Automotive News: Mr. Green Car: More about keeping old cars going

March 23, 2011

By Allen Penticoff
Freelance Writer

Enough of the numbers! Time to tell a tale again of keeping old cars going.
January 2011, my wife and I were driving toward Madison, Wis., when my cell phone rang—it went to voicemail. A fellow asked if I was interested in purchasing his 1992 Honda Civic VX. I called him back as soon as I could. YES, I’m interested. We set a date to meet. I brought my checkbook—and my wife to drive her car home.

Sitting rather forlornly in a barn near Juda, Wis., was a red 1992 Honda Civic (that was EPA rated at 55 mpg back then), nearly identical to my Tahitian Green 1992 Civic VX. This one had slightly more than 250,000 miles on the odometer. It did start. The brakes were a bit rusty, but firm. The interior was filthy. Meantime, the body had some rust and scratches, but it could be driven away.

Bidding to buy it was a bit unusual. I made an offer, then another, the seller telling me both times it was too much. We left with it for $500. It had a full tank of gas and essentially new tires.

The seller was happy to see it go to someone who would care for it. He and his wife had a new, pretty metallic blue Honda Insight in their garage to transport them. They, like myself, had bought their Civic VX new in 1992.

Now, I have two of them. “The Red Honda,” as we call it, is the third red vehicle I’ve owned, although it’s been a long time since I had a red vehicle. The first was a 1974 Ford van, followed by a red Fiat 128 SL the U.S. Army shipped to Korea for me (and is still probably there). However, this particular red car has a lot of work in store for me.
This is a 19-year-old car that has been driven on gravel roads and winter road salt. This has made a mess that is hard to describe.

Among the first orders of business was figuring out why the hood would not stay latched down. Then, it was determining where the exhaust was leaking. This led to replacing the muffler and the front pipe.

I did an experiment and painted the muffler with high-heat silver paint to see if it staves off rusting of the lead in pipe and otherwise extends the life of the muffler. The front pipe was ordered from a local parts store’s online website—and I was a bit disappointed at how long the part took to arrive, but enjoyed the 15 percent discount.

First order of business when I got it home was to vacuum the interior. It had been living on a farm, and it sure looked and smelled like it. The heater fan made an awful noise above low speed. This turned out to be one-and-a-half dead mice in the fan housing. One panel vent was stuffed with mouse-nest paper. I’d later find more evidence of mouse habitation—and more dead mice.

While waiting for the pipe to arrive, I took care of some front-end body work. The front bumper cover and associated plastic was in disarray. I, more or less, restored it to looking normal. I had to deal with license plate bolts that were not coming loose, but found a good solution. “Jack nuts” through the plastic—a little grease to keep them from rusting and stainless steel screws to mount the license plates (the latter I highly recommend for all vehicles).

It had a bad boot on one CV axle, so I installed the old axle from my green Civic. I’d managed to mess up my other Civic’s transmission when I installed a new axle—and had not recycled the old, reasonably good axles yet. It was now ready for regular driving. It has the same peculiarities as the green Civic—so it is like dating a nearly identical twin. Very similar, but just a bit different.

A good, warm day came along, and off to the car wash we went. Pressure washed much under the hood, but there is a lot of corrosion and rust to attend to under there some time in the future. It has a very rust-eaten right rear quarter panel. But this is standard for older Civics, so some time in the future it’ll get some new metal.

The bottoms of both doors are rusting badly, not sure what I’ll do there—but I can say for sure that I’m glad I clean this area thoroughly every time I wash all my cars. Wiping the crud from under your doors prevents this sort of thing. Just because you have some bad spots is no reason not to wash your car with care—it saves on expensive damage repairs, shows pride and maintains resale value.

As March warmed up, I began the battle with the interior filth. I’ve never seen a car so dirty on the inside. Thick gravel dust was in every nook and cranny. Some things had to be disassembled to clean them. I took out the front seats to clean under them and to remove the center console for cleaning.

Good thing I did. More mouse messes. In the end, I was very happy with where this was leading as the little red Honda is revived and looking good. So, this saga will continue, and I’ll tell you more about caring for good old cars.

From the March 23-29 issue

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