I have had a 1996 Honda Civic LX, 5-speed for the past 20 years, and if I could keep driving it for another 20+ I would do so happily. Had I never taken it to New England to live with me (I am now back home in Georgia) I probably could keep driving it forever. Apart from routine things (timing belt changes, alternator replacement, that sort of thing) it has always run perfectly. I love this vehicle and have no desire to replace it with a costly, and new-fangled vehicle. But sadly, 8 years of the road salt in New England seems to have done a number on it. I’m curious what options might exist.
Two years ago, the vehicle was brought back to the south and was not used often for several months.
About one year ago, I noticed two things: (a) the brakes were getting very soft; (b) the vehicle lurched and bucked excessively when shifting from 1st to 2nd gear. I initially thought that problem (b) was an issue with the clutch, which has gotten a bit ‘touchy’ over the years (difficulty keeping the transition from active clutch to active transmission when shifting at low speeds, clutch ‘sticks’ when shifting into 1st gear and vehicle is still rolling slowly, etc.), and underwent some adjustments several years back. I took it to a nearby mechanic, a Vietnamese fellow who specializes in Asian makes. I’ll call this shop “V” for short. “V” seems very popular and successful but his English is very hard to follow and thus, it is very hard to explain ‘complex’ problems. He diagnosed it by test driving it, and explained that the problem with the lurching (and possibly also the brakes, not sure) was that one or more of the motor mounts was loose/failed. He fixed this problem as well as replacing parts on the brakes and the vehicle resumed normal functioning. I was happy with his service, but reluctant to take the vehicle back to him without a translator. He made no mention of “rust,” but then as I said, language barrier . . .
About six-months ago, I noticed the brakes starting to become soft again. This time I took it to another mechanic whom I trust very much; he worked on our vehicles for many years in the past. This fellow, “Rob” (a pseudonym). Rob’s assistant called me back after about one day and told me “Rob cannot work on the car, it is too rusted out. Too much liability.” Based on the tone during this call and when I went to pick up the vehicle, I sensed that Rob did not want to talk about it, and really did not want to work on the vehicle. Nonetheless, when I got the vehicle, I realized he must have done some work on it (and not charged me, so as to not be on record I suppose) because the soft brakes were fixed. Rob hails from New England and is very familiar with rust damaged vehicles. When I spoke to him, some of the things he said indicated to me that he was ‘fed up’ with working on rust damaged vehicles for some reason, and also indicated that, in some cases, the rust damage can simply get to the point where the vehicle is not fixable.
I was honestly a bit traumatized when I heard his assistant tell me he would not work on it, and while that was all I was told (along with ‘You should trade it in while you can still get something for it . . . there are probably mechanics out there who will work on it, but Rob refuses to do so . . .’) the strange tension I detected made me averse to pressing him for more information. Once I realized he had fixed the brakes I understood better the predicament he was in: he had already put hours and parts into it, when he decided he didn’t want to take on this vehicle as a regular service job, so naturally this amplified his longstanding irritation with dealing with rusted vehicles and thus the strange taciturn manner of his assistant when I picked it up.
So this brings my tale to the present. I continue to use the vehicle several days a week, including 12-mile roundtrip commutes on Interstates and in traffic. It continues to function normally, and while it definitely ‘feels’ like an old and slightly rickety car, it seems superficially fine to me. The vehicle recently passed the Georgia license inspection (which, I understand is nothing more than a test to see if the onboard emissions computer still works or not) and apart from the slightly touchy clutch problem (which has been ongoing for years) and the brakes seemingly going bad routinely the vehicle has not issues that I can detect from driving it . . . At this point, the brakes may be starting to soften up again, I’m not sure.
As I said at the outset of this long narrative, I do NOT want to get rid of this vehicle. I imagine a new Honda Civic (or similar type of car) would cost in the ball park of $25,000 (not to mention operating costs) and this vehicle: (i) still runs; (ii) costs me ~$1000 per year in maintenance (averaged over the last five years); (iii) I am psychologically (if not emotionally!) attached to the vehicle. It is not that I “cannot” afford a new one, I just would prefer NOT to take on that additional expense if there is any other option.
Some months back, I spoke with some of the automotive students at the Technical College I attend, and I learned that “donor frame parts” (if not whole chassis) were a real thing, and that it might actually be an option in my case. I have not investigated this further and that is why I’m here, to inquire about what sorts of options I might have, and how best to explore those options.
Does anyone have any experience with this sort of problem? Can anyone advise a sensible course of action? Would seeking a mechanic who could organize “donor frame parts” (if not the whole chassis) and implement a “transplant” be sensible? I have no idea how much that sort of work might cost, but I reckon that it would be cheaper than a new vehicle?