Check out my luxury car!

I see your raised eyebrows, it’s alright. Without context, I would surely react the same. This essay is not about flaunting my dope ride. It’s about defining what luxury means to me, without the influence of Madison Ave. 

So how did I come to consider a 19 year old base model economy car as a luxury? First, I should point out that this is a second vehicle in my household. At my house, we’ve designed a life that requires just one car. The second vehicle, therefore, is a bit indulgent.

OK, sure. A solid middle class life in America affords some comfort. Why not own something a little newer or (ostensibly) nicer? I certainly did prior to inheriting this car, and so I digress to the story of how the Honda came into my life: A short time after my second child was born, my mother voluntarily gave up driving. Her car was the Honda you see here. My parents purchased it new in their retirement. It was always garaged, and dealer serviced to the “severe duty” schedule stipulated by the manufacturer, as it was mostly city driven. At that time, the car was fourteen years old, and had 70,000 miles. It was in need of a timing belt (twice overdue because of age), rear struts, and the driver’s side door wouldn’t lock with the key. Plus there were some cosmetic issues. My mother offered this car first to my siblings and I. We all declined, so she then found a neighbor who was interested in it, and I approved of the transaction. He subsequently backed out. So I decided I’d help my mom by making the repairs, and selling the car for her. I didn’t really want to do this, as my own car was desperately overdue for some deferred maintenance and repairs (did I mention there was a new baby in the house?). While it was within the scope of what my skills can handle, I was planning to pay a mechanic more than my car was worth to get it up to par. I didn’t like the idea of doing that, but I liked the car, and it made sense to keep it. So at this time, I realized I could get moms car up to par in a weekend, and then drive it (on her plates and insurance) while I took my sweet time preparing my own car. Put another way, I’d fix her car in exchange for using it on loan. 

So I did exactly that. And the little Honda, which hadn’t been up to freeway speeds for the eight years since my dad died, got better and better with use. In fact, it began to grow on me. Finally, I realized the easiest path for me might be to keep the Honda (it was offered as a gift, initially), and sell my Volvo which was approaching 200,000 miles – something no amount of maintenance and repair was going to change. It turned out that a turbocharged Volvo station wagon with the sport appearance package was not difficult to sell – even with issues – and I put a tidy sum in my pocket as well. I took the all too rare (for me) path of making my life easier. Hooray for good decisions!

So this unlikely choice of car ended up teaching me several things:

  • Immediately, I discovered I don’t like tinted windows. The previous owner of my Volvo was some kind of currency or commodities trader in Boston, and apparently liked to travel incognito. It wasn’t a particularly dark shade, but combined with black interior, made the car gloomy. I never realized this until driving the Honda with its light grey interior, and clear glass.
  • Excessive power tends to bring out a version of myself which is not who I aspire to be. With less than half the power in the same-sized car, there is only one way to drive the Civic, and that’s sensibly. At this point in my life, I’m good with that.
  • Even with its impeccable service history, the Honda has actually had a greater number of issues in the 21,000 miles I’ve owned it than the Volvo did in the 70k I’d put on it. That said, everything on the Honda was both simple, and inexpensive to diagnose and repair. And it never left me stranded. When a failed crank sensor wouldn’t allow the engine to rev over 2,000rpm, I still made it home. When the head gasket failed (common issue with these), it never overheated, and I got away with just changing the gasket – nothing was warped. And that job was so simple to do, I found it amusing. There is definitely an advantage to a simple design.
  • I prefer older cars. Some of the reasons are practical, as they are simpler, and easier to maintain. But I actually do prefer an older car overall. This 2004 Honda is not what I consider old, but it seems older than it is with 70 series tires, the roll up windows, and general lack of amenities now standard. I guess this is quaint nostalgia, and by no means a requirement, but it’s still a valid consideration to me.
  • I like having as little money as possible tied up in things that go down in value. Not only are older cars often cheaper to buy and maintain, but at this point, many have fully depreciated. I believe the value of my Honda is based on its utility and condition, having nothing to do with the year on the title.
  • Humilitude. I realized straight away how connected I’d become to the identity of someone who drove a particular type of car. I have been a car enthusiast my entire life , and make no apologies for that. In fact, I’ve only owned enthusiast cars. So arriving at my destination in an aging, nondescript economy car had me experiencing weird feelings, including shame. This took me years to overcome. Logically I understand that what I own isn’t who I am – the car is not a reflection of my worth. Nevertheless, I unwittingly assigned that value upon my car. Interestingly, my wife (who drives a car considered luxury in the traditional sense) did not experience this hangup (turns out she’s the true auto enthusiast in the house). She did have one point of contention with the car: it lacked central locking (it is that basic). I’d simply taken to leaving the car unlocked, but went ahead and installed an aftermarket power lock kit, with remote keyless entry, and all was well. I mention her take, as she challenged me to overcome my hangup about it. We’d be driving along, and I’d say something like “Behold, the smooth supple ride of the 2004 Civic Value Package.” She saw my BS for what it was, and helped me to stop making fun of the car, and appreciate it for it’s utility, and the role it plays in our life. 
  • A vehicle is a tool. As with any tool, it should make life easier. Obviously it’s going to suck some resources for things like maintenance, cleaning, etc (regardless of whether self-performed, or  handled by a pro). But the overall net should be positive. At this point in my life, the feeling of having something special doesn’t outweigh the cost of being precious about it.

So I consider this Honda a luxury for how it fits into my life. And also for how the experience of owning it has changed my perception for the better. 

Post Script:

Just when everything was perfect, vehicle-wise, I zigged when I might have zagged. My family is growing, our interests are evolving, and I’d been weighing making the Honda fit our needs, versus changing to something that would be a better fit by design. In this process, I have been test driving prospective replacements to identify what that replacement might be. My intention was to not purchase something until late into next year at the soonest. But sometimes “the one” just falls into your lap, and you either act, or not. I acted. Topic for another post, but I’ll give a hint: It’s another Volvo wagon (this time without a turbo).

2 responses to “Luxury”

  1. Totally understand. Giving up Old Gray, my 2006 Ford F-150 pickup after our 15 years together (yes, it also had crank-handle windows), was like losing a childhood friend. Best pickup I ever had. Still miss him when autumn leaves start to fall.


    1. Thanks for that anecdote. I’ve not owned a Ford from that period, but I’m well aware of the almost mythical durability of Ford’s 4.6 modular engine. It may someday come to be viewed in the same regard as the Mopar slant-six, or the Volvo redblock. I hope the replacement serves you as well.


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