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Why I Still Drive My Old Honda Civic

This article was written by in Best Of, Consumer, Frugality. 40 comments.


After noticing, month after month, that I include the value of my 2004 Honda Civic in my monthly net worth updates, a reader wrote in to Consumerism Commentary to ask why I haven’t given into my desires and purchased something newer or more exciting. I’ve had a bit of a storied past with cars, but in my current, more responsible era of my life I’ve been sailing through without any car problems, and saving money in the process.

I had been driving a Honda Civic I purchased used, but after receiving the car back from a relative, it never operated the same. In 2004, I accepted a teaching position and I needed a reliable car to drive to the school every day. The old Civic, at 160,000 miles, just wasn’t as reliable as I needed it to be. Since my necessity to avoid breaking down was my new first priority, I decided to sell the old Civic and buy a new one. As the 2005 models were arriving, I purchased a brand new Civic.

Typical financial advice at the time was to always buy a used car. With Civics, which were said to operate great beyond 200,000 miles if cared for well, there was just a small price difference between a slightly used car and a brand new car was. For the extra one or two years of worry-free driving at the beginning of ownership, the extra money seemed to be worthwhile to me. I bought a 2004 Honda Civic around the time the 2005 models were arriving, so I was already getting a slight discount on the new car. I took out a loan (outside the financial industry) at an interest rate of 2% to finance the purchase.

Honda CivicThe car in this photograph is not my car.

Rather than trading in the old Civic, I sold it on Craigslist, and got more cash than I expected. I paid the loan off quickly. Since paying the loan off, I’ve had very little car-related expenses. I have the dealership perform regular maintenance and oil changes, and besides tolls, fuel, and the occasional car wash, that’s all the money I put into my car. I could probably save more money by choosing a mechanic other than the dealership, but I’ve had problems with that approach in the past with other cars. Going to the dealership gives me peace of mind, and I’ve never had any problems with their work.

Although I was a fan of driving when I was younger and always jumped on every opportunity to drive on road trips, years of commuting have spoiled my joy. I do enjoy driving fun cars, but I see that more as an occasional luxury than a lifestyle choice. A recent study shows that the enjoyment drivers get out of driving fun or luxury cars doesn’t last more than a few weeks, so when you buy a BMW or Ferrari, the euphoric feeling you might get from driving doesn’t last long. If I want to enjoy driving, I can always rent a nicer car. This should help me better appreciate the fun.

Buying a new car like I did doesn’t pay off if you have the desire for a new car every few years. I have no need to impress clients, so leasing a car doesn’t make any sense. Also, I don’t have a garage, so leaving a nicer car out in the open in asking for trouble. I live in a crime-free area, so it’s not that much of a concern, but I’d prefer knowing that something of great value could be locked away. I’m not going to park a Ferrari in my open parking lot, and I’m certainly not going to take it to Queens to visit my girlfriend and leave it parked on the street.

  • By not having a $300 per month car payment since July 2007 has saved me $14,400.
  • By not choosing a gas-guzzling vehicle, I’ve probably saved another $9,000 since buying the Honda Civic new in June 2004.
  • I’ve probably saved another $3,000 to $4,000 by buying a car that requires hardly any maintenance.
  • I’ve saved at least $16,000 and possibly much more by choosing not to buy another new car until this Civic dies. Now that I’m not commuting to an office every day, this car could last for many years.

At some point, my needs might change. Maybe I’ll have a family and need a bigger vehicle for transporting my hypothetical children and their friends. I can’t predict my needs or desires in the future, but for now, I’m not buying a new car, and I’m enjoying the savings both by spending money on other things I enjoy and by thinking about and investing in my future.

Would you replace your current car if you had cash available? Should I put a small part of my future aside to spend extravagantly on a nice car and have some fun?

Interesting. This article drew a lot of criticism from Consumerist readers who say that a car from model year 2004 isn’t old enough. The criticism missed the point of the article, which is that continuing to drive the same car saves money over buying a new car. There’s no competition to see who can drive the oldest car. As I pointed out in the article, at a time when reliability was the foremost concern, buying a ten year old (or older) used car, without a strong indication of how well it could run and for how long, would have been a significant mistake. Plus, the mileage is a better indication of operational “age” than model year.

Photo: save_7

Updated August 20, 2011 and originally published August 11, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Peter Anderson

We do have the cash available and ARE replacing our 2002 Honda Civic. We’ve had the car since it was 1 years old at 15,000 miles in 2003. Since then my wife has put 55,000 miles on it or so, and we’re now selling it soon to a relative even though it still runs great and we’ve never had issues with it. Why? we had a child last year and the Civic just doesn’t have enough room anymore. We love having a paid for car that runs great and never has issues, but we need something bigger.

So soon we’ll be buying a mid sized SUV to replace it. Bye bye old Civic!

I’ve never been a big car guy, so as long as I’ve got something that gets me from point A to point B I’m happy.

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avatar Andrew

You should be buying a minivan, BTW. Better gas mileage, more room inside for the same amount of money or less. If you have a boat or something, just get the towing package. SUVs are a waste from day one and everyday down the road.

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avatar Chris Tucker

I love my 2002 Civic. My brother once asked me, “If you could own any car regardless of cost, what would it be?” And the Civic still comes to the top of my list. I love the fuel economy and nimble handling. It’s a fairly “green” car, too.

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avatar David Bentley

I walked to work for many years but a year ago I took a new job I needed to drive to and from. I just needed a car to get from A to B. I wound up getting a Mazda3 new after doing a ton of research and checking out both new and used cars. I got it at a great price and got 0% interest for 6 years. I take it to the dealer for regular maintenance and am on a plan that essentially guarantees my car to 200K miles. That should take me about 12 year and I have every intention of keeping it that long and longer if it makes sense.

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avatar jen

You’re doing it right! There’s a saying in New England, “Buy it New, and Make it Do”.
Works every time.

Like you, my husband and I bought a brand new 2004 Toyota Prius, have regular maintenance performed on it at the Dealership, and have had no problems with it. The money we saved on gas due to the high gas mileage, and the Federal bucks we got for buying an energy saving vehicle, and the last seven years of carpool lane privileges have made it all worthwhile.

Our other car, a ’97 VW Cabrio, is running great as well.

Would we purchase a new car if we had the cash now? No. But it does pay to start a “car fund” in savings for when the old reliable runs its last course.

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avatar Jake

There’s a point where the car’s maintenence outweights keeping it, but until then, I say keep driving. I bought a diesel for precisely that reason–they hold their value the best, and get superb gas mileage.

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avatar Squirrelers

It seems like you’re doing the right things as it is. Very practical moves, and you’ve avoided a good amount of unneccessary expenses by doing so.

Of course, I’m biased. I drove a Toyota Camry all the way to around 220,000 miles. Sold it before any issues occured, bought a used Honda Accord with relatively low mileage, and haven’t looked back!.

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avatar Rick Casey

I can’t give up on my 2000 Toyota Echo. I’ve owned it since mile 5 and it now has 133k miles on it. I haven’t had a car payment since 2004 and the only maintenance I’ve put into it are O2 sensors, oil changes, tiers, and tune ups every 30k. She’s been good to me and I look forward to tooling around town in her for many more years to come.

Now my wife on the other hand, she gets the nice cars :D

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

Sounds like you are doing things the right way. I owned a Honda Civic back in the early 90s (it was a late-80s model) and never had problems with it. Only reason I sold it was we needed something a little larger to accommodate a growing family.

The new Civics are gorgeous, I think. They are very sporty looking.

And you’re right: nothing ruins the joy of driving like years of commuting. So true.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦2,496 (Dollar)

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? A friend of mine is closing in on her 17th year with the same car and it still runs quite nicely.
Just FYI: The 1994 Honda Accord and the 1995 Honda Civic were among the top-10 most stolen cars in the U.S. at last count.

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avatar krantcents

I own a 95 Honda Accord Coupe and a 97 Honda Prelude and they run great! I have 160,000 miles on the Accord and 100,000 miles on the prelude. Cars do not make you money and can cost a lot. These two cars still look very good and run very well. I may change out the Accord in the next year or two for 3-4 year old luxury Acura. A lot depends on circumstances.

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avatar Pat S

Great post. I just watched a video on Dave Ramsey’s site called Drive Free, Retire Rich. It makes a ton of sense. The basic premise is to pay off your current car but then continue making car payments to yourself for as long as you are driving. That way, you can always pay cash for a car, with plenty left over for long term savings. I recommend checking it out.

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avatar tbork84 ♦1,867 (Half-Dollar)

Thats one reason I am happy to still be driving my 98 Buick. It may not be the best looking car on the road, but it gets me from point A to B without any trouble.

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avatar Juggler314

I definitely agree, although my chosen car is an Audi – it’s got >130K miles on it and I plan on driving it into the ground:)

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avatar Lance

I’m completely with you here on keeping your reliable Honda and driving it for many years to come.

We have a 97 Honda Civic, and are going on our 11th year with this car. My oldest son, who just turned 16, would like me to get a new(er) car and let him use the Civic (I’m not biting!). The car has 175,000 miles on it and runs great!

Our previous car was an 86 Honda Accord – and we kept that until it had 225,000 miles on it. A great car is worth holding onto!

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avatar Ellen Fix

I have a 1998 Honda Civic DX , 177,000 miles, and while it still runs well, it hasn’t been without some expensive repairs. Just paid $700 for new suspension and about to pay $535 for new gasket (oil leak) and thermostat replacement (overheats in idle). Don’t know if this is usual for Civics at this age but mechanic says the innards look well-maintained for a car with this mileage.

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avatar Andrew

That sounds typical. If you still like the car, keep it. Then think of the repairs this way – the $1,235 you just paid for repairs would be how many monthly car payments? Certainly less than half a year’s worth.

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avatar Evan

Stop it you know you are keeping it because you have a ridiculous spoiler and spinning rims!

I doubt I’ll end up running my car completely into the ground, but I completely understand why some people do it.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,380 (Platinum)

Heheh. I’ll have to post a picture of my actual car. There are no frills. I did get the power windows, power locks, and remote key.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦906 (Dime)

That’s good flexo. I drive a 2007 chevrolet cobalt and I plan on putting 150-200k miles on that car before I buy another car.

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avatar The Latter-day Saver ♦706 (Dime)

Nice one! Have you started saving for the Civic’s eventual replacement yet?

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avatar jetimms

What? I just bought a my new car, a used ’98 RAV4 with 128K on it.

A 2002 model sounds like a car of the future!

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

My vehicle is a 2005 Santa Fe. I hope to drive it until I’m put in the ground.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

My old car was a 1996 Camry that I bought in 1999. I drove it proudly and said that I would give it up when it quit on the road and I had to walk away. Everyone at work kidded me about how bad the car looked, and for the record it was not that bad. I was planning on buying a new car someday but was in no hurry. I had a little fender bender and that seemed to be it for me. I going with my husband while he looked at cars and when I saw and drove my 2009 Honda Accord I loved it. We could afford it, thanks to putting that money back. So yes Flexo I say that you should put some money back and then when you find that car you love buy it. You only live once.

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avatar Len Penzo

I bought my Honda Civic in 1997 (brand new) and I’m still driving it to this day. I love it — and it’s a stick shift so it is a lot of fun to drive too. It’s got 140k miles on it and still runs like a top … so I figure I’ve got another ten years or so, before it’s time for a new one.

All the best,

Len
Len Penzo dot Com

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avatar Money Reasons

I get a bigger thrill out of no car payment!

I have the cash now to buy a new car, but I’m going to drive my car at least a few more years, if it holds up (It’s a chevy malibu 2003 model). I hate my car, but I hate spending cash on a new (but used) car even more…

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avatar Fred

My 2003 Civic has 199k miles on it, and still drives like new. Aside from oil/filter/belts/tires/brakes/etc, the only “repairs” I’ve had to perform were a new wheel bearing and a front motor mount replacement.

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avatar Christauff

Just sold my 13 year old 1998 Civic Hatchback for $700.

Bought the car new in 1998 for $12,700, right when the ’99 models were coming on the lot for $17,000. I haven’t had a car payment since 2002. The car, which I took fairly middling care of, ran to 197,000 miles when the original clutch and transmission and exhaust gave out a month ago. I drove it into the ground. The cost to replace was not worthwhile, but it sold on Craiglist, as is, in one hour. I was amazed.

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avatar Juggler314

It sold in an hour because if nothing else is wrong with it a clutch replacement is not that expensive…or they also have an older car and $700 for a parts car isn’t much to keep their car going another 50k miles…

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avatar Christauff

I completely agree, though the new transmission (in addition to clutch replacement), plus exhaust system, crappy exterior, and I forgot to mention, lack of A/C, made it a less than stellar fixer-upper.

But the person who bought it restores Civics, so he was either going to use it for parts or restore it from his inventory.

New tires were also in order. All in all, it would have cost 4 new tires, new exhaust, new A/C, and clutch and transmission, which was several thousand dollars. I can buy a newer Civic for the same money to spend on the repairs, hence why I finally sold my beloved hatchback.

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

i think the best move is to keep it as long as the costs of maintaining it are less than the costs of moving on to a new car. that said, there could also be some value placed in apperance, safety, mpg, etc…. essentially, i would not just buy a new car to buy one, even if money was not really an issue.

and come on flexo, we all know that is your tricked out car!

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avatar bioadam

We all agree that buying a new car is a waste of money, but in 2011 a car from 2004 is hardly old. Let us know when your Honda makes the 10 year mark.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,380 (Platinum)

I sure will. Not everyone agrees that buying a new car is a waste of money — and if you read the article, you might see that. I’ve updated the article to address the criticism from Consumerist readers that the car isn’t “old enough.”

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avatar Yana

I didn’t read the Consumerist article, but you bought a new car. It isn’t very old now. I bought a new Camry in ’92, and sold it in 2006. Didn’t want to pay repair costs, but didn’t have the money for much of a replacement – so I was gifted a somewhat beat up 2000 Ford Escort, and had some work done on it with the proceeds from selling the Camry. That Escort got the best gas mileage I’ve ever had, 26 just in town. Great car, but had taken previous abuse and cosmetic vandalism. At the end of’ ’07, I looked at Subaru Foresters, and the one I really liked was an ’06 with around 26,000 miles on it. It was “Premium” and in the champagne color I like, that is not available anymore. However, a new ’08 Forester was less than $2,000 more, and although it is the base model, I couldn’t help but wonder about the used one and why the owner would give it up. I know some people trade in every two years, but I guess I can’t absorb that and get suspicious over nearly new cars being dumped! I would have liked a Premium or Eddie Bauer edition, but the latter was around $7,000 more. I might have given them $2,000 more, but I’m fairly sure they wouldn’t accept that, so I bought the base model at pretty much the price I wanted.

I wouldn’t replace my Subaru since there is nothing wrong with it. I can’t imagine getting rid of it as long as it is a good car that doesn’t cost me negatively. I can’t think of a reason why you should “have some fun” and get a new car, when you are likely having enough fun as it is, and saving money as well! ;)

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avatar Yana

I sold the Camry in ’04, not ’06.

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avatar Gonzo

I have a ’94 Honda Civic with 210K on it. Bought it used about 7-8 yrs. ago with 150K miles on it for $1800. I still pour money into it when needed because it gets 35-40 mpg. the way I drive it! It might look like crap, but I am not entering any car shows or trying to impress anybody.

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avatar Andrew

Perfect! We tell ourselves every year when our ’95 Odyssey and the ’97 Civic go in for their inspections and our (honest, specializes on Hondas and worth his weight in gold) mechanic finds a $400 to $600 repair, that that’s equal to about what a month’s car payment would be on new car, ‘cept we pay it once a year. They both still run fine. And we have ’03 BMW Z4 (all three cars bought used) that we drive on the weekends. Or when we want to impress somebody.

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avatar qixx ♦1,819 (Half-Dollar)

i would not buy a new car even if i had the cash available. I’d rather have the cash and the car i have. I might suggest setting money aside for a replacement car. If you go the Dave Ramsey suggested route and make a full car payment to yourself or just set aside $10/$100/$1000 a month is not as important as putting something aside if you have the funds.

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avatar phil johnson

I had a 77 Ford F150 that I drove for six years before getting hit by a semi. Paid 300 bucks for the truck and stuck in maybe another 400 into it the entire time that I had it. I was hit in 2009 so the truck was quite old by then but the motor never failed to start. I have a 77 Dodge Aspen now that I rack up 400 miles a week on. The fuel economy isn’t so hot at 21 mpg but the parts cost next to nothing and insurance is cheap, 280 a year. I’d never make payments on a car and find most people’s fears of breaking down to be irrational. If it is a real worry AAA can help with that for quite a bit less than a new car payment.
.

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avatar Steve W

I have a 1995 Civic LX 4-door stick-shift that I bought new. The odometer shows 219,000 miles, but the odometer hasn’t worked much since 2004. I know in January 2005, this car had 200,000 miles on it. So 300,000 miles now? Up until 2011, this Civic has been super reliable, almost scary reliable. However, time has taken its toll and it needs a LOT of work. Still runs though. Right now, I’m very close to buying a 2013 Civic and I’m contemplating keeping this 1995 Civic as a second car for just occasional use.

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