ODE TO THE 1994 HONDA ACCORD

1994 Honda Accord

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As many of you know, I bought a used 2017 Toyota Corolla last month. The transaction also included a trade-in of a 1994 Honda Accord. That Accord has a long history with my family, as you might expect for a vehicle that is 26 years old and still running.

I wasn’t involved with the purchase of the Accord. My father was the one who decided to buy it. He purchased the EX trim level, which I believe was the most luxurious one at the time. After buying ordinary and pedestrian North American designed vehicles like Pontiacs and Chevrolets, this was probably the most impressive vehicle our family had bought ever.

I was in university at the time and living at UBC. I came home one day and there was the Accord in the garage. I thought it was a bit expensive at the time because I think it was over $20k for a new Honda Accord. We weren’t and still aren’t a rich family, so that was a lot of money for us, especially since my parents also had a fairly large mortgage at the time.

While I was hesitant about the cost, I remember driving it for the first time and I could not argue that it was a solid car. Everything about it felt so much nicer, comfortable, and well-designed than anything else I had driven to this point. It was a pleasure to drive and it was a nice looking car as well.

I didn’t drive the Accord a whole lot until 1997. I was in university for undergrad until then, so summers were the only time I was at home. Even then, I would also drive my Mom’s car which I didn’t mind at all. My father hadn’t retired yet, so the Accord was often with him at work.

I took a year off before finding my first and last mechanical engineering job. In 1998, I found a job in North Van. Not having a car, my father graciously allowed me to borrow his car on a daily basis to drive to work. He wasn’t working by then, so he didn’t need it for work. Still, for a guy that didn’t use transit, it was an awfully big sacrifice for him to not have a car during the day. I drove that car five days a week for about ten months to North Van. It was a terrible job so I quit before a year was up.

It was a super reliable car and during those ten months, nothing about it gave me headaches. I guess for a car that was four years old, it really shouldn’t have. I got to know that car really well after having to drive it so much.

After quitting that job, I took another year off, which meant that my father got his car back. So he was able to go anywhere during the day as I mostly just stayed at home to play video games for that year.

When the year was up, I decided to get a job as a video game tester at EA. That meant needing to go from Coquitlam to Burnaby during the weekday. Back then, Skytrain didn’t run out to where we lived yet, so it wasn’t that easy to get to the EA campus. Again, my father graciously allowed me to borrow his car for the daily commute. In hindsight, I probably should have taken transit a few days a week to let him have the car occasionally. Now that I think of it, the route would have been a bus to Lougheed Mall, then an express bus along Lougheed Highway, and then a final change of buses at Brentwood Mall that would drop me off near EA. If I had to guess, it would have taken me about 45-50 minutes, which wasn’t too terrible given the distance.

Alas, I had the car, which was very convenient. I was a video game tester for only 14 months. This would probably bring me to 2001. By then, the car was about seven years old and I don’t remember any major problems with it. I left all the maintenance to my father when I probably should taken some responsibility with it since I drove it for the commute. Again, it never let me down during any of my commute for those 14 months or so.

In 2002, I decided to go back to university for a graduate degree and also to live on campus again. It took three leisurely years to get my degree. I didn’t drive the Accord all that much during those years. If I came home for the weekend, I might have taken it to the mall or gone to see friends. On some rare occasions, I might have driven it to UBC for the weekend and dropped it off back home later.

Again, I wasn’t aware of any major problems with the Accord. Everything still worked as it should and I didn’t notice any deterioration of features or components. My father is pretty meticulous with maintenance so I’m sure that prevented a lot of issues.

In 2004, I was changing residences so I was driving a ton of stuff home from my place at UBC. I borrowed the Accord and on the way back from UBC, this was the first and only time that the Accord let me down. I was still in Vancouver when the car starting acting weird. I would press down on the accelerator but it didn’t respond like it usually would. It hesitated. I pulled it over, turned it off, then restarted it again. When I put it drive and went to go, it just refused. I didn’t know what was going on. This was the first time I’d ever been driving and had a car breakdown on me. It was a bit of a nervous experience for me. I didn’t have my cell phone on me. I wound up having to go to a business and borrowing a phone and a Yellow Pages. I randomly picked a towing company to get them to tow the car.

The tow guy showed up and asked me where I wanted the car. I didn’t even know. The only thing I could think of was to tow it to the dealership where my father bought the car. That’s where he always brought it for service. It was really far from where I was, so the tow wound up being over $100, which in hindsight, was fairly reasonable.

I can’t even remember how I got home that night. I didn’t go with the tow guy. I probably took transit home. The dealership looked at the Accord the next day and they told us the transmission had died. It wasn’t repairable, so the only other option was to get it replaced. At this point, the Accord was about ten years old and I believe the powertrain warranty would have only been five years. So this transmission failure was well outside the warranty period. These days, some manufacturers have powertrain warranties that last ten years.

The dealership gave us an option of replacing the transmission with a used one, which saved us a ton of money. I believe the estimate for changing out the transmission, including the used transmission was at least $3,000, which seems cheap to me, so it might have been more. It wasn’t really an option to get a new car, so my parents decided to go with the used transmission.

The used transmission was installed and the Accord was back up and running. This turned out to be the only major repair that had to be done on this vehicle. The transmission never was an issue again. Yes, it was an expensive repair but it was one that allowed the Accord to function for another sixteen years and beyond. For a used transmission, we probably lucked out.

After I graduated in 2005, I began my career as a software engineer in the video game industry and almost all my jobs were in the downtown Vancouver area. It wasn’t practical to drive everyday and it was just faster to take Skytrain (as it had expanded to Coquitlam now). I only drove the Accord on weekends if I had to go anywhere. It was eleven years old at this point but it still drove fine. Driving it was a comfortable pleasure. At this point, I knew exactly how it would respond in any situation.

In 2010, I bought my apartment and moved out of my parents’ home. I did not take the Accord with me. My new place was over a Skytrain station and a retail complex. I did shopping downstairs and with the convenience of transit, I had no real reason to use a car. My commute to work downtown was easy and quick with Skytrain. I would borrow the Accord if I needed it to transport large items, like if I was going to Ikea or something. This was rare though, so I would go long stretches without driving.

Back at home, my parents had the Accord and my Mom’s Honda Civic, which they bought in 2002. I believe they started driving the Civic more because by then the Accord was sixteen years old. The Civic was newer and also was better with gas mileage.

A few years after I bought my place, my Mom decided she didn’t want to drive anymore. I believe she barely even 60 years old at the time. I think driving just stressed her out and since she was semi-retired now, there was no real reason to drive. Anywhere she went, she went with my father, so he just drove. They told me since they only needed the Civic, I could take the Accord and just borrow it indefinitely.

I still didn’t need a car but I decided to help with paying the insurance, so I paid half. The Accord would sit in my parking spot sometimes for weeks at a time without me driving it. I would also drive it back to my parents’ place so that my father could take it in for a tune-up or some other maintenance. I’d leave it with him for weeks and months. My parents would ask if I wanted to take it back but I had no need.

Around 2015, I decided to permanently take the Accord and park it at my place. I guess it just made sense for me to have the car since my parents only had one driver and two cars. I began paying the insurance for the Accord all by myself, which was the least I could do. At this point, the Accord was twenty-one years old, older than most cars on the road. By then, its age was showing. I’m not sure when this happened but the antenna for the radio stopped retracting. So back in the days of 1994, cars still had those old style long and thin metal radio antennas. Because this was a premium car, the Accord was designed with a motor that would extend the antenna from the body when the car started and it would retract it when it was turned off. As you might imagine, there had to be an enormous number of cycles where this mechanism was operated. After two decades of use, it failed. I believe my father got an estimate for a repair and it was several hundred dollars. He decided against it because it was too expensive and luckily for us, the antenna was stuck deployed, which meant the radio still worked.

Along the way, the power lock for right rear passenger door stopped working. If you wanted to lock or unlock that door, it had to be done manually. We never got an estimate for that because you could still lock and unlock that door, and I rarely even had a passenger in that seat. The display for the radio started working just intermittently as well. Back then, a fancy car radio had LCD segments that would show you what station you were on. This was a digitally tuned radio. The segments would light up randomly or in weird patterns. It would be hard to tell what station you were on but with station identification being shouted out every few minutes, it didn’t really matter. After a while, the display just stopped showing anything.

There was also some rust that began showing up near the right rear passenger door. We were lucky, because the rust was in a spot that wasn’t critical to keeping water or the elements out. I think my father tried putting some extra touchup paint he had on the rust. I like to believe that stopped the rust or made it slow down that it never got too bad past a certain size. This was another thing we never got an estimate for. For a car two decades old, it just wouldn’t make sense to replace a large part of the body like that. Where would we get a panel like that? We’d also have to paint it. It would be thousands of dollars for a cosmetic thing that had no structural benefit.

Around two years ago, the Accord started to run hot and temperature gauge was all the way to the red side. I was lucky the radiator didn’t blow and I knew I could help it by turning the heat up all the way. By doing so, I was able to get the temperatures down a bit, enough where it wasn’t on the verge of dying. In hindsight, I probably should have got it towed to the dealership or some other repair place. I decided to drive it there though. It turns out there was a problem with the coolant pump. This wasn’t something you couldn’t fix. I believe the estimate was about $500. I paid it because I just wanted to keep driving the Accord.

Unfortunately, even after the repairs, the Accord didn’t seem the same again. It’s very bad for the engine if you drive it when it’s overheated. You can do damage to it and I think I might have done that. The Accord didn’t accelerate as well anymore afterwards. It also struggled to get up hills with any speed. It felt like an old car now. As old as it might be though, it still drove. It still got me to the places I needed to go. It may have gotten too hot or didn’t go as fast but it never broke down on me.

In the summer of 2019, my father took the Accord in for a tune-up at the dealership. The mechanic returned with a long list of problems that he found. The Accord was leaking oil in places and some of those places weren’t feasible to fix. The steering mechanism needed some repairs. I had noticed that the steering had become kinda loose. There a few other issues with the Accord, some of which would require major repairs. To the mechanic’s credit, he suggested we just fix some of the critical things that he deemed necessary to keep the Accord running safe. That included some of the places were he could stop the oil from leaking. He also fixed the steering issue. It wound up costing about $2,000 in total. That’s a lot of money but I paid it. He said that those repairs would keep the car running in a safe manner for about another year and then we would have to face those other repairs he mentioned.

At this point, I was happy to have the Accord tuned up and running a bit better than before. It made me feel a bit more re-assured. The steering was tighter and more responsive. It didn’t pull to one side like before. At the same time though, I kinda knew the Accord’s days were numbered. The mechanic said it had about a year left. So, I decided I’d drive it for another year and see how it would go. If I could get another year out of it, I’d go buy another vehicle in the summer of 2020.

I certainly did get another year of service from the Accord, and then some. It never gave me any problems. All the basic things you need from a car, it delivered for more than twelve months. It started, the windshield wipers worked, the heater worked, the defrosters worked, the windows opened and closed, and the doors locked and unlocked (even if you had to manually).

For the last few months, every time I went to drive the Accord, I had some sorta expectation that it might breakdown one last time. That the cause would be so expensive to fix, it wouldn’t be worth it. It caused me a bit of stress but the amazing thing is, it never did break down again. Each time I pulled into my parking spot at home, I marvelled that this car, now a quarter of a century old, had returned me safely home again.

Last month, the Accord that my parents probably paid close to $25k (after financing) to buy was traded in for $250, a hundredth of its original value. I have to say, we as a family got a tremendous value out of this car. Yes, there were a few repairs along the way but we never had to repair the same thing twice.

We owned the Accord longer than any of the homes that our family has lived in. It was a constant in our lives, especially mine. We may have moved homes but it was still with us every step of the way. I was barely out of my teenage years when this car was bought and I was still driving it last month, and I am in my 40s now. What an incredible accomplishment. A car that was able to last twenty-six years and drove us over 260,000 km. We could have driven around the equator of the Earth six complete times with that mileage, all with the same original engine.

I know a car is just an object but it’s hard not to get sentimental about the Accord. How many things are part of a family for more than a quarter of century? This wasn’t just a piece of jewellery sitting in a box somewhere. That sort of thing is easy to keep. This was a car that got us places and back home safely. It faced sun, rain, and snow. It was out there in the elements, with all its complex parts working together. It did so for twenty-six years.

If I have any regrets about the Accord, it’s that I didn’t take care of it better in its late years when I was driving exclusively. I probably shouldn’t have left the maintenance to my father. If I had to do it over, I would have taken it in every six months for an oil change. I would have stopped driving it immediately when it overheated two years ago.

I firmly believe that had I babied the Accord a bit more, it would have lasted a few more years. I didn’t do a whole lot to help it stay running smoothly. Who knows how much longer it could have gone?

I know that in the last ten years or so, I put in a few thousand to keep it running. Most people would have thrown in the towel and bought another vehicle at some point. That was probably the smart thing to do but I admit I was lazy. I was often faced with a choice of either paying say $1,000 and I could drive it again or I could be without a car and have to go through the hassle of finding and buying another vehicle. The repairs were the path of least resistance, even if it did cost me more money in the end.

In a perfect world, I would have kept the Accord for sentimental reasons. Like I mentioned though, it’s a car, not a piece of jewellery. You can’t just tuck it away somewhere. I only have one parking spot. My parents have two spots but to keep it would mean I’d have to buy storage insurance. Is that practical or economical? Probably not.

This is one of the longest posts I written in a while but its length reflects the longevity of the Accord. I wish there was some way I could have kept it but I have pictures and my memories. I don’t know where the Accord is now. I doubt it was sold to someone else so the harsh truth is it’s probably scrap now. That’s ok, it served us well for so, so long. I cannot think of anything else that I’ll own that I’ll be able to use on a daily basis for twenty-six years.

It may have been just a car but thank you for everything you were able to do, our 1994 Honda Accord.

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