I apologize for the Instagramming. It’s the only way Kinja lets me post photos.
Friday: I needed to get ready for Cars and Coffee, and my beloved ‘87 CRX Si was filthy. I decided to just run it through the car wash at lunch, then be sure to open it up in the garage overnight, so the water that leaked through the rusted floor boards could dry. A crunching and wiggling ensued on my way to the car wash. When I got back, I had a moment.
The unibody had rusted and broken. The bracket heading down to the base of the left rear strut had divorced itself from the rest of the car. I suffered a crisis, got nothing done for the rest of the day, and limped the car home afterward.
It was time to look for another car, and I didn’t have a ton of cash. Many fascinating possibilities stood before me. And because Craigslist works in mysterious ways, no one got back to me.
Well, a couple of people did. The 280Z guy’s floor boards were rusted through. The 91 Accord’s seller couldn’t see me until Sunday. And the ugly ‘88 Saab 900 sedan’s seller would meet me on Saturday. It was a start.
Saturday: I drove my friend’s old Nissan pickup to Cars and Coffee. Despite the stunning array of flawless metal there (around 600 cars this week!?), I was a bit depressed. I moped around the parking lot for a few hours, complaining to my patient friends about my situation. My Nikon’s battery died, because in the morass of worried sadness, I had forgotten to charge it. I dropped my phone, and I’d taken the case off so I could fit my friend’s tape adapter into the headphone jack. The lens cracked. Total Equipment Protection is a wonderful thing.
A friend who works at a car dealer had a trade-in 626 he was going to send to auction, so he told me he’d get back to me about it.
It was time to go look at the Saab. I’m not sure if the very clean Craigslist pictures were ‘shopped or just old, but it was in horrible condition when I saw it, rusted to eternal garbage. It drove poorly, the brakes were bad, and the owner actually said to me, “I mean, cars are just for transportation, right?” It was in far worse shape than the CRX. I told him I’d get back to him.
I went home, texted Saab man that I’d decided on something else (anything else), and resumed my search. Oh! A ‘95 V6 Mustang! I’ve always wanted a Mustang, even a bubbly, ‘90s-tastic, slow V6. The seller couldn’t be bothered to respond.
My car dealer friend told me the Mazda was gone, but he had an ‘03 Civic Hybrid he could sell me for a grand. The hybrid battery was dead, and it’s a $3k repair, so it was headed to the block. It still drove fine, he told me. I could drive it on Monday.
I drove out to Raytown to check out an ‘89 Civic hatch with 301k on the clock. It really wasn’t in such bad shape. It needed a little brake work and the shifter swung around like a tail, even in gear. But sweet Christmas those miles. I told him I’d think about it.
Next I met a woman selling her ‘97 ZX2. This was in pretty good shape all around. Only 160k. She wanted $1400 for it, and I strongly considered it. A Spectre+K&N chimera cold air intake snaked through the bay, and a fart can perched on the end of the exhaust, but it sounded okay. A full ash tray sat in the cup holder.
I was probably going to buy the Civic, though. It had low miles, 183k, and it was newer. The contention was strong. I thought I could probably talk Ms. ZX2 down to maybe $1100
I drove home and resumed my search, then scrubbed through hippy hybrid forums about dead Civic Hybrid batteries. There could be some issues with drivability. Honda couldn’t have just wired up a couple of terminals to eventually fool. The battery is BFFs with the ECU, and it powers things like wipers and headlights. Apparnetly the car likes to idle very low if you’re running both at the same time.
That’s when I found a ‘98 Civic LX sedan, 198k, rust free, for $900. And yes, he could see me tonight. He had posed the ad just two hours prior. I’d been told never to buy a car in the dark, but I took my cash anyway.
And I bought it. It needed a new valve cover gasket, and it popped out of 5th, the seller said, every so often, and the hood latch was okay with half-done work, but it was very clean, idled well, and had the required manual.
I offered him $760 (I only had 20s), and he accepted right away. I should have gone lower, but I don’t feel so bad. He’s a really nice, honest guy, and he and his wife just bought a brand new Nissan Versa sedan. Plus, he’d taken good care of this car. Maybe I should have gone higher.
Since I was alone that night, I gave him the cash and signed the title, then left it there.
Sunday: After church, a friend drove me out to pick it up. I drove it to a birthday party, and halfway there, on the highway, it suddenly went into limp mode. Don’t panic. Clutch out, restart, keep going. The car ran fine, but I started running nervous. (I later ordered an OBDII adapter.)
I tried to spend the afternoon and evening relaxing, but there are so many aftermarket parts available for this car. I forgot what this is like. Neither the CRX nor my ‘80 Tercel had more than a few upgrades available. I vowed financial responsibility, but still made a list in my head.
Last summer, my step dad gave me a cheap stereo he couldn’t use. I wanted to use it for the CRX. He’d bought it red label at Walmart, and the lack of a wiring harness was why. Some filthy thief (who will undoubtedly vote for Trump this year) had bought it, swiped the harness, and returned it. But it had an aux jack, so I shelved it. Guess whose crappy, ancient aftermarket CD player used exactly the same harness. The Civic’s. That was pretty awesome. Only one speaker works, but it’s a start.
I needed to pick up my roommates from the airport at 11:50 pm. So I’d leave a little early, get gas (the needle was still hovering above the red), and be there on time. Stopped on the side of the highway, hazards flashing, I knew I would not.
Finally I got it started again, then limped to a gas station. Everyone got home. I’m not sure if the car ran out of gas or made a home for some other demon, but I eagerly await the arrival of my scan tool. (EKs have main relays.)
Monday: Since the car was last titled in Texas, Kansas requires a VIN inspection. Just $20 and a lookover, but it still takes time. I handled it on my lunch break. After work I went to our DMV (the best DMV and probably the best government operation I’ve ever experienced) and saw this pristine VW sandrail on the way.
Texas doesn’t care about sale price, so they didn’t put a box on the title, so I needed a bill of sale, so I went back to the seller and got it signed.
Monday night I fixed the hood latch, removed the massive, heavy intake resonator, and went through the records in the glove box. There’s not much maintenance history, but some previous owner had recorded every single gas station visit for years, including locations. This car has been all over the country, though it lived most of its life in Texas and Provo, Utah. This explains the lack of rust.
Tuesday: The title and registration didn’t even eat my entire lunch break.
That night Opponaut Jay Lauer came over to work on a car he’s selling, and we hung out for a while. (If any other Opponauts in KC need a driveway in which to work for a few hours, let me know.) I peeled the old labels and adhesives off the Civic and fixed the front door handle that would stick open. After, we went to drive cars. Jay drove the Civic, I drove his Mazda 3 and his Cobalt SS turbo (and man, sometimes I miss power).
Tonight I’m going to find out why neither back door opens from the outside, and hopefully fix them. If the muffler is bolt-on, I might flip it over until the massive hole in it faces down, to see if it will stop droning at 2500 RPM. (Otherwise it sounds awesome, far deeper than any fart can I could find on Ebay.)
I want to pull and check that main relay, and check the plugs and distributor, too.
Future: Several other items need attention before I can even think about mods. I believe the vehicle speed sensor may be bad. The speedometer works sometimes, so the cable isn’t snapped. Does the VSS work with that, or is that a different system? I know very little about the VSS.
The wiper switch is broken. I had similar issues with the CRX. Wipers and washer both still work, but it’s very touchy. Guess what, though. They actually have these cars in junk yards. There are 5 of them a mile away! This never happened with the CRX, the Tercel, the other Tercel, or the WRX. Amazing.
I’ll also hunt some non-tattered sun visors, a few bits and bobs for the interior, and possibly a muffler. Maybe some non-fogged headlights, or maybe I’ll try to restore these.
Plastic wheel covers are my enemy, so those will be leaving, and I’ll sand and paint the steelies. Probably black for now, but later I’m hoping to experiment with some bronze. Other bronze accents will include the badges and an exhaust tip, if I can find the right paint.
I think this transmission may need a fix sometime soon, so I’ll probably buy a junkyard one, then eventually rebuild it (or the current transmission) with stronger gears. I’m not planning to add a ton of power, but I want it to last forever.
Here’s the thing: I want to fix, drive, and mod this thing as cheaply, even freely, as possible. So I’m going to start with things I already have. Speakers out of the CRX (since I won’t be driving that one much for a while), black spray paint that’s sitting in the garage, sheet metal I have for patching the muffler, if the inversion doesn’t work. I have a bunch of leftover plastidip, so I may hit the roof, whose clearcoat has oxidized. Flat black looks okay on black, right?
I’d also like to do some occasional autocrossing this spring. We’ll see. I want to make sure everything is in good shape first. It probably needs a tune up, maybe an oil change. I need to check the wheel bearings. The front tires are getting pretty low. (I could swap the CRX’s wheels over, since it’s a 4x100 world.)
Mods. Some KYB adjustable shocks and struts, and an Eibach pro-kit for light, tasteful lowering and stiffness. EBC brakes and rotors. An AEM CAI, custom exhaust (depending on price), and possibly a light tune. Possibly.
There’s the update.
PS: The CRX. Well. It’s currently unsafe to drive, which means I can’t really sell it for any kind of money. I’d probably get $200 in scrap, but I bought the car for $1500 and probably put about $800 of parts into it. It’s not worth $200, the garage space, or the pittance I pay for insurance, to get rid of this car.
So I’m going to store it for now. I’ll have that break welded, then use it as a non-highway, low-speed backup car. It runs great, and I want to keep it circulating every week or so, but I don’t know what else could break on it.
If I can stop undergoing minor financial crises, I’m going to eventually buy a house. I’ll then give the CRX a full frame-off, or swap it into a clean shell, then sell off what’s left. That was always the plan, anyway.
For now, I need to rebuild my emergency fund, live cheap (I suspended my gym membership), and drive slow. Honda, don’t let me down again.