Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Month Without a Car

I love my little Honda Civic. She's a little bit beat up around the edges, but she came of age this year... she's 21.

My mother bought her for me when I graduated from college. It was less of a graduation present than it was some combination of self defense mechanism and guilty conscious payoff.

You see, I had worked all through high school and college, but had nothing to show for it because I had spent all of my hard earned money on not one, not two, not three, but four - yes FOUR cars... all of which my mother had recommended, and all of which died in dramatic fashion within a year or two of my owning them.

First there was the Toyota Corolla that had a mysterious overheating problem... which turned out to be a cracked block. (For those who don't speak car... that's BAD... VERY BAD.)

Then there was the Chrysler that burned more oil than gasoline. I can't remember what its diagnosis was, but I think we had to pay somebody to come haul it away.

Then there was the Ford Escort that my mother's used car salesman "friend" sold me... turned out somebody had driven it without oil for a long period of time. It threw a rod (while my mother was driving it... somehow I thought that was poetic justice).

Then there was the Mazda that would just stop... for no apparent reason. The mechanics could never find anything wrong, but after it left me stranded for about the umpteenth time, I had had enough.

My mother finally concluded that I had some sort of car curse, and the only way to break it was to buy me a new car. Personally, I thought the problem had much more do do with the quality of the advice I was getting than any sort of curse, but hey, I was gonna get a new car out of the deal so I kept my mouth shut!

So I did my research and decided on the car that Consumer Reports rated highest in reliability... the Honda Civic. My mother bought it for me with one condition.

OK... have I mentioned that my mother is... well... errrr... a little bit... ummmm.... out there? The deal was that before I could have the car she took it to one of her psychic healer friends who performed a curse breaking spell on it. (Not kidding here)

And I had to promise to keep the curse breaking "Wanga Doll" in the glove compartment at all times. (Yes - it's still there.)

Anyhow... crazy parents notwithstanding, it's been a great little car. It took me across the country three times and even to Mexico. All that, and she still has less than 85,000 mile on her.

But about 5 years ago she started having problems. At first I thought it was just a fluke, but soon a definite pattern emerged. The car wouldn't start when it was hot. I took her to mechanic after mechanic. Most told me that I was either flooding the engine or that it had vapor lock, and nobody could fix it.

The problem grew worse and worse until about a month ago when it got to the point that it was practically unusable. Seriously, I'd run to the grocery store and then have to wait 2 hours in the parking lot for the engine to cool down before it would start again. Perhaps I had spoken ill of the Wanga doll one too many times...

I was distraught. What would I do without my little Honda?

Finally, in desperation I turned to the internet. Never forsake your friend, the internet! Within a few clicks of the mouse I had found a whole slew of Honda owners with the same problem. And lo and behold, apparently it was an easy fix... some obscure electrical part in the fuel injection system called the main relay.

Soooo... to make an excruciatingly long story a tad bit shorter. It took me a few weeks of research to determine that I probably wasn't gonna be able to replace the part myself, and then to find a reputable mechanic who would do it. I finally found a fellow who's been around since 1978 working exclusively on Hondas and Acuras. When I described the problem, his first response was to tell me to open the driver's door and give a hard whack right on the spot where I had already determined that the main relay was located. I knew I'd found my man!

So as long as I was gonna take her in, I decided to fix a whole gaggle of long neglected problems that had been lingering. Call it a 21st birthday present if you will. It meant that she had to stay in the shop for a week, and it cost me over 2 grand... (this included several concessions to CatMan who felt it was unsafe for me to be driving around in a car with a cracked windshield and a non-functioning defroster.) But it was worth it.

ANYHOW.... this is all my long winded way of telling you that for the past month I haven't had a car. The funny thing is, I barely noticed.

I walked or rode my bike to the grocery store, and for some reason both CatMan and my Dad decided that they needed to take me out to eat, so I actually went "out" much more than I regularly do. Really the only substantive change I had to make was to order a few cases ridiculously expensive food for the fe-lions online instead of getting it at the ridiculously expensive cat food store. In fact... it actually ended up being cheaper to buy it online!

So does this mean that I'm gonna go car free?

Well... while I certainly think it would be possible, the answer is no. I'm sure I could make it work if I really had to, but to be honest, it's really nice to know that you have a car available when you need to haul some lumber or to go to the farmer's market or Whole Foods, or someplace out of bicycle range. Plus... it just seems like the prudent thing to have transportation available in case of kitty medical emergencies.

All in all, it hasn't been a bad month, but I'm really glad to have my baby home!

I hope to keep her running smoothly for another 21 years!


  1. Now THAT'S the way to own a car. A true lesson in frugality. And I'll be she still gets great gas mileage too.

  2. Awesome! Both of ours (a CRV and a Prius) are 10+, and have over 100K miles. Am seriously hoping for another 10 :-)
    Don't think we could manage a month without. DH has been using a scooter to get to work for two years, though, as we sent off the Honda with our youngest to University.

    Reminds me of a recent article about "food deserts" and how they're related to limited access to decent food sources for those without cars. Great family discussions about our local situation and what would WE do without a car.

  3. Here's link to the article (and no, don't live there)

  4. Admiration, once again. Happy birthday to both of you.

    I'm really enjoying reading your blog. I "stole" some of your style on my recent post and added several clip art images interspersed between the text. Love to know what your sources are because your pictures are always PERFECT!

  5. MO - You know, I had a friend in college who had similar automotive woes to mine. One day she was complaining to her father about it and he replied "Well honey, that's what you get when you own a luxury item." She was a tad bit miffed by his description of her car as a "luxury item" - but somehow it stuck with me all these years. I've always tried to look at my car that way and make my decisions accordingly. So I've never lived more than 10 miles from where I worked, and always felt like I could do without the car if I really needed to. And yes... she gets around 30 mpg.

    Jay - Great article! There's actually a Save-a-Lot store within a few blocks of my house... as well as a Kroger supermarket. I follow several groups here in town... one focuses on urban farming and gardening, and the other on local food production in general. Both have done some very interesting work on food deserts that involve things like setting up gardens, farms and markets in the middle of under served urban neighborhoods. I can't help but think that part of the problem could be solved by getting folks bicycles and by ensuring safe bike routes. 3-5 miles is a long slog on foot, but it's an easy bike ride.

    Connie - Glad you're enjoying my crazy illustrations. I can waste hours on end looking for just the right picture!

  6. I think I'm just going to hire you as my illustrator. I can pay you in either cats or cat poop, the only things I have plenty of. Hard to say to an offer like that, right?

  7. Whoops! Hard to say NO to an offer like that, right? proofread - proofread - proofread.

  8. ECL, I live where there are bike lanes EVERYWHERE and indeed they are well traveled. Interestingly, I've never seen anyone use bikes when shopping at the various markets I use. Mostly they're commuters to/from work or school.
    Biking is viable for lots of folks, but not myself nor my adult "child"--me because I'm an old klutz, and my "child" because of a profound motor disability. So, we'd be a bit stuck.
    Locally there are community gardens, but not big enough to serve what I would consider the big deserts (public housing, etc) and I hadn't thought before reading the article how difficult it must be to just get decent food. No wonder there's so much junk food bingeing . THAT you can get at the corner liquor/convenience store.
    We do have a "decent" bus system, though, and I guess that'd be our salvation.

    The same issues regarding Food Deserts also (and this I've thought about plenty over the years) apply to other necessities, such as medical care. Folks get after "certain groups", because -for instance- of not getting prenatal care or managing a chronic disease such as diabetes, but if you have to wait, then ride a bus for a half hour, then sit in a clinic for hours. Well, gets a bit discouraging!
    Sad. Sorry for rambling.

    So, anyhow, did you ever name your car? We haven't, but they really haven't any personality....

  9. Hey Connie - I've got a plan... I'll be your illustrator if you'll come be my kitty dinnertime referee. Seriously, they're about to push me over the edge (although, by any sane person's reckoning I've been residing there for some time now). The fat one gobbles his food and then noses everybody else out of the way. The skinny one won't eat unless everything's EXACTLY the way he likes it (right food, right temperature, right texture, right dish etc.) the curious one has to go check everybody else's dish before he'll eat just to be sure he's not missin' out on anything, and the territorial one starts swatting everybody the instant I head to the kitchen to make food. Maybe I should just lock them all in separate rooms to eat!

    Jay - You bring up interesting points. I suppose that if the definition of a "food desert" is a place where one cannot easily walk to a market, then most suburbs would qualify... it's only because all of the residents have cars (or are assumed to have cars) that the situation is different. Maybe what we need are a fleet of trucks like the ice cream trucks that troll through each neighborhood selling veggies!

    And no, I've never actually named my car, though if I did I think she'd be Henrietta.

  10. Separate rooms might be the answer. Also the "fat one", been checked for thyroid problems or diabetes? My hyperthyroid elder cat used to finish hers, push the other cats away from their bowls and then finish them off. On medicaton now, she eats more slowly and then cleans whatever the other kids leave. And maybe if you fed the territorial one first he/she wouldn't be so nasty to the others.

  11. ECL--sorry got sidetracked! But yes. you're right 'bout the suburbs and "Food Deserts" number crunchers factoring in car registrations in an area (sigh). Your idea about food trucks is great and has actually been started in a few places; they seem to work, at least on a small scale!
    I, too, know what you're going thru with fat vs picky vs ADHD cats :-)) Guess I should get my fat one checked, too. I'll catch her lying on the floor with her face in the food bowl--Sheesh.

    Back to the car: Congrats, hope she continues in style, and gets you from point A to point B without fear! What more can you ask of a car?

    BTW, See this about planned obsolescence:
    You picked one of the few car companies who (at least early on) didn't embrace that concept!

  12. Connie - Sputnik (the fat one) has completely normal bloodwork. I think the real issue is that he's on a diet. When left to his own devices he ends up at about 15.5 pounds, and the vet wants him closer to 13. Personally, I think it's because he spent the first few years of his life fending for himself on the street so food is sort of a comfort thing for him. When you try to limit it, he sort of freaks out.

    Similarly, the aggressive one is Princess, who I just rescued from the street about 4 months ago. I'm not sure how long she was out there but she had foxes, skunks and a whole slew of feral cats to contend with as food competitors, so I'm hoping she'll mellow with time. I think the trick with her is to give her a little snack about an hour or so before mealtime so she's not quite so hungry. When she's hungry she turns into a real pill!

    Jay - Don't even get me started on planned obsolescence! A friend of mine recently got an Ipod and I was shocked to learn that there's no way to change or recharge its battery. It's designed so that when the battery wears out you just toss the whole thing. I guess they figure that by then everybody will be on to some new groovy gadget. Sigh.

  13. Hey, my Honda was 21 years old in February. Still running well with over 300K miles on it. In 2032, we can have a joint birthday party! I wish...

  14. HaHa. At dinner we were talking about the multiple permutations of planned obsolescence and Apple came up, with its rather "brilliant" use of it....

  15. My car is 13, a baby compared to yours! It's a Ford, though, so it probably won't make it to see 21. I've also been thinking about going car-free, or at least going down to a one car household. I've switched to a job that allows me to work from home, so other than the odd dentist appointment or visit with a friend, I really have no need for a car, and I don't even enjoy driving.

  16. My car is a 1996 850 Volvolina Jolie - the most famous baby carrier in the world, with sturdy side impact bars. She's 15 and needs minimal attention. I feel like she's going to go on forever.

  17. ECL,

    I need your help! I am still a newbie blogger and have no idea how to respond to comments and have the response get back to folks (email them). I tested it with a friend and she got no reply.

    I apologize for posting this, please feel free to delete, I just couldn't find a way to email you that because there isn't one or am I lost in novice land with this, too?

    I'd really appreciate any words of advice.


  18. My car is a 1988 Toyota Corolla that I brought second hand in 1996. I have owned it for 18 years, although it feels like 100. It idles roughly, needs oil topping up every few weeks. However, apart from an electical fault in 2001 that cost big bucks to repair, not much has gone wrong. Just the usual parts replaced due to wear and tear.

    Parking under cover protects the car from UV and moisture, keeping rust and paint-fade at bay. Regular oil changes and gentle acceleration have helped extend the life of the engine and automatic transmission (which are original to the car).

    I often wonder where all the 1988 era cars have gone, since I see very few of them on the road now. They can't all have been insurance write off's? Like you, I get satisfaction out of keeping a model of car on the road that many disposed of long ago.

    1. Yay! Sounds like our cars would make a nice set! CatMan drives a Nissan pickup made in the '80's - I think it's a 1987 but I'm not sure. My dad & step-mom also both drive cars of a similar vintage. Cars from that era have so much to offer... great fuel efficiency and no crazy bells and whistles - just good transportation, which, IMHO is the purpose of a car!


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