COAL: 1994 Honda Civic EX – Best and Worst of Times

Rear view of Honda Civic Coupe

By the end of 1993, my wife and I had been living in Maryland for about six months and I had finally found a job (doing so wasn’t easy at that time, even with an engineering degree). The ’91 Accord was still serving as our only car but I was ready for something more exciting. Besides, the tires were worn out (a running joke in my family is that we seem to buy tires only if they’re attached to a new car). Since we were still just starting out, inexpensive would also be good.  So off to the Honda dealer we went.

At this point, the next generation of Accord had just been released and was larger and more refined than the one I was driving. It was also a bit out of our price range, unfortunately, unless we looked at the Accord DX with manual windows and black bumpers. Even at that, adding air conditioning and a stereo (both of which were dealer add-ons) meant that the out-the-door price was getting to the edge of our budget. The Civic was much more reasonably priced and a two-door coupe body style had been introduced just the previous year. The Civic EX coupe was in our price range and came with a sunroof and a fancy stereo (but no CD player, unfortunately). Air conditioning was an extra (and a necessary one for Maryland summers) and wheelcovers were still plastic, but this car was much more appropriate for a young couple “on the go,” so to speak, especially with the manual transmission. The front seat headrests were a bit odd, as I recall, since they were supported by a bracket on the outboard side of the seat. Made for better visibility, though. Best of all, it came in green, which was and is my wife’s favorite color. It was a very early ‘90s green, too.

1994 Honda Civic EX front view

This was an interesting purchase process as it was the first time I had purchased a new car on my own without any help from my parents. They were almost 400 miles away, and I figured I had been through enough car purchases with my father that I could do OK for myself. My wife had never been involved in a new car purchase, as I recall. We may as well have worn “We’re new here” t-shirts to the dealer, but we must have been smart enough to avoid being taken for a ride. The negotiation went fine – didn’t get much for the ’91 Accord but I was already seeing myself in that new Civic so I didn’t care. I think it was $15k out the door with the add-on air conditioning – don’t remember what we got for our trade but it wasn’t very much.

Like the Accord, the Civic was enjoyable to drive and pretty nimble in traffic. Power was adequate (VTEC kickin’ in, yo!), but the manual shifter was light and easy to use (and you used it a lot given the relatively low power output of the engine). The back seat wasn’t as roomy as the Accord but it was a great excuse to have other people drive when we went out with friends. The stereo had name-brand speakers (Acoustic Research), which I thought was cool – the front tweeters had the AR logo prominently featured on them. Not as good as the JBL stereos in the Fords we had, but still not bad. We did pretty well with our first new car purchase together, or so we thought.

Dashboard of 1994 Honda Civic

Unfortunately, this car appeared to attract bad luck. Nothing dangerous or expensive ever happened, really, but things occurred that were annoying nonetheless. The first problem came shortly after we purchased the car. We used it to travel back to Akron for our first Christmas on our own – I wanted to show my parents how well I’d done with my first new car buying experience and come back home for the first time since we’d moved to Maryland. All went well until our trip home. We happened to be traveling a stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike near the Allegheny Tunnel during some light snow. Our misfortune was to go through that stretch directly after a salt truck had been through and covered the highway with salt chunks that were pebble-sized. As you might expect, that did some serious damage to the paint on the front bumper, hood, and front fenders. When I cleaned the salt away, I found dozens of paint chips that covered the front of the car. Touching them all up would have taken days, and we were living in an apartment at the time so that was time and garage space I didn’t have. I tried several things to make the paint look better, including a pigmented car wax (in green) that was supposed to hide the chips. The pigmented wax was a big deal back then – I wonder if it is still being made. I also tried adding a smoke-colored wind deflector which can be seen in some of the pictures. It helped keep more dings from appearing on the front edge of the hood, but that was about it. Eventually I simply bought a front-end mask (one of those ugly vinyl ones) from the Honda dealer to simply cover up the dings in the summer. Not sure what looked worse…

Later that next summer, we had some of my wife’s high-school friends down for a visit, and we decided to go into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to soak up some tourist vibes. As I was negotiating a left turn downtown, I stopped in the intersection to wait for some pedestrians (as one is supposed to do) and was smartly rear-ended by a rather unfriendly dude. He wanted to know why I stopped, and apparently “to avoid squashing people on the road” wasn’t a good enough answer. Luckily, the damage to the bumper was relatively minor and buffed right out, as they say.

The next incident wasn’t going to buff out, though. By this time we’d moved across town to a townhouse so our parking situation was a bit better, but the traffic was worse. One evening as my wife and I were returning from a fast-food restaurant with some take-out, we crossed a major intersection just as the light turned green. This intersection, as a number of ones in Maryland are, has right turn “ramps” that allow mostly continuous right turns along a curve instead of a hard right turn. Our misfortune was to be next to that right turn ramp just as a person coming from our right tried to beat the traffic but failed to do so, and failed to stop as well. It was timed just right so she hit our Civic directly across the right front wheel, folding up the bumper and breaking the parking light. She seemed excessively nervous and wanted to move along quickly once she realized our car was driveable. I realized much later that she had probably been drinking (it was relatively late) and didn’t want to get caught. Being 20-something and a bit naïve, we just went home without calling the police (a mistake I have not made since, to be sure). We were able to get the car repaired at a high quality Honda body shop – the fender repair was indistinguishable from the factory paint (and the side benefit of getting rid of some PA Turnpike nicks was nice), but the car never drove the same way because the collision was directly on the right front wheel. Nothing major, but on a straight flat road the steering wheel would gently oscillate from side to side enough for the driver to notice.

Despite all these problems, we did put quite a few miles on the car, particularly early in our ownership as it was our only car for a while. The hassle of carpooling when we worked in different directions meant that we needed a second car for me, which will be the subject of next week’s COAL.

As for the Civic, by 1996 I was ready to be rid of it forever, and wasn’t really worried about how much money I’d lose in waving goodbye to it. An upcoming COAL will explore the adventure of the car that replaced this Civic, which was as unlucky as the Civic itself in some ways.