The Changing of the Hondas

by Susan Harris on January 24, 2013

From Hauling Mulch to Breaking Down on the Beltway

Since I bought it used in 2001, this 1998 Honda CRV did triple duty, hauling me, passengers and TONS of mulch, plants and assorted stuff (especially when I moved a year ago now) with no more trouble than regular oil changes, new tires and once, new brakes.  That’s why I chose it – because of its reliability and its ability to haul stuff.  In all these years there’s never been something I had to move that didn’t fit in it.  And it’s upright and boxy, with the great visibility that boxiness allows, and it always made me feel safe. Loved this car!

Until recently, knowing that at 15 years old and getting up there in mileage (though at 137,000, pretty low for its years), I started to worry.  Especially when I drove it 470 miles to Asheville last May and back, during which drive I worried the whole time.  I’d once had an older car breakdown in the middle of nowhere (on my way to Roanoke one year, on a Sunday) I didn’t want a repeat of that.

So I’d been thinking of getting a newer car for a while when the other night at 9:45 my car DIED on the infamous Washington beltway.  Yikes!  Fortunately I was in the right lane at the time, and I limped onto an exit ramp, though not far enough on the ramp to be highly visible to cars taking the exit.  Oh, and it was cold; did I mention?

Rather than try to do it myself along the highway in the dark, I called some friends to ask if they’d get on their computer and find a tow-truck operator in the area who was free and send him to me, which it took them about five minutes to do.  In another 15 minutes the tow-truck had arrived.  Great work, friends and tow-truck guy!  (Freddy’s in Silver Spring.)

My fellow Beltway drivers performed not nearly as well.  About 50 cars exited the ramp I was stranded on, with me standing alone near it, and none stopped to offer help, though about half of them thought it would be helpful to HONK, which they did with vigor.  Finally a nice young couple stopped to help and pushed my car to a safer spot a few feet away around a curve.  But wow, what a statement on the neighborliness of my fellow DC-area residents.  I wonder if the reaction would have been better somewhere else, maybe in a smaller city.

To Fix or Ditch?
The next day I discovered that it would cost over $700 to fix the distributor and other bad parts, so I just decided that NOW was the time to get a (MUCH) newer car.  A reliable car.  Another Honda CRV!

So driving the tiniest rental car imaginable, I set out to test some used CRVs, targeting the years 2009-2011.  I soon learned, however, that Honda had changed the way the back seats fold down sometime after 1998 in a much less efficient way, so that cargo space wasn’t so great.  They’d also eliminated the rear window that opened separately from the rest of the rear door and could be left open for hauling extra-long items.  So I had to mourn the loss of some of my favorite features.

Another feature I learned had been designed away is the boxy shape of the car that afforded such fantastic visibility.  Newer CRVs have been designed to be more rounded, more aerodynamic, in order to increase fuel efficiency, which is great, but the visibility isn’t what it used to be.  I sat inside a Toyota SUV and discovered its visibility is even worse, so decided to stick with Hondas.  (I’d confined my car search to Hondas and Toyotas only, because of reliability, reliability, reliability.)

But back to that inefficient back-seat-folding problem – they changed it back to the original, better design in 2012!  Which narrowed my used-car search to 2012s only – a mere year old, which cost almost as much as brand new cars.   That’s because Hondas hold their value so well, which is great but not if you’re hoping to save big by going the “preowned” route.

You must know where this is going – my decision to spend just a couple of thousand more to get a brand new car, thereby getting exactly what I want. Within an hour or so I was driving home in my new car, in the dark purplish blue color you see here.  My friends are exclaiming about how quickly this all happened, and yeah, I suppose so.  The car broke down Thursday night and by Saturday afternoon I’d replaced it, the rental had been picked up and WETA (DC’s public TV station) had scheduled their pick-up of the donated old car.  DONE.

Some Fab New Features

Here’s what else has changed in 15 years of designing the Honda CRV.  Horse power has increased (quite peppy now!) while city mpg has stayed the same but highway mpg has improved.  Thank you, engineers.

A new-to-me feature I love is bluetooth, a term I now know the meaning of.  My iPhone has been “paired” with it and now I can answer, chat, hang up and initiate phone calls hands-free.  (Actually, you start any of those by touching a button on the steering wheel, and then talk to the car, saying “call John Smith” or whatever.”  Fabulous!

Another great safety feature is the back-up camera.  One friend I raved to about this thought I was talking about an extra camera backing up my regular camera but it’s way better than that – a camera that comes on when you’re in reverse and shows you where you’re going and how far away you are from an object.

One feature I was looking forward to using doesn’t seem to work for me is the ability to listen to an iPod through the car’s audio systems.  The minor bummer here is that when I plugged in the iPod the car responded with “Unrecognized ver,” rejecting my cheap iPod Shuffle, which I prefer to the larger, less portable iPod versions.  So my hopes for going ear-bud-free were dashed.

The Next Mulchmobile?

Now comes the gardener’s reaction to having such a pretty, spanking clean car – can I keep it that way?  At least keep it from being as filthy as my old car was, a car I defensively but accurately called the “mulchmobile.”   (I’ll never forget driving a gardening TV guru I’d admired for years (Paul James) to dinner in Baltimore after his speaking gig.  As he was climbing into the front seat of my old Honda he declared, “Your car is filthy!”  How true.  How embarrassing.)

For its first full day in my possession the new Honda made its first mulch run and I used dropcloths to protect the back, but I wonder how long that’ll last.  I’ll be posting on GardenRant to ask other gardeners how they haul stuff making their cars filthy because I need some advice.


commonweeder January 24, 2013 at 9:56 am

My old Subaru mulchmobile would recognize your Honda. We try to take our cars to the moon – 250,000 miles at leasst. Which means trying to remember to keep the oil up to snuff as it gets older.

Susan Harris January 24, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Pat, you’ve driven a car that many miles? You’re a better something than I am. Gardener, driver, manager of mechanics – I’m not sure what. But hey, are you going to SF in June? I am and I hope to see you there.

Bob Gooud February 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm

My wife and I brought a 1997 CRV in 1999. We loved it for years. Finally two years ago we decided to get a newer van. Since the CRV had 200,000 on it at this time, it wasn’t worth much on trade in. We decided to keep it and I drive everyday 28 miles one way. At 250.000 it still running great, and yes it now severs as a min-truck hauling feed and lots of chickens to sales. My never liked the van so last summer we traded it in, on a 2012 CRV.

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