The car dilemma… What do you think that I should do?

In September of 2002, I purchased my first, and only, brand new car. I’d always told myself that I’d never buy a new car… as new cars, as we all know, are for suckers… but my old Jeep, which was built from salvaged parts by the kids in a rural Kentucky auto shop class, was on its last legs, and I wanted to demonstrate to the powers that be that there was a market here in U.S. for hybrids. If you can remember back to 2002, there weren’t very many hybrids on the roads, and the analysts were all wondering if they’d actually sell here, as the American people, despite global warming and peak oil, only seemed to want SUVs, which were becoming more obnoxious and ridiculous by the season. (I believe that it was around this time that Cadillac began incorporating “power-retractable assist steps” in their models, as the monstrosities they were creating had grown too large for people to actually enter without robotic assistance.) I called all of the domestic automakers, asking if they would be bringing hybrids to market anytime soon, and I ws told that none of them were. Honda and Toyota, however, had new models on the market, and I chose the Honda Civic Hybrid, which I’m still driving today, 11 years later. The only difference is, instead of getting 42 miles the gallon on average, as it did for the first 10 years of its life, it’s now getting about 26, and every single warning light on the dash is now lit up… And that’s why I’m posting this today.

It would seem that everything is failing at the same time, and, consequently, I’m in a position where I have to made a big, adult decision.

I’ve taken really good care of it over the years, but it would seem that, regardless of how you treat these cars, battery packs don’t last forever. Eventually they need to be recycled and replaced. And it’s an expensive process. A new battery pack, I’ve been told, costs about $3,000. I’ve known for a few months that I need one, but I’ve been in denial… hoping, I guess, that, if I don’t think about it, it’ll get better. But it’s not getting better. Every day another warning light starts glowing amber, and I lose another mile per gallon. (I don’t just need the new battery pack. I also need a new oxygen sensor, which will cost about $500.) Well, yesterday, I finally broke down and called a dealership, asking what I might get for a 2003 Honda Civic hybrid with 115,000 miles, a malfunctioning oxygen sensor, and a bad battery pack. The answer was a measly $500 to $750.

So, now, I’m turning to you, my invisible internet friends. I need your help thinking this through. I could break out the credit card, invest $3,500 into the car, and hope that I can get another few years out of it, or I could trade it in for something else. As I don’t want a car loan, I’m inclined to say that I should invest the $3,500, but, of course, there’s no guarantee that something else won’t break in the coming year. It is, after all, an 11 year old car. Still, though, Hondas generally hold up pretty well, and 115,000 miles isn’t all that much for a car that’s never missed an oil change.

There are, of course, two other options. One is that I try to exist without a car. The other is that I just drive this car until it expires alongside the road, like a exhausted, frozen Tauntaun. The first, I don’t think is practical, given the demands of my job, the tight time constraints I’m often under, and the various activities I’m involved with that don’t take place along bus lines. And the second, I think, isn’t terribly responsible, as I often have the kids with me, and I don’t think they’d much appreciate it if we got stranded somewhere late at night when it’s 20-degrees below zero outside.

So, with all that said, I’d like to roll out the first official poll… I’m not promising that I’ll do what you tell me to, but I’m curious to know your thoughts, as all things car-related make me feel like an insecure, panic-stricken ten year old.

<a href="" title="What should Mark do about his car situation?">What should Mark do about his car situation?</a>

And, if there’s any doubt as to how much I hate buying and selling cars, here’s how I explained the process of buying my car back in 2002:

…This is the first time I’ve bought, or tried to buy, a car through a dealership, and I’m starting to understand and really appreciate the gut-wringing stress that I’ve heard alluded to throughout my life. It sucks. The whole car-buying process sucks huge, gnarled, boil-covered cocks…

[Mark Maynard Trivia: The day I bought my car in 2002 is the same day I conducted my worst in-person interview ever, with David Cross.]

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  1. Kevin Miller
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    It probably won’t work, *but* the Honda dealer can reset the warning on the battery and sometimes that helps. My wife has one of these (a 2004 we bought used) and we replaced the battery because she really loves the car. That was more than a year ago, and it’s been trouble-free since then.

  2. Arika
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    I have a 2000 Honda Civic that is going still (knocking on wood as I type here), with about 155,000 miles on it, and I am having this similar dilemma in deciding what to do when my little car stops chugging along. For environmental reasons, I’d love to try out the 1 car lifestyle and just share my husband’s car, but I’ve come to rely strongly on my car and would have to develop a lot of new habits to not have regular car access on a day-to-day basis.

    None of that was particularly helpful- sorry. Guess I’m simply saying, “I hear ya, man!”

  3. monica
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Mark, of course I have no idea what you should do. But the quote they gave you sounds incredibly – I mean unbelievably low – I’ve sold cars that weren’t moving and that had to be towed for that amount of money. geez. and the purchaser was really, really happy… seriously. Dealers low ball things.

    You can sell your car, on the private market, ck out the blue book value easily. I looked up a car of that model w/115k miles and … albeit didn’t know your cars details… but the lowest value given for selling on the private sale market was around 4,200 for one in “fair” condition, and to a dealer around 1k less ( you always make less selling to the dealer ). So if you sell it separately, and negotiate a deal on whatever replacement car you want… you may fare a lot better. Honestly I’ve always had Honda’s, and other than Corolla’s they are always in demand in my experience.

  4. Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    DUDE. I just bought a Ford C-Max Hybrid built in Wayne, 47 mpg for $28k by UAW labor. C’mon, you can do this.

  5. EOS
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Buy a used Accord or Camry with about 50K mileage. You can find them for 2/3 to 1/2 the original price and either can give you another 200K of reliable service. Forget the hybrids – even with all the government subsidies they aren’t economical. You didn’t save enough on gas to account for the higher initial cost or the cost of the battery replacement and your friends weren’t really impressed.

  6. Tommy
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    I assume that most of the mileage you report getting is based on the gasoline portion of the hybrid as the battery pack – as you say – is beyond their useful life.

    If you want to get bang for your buck, just replace the mechanical stuff and forget about replacing the battery pack. That should give you the extra life you want, albiet not the mileage gained by having the fresh battery pack.

    If you want need a local mechanic who you might want to talk to about your options, I know a few very close to you who I am sure would be willing listen (one guy with specific certification in hybrids)

    Otherwise, you could crash the thing on an icy road and collect the insurance money like any good upstanding American would!

  7. Edward
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Hybrids are, or at least were, an unknown entity. Everyone knows that Civics can live past 200,000 miles, but who knows what the lifespan of a Hybrid is? I’m inclined to say you roll the dice and invest the $3,500. It’s a lot of money, but even a new used car is likely to cost you $250 a month, or $3,000 year. Even if you just just one more year out of it, you’d be breaking even.

  8. anonymous
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    madmatthew, I don’t think he was saying that there are no American made hybrids on the market now. He was saying that 13 years ago only Toyota and Honda had been forward-thinking enough to invest the money and take the risk. Now all auto makers have them.

  9. Alex H.
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Problem with a used hybrid is that the battery could be just as bad. A lot of newer non hybrids can get comparable mpg. I’d say either replace the battery in your current car because you know the history or go with a newer non hybrid. Used hybrids are for suckers.

  10. anon
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    they were also forward-thinking enough to put their american plants in:

    mississippi, kentucky, texas, indiana, alabama, and west virginia.

  11. Lisa Spielman
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    We’re waiting to purchase a slightly used C-Max.

  12. Bob
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I find it interesting that you don’t even mention buying an American made car or an American company at least. I suppose we can argue the tired old cliche of “what is an American car.” It’s weird to me that so many “buy local” types don’t even think it applies to cars or other American consumer goods. I love seeing buy local bumper stickers on Japanese cars at the local farm market.

  13. Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I have a fourth-hand 2000 Civic with 135k on it still chugging along just fine. My guess is that you can get a decent amount of life out of yours still.

    I’m curious about Tommy’s point — what happens if you run a hybrid with a dead battery pack? If that just turns you into a non-hybrid, can you have them remove the dead battery pack and not replace it, so that you’re hauling half a ton less weight around with you? Will the car even run that way?

    As long as your options involve similes to dead Tauntauns, what if you just straight up got yourself a Tauntaun and rode that around?

    Finally, if you want a new car, I know a lot of happy Ford Focus drivers, and that’s probably as “shop local” as you can get for a new car: assembled in Wayne (like the C-Max, I suppose?), most likely with a good share of Ypsilanti-based labor.

  14. XXX
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Bob, I don’t think, when he said “buy a new car,” he meant “by a new foreign car.” I believe he was quite clear that he bought his Honda last time because no American companies were making hybrids. I assume that, if he were to buy another hybrid, he’d consider all of them on the market.

  15. Eel
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    We need a new poll….. “Tauntaun vs. Hippogriff, which is the more reliable form of transportation?”

  16. Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I have a 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid, so can use my own experience to give some recomendations. When I researched my purchase, the NiMH batteries being used were estimated to run 200,000 miles, but they had to be never fully charged and NEVER fully discharged. The Honda uses electronics to be sure this is what happens. My mileage then was about 8,000 mi/year. I then got a new job and started loading in 30,000 mi/yr and this is when I learned all about my hybird. I made 47 mi/gal after break in and right up through the 60,000 mark. Loved that car. Then the next day after a Service Job, my car made 42 mi/gal. Never could identify what happened. At the 100,000 mi mark, I had a Recall fix on my battery management software and some electronic control parts. That shop kept if for a week, the tech tried to follow the manual, but nothing seemed to work. Finally the car was released. On my way back home from shop, *something* happened and the battery went dead. I had to get it replaced. When the job crashed I found a new one near home and now put in no more than 6,000 mi/yr.

    Here is my summary: Hybrids are at the mercy of the service staff that handle them. I have had multiple shops do the job (I was away a lot). None were really up to the task, IMHO. Apparently Honda did only the most basic hybrid training for its US facilities. I still believe that the battery could live for 200,000 miles, but the service tech needs to know some electronics. I do know that I always wanted OEM tires and oil in the car, and none of the shops could provide them, ever. Maybe this is the “why” behind my first drop in milage. (First tires lasted 60,000 miles!, 2nd set about 30,000)

    The car really does need the battery. My car, with no problems in the O2 sensor and with no battery issue, currently makes 38 mpg spring through summer, Last week in the deepest part of the cold it shows 32. (The MPG gauge is probably 10% too high, so I mentally discount it by 10%). Most brand new cars make this, and the new hybrids are barely better.

    There is not much out there to compete with your hybrid CIVIC, Mark, certainly not from Honda (does not make these cars anymore). But I am personally very satisfied with mine. SO. What to do about yours, that must have a new battery? (Every old car needs mechanical part replacements, so the O2 sensor does not count.)

    My choice would be — get the battery and go another 13 years (100,000 miles), or at least until you find that the frame is coming apart. The engine should not be an issue and the high torque electric motor is probably going to be fine. Your paint is probably capable (get the wax option when you go through a wash). Enjoy your hybrid. Who knows? Maybe yours will become the first antique Classic hybrid before mine does! … and be sure you request the service technician with the most hybrid car experience to do your repair work.

  17. conspiracy theorist
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    They program cars to die during the Detroit Auto Show.

  18. Lynne
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    If you change the battery pack, you could get another 10 years out of this car. I make decisions based on how much rust is on the body because I know that fixing an old car, while expensive and a pain in the butt, is cheaper than getting a new car. If the body of the car is holding up, I generally find it cheaper to keep the old car. I try to put what I would be paying in a car payment in the bank and I use that fund for maintenance. Considering that I would likely spend about $300/mo in a car payment for a new car, I have come out ahead even though I had to spend $3000 in repairs on the car 10 months ago.

    On the other hand, buying a new car is all kinds of fun and if you buy a car made in Michigan, it will help folks out.

  19. Hungry
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I don’t know why, but I’m feeling like waffles.

  20. Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    If I had a Honda car that only lasted 115,000 miles (and 10 years) I’d be pretty pissed.

    I learned to drive on my parents’ ’89 Civic hatchback, which was still on the road until at least 2008, with hundreds of thousands of miles on it. My first car was a ’90 Civic sedan that made it to 245,000 miles before giving out in 2004 (in retrospect, I probably could/should have gotten it fixed, and probably gotten another 20-50,000 miles out of it). Then I bought a 2004 CR-V, which will hit 200,000 miles next month, and I have no reason to think it won’t have another 100,000 miles in it.

    They make those cars to last just about forever. Pay the $3,500. Hell, it’s probably worth almost that much just to avoid the experience of buying another car.

  21. josh
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    If the battery pack and O2 sensor are all that is wrong with it then pay the $3500. A new car is almost certainly a bad investment and any used car less than $3500 will likely have more problems than your current vehicle.

  22. Jessie H
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t realize that it was a hybrid until the end of last summer. Then I thought, yes, Mark’s car should at least be a hybrid.
    Although getting a new battery seems more a responsible way, you start an endless investment with the car. If you decide to get a new battery, set a quitting point.
    So 10 years is a battery’s life.

  23. mark k
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    With Globel warming why not get a bike or take the bus? I’m in process of moving and will now have a long drive to work so I bought a slightly used VW Jetta TDI and couldn’t be happier. Yet with you being the good Lib you are I can’t see you driving anything other then a 10 speed Schwinn.

  24. 734
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    MarkK: finding a way to be a douche on every post

  25. Posted January 28, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    If you get it fixed, and it still doesn’t work, can you turn around and sell the new battery pack to someone? That would reduce the risk considerably.

  26. Curt Waugh
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Per Tommy: I don’t believe you can run a hybrid without the battery very well. Both the battery and the motor apply power directly to the drivetrain. Without the battery, you lose too much horsepower. (The Volt makes some claim to be an unusual hybrid that doesn’t do this, but there’s dispute about that.)

    Mark, this is an impossible question to answer (but a fun one to ask). There is no right or wrong. Economically speaking for you personally, repair is probably the way to go. Emotionally, buy new. (And don’t even lie to me and say the thought of a new car isn’t tempting.) Environmentally, what the hell were you thinking buying a battery pack full of poisonous heavy metals?

    And to you “buy American” types: Honda makes most of its American-sold cars in America. Don’t give me any bullshit about “the profits go to Japan”. The profits go to rich people, not to a country. The people who build these cars do a fine job of spreading that money around locally, thank you very much.

  27. anon
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    “The profits go to rich people, not to a country.”

    that just happened

  28. LisaD
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Can you get a slightly used horse with room for a child-seat, and a trunk? I’d definitely choose that option…

  29. Sam Abuelsamid
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Mark, at 115,000 miles, I’d be inclined to avoid a new battery unless you are prepared to spend at least a couple thousand more in the next couple of years on the various other bits and pieces that start to wear out once you get past 100K like shocks, tires, brakes, timing belts and so on.

    For under about $15K you can probably find a decent used midsize sedan like a Fusion, Accord or Camry that will average about 25-30 mpg depending on how you drive it.

    Buying new cars actually isn’t that bad a deal if you keep them for a long time. It’s only a problem when you decide you want something new every couple of years. Considering that there are actually a lot really good choices right now.

    Since you obviously like hybrids, I think it’s seriously worth considering the Ford C-Max. It starts at about $25K and it’s rated at 47 mpg city and highway. It’s quite roomy inside for five so Clementine and Arlo will have no issues for the next decade and with it’s tall wagon body style it also offers plenty of cargo space for hauling stuff around. As mentioned above, it’s built in Wayne with a hybrid transmission produced in Warren, and a battery assembled in Rawsonville. Since I’m working in Dearborn these days I could probably set you up with a discount as well so you can get a better deal.

  30. Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for your thoughts. I’d pretty much had my mind made up to invest the $3,500 and hope for the best, but now I’m back to square one.

    In case it’s useful to anyone else out there, I wanted to share this message from my friend John, who had some additional thoughts on this matter.

    On top of the $3500 to fix the known problems, I see a possibility of a $3000 CVT transmission repair unless you have the manual. That CVT is a known weakness in this car. There is also the issue of a major routine service approaching (timing belt/water pump), and any car of this age will need a suspension check for normal wear and tear items. If this was a normal Civic, I would put in the $500 for the O2 sensor, the $300 for the major service (including timing belt/water pump), and maybe another $400 for suspension related items, for a total of $1200. Provided there is no rust on the body, I think that’s a great way to squeeze three to four more years out of the car, and I would take a chance on the transmission. The kicker here is the battery pack. The hybrid just won’t run well without it as in the Honda design, the electric motor is in series with the conventional motor. That $3000 purchase for a new pack will take a very long time to pay itself back in fuel savings, and probably more than the realistic remaining usable life of the car. My bias would be to get rid of the Civic and look for another ride. Just remember, in the used car market, you are picking up somebody else’s problems, and the $10,000 mark seems to be where the problems get more manageable.

  31. Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    And, Sam, what are the chances that Ford would give me a C-Max? Surely they’d love the publicity that would come with my driving one around Ypsi, right? Do they have a person in charge of rustbelt blogger outreach that I should speak with, or should I just show up at the local dealership and ask for one?

  32. Jiggs
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    I say go diesel. At this point VW is the best option in the US. You can run biodiesel in it … it’s sold at the Ann Arbor Meijer stations (B20, 20% biodiesel/80% regular diesel) and you can get 99% biodiesel in Manchester. No conversion is necessary; you can run any percentage of diesel and/or biodiesel at any time. (And it’s my understanding that the warranty is still valid.) Biodiesel is the only “here and now” viable alternative fuel option. The auto companies, Big Oil and the gov’t TELL US that there’s no demand for diesel. They just don’t wanna offer it. Most cars on the road today are sold with a diesel option in other countries so it’s not a matter of development/technology/investment.

  33. Af Ford
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mark,

    How are you? I’m good. I pulled/tore a hamstring. I also bought a Ford this past year. FIESTA!!!

    It was the first “domestic” auto I’ve ever purchased. New or used. It’s a good car. Good gas. Runs real fine. But…

    I have to say, the unexpected joy is riding around town in a car with as U.S. nameplate. U.S. automakers hadn’t, for a few decades, been building cars I wanted to drive but this one was a good match for what I needed (good gas, low cost).

    I think our domestic automakers are finally doing some good stuff, and it does feel nice to drive something at least conceived here. Even nicer than I thought it would. My bumper stickers seem to have more relevance.

    I vote for C-Max. Or, in a couple months, when I change my job and don’t need it anymore, you can have first dibs on my tenderly used FIESTA!!! (It’s a party on wheels. Seriously, I do like my Gene Butman Fiesta.)

    You’ve played the field. The time is right to play domestic.

  34. Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    My situation has changed a bit as well. When I bought the car in 2002, we were childless, and the thought of a car payment wasn’t as daunting. Now, though, things are different, and I’m not as inclined to take on additional debt in order to make a statement. In retrospect, it actually seems kind of silly to me that I was willing to do it at the time. I really did believe, though, that, by buying a hybrid, I was demonstrating to the Big 3 that there was an unmet desire in the marketplace for something other than gas-guzzling SUVs. I suspect it will go down as the only $18,000 statement I’ll ever make. (I can’t remember how much it cost, but I think it was something like that. It could have been more, though.)

  35. Af Ford
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    It should be noted that all the “carbon footprint” equations on the Internet blindly compare a small class of hybrids with a lump sum of “conventional vehicles.” So all hybrids are compared with a combo of my 40mpg Fiesta plus various SUVs. I think, if comparisons of hybrid vs. high fuel efficiency were factored out, the hybrids might not fare so well.

    I think, toxic batteries considered, my oil-powered Fiesta just might outperform the Civic Hybrid over the course of its life. Ten years from now, the Fiesta will likely be running at close to 40 mpgs and won’t be considered a throw away…

    I wish someone more mechanically inclined than Mark or myself (Sam A?) could figure out if a 2012 Fiesta has a lower/higher footprint than a 2002 Civic or 2013 C-Max.

    But, as much as I like to obsess over what the most carbon efficient vehicle is, the question I find most compelling is based on this phrase:

    “I don’t think is practical, given the demands of my job, the tight time constraints I’m often under, and the various activities I’m involved with that don’t take place along bus lines.”

    Here’s what I’m really curious about. Assuming most of Mark’s “various activities” are aimed at making the world a better place, does his need of reliable transportation, aka generating a large volume of waste, to be here and there, in an effort to reduce waste, offset the waste he makes to reduce waste, overall?

    In another way, did “An Inconvenient Truth” generate enough change to offset the offshore production of its DVDs?

    In short, are any of Mark’s actions at net gain or a net loss? Is the literal energy expended here, and through his vehicles, effecting enough change to offset the energy expended?

    It’s my birthday. See you next year.

  36. Af Ford
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    “It’s my birthday. See you next year.”

    And by that, I mean, today (okay, now officially, yesterday) is/was my birthday. And with it, evaluating value of various actions/in actions.

    Unfortunately, the right thing isn’t as clearly obvious as we’d like.

    With vehicles, children, pressure cookers … it’s just not obvious. This is afflicting for those of us who want to right. So … birthdays happen on blogs.

    For the record, for me, Mark’s actions would be a net gain if he hovered around Ypsi in a helicopter.

  37. Sam Abuelsamid
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Overall the carbon footprint of a new Fiesta is almost certainly better than the Civic at this point because it can average low to mid 30s mpg without the energy/resources required to manufacture a battery. The Fiesta/C-Max comparison is probably more of a wash since the C-Max gets better mileage.

    All of these comparisons are much more complex than any simple internet comparison can account for because in reality, it also depends a lot on how the vehicle is used and for how long. Since Mark keeps his vehicles going for a long time rather than frequently turning them over, the extra resources required to manufacture is spread out over time.

    Diesels are another excellent option with Volkswagen currently providing the only mainstrean choices with the Jetta, Golf and Passat. We’ve had a Jetta TDI SportWagen for over 3 years and it’s great averaging about 35 mpg. They start at about $23k. Later this spring, Chevrolet is also launching a diesel version of the Cruze and a new Mazda6 diesel is also coming this year.

    For Mark’s purposes, the Focus is a better non-hybrid/non-diesel choice than the Fiesta with its roomier back seat for the kids.

    Finally, Mark, you can probably get a C-Max press car loaner for a week or two since you have such a large audience, but long-term or permanent is out of the question.

  38. Oliva
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I was gonna say Fiesta too. My brother has one and also has two young children and a wife, and they fit just fine–even child seats, now one booster. And it’s a nice car . . . with a really nice sound system and great gas mileage. And affordable–now available used to boot. (My father worked for Ford for 25 years–I am partly made by Ford so am biased but am trying to be objective!)

  39. Rai Harashi
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Cars suck, but we’re kinda stuck with them until cheap gas runs out. The way you and your family meet your transportation needs has a large impact on quality of life. I do the following, the last if which is probably only relevant to your post.

    1. Buy a house that doesn’t require you to use a car. Walk to stores. Use public transit. Live near your work.

    2. Ride a bike. Super efficient and fun. For a few thousand bucks you can get one that’ll carry both kids and a load of groceries. You can go a lot farther than it first appears once you figure out routes you probably don’t currently know exist. If it’s hilly, get one with electric assist.

    3. For once, do what EOS says. Buy the historically most reliable used cars. (Same with bikes. My current used Craigslist bike frame cost less than the replacement key for my minivan and is strong, reliable, and awesome.)

    4. Learn to fix cars yourself. Your little monkey hands, large brain, $100 worth of tools, and the DIY info on the internet really make that $500 price tag for an O2 sensor absurd. I dare you to replace it yourself. You’ll save $400 and fuck the crap out of your wife for several nights because you’ll feel like such an awesome stud. Here:

    The rest of your car should last way longer than 115k. Replace the battery and drive it another 10 years.

  40. Sam Abuelsamid
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    The Fiesta is a great little car, but given that Mark wisely prefers to keep vehicles as long as possible, the kids won’t stay little forever. The back seat of the Fiesta is pretty snug and stepping up one size class to the Focus is probably a better long term choice that gets about the same fuel efficiency while offering a more commodious back seat and cargo area. Unless Mark and Linette are partial to having his back “massaged” by the kids feet while driving, the whole family will probably favor the Focus.

    Butman Ford actually has a couple of used 2012 Focus hatchbacks (definitely go for the hatch over the sedan for the added utility) for about $14k.

  41. jcp2
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m all for do-it-yourself shadetree mechanic work, but the hybrid Civic is a bit more than just a regular Civic with an extra battery. The car’s electronics are calibrated against the charge readout from the hybrid battery pack, and the O2 sensor fault (and many of the other faults) may be not true faults, but tied to the dead battery. It could be that replacing the battery pack could remedy all the other electronic faults. Even so, the major service items are coming up, and the suspension probably needs to be refreshed, so it comes down to a calculated gamble.

    Mark, after doing your due diligence on the interwebs and reading owner forums on battery replacement for your 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, are you willing to take a chance and put the $3000 in the battery pack to see if the other error messages clear up, in which case you could get another 100,000 miles out of the car? I see it more as a cash flow problem than a mechanical problem.

  42. Sam Abuelsamid
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    If you’re interested one of my coworkers has a 91 Saab 900 that is reliable and gets 25-27 mpg that he is selling for $1,500.

  43. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Sam… and everyone else… but I think I’ve decided to go $3,500 into debt, make the repairs, and hope for the best.

    Wish me luck.

  44. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I should add that this is what a majority of readers wanted me to do. 32% of the 69 people who voted in the poll, said that I should invest in a new battery pack.

  45. Sam Abuelsamid
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Not be argumentative but 32% is hardly a majority, a plurality perhaps but not a majority.

    Good luck

  46. Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, “majority” wasn’t the right word. It got the most votes, though… And I do what I’m told.

  47. jcp2
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Get the battery pack first before getting any other work done. The engine warning lights may disappear.

  48. Al Ford
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    Oh Mark, you don’t do what you’re told. You’d already made up your mind.

    Sam has very good and accurate advice. (I’ve always trusted Sam.) The Fiesta is for well behaved children who have tiny feet and ride barefoot. Which is to say … not for children that grow.

    Smart sparky car, though. I do enjoy it.

    I propose that a compelling series of blog entries might be you recycling the old battery pack from the Honda. Take it home. Sell it on eBay. Put a GPS on it. Find out where it goes. It’d be a bit of compelling proof that you were in it for the environment.

    Or … might it be that you’re a car guy? A guy who cares less about environmental impact than what a car says about “Him”?

    Could it be, that you’d rather drive a prehistoric hybrid Civic than a 2012 Focus to differentiate yourself?

    I mean, a 2002 Hybrid suggests a doggedly progressive man. A 2012 Focus, well, that says nothing but affordable domestic consumer. Which fits your image?

    If you can explain to me where the giant battery will go, and how science has proven a series of batteries is best for mankind, I’ll buy in.

    Else, I’ll assume a 2002 Civic Hybrid is as much wishful self-expression as a 71 Corvette.

    Who or what are you about to $3,500 in debt, for?

    It’s a car.

  49. Posted January 30, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    You know me so well, Al…

    Except for the fact that I chose the Civic hybrid over the other hybrids on the market because it was the one that screamed “hybrid” least. You don’t have to believe me, but my decision to buy the car in 2002 had little to do with how I wanted to be perceived, as you suggest. As I explained, I wanted to buy a hybrid because I felt that it was important to help establish that there was a market for new, innovative technology.

    And, I agree that battery disposal is problematic. It’s something that I struggled with. In the end, though, I determined that the benefits, given the competing forces of global warming and peak oil, outweighed the negatives.

  50. Posted January 30, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    We have been a one-car family for our entire 25 years, even with two kids. I think, sometimes, that the amount of negotiation required to live with one car has been the salvation of our relationship. We *must* talk 2-5 times per day, just to figure out how we’re getting from A-Z on a given day. We supplement with bike, bus & walking. It also was great to form relationships with other parents & share driving kids around to activities — cutting the carbon footprint and building community with one stroke.

    It costs about $7000 *per year* to have a second car (maintenance, repairs, parking, insurance, gas, etc.). So if you didn’t repair it, you’d be $10,500 richer by 2014. You live on a bus line, Mark, and you work at UM — I’m surprised that the bus doesn’t seem feasible.

    But if you do think about buying, you should see Beth Bashert at Dunning Toyota. She is an excellent, honest, fun, skilled, sales person who will not make you… um… want to suck huge, gnarled, boil-covered cocks… (Shameless personal promotion to support the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed…)

  51. kjc
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Lisele, good points. I live in a one-car family as well. It can be a real pain in the ass in a place that consistently asks you to walk to a central point to catch the bus. but we don’t have the money for two cars. it certain ways it’s easier to be progressive when you have less money. you don’t have to sacrifice what you couldn’t afford.

  52. Posted February 1, 2013 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    I’ve done a lot of calculating.

    I’ve found that unless said used car is free, or you only intend to drive it temporarily, there is no financial benefit to buying used.

  53. Posted February 1, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Mark, you make three times what I make, and I still bought new.

    Why be a cheap skate?

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