Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ode to my Little White Honda

I bought my 1989 Honda in 1990 for $8,000 (the dealer was asking $10,000). It was a choice between a new, plain-Jane Honda Civic or, for the same money, a tricked out Honda Si with a 16 valve, dual overhead cam, 5 speed shift-yourself, fancy interior used Si with 10,000 miles. I needed reliable transportation and a second car for commuting to work and the airport. I had just sold my black ’85 Chevy Camaro Z28. For one thing I kept getting speeding tickets while parked at the curb. (The cop said the radar must not be working, because he could just look at the car and knew I was speeding.) Besides, Mike was about to get his drivers license and I didn’t want to hear “Dad can I borrow the ‘Z’?”

The little Honda looked like it would be economical and practical, and fun too. It is a hatch back with a sporty little wing spoiler over the rear window and a monster sound system. Black interior with wrap-around seats and a buzzing little engine that goes up mountain passes like lightning and keeps up with 85 mph freeway traffic with no sweat. It gets 35 miles per gallon, even in commuting, and pushes 40 when out on the hiway and kept under 60.

I’ve driven that car now for 20 years and 186,000 miles, and I’ve only put in gas and oil and the occasional brake job and tires. The muffler failed once, years ago, but the new muffler has a life-time warranty. Like any overhead cam engine, you have to replace the timing belt at around 60,000 miles or risk expensive engine damage if it fails. I’ve replaced that belt twice and I’m about to do that for the third time, but no other mechanical problems and it doesn’t leak a drop of oil on the garage floor. It has been the most reliable and cost efficient vehicle I’ve ever owned. I recently replaced the stereo and all the speakers, upgrading from cassette to CD and iPod capable sound machine. I’ve put a few wiper blades on it and replaced the windshield a couple of times. But it takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. It got hailed on once and has a few little pockmarks from that, although the years and the Colorado sun have popped most of those little dents out. No other scars, never been in an accident, and the original white finish is still looking good except for a few little dots of rust that the next waxing will remove.

This car still gets knowing glances in parking lots and “nice car” comments from teenagers (who we all know are the real knowledgeable car experts!) I’ve thought about a new paint job or fancy wheels, but it seems like gilding the lily, or maybe just putting lipstick on a pig.

I love to drive the car; it handles like a sports car with its 15 inch wheels and wide Michelin donuts. It is a rather plain car, no power seats and the windows have old-fashioned cranks, but it has a power moon roof, heated rear window, rear window wipers, and air conditioning. And everything works!!

Well the old white buggy is getting old (as is the pilot, but that is a tale for another time) and will need a new clutch soon ($700,) and another one of those timing belts ($700), and the mechanic thought there might be a little oil seeping out of one of the valve covers and wanted to redo the gaskets ($300), so just as spring turns a young man’s fancy to girls, spring turned this old guy’s fancy to a new car.

In the time I’ve had the Honda, Linda has had an Oldsmobile 98 LS, a Ford Taurus, and two new Toyota Camrys including her current blue baby one with every bell and whistle that Tokyo engineers could devise. Her car talks and listens and even knows the way home better than I do. Mean while I’m still driving the no power steering, no cruise control, no navigation system, and starting to have a “meaningful relationship” with the mechanic, white Honda.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love my Honda. It fits me like a glove. Well, that is one problem. I have to put the Honda on like a pair of pants. I’ve worn a hole in the upholstery of the wrap around seat sliding into this little Japanese auto, and it is about time to get out the gaffer tape and patch the seat. It is the first sign of real wear on this car after all the long years and miles. This car took me to and from the airport all those years in IBM Technical Education, drove the 12 miles from home to work about as many times as a trip to the moon and back, and knows Denver like the back of its hand. It transported me to one graduate degree from the University of Denver and to countless meetings at Metropolitan State College and other various destinations in the greater Denver metropolitan area. I have zoomed zoomed down the hiway with this baby so many times it is like an extension of my being. If I oversleep, it drives itself to work without me, and knows when I’m having a bad day and plays my favorite songs just to cheer me up. A better friend has no man than this little white car that has only failed to start twice (not counting the ten times I forgot to turn off the lights and came back to a dead battery — did I mention it has no warning buzzer if you leave the lights on?). And both of those times a simple electrical part got me back on the road for under $100. Still, it may be time to consider a new car.

So, what to get? I’ve often taken advantage of the hatchback’s fold down rear seats to carry recording equipment, lawn mowers, and even the occasional wide screen TV. So I wanted a new car with some haulin’ space. Linda likes to take all the grandkids and cousins to the rec center, so she was looking for a seven passenger something with a third row seat. I noted the Toyota RAV4 had a third seat, so we checked that out. Unfortunately the third row seat in the RAV4 is about big enough for two hamsters. Although the cousins are of diminished vertical stature, it still seemed like a baby seat, only too far back to reach the bottle.

Still I like the RAV4. It is small and until recent events you trusted Toyota quality. I wasn’t interested in 4 wheel drive, I’m a city boy, but I did like the looks and the RAV4 was easy for a large (or extra large) guy like me to ingress and egress. So it was high on my list; the front wheel drive version. However, the interior of the RAV4 did not entail the luxury of which I would like to become accustomed.

I fell in love with the new Ford Flex. It is a unique styled vehicle with seven adult passenger spaces (six if you get the middle seat buckets with the electric refrigerator in the arm rest!!!) and a leather interior that was exactly what I was looking for. It is a powerful and roomy vehicle, and I love the way it drove. Video screens for everybody and a moon roof extending clear to the third row seating. Electric everything with heated AND COOLED seats (using the special perforated leather for air flow). Not a sports car by any means, but neither is the RAV4. One downside is the sticker price — especially for one with all the gee gaws like I want — but I’m a successful engineer, and cost be damned if I want it. The poor fuel economy on the other hand concerned an old cheap skate like me who expects $5.00 gas before long. The Flex is a big vehicle and that means heavy and that means fuel economy under the 20 mpg range around town and little better on the hiway. The twin turbo V6 is a “mover,” but it is also a “drinker.”

So, guess what? I think the little white Honda will be with me for a few more years. Better call the mechanic and make an appointment for a new timing belt. Besides, that 90 degree, unbanked turn on the back way to work — this morning I took it at 50 mph, and the SUV following me too close nearly rolled and ran onto the shoulder trying to keep up. “Yeah, your V6 goes fast in a straight line, but watch the next turn I take at 60 and eat my dust!” (CAUTION — done on a closed road course — don’t try this at home.)

First gear, it's all right (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Second gear, I’ll lean right (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Third gear, hang on tight (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Faster, it's all right.