Last week, at about 238,000 miles, we traded my wife’s 2002 Honda Civic. It was good to us.
She drove that car the night we first met. It was the car we drove home after we got married. We drove our dog home from the Humane Society in it, I drove her to the hospital in it, and we drove our two boys home from the hospital in it. When a car lasts 13 years, it gets to participate in a lot I guess.
We both bought our Civics before we met, but for the same reasons: We both wanted something that would be low maintenance. My Civic turned out to be a slightly better car than hers, but hers still gave us less trouble than most people we know. We had to do a number of wear-and-tear repairs over the years, but I can count the number of mechanical issues we had with it on one hand: a cam sensor, a radiator, a thermostat, and, in the end, the engine. The mechanic said it would be fine for a while, but said we were looking at an expensive repair soon.
The timing wasn’t the best. I’d just put four new tires on it a couple of months ago. I was going to opt for some cheap 40,000-mile tires, but I let the salesman talk me into premium tires. Not my smartest move, but at least I can say I made the decision that kept my wife and kids safe for a couple of months.
Had it been my Civic, I would have done the repair ahead of time and kept on going, but my Civic is a bit less beat-up than hers. My commute to work is easier on the car than the endless trips to the grocery store and shuttling two rambunctious boys around. The interior was wearing out and the body had lots of dings on it. It looked like a 13-year-old car that we’d gotten our money’s worth out of. Earlier this year we’d talked about it, and had been planning on getting something newer next year. I knew better than to suggest we rebuild it and stretch it out two more years to get our money’s worth out of the repair.
We got a Toyota RAV4. According to Steve Lang, the RAV4 has just average reliability, due to transmission issues, but when you look at his data, it’s clear there are a few bad years dragging the overall average down. Having a bit more versatility will be nice. Toyota makes really good stuff, but that Civic is going to be a hard act to follow.
I didn’t think to snap a picture of the Civic’s odometer, but after the salesman snapped a picture of us in front of the RAV4, I walked over to the Civic and snapped a picture of it.
The boys were excited at first that we were getting a new(er) car, but my oldest son got upset as we pulled out of the lot and he realized the old car, one of the only two he’s ever known, was staying behind. I told him someday we’ll be able to find another white 4-door Civic a lot like it. He may not like that idea as much in around 10 years when he can drive as he does now, but we’ll see.
The next morning, he was still upset.
“Dad, if it costs less money to fix a car than to get a new one, why did we get a new one?” he asked.
“He is your son,” my wife said. “You answer that one.”
Yes, he is his father’s son.
“If you have to fix a car enough times, it can end up being cheaper to get a new one,” I said.
I suppose I need to do the math sometime. Each successive 100,000 miles does seem to be more expensive than the previous one, in terms of maintenance and repair, though that initial purchase price will pay for an awful lot of repairs. Between 100,000 and 200,000 miles, I used to budget $1,000 a year for maintenance and repairs and I’m not sure I actually spent that every single year. After 200,000, it seems like I’m spending closer to $2,000 a year. And don’t forget that prior to 100,000, while yearly maintenance is less, it isn’t zero.
I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t second-guess myself a few times.
Then again, we still have my super Civic. It has 218,000 miles on it, so it’s not terribly far behind, and it has even fewer repairs on its rap sheet. I just put new tires and suspension on it last month, so it rides better than it has in years. With good tires and struts, it handles well and it’s fun to drive. And when you drive the same car for 12 years, it doesn’t surprise you–you know what it can and can’t do, which is important when the guy in front of you does something stupid. In just 12 short years, it’ll be a classic. I don’t know if its body has five years left in it, let alone 12, due to St. Louis winters, but I’m going to find out.
But I’ll still miss its longtime drivewaymate. Well done, good and faithful servant. Fare thee well, and thank you.