairs I have performed that if not performed maybe in your future:
struts & shocks
front lower control arms
adjustable rear upper control arms (correct camber)
CV axles - aftermarket..probably should have gone Honda
2x timing belt, pump, tensioners along with accessory belt and tensioner, spark plugs
alternator
starter
valve adjustment - had a shop do this
cleaned out EGR passages
PCV valve
purchased full spare tire - long road trip must.
radiator and hoses, '05 are notorious for radiator failure resulting in coolant in the trans fluid.
motor mounts
catalytic converter heat shield held on with hose clamp.
set of coils

have start of rust out at rear subframe mount point
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Thanks for the input. After some thoughtful consideration and discussion with a couple of mechanically-inclined friends, along with a price drop, I decided to buy the Pilot. It has been well maintained and I feel confident I can handle the ongoing maintenance. It will need a timing belt/water pump change soon, and I will tackle that as soon as I get the job done on my Miata that my wife has been driving. Right now, we have been down one vehicle due to the Miata’s leaking coolant. As soon as my son and I get that done, I will get the kit and began the job.

As for the rattle I was hearing, I grabbed a friend and took it out on the highway again. The rattle begins about 3500 RPMs and it I keep it up there, it will continuously rattle. He agreed with me that it’s a loose part somewhere either under the dash, in the engine compartment, or on the fender that just starts vibrating at high RPMs. The transmission shifts up and down smoothly.

I’m beginning to formulate some maintenance questions, but rather than extend this thread, I’m going to start topical threads. thanks again!
 
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