My Civic duty

My car, the Nimble Imp, is a nine-year-old Honda Civic hatchback. On Thursday it wouldn’t start, so we towed it to a garage. On Friday we learned that it had a dead battery ($100) and a leaky clutch master cylinder ($600) — and that according to Edmunds, it’s worth $767, or $67 more than the cost of the repairs I’m facing.

On Saturday I began car shopping.

Fuel efficiency is my main criterion. I’m intrigued by the Toyota Prius — I’ve driven one and liked it — but the car I’m really after is the new Honda Fit. I have some lingering doubts about the Prius’s hybrid drive — just how long do those batteries last, anyway, and what is their true environmental impact? — whereas the Fit’s gas mileage is almost as good, its price is right, and it doesn’t have a distracting video display in the center of the dashboard. Only the name is a little off-putting. (I like its European name better: “Jazz.”) Yes, it’s tiny. No, I don’t have a problem with that. So I ordered the Consumer Reports price report and started calling Honda dealers to find one where I could test-drive a Fit.

Marin Honda didn’t have any. Neither did Honda of El Cerrito. Nor did the San Francisco, Berkeley, or Oakland Honda dealers. I called Walnut Creek Honda — no luck. I called Concord Honda — no. San Leandro, Burlingame, Hayward, Redwood City — no, no, no, no. At Vacaville Honda (42.7 miles distant) they thought they might have one or two on the lot and promised to check and call me back in five minutes. Mmmmmmmmmmno. I began to feel like I was living in the Cheese Shop sketch.

Glickstein: You do have some Hondas, don’t you?
Element: Certainly sir! This is a Honda shop, sir. We’ve got–
Glickstein: No, no, don’t tell me. I’m keen to guess.
Element: Fair enough.
Glickstein: Element?
Element: Yes.
Glickstein: Ah! Well I’ll buy one of those then.
Element: Oh, I thought you were talking to me, sir. Mr. Element, that’s my name.

It took a not-inconsiderable effort of will to psych myself into buying a car this weekend, but psych myself I did, and for a couple of hours on the phone Saturday morning I persisted in spite of the best efforts of Bay Area Honda salespeople uncharacteristically to prevent me giving them my money. But they finally wore me down, with the result that I authorized the $700 repair of my $767 car. I am “Fit” to be tied.

3 thoughts on “My Civic duty”

  1. We love our Prius; we have a 2001; the new ones are even better; bigger, more peppy, better mileage. 0 problems. The whole hybrid system is warrantied for 10 years/100,000 miles, and I don’t know anyone who has had a problem yet. But yes, I don’t know what they do when the batteries finally die in terms of recycling.

    The bigger key to the environmental impact while driving is not the low mileage, but the low emissions due to the fact that the engine simply isn’t running all the time.

    I’d absolutely get another one, especially the newer model.

  2. Here’s something else that I question about the Prius.

    The current model has an awesome feature that allows you to open and start the car without ever taking the key out of your pocket or purse. The key contains an RFID chip and its mere proximity to the car is enough to unlock the doors and enable the engine-start button.

    As an automobile user, I love that feature. It’s like magic. It’s life-changing. You should try it. It’s even more of a reason to buy the car than the efficient “Hybrid Synergy Drive” is.

    As a privacy-conscious citizen I am somewhat concerned — if my car can detect my identity when I come near, then so can anyone with a cheap RFID reader. And as a father of two small kids I am alarmed — if I am near the car with the key in my pocket, and I’m not paying attention, then one of my sons can climb in, start the engine, and drive away! The Prius does have an RFID-disable switch to defend against that possibility — but how could I bear to disable such a cool feature?

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