The View Up Here

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New Old Car

Posted by Tom Benedict on 29/09/2015

This has nothing to do with kites, photography, sound, engineering, or anything else I’ve written about over the past several years. It’s a post about a car. Two cars, really.

I’ve driven my Jeep for over ten years. It’s taken me all over the Big Island, and has brought me to all sorts of places where I’ve done photography, kite aerial photography, RC airplanes, and pretty much everything else I’ve put my mind to during that time. I bought it used, drove it, loved it, swore at it, fixed it, and finally sold it to someone who appreciates it for what it is: a good, dependable four wheel drive adult-sized Tonka truck. It’s a fun car, and those were some fun years.

I replaced it with a newer, but no less used Honda Civic. I had a couple of reasons for swapping it out, none the least of which is that my daughter is learning to drive. Jeeps are fun, but stick-shift Jeeps are finicky. I didn’t want her to get discouraged before she ever discovered all the places it could take her. Also, her drive will be considerably longer than mine. Gas mileage finally started to matter.

Any time I buy a used car I try to remind myself that they’re never perfect. They can’t be. Stuff’s going to need fixing before they’re really driveable. I try to budget at least half the purchase cost of the car toward immediate repairs. I looked at a couple of cars and found a nice little diamond (well… a zircon) in the rough: a 2002 Honda Civic LX… with almost 300,000 miles on it. Perfect? No. Not even close. But worth working on? I hope.

On the plus side it’s a stick-shift, just like my Jeep. Unlike my Jeep it has better gas mileage, a better power-to-weight ratio, a working radio, cruise control, and air conditioning. On the negative side after driving it for a couple of days and doing a basic tune-up, I found it needs a new exhaust manifold and catalytic converter (cracked), new wheel bearings on all four wheels (worn out), a new oil pan gasket (leaking), a new timing belt (last one was a hundred thousand miles ago), a new power window motor in the rear right door (broken), a new inside door handle (dying), a new outside door handle (cracked), steering wheel cover, brake pads, wiper blades, etc. But the engine is in remarkably good shape, for all that! While changing the spark plugs I was delighted to see that all four cylinders are fine.

I’d actually budgeted in the cost of a new engine, so as bad as all that sounds it hasn’t added up to anything really unpalatable. My daughter helped me with the tune-up and had her first introduction to working on cars. As the parts start coming in she’ll learn how to service her breaks, replace wheel bearings, work on car doors, replace an exhaust manifold and catalytic converter, and all the other stuff that needs doing. The end result will be another fun car with at least another hundred thousand miles left to go on it and a daughter who may never enjoy working on cars, but who certainly won’t be afraid of them.

– Tom

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