While I am happy I’ve kept my 2004 Honda Civic eight and a half years and haven’t felt the need to upgrade, I’m certainly not as dedicated to maintaining old cars as an automobile enthusiast. In fact, I’ve been ridiculed and insulted by people whose opinion is that eight years is not very impressive for holding onto one car. It’s a fair point; others have certainly done more with less.
Disposable consumer culture, however, has pervaded the psyche of the general car buying public. Marketing tactics and peer pressure have persuaded people to purchase new vehicles every few years. Shoppers replace cars for a variety of reasons, not just to keep up with the latest styles. Living situations change. If I had children, I might have needed a bigger vehicle for transporting the family, for example. If I were to marry someone who had no interest in learning how to drive a car with a manual transmission
and we couldn’t afford to keep two cars, I would need to replace the Civic.
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The car in the photograph is not my Civic.
My situation has remained mostly the same since purchasing the four-door Civic in June 2004, except for my finances. I could afford a replacement if I liked, but my two reasons or rationalizations for choosing to buy a new car were that I needed reliability immediately and I planned to drive the car into the ground before replacing it, getting the full value for its cost.
Regular maintenance and oil changes, though not nearly as frequently as the suggested 3,000 mile interval. Have kept the car running well. Passengers often observe that the car runs like new. Aside from a few scratches on the body, it looks like new, as well, except the body’s form factor isn’t nearly as sleek-looking as the later-model Civics rolling out of factories today. Having operated the vehicle for almost a decade, I’m aware of the changes in the feel of the driving.
I wouldn’t consider my Honda Civic sedan a fun vehicle — particularly when stuck in traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway. I’m not sure there is any car considered fun in that situation. I know what it’s like to love driving, but years of long commutes have moved me away from that camp. A man on Long Island still driving his 1966 Volvo P1800S must still have the joy of driving for pleasure in his heart, unlike me. Irvin Gordon purchased this car in June 1966 for $4,150, about $30,000 in today’s dollars. Irvin is currently the world record holder for most miles logged in the same car: almost 3 million. He accomplished this feat without replacing the engine, though it has been rebuilt twice.
At one time, Irvin experienced a 125-mile daily commute, but the bulk of his miles was clocked during the freedom of retirement. He now drives 85,000 to 100,000 miles a year, but it took 21 years to reach his first million miles in the car.
As I expect to reach 150,000 miles by the end of the year — without a daily commute I drive much less than I did for the first six years of ownership — I have a long way to go before reaching mileage high enough to be considered a world record, or even just impressive. And my Honda, built at a time when mass manufacturing, competitive pricing, and lowered expectations for the lives of products, would probably not be able to compete with this 1966 Volvo in terms of longevity. Cars from the 1960s lasting this long regardless of mileage is an anomaly, an outlier in the data of automobile longevity, but it’s hard to imagine a world where my Civic is considered a collectors’ item worthy of value half a century in the future.
The long life of a car is linked to regular maintenance. There may have come a time when it cost to maintain the 1966 Volvo in one year than it would cost to buy a replacement. But Irvin’s love for the vehicle, and perhaps a little bit of obsession or compulsion to see that mile number climb, compelled him to put finances aside and ensure his car could survive another year.
Although I dedicated to making the most out of the $16,000 I paid for the Honda Civic in 2004 by driving it until it dies, practical matters might get in the way. If it becomes too expensive to maintain, I would replace the car. If my family situation changes quickly and a manual-transmission Civic that seats only four comfortably no longer meets my needs for transportation, I would need to reconsider my initial plan. Assuming my needs don’t change and maintaining the car continues to be preferred from a financial standpoint, I’ll hold onto the Civic. It might last a few more hundred thousand miles if I let it.
However, if I get a sudden desire to drive more and rediscover the joy of being on the open road, and if I find myself with more time, I may replace the car with something a little more enjoyable. It would be a tough decision to determine whether the cost of a car just for pleasure is worthwhile — but if science is any indication, I will only live once.
Do you want a car that will last a long time or do you tend to buy cars every few years? Do you enjoy driving or is it just a way to get from one place to another?
Updated October 16, 2015 and originally published October 2, 2012.