The Civic Takes a Turn

Back in July I wrote about my Honda Civic being 10 years old and going strong with no major issues.  That apparently was a catalyst for trouble.

In September my cruise-control switch assembly failed.  I use the cruise control constantly, so that was annoying.  I found the part on Amazon and managed to replace it myself with only a little trouble.  I stripped (about 80%) one of the mounting bolts that holds the airbag assembly to the steering wheel and only barely managed to get it removed.  So I popped over to the dealer (in the van) to get a replacement bolt.  And I was back in business.  Total cost ~$50 and a Saturday morning.  Not too bad.

But, over the past couple of months I started having trouble starting the car, but only occasionally.  Then it started happening more often.  Then I realized it seemed to have the most trouble trying to restart when the engine was already hot.  Once it was running it was great, so I figured it probably wasn't the battery or alternator.  I could hear the fuel pump running, so I figured that made it less likely to be the culprit.  My guess was on the starter.  The first shop I took it to that had good reviews wanted $65 just to diagnose if it was the alternator or not.  So I took it to a parts store and they tested the battery and alternator for me and said they were fine.  They also said the starter was fine.  But they were wrong.

Over the weekend I was talking with Jess to figure when this week would be least inconvenient to drop it at the shop (a different shop, recommended by a co-worker) to be diagnosed and fixed.  A discussion which became moot when I tried to go to work Monday morning and it wouldn't start at all.  So then I had to pay for a tow truck to take it to the shop ($90).  The shop called today to say it needs a starter  for $403.  Ouch.  The price is mostly labor because it's apparently a complete pain to get at the starter.

Here's hoping that's all it needs for another few years.

10 Years with a 2007 Honda Civic LX

I got my 2007 Honda Civic LX in April 2007.  It's now just over ten years old and going strong.  I just passed 90,000 miles.  I fully expect it to keep going for another 10 years, though I may decide to swap it for an electric vehicle before it's totally worn out.

In 10 years I have had zero issues in terms of reliability or mechanical functionality.  It has received all services as scheduled by the built-in "Maintenance Minder" system.  It is on its third set of tires, its second set of brake pads, and its third battery (all counts include the factory-installed items).

Efficiency has been consistent though it appears to be slowly dropping, but that might be a false interpretation of the data as, since we bought the Odyssey, the Civic no longer goes on long trips and has none of the up-ticks in efficiency gained from long highway traveling.

The lifetime efficiency is 29.86 miles-per-gallon (total miles traveled divided by total gallons of gas consumed; not the average of the per-tank efficiencies).

The amount of driving I've done with the Civic has been quite consistent over the years.  You can see some areas of rapid increase which signify long car trips driven over just a few days or weeks.

Overall, it has been a great car, though not without some minor annoyances.

The minor annoyances

A few of the LED segments on the speedometer display flicker, especially in hot weather.  Probably a weak piece of solder or something that becomes inconsistent in the heat.  Slightly annoying, but not a big deal.

The driver-seat height adjustment seems to slowly sink back down.  The height adjustment is a pneumatic system (as far as I can tell) that I think slowly leaks out the air pressure and causes the seat to drop back down to the bottom.  I usually pump it back up once a month or so and I only move it up a centimeter or two so it's not a big deal.

The driver-side window auto-retract system is overeager.  That's the system that prevents you from closing the window on an object when you use the "auto close" feature by pulling the switch all the way up.  The window will reach about an inch from closing and then retract back down.  Holding the switch overrides the auto-retract system.  So, again, slightly annoying, but not a big deal.

Honestly, those three things are the only functionality issues with the entire vehicle.  No mechanical issues, just minor annoyances.

Here I'm excluding recall work which could have affected the vehicle's reliability/safety, but was corrected for free and a priori to any incident.  The only particularly notable ones have been the possibly faulty O-ring on a speed sensor which may cause wheel failure and the faulty airbag inflater (part of the Takata recalls).  Both of which were corrected without issue.

The paint problem

The biggest problem with the car has been paint failure.  Several years ago Honda issued a voluntary recall due to an identified issue with paint longevity, but I misread the notice and missed the window to have them pay for some repainting.  Which may be somewhat moot.  The recall was for paint failure on the hood, roof, and trunk--which I had in great quantity--but I also had paint failure on the door panels and fenders.  I'm sure part of the problem was my not regularly cleaning and waxing the car, but even so, the paint should have held up better (which Honda admits).

In anticipation of owning the Civic for another 10 years I decided to get it repainted to both protect the metal and so it doesn't look terrible.

The first picture does not do a good job of exposing the differences from before (top) to after (bottom):

But once we start looking at the details it becomes obvious.  Left is before, right is after.

Top is before (obviously), bottom is after:

Here's to another 10 years!

Carputer!

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One of the features in the Honda Odyssey that I've been looking forward to making use of is the auxiliary audio/video inputs located in the third row on the driver's side.  There's also a standard AC power outlet back there next to them.  This combination allows me to wire up a Raspberry Pi as an in-car entertainment system which is infinitely more useful than trying to swap DVDs up at the front console. This is especially true if one parent is sitting in the back with the kids because they won't be able to reach the DVD slot to switch discs and having the driver do so is not a great plan.

Also, it allows us to avoid the awfulness of DVDs: menus, previews, ads, FBI warnings--blurgh what a terrible experience.  Boot this up, select a show, and you're watching it instantly.

We've got some road trips coming up so I wanted to get this set up beforehand.  First I imaged an SD card with OSMC, an OS built around Kodi with the goal of making setup trivial.  And it really was trivial: Install the OSMC installer on your computer, run it, insert your SD card, click some options and you're good to go.  Pop out the SD card and plug it into the RPi.

Then I copied a bunch of movies and TV shows to a 64GB USB flash drive and plugged it into the Raspberry Pi (version 1 model B).  To get things started I hooked the RPi up to the network and the TV in the house so it could download updates and the appropriate metadata for the videos.  After initial setup I took it out to the van for a trial run.

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The Raspberry Pi and associated cords fit nicely in the cup-holder.

I plugged everything in and turned on the car electronics.  The RPi booted up and was ready to roll in just a couple of minutes.  To control it I'm using this wireless keyboard/mouse combo by Lenovo which works great in this application.

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Heather helped me out by watching a few minutes of Finding Nemo.  She declared it the best thing ever.

IMG_20150815_123557asThe 4 purplish lights you can see above the screen are the infrared LEDs that transmit the audio to the wireless headphones.  This allows the rear passengers to listen to the movie through the headphones while other passengers do something else--a sanity-saving feature for the adults in the vehicle.

2007 Honda Civic Update

It's been a while since the last update.

My Civic is now 7.5 years old with about 76,000 miles and still going strong with no significant repairs necessary.  There is some dead paint on the roof which is unfortunate.  There was a recall on it but I was crazy busy when the notification came and I didn't read it carefully enough.  I thought the recall was only for dead paint on the hood.  By the time I had gotten around to investigating further the warranty extension for the recall had expired.  I'm a little annoyed about that, but oh well.

There are some dents and dings in the paint in several places at this point and a couple of nicks in the windshield.  I'll be needing a new set of tires in the next few months (currently on the second set).  But I've had no issues worth really worrying about which is nice.

My overall average efficiency is 30.182 MPG which has held pretty steady over the life of the vehicle.

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New Van!

I've really been debating writing this post.  We're excited about our new van, but I dislike posts that come across as bragging.  So, I don't intend for this post to sound braggy.  We're just excited and we hope you can be excited for/with us.  [If you don't want to read the boring details, a picture gallery is at the bottom.]

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Prep Work and TrueCar

As all non-trivial purchases around here do, this one started with research.  With the expectation that long road trips are likely in our future and a second child imminent we decided to go the minivan route.  Overall they're safer, more versatile, and more fuel-efficient than SUVs.

With that decision made, our first stop was Consumer Reports.  The 2015 Honda Odyssey EX-L is currently their top-rated minivan.  We stopped by the local dealer a couple of times to poke around the model they had in the showroom.  With my semester finally over (NSLP class on terrorism) and some major deadlines at work completed we decided it was time to move forward with our plans to purchase.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving we stopped by the dealer to do a test drive.  It went fine, but I really didn't think that Thanksgiving weekend is a big car-buying weekend.  It is.  So that could have been planned better.  With the test drive done we were sure the Honda Odyssey was the vehicle we wanted to buy.  Now the hard part.

I dislike the idea of haggling over prices.  I just want you to tell me for how much you're willing to sell and I'll decide if I want to buy at that price.  Luckily I had an email sitting in my inbox from Consumer Reports about their partnership with TrueCar.com.  TrueCar is a service that lets you configure a vehicle and then ask for quotes from nearby participating dealers.  TrueCar tracks purchase prices and gives you statistics on what prices people are paying for the car.  They also provide invoice prices and the MSRP.  This gives you a good idea of what price you can expect to get and what constitutes a good deal.  The entire process involves no commitments.

The main benefit seems to be that TrueCar-participating dealers make a commitment to not jerk you around once you get to the showroom.  Our local Honda Dealer, Livermore Honda, has a pretty good reputation for treating customers well so I was pleased to see the lowest offer come from them.  If TrueCar's information is to be believed then we paid about $500 below the factory invoice price--about $3,700 below MSRP.  And we were able to do it from the computer without haggling with anyone.  It was lovely.

At the Dealer

Once the dealer commits to a price they call you to talk details.  As it turned out the dealer was willing to sell us a matching vehicle at the quoted price, but they didn't actually have one on the lot (none at all for the trim level we wanted regardless of color).  They would need to make a trade with another dealer to get it, but (since that's a cost to them) they won't do it until we're in the dealership actually making the purchase.  Not a big deal.  The transfer and delivery adds $200 to the price, also not a big deal--still well below the other offers we saw on TrueCar and still below factory invoice.

So we went in on Monday after work.  We talked to the Internet Sales Manager who was working and he started calling around looking for a matching vehicle.  This is the part that exposes why car dealerships have bad reputations in general.  Livermore Honda sells their vehicles without modification.  If you want accessories then you can buy them, but they don't pre-install them.  Many dealers pre-install accessories and then charge you for them or charge you to remove them.  It's incredibly sleazy.

Since we were looking for a specific vehicle in a specific color we had to look for one with the least amount of junk added on from one of these other dealers.  Since making a trade is work, the other dealer isn't interested in negotiating the accessories.  And since our dealer has to pay for the accessories either way they're not really interested in eating the cost.  Fair enough from our dealer's perspective.  If I were a haggler I suppose I could have tried to convince them to eat the cost in order to make the sale.  But I already knew the price I was getting was a good-to-great price and since they'd been fair and transparent with me about the whole process I felt it was fair to treat them the same way.

After a few calls we found one that only had the stupid wheel locks installed.  The other dealer invoiced the wheel locks at $149 for being pre-installed, but our dealer wasn't trying to make additional money off the wheel locks that we didn't want anyway and told us the price increase would only be $99.  This was another point in favor of Livermore Honda.  You may be thinking, "Yah, but you still ended up spending $99 you didn't have to."  And you're right.  But we decided it was worth it to get the exact van we wanted with the color we wanted instead of settling for something else.  If I had a regret about my Civic it'd be that I didn't get it in the color I wanted--I got it in the color they had available.

Anyway.  The salesman was helpful and transparent about the entire process and never once attempted to sell us anything.

With the dealer trade arranged it was time to fill out paperwork.  We decided to finance the full price at the 0.9% APR Honda is offering and keep our money in the bank.  The total interest on the loan will be a little over $500.  I expect interest rates to start ticking up over the next few years and if that happens then we'll likely end up earning more interest on the money we're keeping in the bank than we'll pay on the loan.

Aside: The new "Truth in Lending" forms they have to use are really nice.  They clearly and unambiguously state the principal being loaned, the interest rate, the total interest charge over the life of the loan, and the monthly payment.  It makes it impossible to trick someone into something.  And I believe it has a fraud clause that if the information is incorrect then the contract is nullified.

The Finance Person

This is always the worst part of buying a car.  The salesperson didn't try to sell us anything, but for some reason the finance person always does.  I suppose it has to do with the psychology of having gotten this far and sitting in a little office instead of out in the open.  However, the only things she tried to sell us were a service contract and an extended warranty (unlike the finance guy when I bought my Civic who tried to hard-sell us 4 or 5 things).

The most frustrating aspect to me is how the pitch they use is always in almost direct contradiction to what the salesperson would tell you (and usually what actual data says too).  The Civic guy used a line about how Civics are always being stolen to push some secondary insurance scheme (a complete mis-statement that I addressed in a previous blog post about Bayesian reasoning).

This finance person tried to tell me about how these new cars are full of so many electronics (true) and that they'll basically fail all the time because it isn't an "exact science."  Seriously?  Electronics aren't an exact science?  If electronics aren't an exact science then I'm not sure anything really is.  The only real question is, "To what level of quality did they build and install the parts?" If I were concerned that this vehicle were going to start falling apart the minute I drove it off the lot I wouldn't be buying it in the first place.  So which is it: Hondas are reliable, well-built vehicles or their electronic systems are shoddy and fail at the drop of a hat?  I'll make my decisions based on data rather than fear, thanks.  And the Consumer Reports data is that even the electronics are reliable.

Anyway, after turning her down a couple times she moved on and we signed all the paperwork.  No little fees tucked away.  The agreed-upon price from TrueCar plus the $200 transportation / dealer-trade fee plus the $99 wheel locks.

Of course, the vehicle wasn't actually there, it was in Merced.  So the next day they sent their driver off with the trade vehicle to pick up our van and bring it back.  They got it, cleaned it off and dried it (it had been raining all day) and did all the delivery prep work and called us to let us know it was ready.

The Pickup

After work on Tuesday we drove over to pick it up.  The salesperson walked us through most of the various features and then Jess drove it home while Heather and I rode in the Civic.

After we got Heather to bed we went out to the garage to play with it, customize the displays, get our phones paired to it, clone the garage door opener into the built-in system, mess with the controls, etc.

I actually hadn't even driven it yet until today when I backed it out of the garage into the driveway to take some pictures.

Features

We decided that if we're going to buy a van to keep for the next 10-15+ years we should get something a little nicer.  This is probably the closest thing to a luxury vehicle we will ever own.

The EX-L includes as standard: leather interior, heated front seats (important here in California), heated side mirrors (ditto), power sliding doors, power tailgate, power moonroof, backup camera, passenger-side blind-spot camera, lane-departure warning, front-collision warning, Bluetooth audio connection for music and phone calls, and many other little features. We also opted to get the DVD player with fold-down screen.

Pictures

And now, the only part, if any, I'm sure most of you care about: