For change of pace from my sadness-laden COAL series, let’s talk about what would be the longest-lasting car in my history: a 2004 Honda Civic.
My particular seventh-generation Civic was a 4-door LX variant, and was a fine example of Honda’s car for the masses.
There’s not much to be said about the Honda Civic that hasn’t been said. At the time, the company was selling over 300,000 Civics a year.
It’s easy for me to understand why. In our 7 or so years of ownership, the Civic served dutifully right to the end. It ran well, was great on gas mileage and the basic gray interior held up even as we transitioned from college to being young parents. I never had any issues besides a door handle that broke off in my wife’s hand one night. After that multi-hour repair was complete, the car never even hiccuped again until its final days.
As I mentioned last time, this was my first big purchase as an adult. I was winding up college, and thanks to jobs at the local Apple Store and the college newspaper, could afford the small note that came along with what was then a year-old Civic with high miles. The car had been a lease, and showed up on a big local used car lot. Despite nearly 35,000 miles on the clock, it was in perfect shape. I took it for a test spin and drove away with it as soon as the bank paperwork cleared.
The Civic is so popular because it’s inoffensive. Everything is adequate and predictable. The 115 horsepower wasn’t nearly enough to get into trouble, but it had no problem cruising on the highway. The looks were simple, even with the revised head and taillights on the 2004. The basic cloth interior was impervious to stains and tears. Everything was laid out logically and neatly.
While later Civics would be more opinionated — and in my mind, worse — these 7th-generation cars offered a dependability and simplicity that served my family well for years. It wasn’t flashy or fast or fancy, but it was simply a good car that was cheap to run.
I still love the way these taillights covered the seams where the trunk and quarter panel met.
I drove the Civic for many years before my wife’s 1998 Civic bit the dust. I gave her the keys to it and returned to my car-jumping ways that will be outlined in the coming weeks. After our second child was born, I sold what I had at the time and returned to it and we bought her an Odyssey.
By the time I got it back, we’d racked up many, many more miles on the car, but driving it again was like slipping back into your favorite jacket when the weather turns at the end of the summer.
Sadly, I soon noticed that the automatic transmission was beginning to slip. It went downhill quick, and after a transmission rebuild, I sold it on Craigslist. I’m sure we could have had many more years together, but as a new dad, I couldn’t drive something that would leave one of us stranded or worse.
It really did break my heart to get rid of it. I moved out of my last dorm with it, and we pulled away from our wedding reception with streamers flying off of it, and then took our first two kids home from the hospital in the backseat. It was a heck of a run.
Sometimes cars are more than just transportation. They share a portion of our lives and almost become a part of the family. I, too, know that feeling of loss when you just can’t justify the possibility of stranding a family member and have to let it go.
Particularly when a vehicle has served well for many years. One of the saddest things to watch was an old XJ Jeep Cherokee engine being destroyed in the Cash For Clunkers program. The process was performed by a destructive concoction poured down the carburetor with the engine running. The poor old Jeep fought valiantly as the poison ate away its internal engine surfaces, but ultimately succumbed. For anyone with even a modicum of automotive enthusiasm, it was heartbreaking.
I thought the cash for clunkers program was such a waste. They should have been sold directly to salvage yards and stripped down for parts.
It distorted the pricing on the used car market for years afterwards. I have seen it only recently get back to the way it was before. Also helps that the price of scrap cars is about 1\3rd of what it was 5-6 years ago.
Agree with others, C4C really hit the wrong people right in the pocketbook: blue collar families for who used SUVs such as the ubiquitous 95-01 Explorer, Durango, and 93-98 Grand Cherokee are reliabl(ish) and more importantly easy and cheap to repair family haulers. Despite the C4C program, I still see a TON of these specific models plodding along the working class neighborhoods of my Midwestern city. Even more interesting, when I’m down in Mexico for work those exact SUVs are incredibly common. I’d say that the 95-01 Explorer might just be the single most popular model of used vehicles on the ground there, if you don’t count the Nissan Tsuru taxis.
Interesting. I had a 97 Civic and 1 of the cars I considered as it’s replacement was the 04/05 Civic. Consumers Report rated the car quite highly but Car Complaints and Edmunds did not. I guess in the end one of the real reasons why I didn’t buy one though was that these Civics were just TOO innoculous. Plus, you couldn’t find one with lowish miles AND a lowish price.
Many past owners also felt Civic quality took a steep nose-dive after the 05 model.
It’s not mentioned, or I read too quickly, what was the accumulated mileage after the 7 years of ownership?
These Civics have many positive virtues: cheap, good fuel economy, reasonable comfort, and they’ll last for just short of forever as long as you keep up with basic maintenance.
The generation that immediately followed this one was a lot more refined, with more features, and prices are pretty affordable now, making them probably a better buy due to their higher content and newer age. Still, the generation of this featured car can be bought now for even cheaper. You can’t really go that wrong with a Civic in terms of dependability.
As common as these cars are, it is good to see clearly why they are so popular. People with their priorities firmly and wisely set need cars that can support those priorities, not be the priorities. The story your COAL nicely tells is precisely why these cars sell so well from the dealers and sell so well as used cars. Experience tells us they’ll do the job well and can be trusted.
The newest Civics seem a bit outlandish in their styling (to my eyes) and look quite large (again to me), but it seems Honda sedans in general are still selling well, even in this time of the Crossover rage.
Whenever I see a 2016 Civic go by on the street I have to look pretty hard to be sure I’m looking at a Civic and not an Accord.
The Honda company has had a difficult time (apparently?) making much money on the last few generations of the Civic, but you have to give them some credit for trying to push the envelope (at least compared to the Corolla) with the styling even as the engineering has gotten less adventurous.
Right now, if I had the money for an Accord or Civic, I’d go for the 2016 Accord. But since both “offer” a CVT as an automatic transmission, it would have to be a manual Accord…..while they are still being offered.
I fear they lost their way so badly with the Civic that they’re still chasing it back down.
“People with their priorities firmly and wisely set need cars that can support those priorities, not be the priorities.”
I don’t know of any priorities that aren’t wise as long as one remains true to who they are. The alternative is living life someone else’s way (society, income bracket, religion, culture, etc) and that is a recipe for future regret 😉
I have a 2016 Accord but I LOVE the styling of the new Civic. The only reason I chose the Accord was the interior room and longer range because of its larger fuel tank.
I had a 2003 Civic LX for 7 years. The only major replacement was the AC compressor . I was getting tired of trips to the dealer for Takata airbag recalls. Why they can’t fix it right the 1st time is beyond me. When the automatic transmission was starting to slip, I traded it in for a 2014 Toyota Yaris. Being single now, it’s all the car I need, and with the 1.5 liter engine, it gets 5 more mpg than the Civic. The Civic LX gave me good service, and I already miss the cruise control. And I like the conservative styling.
You can add CC to the Yaris. Try thecruisecontrolstore.com, I saw they have the factory parts for $200.
Even Consumer Reports (imagine THAT!) complained about how the Honda Civic declined, a few years into the 21st Century.
That one’s for you, Paul!!! 🙂
How many miles did your Civic have before the transmission went south? And what happened to the days when Honda automatics lasted the life of the car?
For mine it was 136,000 miles. It was acting up when it was cold, but would go away when warmed up. My brothers 2001 Civic had to have the automatic transmission replaced, so I guess it’s common for this generation. I wonder if manual transmissions last longer on these cars?
I’m sorry to hear that. The automatics Honda turned out in the 80’s and 90’s had a bad reputation for harsh shifting, but they sure were durable.
I wonder how newer Honda autos have fared, especially now as they’re migrating to CVT’s.
My brother bought the GX (Compressed Natural Gas) version of this car. It came with the CVT, as did the hybrid model. That 1st gen CVT was a nightmare. It quit about every 20,000 miles. At the end of the Hondacare extended warranty the car was sold. I’m sure the bugs have been worked out today, but Honda giving him a “beta test” version was not cool.
I tried to find a manual transmission hybrid, as they were offered, but so rare that I could not find one.
Life is going pretty well when 136,000 miles on a transmission is a disappointment! Our expectations for reliability sure have ratcheted up over the years. 🙂
My brother has a 2001 Civic with the 5-speed manual. The input shaft bearing was toast at just over 100K miles. He put in a remanufactured transaxle (not bothering to send the core from WA to CA as the shipping cost exceeded the core charge) and has been driving it since.
I have a 1997 Civic with close to 200K miles on it, but I swapped in the entire drivetrain from a 2000 Civic into it a couple of years ago that only had 92K miles on it. Runs like new and everything works as it should, with no leaks either.
Eric, When I bought my son a 2002 Accord w/automatic, I scoured the web for maintenance tips. One that stuck in my mind was the warning to never flush the automatic transmission. Rather, the consensus was to open the drain plug, let whatever wants to come out do just that, put the plug back in, and replace what came out with Honda fluid. Only Honda fluid.
Seems like a sensible tip so I passed it on to my son. Here’s hoping:
a: he follows it, and
b: it works.
I’ve usually had manual transmission cars for myself when possible, but I must admit automatics seem to cruise at a lower rpm than their stick equivalents and there’s a certain “mature gentleness” to their operation.
But only manual in a Miata. I’m not completely insane.
About 140k, I think.
I thought it was only the Odysseys that had transmission issues. Some people claim Honda transmission failures on shops that use improper fluid, or owners who don’t change the fluid at all. I really don’t know what the cause is.
The problem I noticed with that generation Civic was as you mentioned, cheap trim that falls off. They tend to leak oil from the cam plug and oil pump. For some reason Honda thought it would be a good idea to put a plastic plug that leaks on the end of the engine. They also thought it would be a good idea to put the oil pump outside the oil pan, so that can also leak too.
Timing belt on an interference engine is also a head scratcher. The timing belt requires replacement every 90,000 miles or so, if I remember correctly. Fail to do this and you risk grenading you engine. Fortunately later generations they went with a timing chain.
The airbag light going on is also a common problem. This is usually caused by a faulty seat belt receiver. Rust as with most Hondas is also an issue. The front control arm bushings and engine mounts also have a tendency to crack.
7 years for a modern car is not a long time. Even GM cars can do that. I am somewhat disappointed in the build quality of the newer Civics. People criticize Toyota for “coasting” on their reputation, but I think Honda is worse.
That being said, I think the styling of this generation of Civic was among the best.
The Accords of that era had AT issues as well. My 99 Accord, bought new, ate its trans at about 55000 miles. Honda replaced it under warranty, and it was starting to go again when I sold the car at about 98000 miles.
At 98k my ’94 Accord required a new transmission, though this is abnormal on 4 cyl models iirc.
CJC, was yours a V6 or a 4? The V6s are well known for weak automatics.
My kind of car. Back when I lived inside the Seattle city limits, I would rent a car by the hour from Flexcar if I needed to run errands or if I just felt like driving. The car was almost always this generation of Civic. I didn’t own a car at the time, but I felt like I owned a Civic. Sometimes it was white, sometimes it was silver, sometimes it was a hybrid and some times it wasn’t, but I drove a Civic. Just a good, basic car. When Flexcar switched to the next generation of Civic, I was none too happy. They seemed so clumsy around town, and they had that aerodynamic-but-annoying steeply-raked windshield that seemed like it was about a millimeter from my forehead.
We bought a 2003 Civic Hybrid new, and kept it for a bit over nine years. The fit and finish were superb. The A/C was just a bit weak for Arizona. The little 1300 cc engine was utterly reliable and smooth. The CVT turned out to be a problem point; twice we had to have some procedure done so it wouldn’t “judder” starting from a dead stop. We had to have the steering rack replaced; a front wheel bearing failed once while we were driving through Phoenix, forcing us to stay there overnight to get it fixed the next morning. We had to replace the rear struts. The plastic cover on the underside of the car came unclipped and we had to deal with that. [It’s there as part of the aerodynamic tweaking of the car for maximum fuel mileage.] The battery pack was replaced once, under warranty. There was a software issue, never resolved, that would sometimes confuse the hybrid system and cause the engine to cut out momentarily–not cool!
Verdict: Nothing like the nightmare our ’93 Sable turned out to be, but not perfect reliability. A bit small for two 6-footers, especially if we had adults in the back seat. A bit underpowered. My other half did not like the front seats–said they were not properly supportive. I had no problem with them.
I nearly bought a civic of this generation when I was on a hunt for a replacement for my 91 Jetta. They still command a high price up here in Canada. All the ones I could find either were very high mileage or a premium. Ended up settling on a 2000 Altima with a 5 speed manual for $1700 which so far has served me well but drinks the fuel more than a civic would have.
This generation seems to have a weak auto transmission or maybe the owners don’t service them or check the fluid enough. I tend to like the style and size better than the new ones.
I bought my 2002 EX Coupe with 174,000 miles 7 years ago this June. About 3 years ago, the transmission started slipping and after a quick check online, I thought I’d had it.
I noticed it slipped the first several blocks of driving but if I lifted the gas at approximately each shift point for those first minutes it would shift normally after that. It currently has around 223,000 miles has never gotten worse and I’ll drive this great car till it’s cooked.
I drive a 2002 Civic that my (very new at the time) wife and I bought used in 2005. It was her daily driver for a 50-mile round-trip commute every day until about a year-and-a-half ago, and now I put on about ten miles a day here in town. It was our first big purchase and has served us very well all these years. Living in a college town, I see lots of this generation around and have a real soft spot for them. I know it’s partially sentimental, but I really haven’t liked the subsequent generations of Civic.
Great Write Up. I know from your previous COALs that you’re from Memphis. I just wanted to say that I have lived in Germantown my whole life, and being familiar with the backroads of Shelby County, I actually recognize where all three of those pictures were taken, no joke! 🙂
Your car looks almost identical to mine that I bought new in the fall of that year, after the 2005 ones came out. Same color and everything.
It’s kind of slow. Passing on 2-lane roads is a little too exciting. It doesn’t handle particularly well and feels “tippy” when quickly going around corners. It gets good gas mileage, like around 35 high and 28 city using E10. The car did better with pure gasoline. I only have 70,000 miles on mine so far and I haven’t had any problems real problems, so I expect to keep for a while longer. Unless I win the lottery.
The Civic replaced my beloved ’86 CRX which I had for 19 years and 205,000 mostly trouble-free miles. It’s just not as much fun as the CRX.
I love the CRX so much. Every time I see one, I feel the urge to spend some cash I shouldn’t.
I’m in a very similar boat now with a 2012 Civic LX (5spd). Bought it a year old used one year out of college with 11k miles. It’s been a completely faithful and remarkably efficient commuter for the past 42k miles (53k total now), getting easily over 35mpg in mixed driving, oftentimes closer to 38mpg in the summer. 140ish hp mated to a well geared slick gearshift makes it plenty peppy feeling IMO. However, it simply does not elicit any sort of emotion aside from a respect for its low running costs and reliability. As I begin to look for a future family vehicle, the Civic will be the first on the chopping block.
This generation of Civic was not my favorite. It seemed to be more of a direct Corolla competitor than previous Civics. It sold well to older age groups and even municipal fleets. The styling is bland, just a personal beef. Except for the previously mentioned CVT, reliability was on par with Toyota and Im sure Honda sold a zillion of them. Yet, some of the Honda brand identity was lost. Fortunately, the Fit came along, which is what I ended up buying.
About ’95 is my own cut-off for Hondas, after that they seemed to loose their grip on quality control with more transmission issues, AC compressors, etc etc.
Their rust-proofing did get better though.