It is no secret that I love old cars. It is also no secret (certainly for readers here) that I have an outlook on life that I have likened to that of a German Farmer of my grandparents’ generation. When these things collide, life becomes difficult.
A few years back I wrote about the experience of spending the summer with my daughter’s Honda Civic, that was then right about twenty years old, and how that was a completely different experience from driving a twenty year old car in 1979. She still has the car, but not today, because I am trying to diagnose something that is wrong with it. And therein lies the problem.
I often experience disagreements that take place within my brain. Real life has a way of battling with some ideas I have formed about real life, though those ideas are not always kept up to date. What to do with a malfunctioning twenty-three year old Honda Civic is one of those arguments. My daughter is now a fully grown adult. She has a job, has a place of her own and has quite recently become engaged. And she is still driving a 1998 Honda Civic. The Civic had belonged to her grandmother, and was everything a “grandma car” should be – it was in excellent condition and had relatively few miles on it – somewhere around 50,000, if memory serves. Even now it has reached a grand total of 101,000 miles.
So what is the problem? In my German-Farmer-World, a Honda Civic with 101,000 is practically a new car. Aside from the fact that 100k miles has become the new 50 or 60K miles from thirty years ago, what is 100k miles on a Honda Civic? Especially a Civic from the late 1990s, a golden age for Honda if ever there was such a thing. My German-Farmer-Brain says that we should not even be thinking about ditching such a car until it gets to 200k on the odometer.
But my Dad-Brain recognizes that even the best twenty-three year old car is full of twenty-three year old electronic parts that are way beyond their design life – in time, if not in miles. Like the device that tells the speedometer how fast the car is going. Which also sends signals to the transmission and the engine. So that 1) the check engine light is doing its ominous orange glow, 2) the speedometer is alternating between acting normally, acting erratically, or not acting at all and 3) the automatic transmission keeps getting confused and occasionally does its thing not as smoothly as it should. No Dad wants to see his daughter sitting by the side of the road with a car on the fritz. (I use the word “fritz” in the hopes of trying to speak in a language that the German Farmer Brain will understand).
“But” retorts German Farmer Brain, “a $35 part will fix everything and the car will be good as new.” There is something to that – the car does not leak, always starts, blows icy air in summer and blistering air in winter, and does it all in a Honda Civic-y kind of way, which means that it does it all just right and completely free of drama. At least until late last week.
Marianne, for what it’s worth, agrees with Dad Brain. “It’s not worth fixing” she says. A concept which German Farmer Brain has trouble with. “Anything that starts, runs right, drives right and looks good is worth $3500, no matter how old it is” says German Farmer Brain. “And even $100 a month in repairs (something required by No Honda Civic Ever) is a darn sight cheaper than a new car.”
But Dad Brain will back up his wife on one point, which is this: German Farmer Brain might be perfectly happy spending its days watching, listening, smelling and feeling for each new and unexpected quiver, squeak, bang or odor that marks one more twenty-three year old part that has decided to turn in its retirement papers. Our daughter, however, is not attuned to that sort of thing, and has other life priorities. She is, in this way, much more fun than her father. Sure, unnecessary expenditures can get in the way of those other priorities too, but we all know that once you sign on the dotted line for that next requirement of modern life, we get used to it and move on.
German Farmer Brain’s case is not helped by the significant damage to the car’s right side which came courtesy of the stray animal on the road. Daughter, you see, lacks the flinty Dad-Hardened heart that says “never swerve to avoid an animal on the road unless its the size of a cow, and maybe not even then. Without that damage, the car would still look like mahhvelous from both sides, instead of just from one. Starting to consider an old car as a beater (instead of as a real car) is much easier when it looks more like a beater than a real car.
So, it is starting to look like German Farmer Brain is going to lose this round. Unless it convinces me to sell her my fifteen year old Honda with 140k miles and keep her twenty three year old version. Because at fifteen, a Honda is practically a new car. Isn’t it?