From the start of this COAL series lo those many months ago, something has been bothering me. It was that I have owned 29 cars. Something deep within me craves both order and symmetry, and something about ending a series at 29 cars just seemed wrong. I needed to find car #30, then the world could be ight again.
I thought that this was going to require an outlay of money (and time), but seem to have avoided all temptation – despite the occasional tempting ad on Craigslist – like the 1995 Honda Odyssey or the gold 1975 Chrysler New Yorker. (Who says I’m not broad-minded?) I had included the Lacrosse that my son has owned, but only because I actually owned it. I had not included the other son’s 1989 Grand Marquis because although it sometimes felt like I owned it (like every time something broke or needed attention) but I never actually did.
This was also why I had not planned on writing about the 1998 Honda Civic that was my daughter’s car until very recently. But when she finally sold the car a couple of months ago, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a certificate of title that was jointly in her name and mine. And if my name was on the title, my lawyer-brain says that it counts, and so here we are – car #30! Does this make you feel as good as it makes me feel?
My mother-in-law Helen stopped driving soon after she got married in 1956. She did not start driving again until her middle-of-five kids was taking driver’s ed in high school. She never liked driving the rusty VW at her disposal, and after the end of her marriage she bought a perfectly wretched little Chevrolet Spectrum (Isuzu I-Mark) which she drove for several years. In the summer of 1998 my brother-in-law Bill did a wonderful thing and decided to buy his mother a new car. Bill picked out a Honda Civic because it was small. It had air and power steering (which had been absent from the Spectrum and were the driving force behind the idea) and was silver because Helen liked that color.
Helen drove it to church, to the grocery store, and to the homes of her nearby children. As she got older she drove it less and less, and after she accidentally drove into the front of the CVS store (something she never told us about) she decided that she was done with driving. Bill then kept the car, and used it as his daily commuter car to preserve his Toyota Avalon. This was the same Bill who had used Marianne’s old Plymouth Colt before we got it.
The Civic almost expired when someone rear-ended the car while Bill had it. The car was in the gray area between being totaled and being repaired, and Bill elected to get it fixed. I may or may not have had selfish motives (out of a possible desire to own it someday) when I added my two cents that the car should be repaired because it was in such wonderful condition otherwise. Bill got it fixed and kept driving it. Then, in January of 2016 we got a call from Bill who asked us to pick him up at the Honda dealer and drive the Civic home because he had bought a new Pilot. Only the drive home was to end with keys in our daughter Maribeth’s possession, per Bill’s instructions. Everyone should have an Uncle Bill in their lives.
As noted above, I had always harbored the desire to own that Civic when Bill had finished with it, and at first felt like I had missed out. But I did not, because I became heavily involved in Civic life. Like in getting the wet trunk fixed (the body shop had neglected to seal a seam). The car ended up jointly in my name when I accompanied my daughter to the BMV (something I had forgotten) because it could stay on our family insurance policy.
During a visit to her at college about a year into her ownership, Maribeth asked my why the inside of the car stunk. Maybe, I replied after examining the situation, it’s because both the trunk and the rear carpeting are soaking wet and have been for some time. I spent a few weeks with the Civic at home, getting the thing dried out and solving the leak problem – which turned out to be water working its way under the trunk weatherstrip. I bought some weatherstrip sealant and ran a bead in the weatherstrip channel before reinstalling the rubber strip onto the welded metal seam, which solved that problem.
I spent the entire summer of 2018 with the car when Maribeth took my newer Honda Fit to North Carolina for an internship assignment in recreational therapy at a university hospital there. I wrote about that experience here (and also here). It was around the middle of that summer when I decided that I was happy with how the car situation had worked out – Me with my Fit and She with the Civic.
The Civic was far superior to my Fit as a highway cruiser. It was quiet and comfortable, and felt larger than what I was used to. However, in almost every other situation I preferred the little white Fit. The Civic was nearly as low as the Miata, so it was a bit of a chore to get in and out. And it was not as much fun when in the driver’s seat – for two reasons. First, it brought back memories of why I never liked four cylinder cars with 3 speed (or 3 speed + overdrive) transmissions. Second, the steering was far slower and much less sporting than the Fit’s. In short, it was a nice place to visit but I was happy when we traded back at the end of August of that year.
I got the car back when the shifter was freezing up. I disassembled the console and lubed the shift cable, which seemed to fix that. I also replaced the battery when I got a call one evening that the old one had died. Oh, and the hood release cable after the old one got so stiff that the plastic handle broke. Otherwise, the car spent much time after September 2014 out of sight and out of mind.
Things went downhill when Maribeth ignored one piece of driving advice I had given all of my children: If an animal runs out in front of you, grit your teeth, hold on and hope for the best. When that situation actually happened, my animal-loving daughter sacrificed the passenger side of the Civic to save the dog. It was only dumb luck that she hit the tree with the car’s side than with the car’s front – something that would have caused much more severe damage. We discussed her options and decided to leave it as it was. She was insured, but the car’s value was low and she was young, so her insurer (she had her own policy by then) would have jacked up her rates and gotten its money back fairly soon. I thought about a couple of replacement doors, but the rocker panel was pushed in just far enough that I thought it best to leave well enough alone with a door that opened, closed and sealed.
Marianne’s unease with the aging Civic got more serious when the speedometer got wonky (fixed by our mechanic who found a bare wire under the hood) and again when Maribeth got stranded at the mall with a dead battery. Yes, the relatively new battery. Which should have made me dig deeper. I got a call in September that she was stranded again. This time, a jump start struggled, then the car fired with an ear-splitting squeal – until the frozen-up alternator started turning. We got the car home and I gave her the Fit for the weekend. I tried to get it to the mechanic Monday morning, but the belts were squealing AND the car would stall when I removed the jumper cables. Even Honda alternators will eventually fail after 25 years. And this one failed in a spectacular way.
Marianne was becoming insistent that Maribeth needed a new car. Maribeth (and her new husband) agreed. Me? There is a part of my brain that I refer to as the German farmer. My mother grew up on a farm and her father (who died before I was born) was named Keck. Albert Keck kept a 1935 Ford V8 sedan going as his only vehicle (for both family and farm) until 1951. Even then, his oldest daughter got it and kept it going for another year until they traded the old girl for a new 1952 Ford Crestline hardtop. My German farmer brain says that these were among the best damned Hondas ever built, which makes it one of the best cars of all time. If not for the body damage, I would have thought seriously about working out some kind of trade for my Fit.
The situation remained unresolved until an evening in early December when the car was parked in downtown Indianapolis and some vandals (don’t they always roam in packs?) hit the back window with a baseball bat. The repair cost would be just a few dollars under her $500 insurance deductible, so decisions had to be made. A trip to CarMax yielded an offer, but one way too low to consider. A quote from a junkyard was better, but I hated to do that. Once again it was Curbside Classic to the rescue.
I have said before that one of my favorite things about this place is the connections I have made over the years. Some of them have been local to me – like longtime CC contributor Jim Grey. Another is the fellow known hereabouts as gtemnyk – a mechanical engineer by day and a car nut the rest of the time. I met him over lunch when I bought some unused insulation matting from him, and we have kept in occasional touch. He has an appreciation for cars that are kind of like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree – ones that need a little love. One email to him and the result was a reasonable as-is offer.
I got another good visit and conversation out of this transaction, knowing that he would give the Civic some needed love before finding a new home for it with someone who will appreciate its virtues. I expected him to make a little money at it, which is as it should be – everyone will come out of this deal a little better off than they were before. Maribeth has some cash (and avoids paying for a window), the buyer makes a little money after a small investment of money and time (it cleaned up really nicely and he made some progress with the dent), and the one who gets the car from him gets a solid (if dented) example of one of the best cars ever made that still has a lot of miles left in it. (If we can set Marianne’s opinions aside for a moment.) And me? I was the catalyst for making everyone happy by making it all happen through a CC connection. Plus, my daughter thinks I’m a magician.
Best of all, this sorry situation has reminded me that I have owned 30 cars and not just 29. This is the place where most COAL authors sum up their experiences, but I think maybe I will do that in a stand-alone post next week. We started this series with a prologue, and my appreciation for order and symmetry says that it needs to end with an epilogue. Just like those episodes of television shows like The F.B.I from my youth. So at that, I will offer an invitation to join me for one more Sunday and we can discuss what we have learned from this experience. What? You were not expecting a quiz and failed to take notes? OK then, we will discuss what I have learned and you will free to chime in with anything you think is appropriate.
These were the years when the Civic was a reliable and simple car that did everything it was supposed to do. They became more and more complex with every successive generation. I have the 8th gen coupe which is still going strong at 200K miles.
My wife has an 8th gen, too. Its paint looks like hell, but it still runs like a top. I love the styling of it, but inside, it seems so cheap, hard, and brittle. The 90s Civics were peak Civic, I think.
Agreed – When Hondas were Hondas.
As for me I prefer the Civics of the 2nd generation. So much simpler in design and mechanicals. I like simple greatly. The Civic of the story has an interior that is too fussy for me.
You could also end with a segment about how your car choices may or may not have affected what your kids have owned.
Great series with a lot of great (and maybe not so great cars). Thanks for the memories.
Very true, I don’t thing they fell far from the tree in finding cars that were that too-rare combination of old, cheap, interesting and good.
Outstanding! One of my long time co-workers had the twin of this car, and aside from cloudy headlights and the typical “Honda rust spot” behind the rear wheels it just kept on going.
Did Maribeth’s avoid the dreaded rust spot, or did it get a reset to zero with the collision repair?
Looking forward to the summary next week, and perhaps your announcement of purchasing a Studebaker.
It had few enough miles that it may not have been rusted if left alone, but the new quarter panels certainly reset the rustometer.
And I can give a spoiler alert that there has not been another car added to the fleet.
There are a limited few vehicle models in which age is just a number and time doesn’t work them over even if their life isn’t the easiest.
It’s obvious this Civic definitely falls into that category. Creating a new drive-through at CVS, getting rear-ended, and the tree – and it still keeps going like it should.
I’m glad your name was on the title, thus earning inclusion here. A while back I was curious about its status. It’s good to know it went to somebody who will be resuscitating it for more adventures.
This has been a really fun series and I’m glad you are having one more hurrah next week.
This poor little car sure suffered a lot for something with so few miles. And my poor daughter has not had the best luck with cars. The Mazda2 she has been driving recently had someone back into the driver’s door and take off, so now she has to crawl through from the passenger side until the body shop can get it in.
I assume the quiz will be an open [MacBook] test (?).
After all, 30 very different cars is too much data to recall on the fly.
BTW, The alternator in Debbie’s 2005 Honda Element started to fail in a slow and gentle manner somewhere around 120,000 miles at about 15 years of time on the road. The battery light would come on occasionally, at odd times, when at speed and/or when idling.
My trusted [but expensive] mechanic said the solution was a new alternator. That was the fix.
As I have noted before, Hondas are not magical mystery machines that run forever with just oil changes, but they are IMO usually pretty good automotive investments as long as you are not looking for exotic appearances or impressive track performance.
You know . . . like a reliable appliance.
You are right – Old Hondas aren’t something you can drive for 50 years and never open the hood. But again, they tend to have been built with high quality components that don’t all start breaking at around 10 yrs or 100k miles.
When talking about the best cars ever made, I would have to interject and add the Honda insight. From 2000 to 2006 it’s engine was the head of the class and mpg was stellar, not giving up the mpg champion title till 2018 I believe, it was a two seater, three cylinder, with a Pancake electric motor tacked on the end. I still get about 50 to 54 miles per gallon with the manual that was the best option. They never made it in white but as you can see, they should have.
I keep forgetting about these – they were not common in my area when they were new, and when they were still seen occasionally, a really small 2 door car was not something that would have fit our lifestyle. I would kind of love one now. Or maybe a Civic Del Sol.
Great series, JPC, and I’m really looking forward to the epilogue (and test). Although I did not comment on all of these, I have been taking (mental) notes all along.
As for Honda Civics? I hope mine keeps going as long as this one has. I love that little car. As much as I love the old Mustang, in most cases, my Civic is way more fun to drive.
It is amazing how many old Civics are still on the road hereabouts. Recently, I was meeting a bunch of engineers and lawyers at the site of a building that has some problems and my client contact that day was a young construction manager. He was still rocking a civic just like this one, only in dark green and with way more miles on it.
Silver Hondas always look good in the rain for some reason…And the Civic is one of those smaller cars that just drives so…buttery is the best word for it, especially when just driving, not trying to do anything fancy. Get it, start it, put it in gear, and it just smoothly goes with all of the touchpoints feeling good and operating so smoothly.
I recall you bringing this to Staunton and remarking you were glad you had it that summer as the Fit wouldn’t have been as good of a…fit…on the freeway to get there.
This one’s kind of like a Timex, takes a licking, keeps on ticking, all for the right price, that being a low one.
I had forgotten that I drove that one to Staunton, but you are right. It was an amazingly comfortable car for a long trip. If it had been a 5 speed, I would probably have kept it, body damage and all.
So my guess was technically right!
I was a late bloomer in terms of managing car affairs on my own. So I simultaneously appreciate the parents’ support and loathed my father’s micromanaging.
Someday I need to do a COAL series. But it won’t be in the near future 🙁
I got the opposite of micromanaging when I was young with cars, which is how I learned to do so much. I have tried to keep to a middle ground with my own kids, offering help when they ask and occasionally offering some unsolicited advice when it looks like they might be able to use it. Just this morning I got a text with a request to help diagnose a noise in the Buick, so I guess my skills won’t get rusty too soon.
Unfortunately I’ve been financially strapped and needed the Bank of Mom and Dad much more than I would have wanted.
It’s with mixed feelings that I would say while my father knew things I didn’t in terms of how-to skills, I’ve known things he hasn’t as a self taught car consumer.
A difficult combination!
Ha, I like your argument for car number 30. I agree, you have to end on an even number! These were really good little cars, IMO last of the basic small light civics. I thought these were near peak Civic, and the newer generations were somewhat of a let down. It seems like you car served your daughter very well. They are great first cars. How many miles did it accumulate?
I married into the ownership of a ’99 Civic. My wife’s father picked it out for her to replace her ’88 Camry which had started to give her trouble. She had it for over a decade and it was a good car for the most part. Compared to my big behemoaths I was driving, I enjoyed the Civic’s agility, good fuel economy and respectable highway manners for a small car. One thing I recall on our Civic was that it had the tightest turning radius of any car I have driven. When my BIL and I were diagnosing a front end noise (bad ball joint), we ran it in tight circles in a cul-de-sac trying to replicate the noise. We were almost died of laughter with how small of turn radius that car would turn.
We decided to sell our when it was about 12 years old. By this time it had had a few issues crop up, (suspension, exhaust, A/C, among other small issues). Rust had also started to take hold despite the Krown rust proofing, our climate is just too harsh. It also was poor in the snow (even with snow tires), had a weak heater and with us moving to a rural setting it was not ideal. To top it off, my wife complained that seats were uncomfortable on long trips, which I also agreed. Never have sold a car so fast when I listed it. I easily got asking price from the first buyer who bought it as his first car. If he hadn’t taken it, I had about three more lined up with cash in hand. It was a good car that served us well, but neither of us miss it.
It was at 121k miles when we sold it, so it averaged a bit over 5k miles/year over its 24 year life. I know that age can take its own kind of toll, but I was always convinced that with some care it still had a lot of life left. Everything still worked, including the a/c. But I had to acknowledge that where someone like you or me could keep a car like that on the road for a long time, Maribeth is not programmed to listen and feel for every little noise or bump that signals something that needs attention.
Had it been undamaged (and if I had taken the time to fix the window and clean it up) I am pretty sure we could have sold it almost as quickly as you sold yours. And maybe even with the damage, but neither of us had the kind of spare time to mess with it at the time.
Old Civics and Corollas; the best long-term beaters money (or gifting) can buy. These are still quite common here, although I’d say old Corollas outnumber them by about 2 or 3 to 1.
This has been quite the journey, although apparently we’re not quite there yet. But thanks for the ride so far.
The Corollas may have the edge here too. But the problem with being accurate about this is that I notice the Civics (because we have had this one) and don’t notice the Corollas, so who knows.
It has been a fun journey for me, that is for certain.
Is the issue just that 29 is an odd number, or that it’s a prime number?
I guess I passed my prime. 🙂
29 rigs? I have had a ’70 Toyota Corona Mark II, ’75 and ’78 Isuzu Chevy LUVs, ’75 Audi Fox, “75 Volvo 245, and still have 5.0L ’83 Ford Ranger 4×4. Of these, the ’75 LUV and my ’83 Ranger were/are dead nuts reliable. Which is why I’m both a Ford and Isuzu fan. The Audi and Volvo were nightmares, and the Toyota was built from cheese whiz, but the 8R-C engine was almost indestructible.
Oh, I agree that ending on an even number is much better than at 29.
But we still have 6 days, I for one am not going to be surprised if there’s a 31st at some point before next Sunday. 😉
Civics vs. Corollas. Hummmmm. There really should be some sort of index about this. In my area, Civics far exceed Corollas.The older Hondas seem to be favored by the young tuners. It’s hard to go a day without seeing a half-dozen examples of thus-altered Hondas. Not so with Toyotas.
There are still plenty of Civic 4 doors that have escaped the tuners’ touch. I don’t see them daily any more, but maybe one very week or two is not unusual. We have all experienced that phenomenon that when we or someone we know get a particular car, we start seeing them where we did not before. I am willing to concede that there are more Corollas than I have noticed.
Gee, if I get to car 31, does that mean I have to wait until 35 o4 40 to write them up in a batch? 🙂
So – just a few hours ago my wife came up to me and said:
“I’ve been looking at used cars on Carmax. Look at this Honda Civic… something like this would be great for the kids when they start driving.”
It would be – a older Civic is a great car for young drivers, or for families looking for an extra vehicle. I doubt we’ll get one any time soon, but the allure is certainly there. Your daughter’s experience could be repeated by countless others — these were great cars. Glad to hear it’s full story here.
I can absolutely see the “hit a dog or tree” scenario unfolding. My other family members freak out when a squirrel crosses our path… let alone a dog. And I don’t really blame them. Many years ago I was a passenger in a car that hit a dog, and that was terrible. I’d almost had preferred the driver to have side-swiped a tree instead.
Oh, and I’ve had two cars that have suffered rear-end damage (one under my watch, and one before I bought it), and had leaky trunks afterwards.
Mr. Pappini, the Driver’s Ed teacher in 11th grade, made JP’s point about hit the animal vs. anything else, except he used a COW as an example. I had my doubts that hitting a frickin’ COW would be better than hitting a tree or guardrail or another car. So I tended to put that recommendation into the bin of “Dubious advice provided by Driver’s Ed teachers.”.
Fortunately, I’ve never had the choice of hitting a cow or something else. I tend to think that I’d avoid dogs and go for the wall instead. But that’s just me.
Yes, JP’s advice of “If an animal* runs out in front of you, grit your teeth, hold on and hope for the best” needs an asterisk:
*Applies to any animal smaller than a cow.
Sigh, I am not a pet owner, so it is easy for me to be cold and heartless when I tell my kids to just hit the damned thing rather than risk injuring or killing themselves. The pet lovers out there can be relieved that Maribeth did not heed my advice.
There are still a few grandma/grandpa owned Civics (and Corollas) out there for the discerning buyer, and yes – they make great cars for kids. Almost as good for them as an old Crown Victoria or Buick LeSabre. 🙂
No links…might you have a go at re-adding them?
Looks like the side-impact guard beam debossed the outer door skin. Those beams work; as you say, the door remained structurally intact and functional.
There we go, the links are active now. After a detour which screwed up the whole post when I tried to fix one little thing on the phone rather than on the computer. Ugh.
Yes, the guard beam did its job.
I picked up my 3rd Honda, a 98 Civic coupe while waiting for the arrival of my 2012 Fit Sport. The 07 Fit had been T-boned, and I found this one owner Civic. I then proceeded to apply lots of TLC to it to bring it up to my standards…resulting in extremely low milesage on the 2012! A set of 07 Sport wheels (aqmong other tricks, etc.) did wonders to improve its looks. 🙂
Funny how some cars attract trouble.
My 98 Civic was hit while parked, stove in the left, front, fender. Then the guys at Firestone were poking around under the hood, looking for something to sell me, while I was in for a free tire rotation. They tried to close the hood, without folding the prop rod, resulting in a broken rod and bent hood. The weasels didn’t say anything. I noticed he damage before I left their lot, and banged on their counter until they took care of it, and paid for a rental while the Civic was in the shop.
That was peanuts compared to my GLC: kid pitched a rock at the driver’s door, when it was only a few months old, leaving about a 3″ dent. Then a thief smashed the driver’s window to break in to the car (all he got was a flashlight, because I didn’t have a radio in it) To prevent the car being broken into again, I parked in front of the mall, instead of in the dark, isolated, employee’s area behind the mall. Some nitwit ran into the left, rear fender. Then I noticed a couple fanny sized dents in the hood, like a couple people sat on it.
But nothing untoward ever happened to the Renault, or the VW.
A silver four door Civic of similar vintage had a significant role in our family, belonging to the driving instructor who taught both our kids to drive. No public school driver ed or training in our community 15 years ago, unlike when I was in school in the early seventies. Our kids did the “classroom” stuff online, and behind the wheel was with a private instructor in a Civic. Mine was a gym teacher making extra money and we had a ‘72 Galaxy and a ‘73 Coronet, loaners (or leased?) from local dealers. Somewhere I have a blurry low-res photo of the Civic pulling out of our driveway, taken with an early camera phone.
Geez, by my spreadsheet, I am only up to 50 vehicles owned. That might be a lot.
I am only at 8 and 6 of them were/are Honda’s. I like to forget the 2 horrible Ford’s.