It was time for a change. I had owned my Mazda 3 sedan for three years, almost four. The latter part of it’s time, it was used as my girlfriend’s car, as I was almost always driving a classic of some description. While I jumped from Corvair, to Caprice, to my current daily driver, a 1986 Bronco II, the Mazda 3 had been her ride for months. Unfortunately, it was proving very expensive.
I had gotten the car back when I was single and had a higher paying job. Unfortunately, in that area, times had changed. Thankfully, my girlfriend was willing to make payments on it while she drove it. However, at $530 a month between the car payment and insurance, it was time to find her something else.
Talking to her, she said she wanted a car that had a radio with Bluetooth, something with decent fuel economy, and that was easy to clean. In the end, I settled on either a Pontaic Vibe or a Honda Element.
At a local lot, I found this 04 Element and knew it needed a closer look. While Bluetooth radios aren’t hard to install, it was nice this one already had one. Fuel economy would be a little worse than her Mazda, but she’d be trading it for one of the most versatile and easy to clean cars she would ever own. Plus, it had blue interior highlights I knew she’d love.
There was just one issue… Someone had stolen the catalytic converter right from under it! This issue was happening all over DFW and even the dealership had no idea. I only found out when I went to test drive it and set off every car alarm in a ten foot radius around me.
The dealership agreed to cut me a deal on the price to get it fixed and a local shop agreed to do the repair if I provided the O2 senors. While a pain in the ass, it could’ve been much worse.
My girlfriend took a look at it the next day and declared her approval. I checked fluids, belts, brakes, and suspension components. At 187K miles, it seemed the car had been taken good care of and was one of the lowest mileage Elements in our area. As an added benefit, it was an AWD model. I wanted to find her one after that horrible winter storm in February made driving a nightmare for all involved. As a professional chef at a rehab center, she was needed at work no matter what.
Ella, as the car is known, has proven a good choice. She’s got great cargo capacity for dogs, groceries, and has even acted as the rehab center’s delivery vehicle in a pinch. The Mazda was traded in, and we ditched the expensive payments in the process. The only issue we’ve run into so far is a failed window regulator, but the door panel pops right off with few screws to fiddle with.
Now our little fleet consist of a first gen Kia Soul driven by our roommate.
My Bronco, Scarlet.
And Ella the Element.
The last two years have been hard and unpredictable. If I’ve learned anything it’s that you have to roll with the punches and do the best you can. See the good in life wherever it is. Knowing my girlfriend has a car she likes and is something I found for her makes me feel like despite everything, we’re going to be okay. Drive safe, everyone.
Ella looks (and sounds, now the exhaust system’s back intact) nigh on perfect for the needs and wants at hand!
Two COALs in one day. I’m getting black lung!
A friend of mine bought a 2004 Element several years ago (in blue) with over 200,000 km on the clock. It’s still in great shape, and it’s given him fine service as a daily driver ever since in the snow and salt belt north of Toronto.
I swear Elements are increasing in value. Both Elements and Chevy Avalanches left former owners that miss the car and an unsatisfied market. Try to find a nice Element with the dog package. I think these were based on a late 90s Civic, so they built them as long as they could be made to pass current safety standards, and then didn’t replace.
They are increasing in value. Not all of them uniformly, of course, but there are some really coveted versions out there, including the mini-Westfalia types with the aftermarket pop-top conversions.
Boxy cars are great for those who need them. I have a friend whose wife drives a Ford Flex, with 2 kids and a big dog. She loves it.
My brother has an AWD Element with a 5 speed, which is probably somewhat rare in the US. He’s had nothing but manuals for 40 years, but he’s never commuted in big-city traffic, which put me off them after my first and only. His wife of 33 years drives one, too. Their daughter finally got her license at 18 or 19.
The ride’s a bit stiff for me. The back seat room is great for tall people, but you can’t put your feet under the front seat.
Am I the only one that has commuted in Los Angeles traffic with manual and didnt mind it? VW’s, Fiesta, BMW and now the Fit.
I bought one of these for my wife as the interior fittings were perfect for her! She uses whatever vehicle she is driving as a 4 wheeled trash can; therefore the wall to wall, floor to ceiling “plastic” interior was excellent for her. I actually did use a hose on the interior one time, then swept up the expelled junk for the trash can.
The few times I drove it I found the seats marginal in comfort and the ride rather choppy, despite being fine with my Miatas, hhmmm? I drove it into Chicago for a business trip, once. The other 3 people with me were definitely NOT happy passengers. The Element’s fuel mileage, with OL LEADFOOT driving, was hard pressed to do better than 18-19 mpg. If I drove it would return low 20s in town.
It turned out to be our shortest owned Honda……….oh well…….. 🙁 DFO
I remember seeing one in traffic a few years ago with a bumper sticker reading, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a Hummer!”
dave further up the string mentioned Avalanches and Elements, this got me to thinking: There was a real period of creativity from car makers in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. We got all kinds of neat/weird/crazy stuff, from Avalanches, Azteks, PT Cruisers, xBs, New Beetles, retro Thunderbirds, to Vipers… I just can’t fathom how we got to the point where the SUV/CUV has become the de facto vehicle of choice…
I’d forgotten about the sidewall seat storage on these cars. I thought they were an incredibly bad idea when I was selling Previas, which had a similar set up. I’d love to know how this set up performs in rear collisions. It’d be great to have a 100 lb. car seat rocketing through the passenger cabin in an accident… Wow.
These cars had similar performance issues as the PT Cruiser, a blocky body contributing to poor fuel mileage. At least the Chrysler could (eventually) be optioned with a stronger motor. I never drove an AWD version of one of these, the FWDs were pokey enough; I can’t imagine a couple hundred pounds of extra equipment making that any better.
Pre 2011 models arent required to have a cat here if it disappears a straight piece of pipe fills the gap, easy to clean sounds like a good idea but my once a year car wash for my daily isnt really a biggie the colour roadgrime grey hides the dirt quite well so a waterblast before inspection time does the trick.
Turns out I am in need of a boxy car, specifically one that will accommodate a not-quite-six-foot sleeper somehow, while being fairly agile and fun to drive. The Forester has been adequate, but woefully short on headroom when I’m trying to sit up and put on my boots. Car Camping it’s called; I do not like tents, nor sleeping on the ground. Fond as I am of Subarus, they seem to have gotten too big for my taste without any real increase in headroom.
Would an Element fill that bill?
Yes. That’s precisely why they’re so in demand and prices are high. Much roomier than your Forester.
The tall roof in my smaller xB is what makes sleeping in it quite doable.
Forester with a hardshell rooftop tent is my workaround until there’s a suitable van camper that’s equivalent to the old Westfalias, but reliable.
Truth is, this may be superior. I can go a lot of places, the upgraded mattress is as comfy as mine at home, it has bug screens, and it was far less expensive than a purpose-built camping rig. With the tent on the car, the fuel economy hit is only 1-2 mpg, and I can remove it in the off-season.
You don’t have to empty the car of your camping gear when you bed down for the night. If you can manage the ladder, it’s pretty great.
I wonder how these attach to the car…know they have crossbars on cars, but
I’m old enough to still miss raingutters (and vent windows) on cars…know they cost something in parts and less aerodynamics, but they were useful appendages (especially vent windows would have come in handy when my AC compressor went south).
My Dad bought a new “Camp O’Tel” cartop camper new in 1967, which had a ladder going to a small “plank” that got you in on the side of the unit, which had 2 flip down sides and supposedly slept 4 people (reality was the headroom wasn’t great except in the middle, so we gravitated there, especially during rainy weather). It even had a small kitchen unit that pulled off the end and had extended legs (just wash basin and picnic table) and 2 water tanks on either side with a cabana with shower and port-a potty.
We had it through 1973 when we outgrew it (my youngest sister came in 1970) and bought a pop-top Viking camper. Of course my parents age also came into play, they were 42 when we got the pop-top, and climbing up and down the ladder I’m sure got a bit much. I’m now more than 20 years past that age myself and wish I could buy a full sized car now I’m at the age I can appreciate the comfort.
As for the Honda, seems I’ve always been in-between purchases when they came out with something I’m interested in. I bought my current car in 2000, before the Element came out, otherwise it might have been on my shopping list. Never owned a Honda, closest I came was in 1986, when I bought my GTi, almost bought an Accord Hatch, but didn’t like their trim levels, wanted fuel injection but it only came with LXi back then, but didn’t want power windows and locks (I’ve since capitulated, but guess what I’ve had problems with on my current car?). Guess I’m not the target market, seems to me that Honda hasn’t made much of interest to me (Crosstour was close, no one liked the styling, but I’m more of a function over form person…but I wasn’t in market when they came out either). I’m a car enthusiast, want to buy hatchback but market is trying to direct new buyers to crossover or SUV, neither of which I want or need. I like a car that matches what I want, with a smooth ride, but without things I don’t need (don’t need AWD or FWD) and don’t like compromise of AWD vehicle just sold with FWD (or RWD). An old wagon would be about right, but I do also appreciate safety of newer vehicles, but they no longer sell them (guess I was born 40 years too late for them).
There have been some actual Element campers with pop tops and various interior fitouts in place of the rear seats. It’s definitely usable. If AWD is not important a Ford Transit Connect is worth a look, lots of headroom and some camping specific options
Must be a weak point with the window regulators. My bro and sis-in-law were driving over from Utah to Denver on I80 in a winter storm and the regulator went out. Took a day to find the part and get it fixed.
What great vehicles, great for camping, carrying gear for pioneer re-enactments, and hauling grandkids. They love it.
I’ve replaced two of them on my Element. But it’s a pretty easy and straightforward DIY job.
Great timing that this COAL ran today – I’m about to take my Element on a big roadtrip throughout northern CA tomorrow. I put one of the jumpseats back in so that we can travel as a group of three.
I love the layout of the Element, and to me, there is no other vehicle like it short of a VW Westfalia. But the Element is many times more reliable. I love the space utilization and Honda engineering.
I have the tent and attachments (Honda called it a “Cabana”), but I have rarely used it. At 5’10 and with the front seats pulled up, I can sleep comfortably in the back with the clamshell closed and not call any attention to myself. While the E is a little more uncommon than it was a decade ago, there are still a lot out there, and they camoflauge into any suburb well.
Honda sometimes just nails it on practicality. I never saw an Element interior before with the seats stowed. Must have been the same designer of the Fit “magic seats” that make my car so versatile.
Nice one. It’s a pity they stoppedmaking these. I like that you all bought it with 187K on the clock. That’s nothing on a Honda.
My wife and I used to have visions of getting an Element. It never happened, and now we live on a continent that doesn’t get Elements. But then again, now we have access to all the diesel station wagons and LAVs that certain Americans dream about.
One of these would definitely have ended up on my COAL list but the lack of a middle seatbelt in back was a showstopper. Even with our Corolla we frequently had 3 across; 3 kids or 2 kids and a friend or grandparent. So ended up with a Forester instead despite its smaller useful cargo capacity. Who knows, if we had bought the Element in ‘04 we might have kept it longer than the Sube. And it would also have been AWD 5 speed.
I have a 2008 Element. I love ot. I have never had any engine issues. I too got my cadilatic converter stolen. It is now on hiding until I can get a shield for it.
Is there an air mattress used to sleep in honda element 04