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The hall of famer lets me down

My check engine light came on this morning. I’ve been driving this Honda Civic since May 2003, and this is only the third time that’s happened. But the other two times were nuisance lights. The car ran fine, so I bought a new gas cap, replaced the cap, and the light went off.

This time was different. I confirmed it when I turned the corner and tried to accelerate to 25 miles per hour. The car acted like I was asking it to go a hundred and twenty-five.

After 10-plus years and 194,000-plus miles, I had my first mechanical problem. For the first time, I was going to the mechanic for something other than arbitrary, mileage-based maintenance.

A former coworker, a year ago, demanded my cell phone number. I said I didn’t have one. “Who doesn’t carry a cell phone?” she asked. “What do you do when you have car trouble?”

“I’ve never had car trouble,” I said.

And I hadn’t, with this Honda. Well, I got a dead battery once, but that was in the parking lot at work, so I just turned around, walked back to my office, and asked a coworker for a jump. I didn’t need a cell phone for that. Doing the math, not carrying a cell phone because of car trouble that never happened saved me, gulp, more than six thousand dollars.

Six thousand dollars.

Six thousand dollars!

All is forgiven.

So instead of driving to work, I drove to the mechanic. The problem turned out to be legit. A couple of sensors were, after 196K miles, done. One sensor has a pin that was completely sheared off due to corrosion, and a second pin that was halfway gone. The bill was $935. That’s a lot of money, and probably 25% of what the car is worth, but it’s two payments on a new car. Or about a year and a half of smartphone bills.

And I guess it’s not entirely a surprise. My gas mileage hasn’t been what it used to be. If the engine hasn’t been getting the right fuel mixture, that can certainly cause that.

In a sense, I was sad. Even though it was a part that was going to wear out, and was probably past due to wear out, after all those years and all those miles, the perfect track record was ending. It was like watching Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken not play, after all those years as an iron man playing every game.

My loaner vehicle was a 1996 Chevy pickup with 226,000 miles on it. It got about 12 miles to the gallon. My boys were impressed, and my wife thought I looked good in it, but my Honda is easier to drive and gets me to and from work for about three bucks a day. And the whole time I was driving it, all I could think of was that old Guadalcanal Diary song “Cattle Prod.” So the Honda is about $1,200 a year cheaper to drive than that truck. So the next time I wish I had a truck, I’ll remember that and rent one.

There isn’t much left under the hood besides the engine that hasn’t been replaced at this point. And when my wife told the neighbors at the bus stop that I was taking my Honda into the shop, one said someone a street or two over owns a Honda with a million miles on it. I’ve never heard that before, but each time I’ve taken the car in for brakes, a timing belt, or some other expensive but routine maintenance, the mechanic has told me about a Civic a year or two older than mine with a half-million miles on it. Usually they’re owned by couriers who drive all the way across the state several times a week.

I remember a few years before I bought this car, one of my college professors telling me I should buy Hondas. “You can go 200,000 miles on them,” she said. I wasn’t sure I believed it at the time.

I believe it now.

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1 thought on “The hall of famer lets me down”

  1. I think we’re talked about this before, but maybe not here. Last year (2013) we sold our 2003 Honda Odyssey minivan with 220,000 miles on it. We got a low interest rate and doubled up on payments and had paid it off by 2005, so we drove a van with no car payments for 8 years. Other than routine maintenance we probably took the van in half a dozen times for different repairs, but none of them ran us more than a normal monthly car payment.

    We had very few issues with the drive train (our most expensive repair was due to a busted motor mount, I think). And yeah, we had to replace a few sensors over the years, too. What really went south for us were all the bells and whistles that came with the car. The DVD player got finicky and finally stopped working, the stereo buttons embedded in the steering wheel occasionally went wonky, and the automatic sliding doors began to get a mind of their own (due in part to all the crumb and bits my kids dropped down into the tracks throughout the years). All those fancy options we had added when we bought the car all quit working long before the car itself did.

    We found a local repair shop that specialized in Hondas and Acuras (Hondura!) and when we started going there we spotted a picture of a white Honda CRX that said, “450,000 miles!” That car belongs to the shop’s owner, and the last time we went there the car had 700,000 miles. At that point I have to assume every part has been replaced at least once, but it’s certainly a testament to Hondas (or maybe to that shop).

    Our Honda had lots of life left in it and I suspect it would have hit half a million miles easily. (At 200,000 miles we hopped in it and drove from Oklahoma to Seattle and back. The only time we had to use AAA was when the kids left a dome light on and drained the battery!) We sold it because my wife “didn’t want to be a minivan owner” anymore. Unsurprisingly, a few days after we sold the van my wife bought a 2013 Honda Crosstour, and I suspect we’ll drive the wheels off this Honda as well. I rarely have loyalty for a particular car manufacturer (it’s much more common for me to hate one than like one) but I am sold on Hondas for sure.

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