The End Of The Road? Wrestling With The German Farmer

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?

27 thoughts on “The End Of The Road? Wrestling With The German Farmer

    • That looks like the direction things are going. The good news is that since this post was put to bed the car has reportedly undergone an engine wiring repair for under $100 and is back on the road.

      This is a bad time to buy a new car (chip shortage = high prices) and an even worse time to buy a used car (chip shortage = shortage of new cars = insane prices on used ones). Any time she has to improve her position before diving into that unpleasantness is a win.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is truly a dilemma and that is indeed a sweet Civic. In the big scheme of things, Dad Brain has a more comprehensive argument than does German Farmer Brain. GF Brain has done a terrific job of being unemotional in his decision making, but he also needs to realize that Mother Brain is lurking nearby – and she can certainly sway the jury in matters of debate.

    If it helps any, you aren’t alone in your dilemma. Your featured Civic once met a certain 2000 Ford Econoline; let’s say they have both prompted similar age related thought processes lately.

    Two weeks ago, my daughter attended a defensive driving school sponsored by Kia. One of the instructors had great advice for the involvement of animals when driving – if it goes in a skillet, kill it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love the advice from the driving instructor! Unfortunately, in my daughter’s case it was a dog. I understand that there are some cultures in which dogs do indeed go into skillets, so maybe he was speaking in a world-wide frame of reference? As an aside, I have had a handful of cases over the years involving people who have driven into cows. It is dramatic when it happens,

      One problem for those of us who have some kind of German Farmer Brain is that we are old enough to remember when the only stuff you had to worry about on a 25-30 year old car were mechanical items that are almost always easy to assess for wear. Any electrical problems were simple peripheral pieces that you could either do without or were cheaply fixable. Now a car of that age is almost completely dependent on electronic components for even the most basic operational functions. Had I gotten a degree in electrical engineering and had gobs of time on my hands, I would probably find stuff like that fun. Unfortunately, neither of those two things is true. But the good news (as noted in response to Jim Grey’s comment) the Civic survives so that the question is put off for another day.

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  2. I’m coming in on the German farmer side, I’d trust 20 year old Japanese electronics over new Chinese ones.
    Fix the sensor, congratulate your daughter on her level of adulthood, and give her the business card of Haldimand Motors, or whatever reputable no haggle used car lot you’ve got there.
    Then drive the Fit to the liquor store, pick out a nice bottle and toast yourselves on your excellent parenting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like the way you think, sir! The comparison of old Japanese and modern Chinese parts is one I had not thought of. The 90s was still an era when top-tier Japanese companies sunk resources into quality in those little pieces nobody would ever see. Today, manufacturers from almost everywhere are under such cost pressures that many pennies are saved by lowered specs in things that don’t show up in a showroom. I have few illusions that a car bought today will be a 20 or 30 year proposition.

      As noted elsewhere, it was diagnosed as an “engine wiring” problem and fixed for under a hundred bucks. I got this secondhand, so maybe old, hard, cracked insulation on a sensor wire caused some low-voltage short? All the more reason to put your last sentence into practice.

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      • I think the individual kid is a factor too. Some (whether boys or girls) develop a feel for an older car and both keep it well maintained and also notice problems when they start. Others treat it like a rental car and only deal with problems when forced to. Older cars are not for that second kind of kid.

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  3. As a guy who has never given up a car with less than 180,000 miles on it, I feel your pain! I always admonish my friends that it’s really mileage, not age, but unfortunately, with modern electronics, it IS age. I’ve always kept a car at least three times as long as paying it off, but even with Toyotas (especially Toyotas now), when the repairs start mounting up to a decent down payment, it’s time to start thinking hard. There are so many calculations now, it makes my head hurt! Cost of a new car, car loans that can be as low as 0% (I’m only paying 2.4%, which as far as I’m concerned is free), trade in value (usually a ‘stipend’ for me). I would have done anything to keep my last Scion xB alive, but 186,000 miles, and stuff going wrong that never went wrong on a Toyota with that mileage on it, for me, made the decision.

    I like my new Kia Soul, but I would have paid more to have less electronics on it! I look at these multi-level electronics that are on new vehicles, as hot spots that are are going to go ‘wrong’ before I’m ready to give up the car! And costs are insane! Ford stopped building “small cars” in America because all anyone wanted was $50K trucks (not me, and not true); yet they still build them in Europe and England, and they have a car I would have bought in a second (the Ka), where if you did the pounds to dollar conversation, the MSRP was $12.5k! I have a friend that actually sells American cars and he said they would rather have you pay $13K for a clapped out used car, than carry or offer you something new for that price! And there’s the rub, the calculation is always for or against just buying a new car, and using the repair money as a down payment; but now that 16K Honda you bought 12 years ago is pushing 30K new!

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    • I spent years finding well-kept 10-15 year old cars with relatively low miles (60-80k). The age cut the buying pool way down and I got great use from most of them. But those were quite simple compared with what fits that category now.

      I have also bought new and kept them for years. We don’t pile miles on like some, so age becomes a problem at some point, because of rust if no other reason.

      Our “Good car” is a Kia that is right at 10 years old, and it has provided excellent service – as good as any of our Hondas so far. I think the next 5 years will be the test, but your Soul should treat you well.

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  4. I’m a fan of the older cars too. As long as everything has been checked… good if your daughter will be using the car and living close by — THEN stick with the OLD car, better quality. However, if she is moving far away and knows nothing about cars, does not have a good mechanic… THEN as a mother of two daughters, I would be hesitant on giving them a really old car. Got to weigh everything. I LIKE Doug’s final assessment — after good parenting, go by a bottle and celebrate!! ABSOLUTELY!

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    • I agree with all you say. That was exactly why I swapped cars with her for a summer she spent in an internship several hundred miles away.

      We have 3 kids from 25 to 29 and we could not be more proud of each of them. We may question certain things but because each is a kind, responsible and self-sufficient person, those issues we may pick out are mighty small compared with the things many parents deal with.

      So maybe I join you in a toast to our kids and their mahhhvelous parents. 🙂

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  5. It sounds like “Dad’s loner service” is pretty convenient in your case, but it seems like living with an aging car is a lot easier if you have more than one which I’m assuming she doesn’t. (1)

    My experience has been that even the best of older cars will require more attention, and even if it makes sense financially, the amount of time involved may not.

    That said, it sounds like you have bought some time to play with and replacing a car because you need one RIGHT NOW doesn’t usually end up with the best results and this does not seem like an ideal time to be shopping.

    (1) My Aerostar with 200 thousand miles was the reason I bought the ’65 Chrysler. (It somehow made sense at the time) 😉

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    • I don’t see 2 cars in her future (other than via a fiancee who has one). And yes, there is nothing worse than needing a car NOW.

      Maybe this is a good reason to splurge on that Studebaker Lark that populates my imagination. “Here honey, use my Honda today and I’ll call the old one off the bench.”

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  6. My father, who was German (thus a German Brain) and who bought the VW Super Beetle new for his daughter (“because German cars are perfect like their people”) agreed that it was a lemon. His Dad Brain said “I’ll take it over – it is not safe.” But even he, of German descent, decided that prized car of German origin was not safe to drive, even for a man and got rid of it. However, your Honda Civic is not of the same ilk because, being from the Motor City, there are plenty of car shows on the radio and one person does reviews all the time – he compares cars, goes on test drives then does a review. I recall his excellent review for a Honda Civic hatchback, adding that it was the usual fine qualities that make this car so special. Last week he said that with a new vehicle around $40,000, fixing up your car makes so much more sense these days.

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  7. We have the “engaged daughter” aspect in common here, J.P, but I’m sure we can also agree we want our daughters to be as safe as possible. Hence – and it took a long time and a lot of savings – my daughter finally bought a new car (vs. used), and a practical one at that. Even though I should still worry about her on the road, at least I know her 2020 Ford Bronco Sport won’t break down as often as her 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Even if it does, it’ll be my future son-in-law’s concern, not mine. Works for me!

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    • Welp, my future SIL has many fine qualities, but I am not aware that mechanical aptitude is one of them. So, I think the car issues in that household may remain on my plate. Oh well, there are worse things people could come to me with.

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  8. I finally sold my 2000 Town Car Cartier. It was still nice, everything worked, but it had 184,000 miles and I wanted front wheel drive for this winter. Sold it to Michael Tuck, bought a CPO 2017 Lincoln MKZ, and the Town Car went to Syracuse, New York. And made it there without one problem.

    And I still have my Autumn Red 2004 Town Car Ultimate, which recently turned 61,000 miles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You had a really good run with that one, and probably picked the right time to move on. You also have the luxury of keeping its younger sibling while getting something newer.

      I hope you enjoy the new one!

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