COAL: 2003 Honda Civic – Kid’s Car and Beater Challenger

Our current fleet at this time consisted of a Mazda 2, Ford F150 and a MG B. This a wide vehicle variety but we had two itches that it did not scratch. First up was our oldest son had recently passed his learner’s driving test which allowed him to drive accompanied by a fully licensed driver. Both the Mazda and MG have manual gearboxes and while the truck has an automatic it is both physically huge and worth real money. This left us without a suitable vehicle for a new driver to learn on. While I understand that in other countries many people learn directly on a manual gearbox I felt I would like to preserve my clutch and at the same time give my son a less steep learning curve. We also wanted a cheap clunker for The Great Beater Challenge. Luckily for us both of my brother in-laws had moved away for their post secondary education but also possessed a cheap vehicle they were both ready to move on from.

This hail damaged 2003 Honda Civic was very generously given to our boys but it needed a few minor mechanical repairs (rear wheel bearing, oil change, light bulbs and a maintenance warning light on). It also had a slew of cosmetic issues resulting from a collision as well as a powerful hail storm. In other words perfect for a beater rally (and teenage car). While an oddball is preferred for Beater Challenge the Civic proved to be a perfect fit.

The first step was to clean the car out. There was a couple hundred pounds of books in the trunk and back seat which were quickly donated. In the spare wheel well was several hundred of roofing nails which had to be individually picked out. Other miscellaneous items like the booster cables, flashlights and windshield washer fluid would be useful to take along on the rally. Hopefully we have no use for the snow brush.

The car had been sitting a while so the interior needed a good clean. On the plus side I found almost ten dollars from clearing out the interior which is a nice bonus for the budget.

I should have taken a better before photo but it cleaned up rather nicely.

While it is hard to fully see in photos the exterior is rather hail damaged. My plan was to customize the existing damaged trunk and hood for the rally and then replace with a salvage yard parts. The roof would still be a little beat up but perhaps the overall look would improve.

With a vehicle of this value it always comes with a few quirks. The first time I filled it with gas I discovered the oversized washer in the cup holder is actually there to open the fuel door. One has to use a surprising amount of force to get the door open but it works.

Mechanically the Civic was pretty close to ready to go. A noisy rear wheel could have been repaired but I took a look at it and declared it good enough for now. Mechanical preparation was limited to an oil change and a quick peek to make sure the brake pads had some material left on them. The biggest problem for the challenge is that the Civic is not a particularly unique or interesting vehicle. In a bid to earn some bonus points I attached a junkyard sourced Special Edition badge. If you recall for last year Dodge Aires scored most of its points for being a (legitimate) Special Edition. A few other body customization touches might be in order.

Since the car is a Civic we decided to go with budget\cheesy “Fast and Furious” style car. This meant we needed to add some simulated go fast equipment. Up front I used a leftover can of white spray paint to make some racing stripes. Only the hood was done as that is how far the paint went. Last year we mounted a paint tray hood scoop in a (failed) attempt to keep the Dodge Aires cool. This year I figured we could honor last year’s car with a similar scoop so I bought a slightly bigger version to give the impression of a cool air induction system.

It could not be a “performance” Civic without a wing. Some free pallet wood combined with some left over bolts, washers, nuts and screws from my spare bolt bucket gave us a suitably tall wing. It was parked in the garage leading up to the challenge so it does not bring down the neighbor’s property values too much.

The bolt bucket itself gave the Civic an enhanced size exhaust tip.

Inside an old fire extinguisher painted blue gave a reasonable facsimile of a NOS bottle.

While I would have liked some really terrible hubcaps and under-glow I could not find either locally. I would have thought Walmart or Princess Auto would have been a sure thing but all the aftermarket hubcaps at the local Walmart were disappointingly tasteful. Even the local scrapyard did not have any. They did have a replacement for the one missing stock hubcap which I bought but will install after the rally. I did manage to add two last minute custom touches which were a signature and personal message from rapper Vanilla Ice as well as a “No Junk Mail” sticker. The junk mail sticker produced a surprisingly large amount of feedback.

The Civic performed admirably in the 2017 edition of The Great Beater Challenge. You can read the write-up here below if you interested.

Day One Part One: Tarmac, Gravel, Tarmac and more Gravel

Day One Part Two: Out into the Prairie

Day Two Part One: Dinosaur Hunting

Day Two Part Two – Bridges, Pipes and Star Trek

After the challenge was complete it was time to convert it back to more normal duty but I had one more task to complete. An airbag recall as well as a key interlock inspection. I figured I should keep on all the challenge customization intact until this work was complete. So I took the Honda in for service in all its wooden wing glory. I parked it right at the front by the entrance. I made a big deal of it and how it’s been in the family since new when I dropped it off.

When I picked it up they parked it way down at the very end hidden by a used Odyssey. Parked nose out instead of tail out.

I popped in to retrieve the keys the guy at the counter says “what color is your car?”

“Black” I reply.

“The one with the … errr … wing?” he asks “… what’s up with that?”

Apparently the service techs had a good laugh and it brightened their Tuesday after a long weekend. I got a couple thumbs up and a few what the heck looks on the way back to work.

Next up the Civic received a scrapyard sourced replacement trunk and the original hood back on as the replacement hood did not fit well due to the existing accident damage. Sadly I could not find black so painted a silver trunk. The non-functional passenger door had to be fixed by carefully prying at the fender with a long, flat head screwdriver. This had to be repeated a few times over our ownership.

I was able to find a more or less matching hub cap to replace the missing one. Unfortunately it was in poor condition but fortunately had some zip ties and was not afraid to use them.

The Civic continued to provide reliable if ugly transportation for our boys over the next couple years with only minor upkeep. I did replace both side view mirrors due to the driver’s one always drooping and the passenger one being smashed off in a minor winter collision with a dumpster. The passenger side received some fresh dents in the same incident but provided a winter driving life lesson which is what first cars are all about. The Civic’s looks were not enhanced however and my wife was starting to resent its ugliness. We encountered an interesting issue shortly after when the car died and all electrical except for horn and brakes lights out were out. As it turns out the battery fuse was blown. Oddly it appeared just fine until I unscrewed and removed it – then it fell apart. The alternator died at the same time or most likely its death had led to the blowing of the fuse. While an alternator replacement is pretty minor the Civic needed a lot more work so it was time to move on. I sold it quickly to a man with dreams of fixing it completely but perhaps without the budget to do so. I suspect it is still looking very similar providing basic and reliable transportation for him.

My whole COAL series so far