New(er) Car

I picked up a new car on Saturday. Actually, “newer” is a better description, since it’s a used car, a 2010 Honda Element. To understand why, we need to go back nearly 10 years.

I remember thinking the first time I saw an Element on the road, that it was a truly funny looking vehicle.  (I later read a remark that the chemical name for the Element is “Buttuglium”). It’s tall and boxy, and well… funny looking.

At that point, I was driving a big Dodge Ram, which I’d gotten in a fit of blatant truck lust. It was a fun truck, but it loved the gas, and the payments really had been too much for me to handle. Later, once I got it paid off, it quickly became unreliable and expensive to repair, possibly partly because I hadn’t been able to afford keeping up with the proper maintenance.

So I started looking, and saw the Element at the Auto Show. I got in, and found it surprisingly comfortable, and had a lot of nice touches. The best part is that the rear seats split down the middle, and fold up to the sides, leaving a lot of storage space, since you have all the space from the floor to the roof. I finally broke down and got one in June of 2004, and once I started using it, I was hooked.

My 2004 Element
My 2004 Element

Why I love the Honda Element

The cargo carrying capacity of the car is great for what I do. A lot of the summer, I have one seat up, and leave the bicycle in the back. I don’t have to leave it dangling off a carrier on the back, and I can leave it locked inside during the day. It’s great for diving, since it’s very easy to dump all my dive gear in the back–in fact, for dives to sites that require a bit of a hike to get to the site, I can even carry a wheelbarrow with me. The rear doors open on the front edge, where they meet the front doors, so it’s very easy to load stuff in from the side. The car had an audio in jack, so I could play my iPod or iPhone through its speakers, and has a rubber floor, rather than carpeting, so that cleaning up is very easy. I once spent two and a half hours trying to get the sand out of my mother’s CRV after two weeks at the Cape, not entirely successfully; cleaning the Element was relatively quick and painless–and more effective. (The downside is that dirt is more visible in the Element).

It was a great car for me. I recommended it to one of my friends, he bought one, and later, replaced it with a second Element. Unfortunately, after a couple of years, Honda didn’t promote it very effectively, sales dropped, and they discontinued it in 2011.

200,000 Miles on the odometer
200,000 miles on the odometer. Yes, I pulled over to take the picture

I’ve been holding onto my 2004 for several years now, partly because it was all paid off, partly because it was in good shape–no body rot at all, still running well, and partly because I feel the Element concept is so good, that eventually Honda will bring it back. I went to the Auto Show again this year, and didn’t see anything that would work as well for me. I passed 200,000 miles in it this spring.

Unfortunately, it was starting to become expensive to run. It was needing repairs more often, and the repairs were becoming more expensive. I’ve been noticing it starting to stall out more, and the air conditioning died on me right in the middle of the heat wave. Not knowing how hot the rest of the summer would be, I bit the bullet and had the AC repaired, reasoning that I was buying time. It was still stalling on me, though, and I’d been told the rear tires and brakes would get by for now, but would need replacement in a couple of months.

When I got the estimate for the air conditioning, I’d asked if they had any used Elements in stock, and they said no, but they did check back about a month later. They’d gotten in two, a 2011 and a 2010. I was busy that weekend, and by the time I came by on Wednesday, the 2011 was already gone. The 2010 was in nice shape, though, and had relatively low miles–just under 38,000 (the old one was nearly at 207,000 miles at that point). And the dealer had put a new set of brakes on it– important, since they tend to need replacement around 50,000 miles. The price gave me pause though– around $21,000 for a used car. And it galled me that I’d wind up only getting about a month out of the $2000  air conditioning repair. But it was in good shape, and they don’t tend to stay in stock for long, so I bit the bullet.

I made the mistake of coming back the next evening to finalize the deal dead tired. I ended up with an extended warrantee that cost more than I wanted to, and I didn’t negotiate at all. I took out a five year loan, which gives me pause on a used car, but I’ve always paid off my loans early. I took custody of it on Saturday.

My newer 2010 Element
My newer 2010 Element

First Impressions

  • I like the displays on this one much better. It’s whiter, partly electronic looking, and much easier to read. One of the very few things I didn’t like about the old car was trying to read the gas gauge–it was deeply inset and hard to read.
  • I’m going to have to be more careful on I-95. As cars get older, they work harder to get past 65. I noticed it when I first got the first Element, compared to its predecessor, and I’m noticing it again with this one. This car is much younger, and doesn’t mind going faster.
  • Whoever cleaned the inside of the car must have Armor All-ed every surface. The floors are really slippery, and the other surfaces are too.
  • They must have cleaned it with something that had some kind of fragrance. It’s really strong when you first get in, and I hate it. I hope it goes away soon.
  • The floors are a darker gray than the old one. Seems strange.
  • I liked the orangey-red color better, but the dark gray is nice too.
  • Sight lines out the back seem to be slightly better.
  • It has sound system controls on the steering wheel. I’m still getting used to them
  • It has satellite radio, though I’m not sure I’ll end up subscribing.
  • It doesn’t have a moonroof, but then, I rarely used the one on the old car.
  • I liked the upper storage compartment on the old one better, but that might be just a matter of figuring out how to arrange things. It does have a removable storage area between the front seats that I like.
  • The areas above the wheels on an Element are plastic. On older Elements, like the first one, the plastic is bare; on newer ones, the plastic is painted to match the rest of the body. I like the unpainted version better;  I think the two tone look makes the car look “cuter”.
  • It gets slightly better mileage: 24 mpg vs. 22 mpg for the old car.

Overall, I’m happy with it. It drives well, and it’s an Element.