Our old Honda Civic was acting old. The clutch was about to go, the carburetor needed replacing for the second time, and the rear bumper was about to fall off. We’d heard that the best time to shop for a car was late in the month late in the year.
We drove to Schaumburg Honda where we were greeted by an obnoxious young lad who evidently had poor hearing. I told him we wanted a 1992 Civic 4-door with a radio, air conditioning and cruise control.
He spent the next 20 minutes trying to talk us into buying a 1993 Civic because it was only $400 more. He then walked off into the lot and came back with a 1992 Civic that was loaded with options, including some I couldn’t identify. When he refused to give us a quote in writing or an estimate on our trade-in, we walked out.
We drove to O’Hare Honda and told the salesman there what we wanted. He made a half-hearted attempt to sell us an Accord, then sat down and wrote out a quote for a 1992 Civic for $11,781. We had a choice between white and a weird mint green. An hour and a half later, we drove home in our new car.
To put this into perspective — we bought this car three days before Bill Clinton won his first election as President.
I didn’t care for the car from the first. It didn’t have the pick-up of our previous Civic, it was a weird mint green, and the cabin space seemed a lot smaller.
I had no idea at the time that we’d keep the car for 17 years, one month and 20 days.
It was a serviceable car. The steering went out twice, but both times I managed to drive it to the shop. The head gasket blew back in 2000 or so. In 247,482 miles, there was only one time when I was stranded and had to get towed.
The most exciting trip probably occurred in October, 1999. We were on the way home from my Dad’s funeral. We pulled off the Interstate south of Madison, Wisconsin, to get lunch. The car began making an awful squeaking grating sound. My wife was in favor of finding a local mechanic. I was in favor of getting home. We debated over lunch, then set out. As I approached the ramp for the Interstate, I decided to go for it and pulled on. Once I got the car over 50 mph, the noise could no longer be heard. The final 50 miles of the trip were on regular roads. Whenever we slowed down to go through a town, the noise started up again. One guy in front of us was so busy staring at us in his rear-view mirror that we had to honk at him to go when the light changed. We made it the entire way. The problem was the distributor.
A few months later, we headed down to visit our family in Arkansas. As we drove through northern Illinois, we hit a slushy snowstorm. The salt trucks were out in force. By the time we reached Poplar Bluff, Missouri, it was warm and clear. But our car looked like this.
We were the most exciting thing to happen in that town in years. People were staring and pointing. We stopped for gas and two people came over and talked to me. The first guy just wanted to know where we’d come from. The other guy gave me a lecture on how bad salt is for a car and how I need to wash it as soon as possible.
Perhaps the best testament to the car’s durability is the fact that it survived my daughter. I won’t go into details — except for one. That’s the day that she parked it at the top of our steep driveway and didn’t set the parking brake. My next-door-neighbor rang our doorbell and told me I’d better come outside. I discovered my car resting up against the porch of the house across the street. If it had rolled straight back, it probably would have gone through the basement window. But somehow, when the car hit the grass, it curved, narrowly missing the well stack and smacking into the front step. You can see the curving tracks in the lawn and the chip in the step. These neighbors had decided some time before this that they didn’t like us, and this incident didn’t change their minds any.
The car also survived two minor front-end collisions, one when a guy in a pickup tried to cross the road from one parking lot to another and didn’t notice me coming. I hit his back wheel. There wasn’t a mark of any sort on the truck, but the Civic had $1,000 of damage to the bumper and hood. Less than a year later, my daughter slid on wet pavement and bumped a van, causing another $1,000 worth of damage.
About three years ago, I gave my daughter and two of her junior-high friends a ride. One girl climbed into the back seat and said, “Oh, cool! Your car has these!” I couldn’t imagine what could possibly be in this car that a junior-high girl would find cool. Turns out it was the window cranks. She’d never been in a car that didn’t have electric windows.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the back bumper. About 10 years ago, rust ate through the piece that held one side of the bumper to the frame. I drove with it hanging down for a few days. Then one day I walked out of work with a stack of papers held together with a binder clip. I occurred to me that I could use the clip to hold my bumper in place. I snapped the clip into place and forgot all about it for a couple days. When I remembered to look, the bumper was still where I had clipped it. I duct taped the clip in place and went on my merry way. Since then, the paper clip has rusted through twice and been replaced. About four years ago, the other side rusted through, so the bumper has been held in place by two paper clips since then.
And that brings us to this month. A few months ago, the mechanic at Midas warned me that my radiator was about shot. About two weeks ago, while on the way to work, I noticed that I had no heat and that the needle on the temperature gauge was buried in the red. I turned around and drove about 10 miles to the shop. This was almost certainly stupid. We paid $350 for a new radiator and thermostat.
Last Wednesday, on the way home, the same thing happened — with the addition of massive billows of white smoke obscuring everything behind me. I drove it to the shop again. The head gasket had blown. The estimate for fixing it was at least $1,000. My daughter has a friend who offered to fix it for us for $400 or buy it off us for $500. We waffled back and forth for a day or two and then decided to sell it.
Last Sunday evening, the guy came by with a trailer. Here is my last view of the car as it was about to be driven away.
Seventeen years and a lot of memories. The car is older than my daughter who is a junior in high school. Am I sad? No. Like I said, I never particularly liked the car.