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.