By on March 3, 2016

2007 Honda Element EX, Image: American Honda

Phil writes:

Hi Bark,

My 2003 Honda Element is in need of a new engine due to a burnt valve. The vehicle is in otherwise good shape, with both the body and interior holding up well. I would like to keep it. However, my Element’s 240,000 miles and the quoted $2,800 price for a 70,000-mile replacement engine give me pause. I have another newer vehicle, so transportation isn’t a problem.

Should I fix the Honda and keep it as a sometimes commuter — or move on?

Ah, sentimentality. I’m going to answer your question in a bit here, but allow me some poetic license first.

Every car has a story. If you don’t believe that, you probably haven’t been reading The Truth About Cars very long. It’s what makes cars such an integral part of our lives, for those of us who let these magnificent creations of mechanical might become woven into the fabric of our memories.

The story of a car always starts out simply enough — after all, what is a car other than a collection of parts, making up a sum that is often not quite perfect? A car, in and of itself, is no more inspirational than any other machine.

But think about every great film you’ve ever seen, and every great story you’ve ever read. In order for a tale to be truly great, some sort of transformation has to take place. Nobody has ever read a story where the protagonist begins and ends in the same place. There’s always a journey, either in the literal, physical sense or in the emotional, experiential sense. And in those great stories, there’s always a vehicle of some sort. In some cases, the vehicle is a song. Or a photograph. Or a letter. In most cases, the vehicle is an actual vehicle.

The Orient Express. The Concorde. The story of my life for the last three years revolved around a yellow Mustang. And, in your story, perhaps it’s the Honda Element.

Your Element, in particular, is a car that either speaks to you — or it doesn’t. To me, its a penalty box on wheels. I look at one and I see nothing other than a slow, strangely styled, wind-tunnel challenged car that I find most memorable for its strained relationship with a crab. I’ve never owned a dog. I don’t need to carry a surfboard. I’m not in any way, shape, or form entranced by the Element.

However, I had dinner last night with a group of auto writers, one of whom was quite distraught over the fact that her Element was dying a slow death, and there was simply nothing else like it with which she could replace it. No suggestion from the roundtable of writers was suitable. She loved her Element, and given the same situation that you face, I have no doubt that she’d choose to replace the motor.

The very fact that you’ve written to ask this question, a question that has no basis in logic, tells me there are innumerable tales, experiences, and journeys associated with your Element. There really isn’t anything else like it out there, and no real demand from the market to provide a replacement. As you said, you have other transportation. You have no real need for this car. And yet, here you are, wanting to keep it anyway.

So, if you have the money, and fixing it won’t cause you any financial stress, I say go for it. Elements aren’t difficult to find on the used car market, but they also aren’t cheap. Plus, none of those Elements will be your Element.

I believe you wrote in asking for permission to make a decision that your heart wants to make, but your head can’t justify. For once, I say, go with your heart.

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76 Comments on “Ask Bark: The Element of Surprise...”


  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I don’t see why the head cannot simply be rebuilt for much less than $2800? Now’s not a bad time to go car shopping though, with 240k miles that Element has served you well and it’s not wrong to be ready to move on at this point.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      Really…the poetic license is fine, Bark, but before addressing the $2,800 question, maybe it’s a good idea to suss out whether or not it’s actually a $2,800 question.

      Why would a burnt valve necessitate replacing the entire engine – ?

      In addition to the head being way cheaper than an engine, there is the drastically lower amount of labor involved…the head can be removed from this thing in about 45 minutes, total.

      • 0 avatar

        Because that’s not really the question, is it?

        • 0 avatar
          Fordson

          I would say it all depends…if you think that the purpose served here is to leverage the expertise of the B&B to provide a solution to the person’s issue, which person may or may not be expert in this area, then maybe you change the question a little and provide a solution that can work better for the OP.

          If you think that the purpose served here is to just ignore the value of the B&B and accept the perhaps-inflated price for perhaps unnecessary work and give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, then you just take it as asked and say yes or no.

          Oh – and maybe it would last longer with a new/good used engine, than putting a head on a 240,000-mile block…but he’s talking about keeping it as a “sometime commuter” and it’s already 13 years old.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        I wouldn’t say way lower cost to do the head. Have you priced head sets lately? They also have a lot of valves and a lot of them just can’t be ground nowadays. So the bill can quickly run to $1500 or more by the time you factor in the “might as well put a new xxx on instead of putting the old xxx back in. Plus you have a short block that has 240K on it. If the desire is to dump it as soon as it is fixed then that would probably be the way to go. However if the desire is to keep it for several years the good used engine is probably a better bet.

        • 0 avatar
          EAF

          I would 100% agree with Scout. I have seen used K24s go for as low as $500, it depends on the engine series, the mileage and the warranty offered. It is significantly LESS EXPENSIVE to swap the engine for a used unit than it is to replace 1 valve. The later job, done correctly, will easily reach that quoted $2800 figure (unless you do the entire job yourself).

          OP, swap a K24a4, I believe the Accord engine of this era is identical and therefore abundant. You could also swap in the TSX engine, load a new tune, and gain 40hp!. :-)

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            A reman head (with core) is about $370 with free shipping. That’s a ready to go rebuilt head with new valvetrain, etc. So that plus a gasket kit, maybe a new timing chain+tensioner and labor, yeah I guess that adds up, but not to $2800 I don’t think. Is it better/worse than an “unknown” used motor and the cost of the engine swap? Hard to say. If an engine has been well taken care of and shows good leak-down compression, there’s a good chance that even at 240k, the shortblock is still in very good shape (factory honing on the cylinder walls and all that).

            Yet another potentially cheap route to take would be to just grab a used cylinder head from a junkyard and swap that on with new gaskets and timing chain. At that point most of your cost is just labor, and I’d like to guess that the whole job could be wrapped up by an indie guy for around $1k parts and all.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      That was my first thought as well. A burned valve should warrant pulling the head for refresh or replacement, which ought to be considerably cheaper than an engine swap. Since you’re in there, I’d probably replace the timing chain, chain tensioner and sliders as well.

      BTW, if you have burned valve(s), I’m guessing that the valve lash adjustment was not performed, or not performed at the prescribed interval, which is about every 100,000mi.

    • 0 avatar
      laserwizard

      I had the head on my 1964 Ford Falcon worked on – everything replaced and the surface that went to the gasket/block area trued and it cost around $160. Since Honduhs are superior vehicles in all regards (barf), I’m sure that a Honduh head can be superior in repair. Unless they aren’t built to be rebuilt because they are so superior.

  • avatar

    I’ll throw this out there, too, for good measure – you won’t be able to replace your Element for the $2800 of a replacement motor. These things are getting harder and harder to find by the day and bring good money. I wouldn’t be surprised if you drove it for another year after fixing it and managed to coax $2500-3000 for it off Craigslist, especially with all your repair documentation.

    I’d also try to beat the guy up on the motor R&R, unless he’s getting you a guaranteed/warrantied engine and he is warranty-ing his own work for more than a week. I don’t know where you are exactly, but I’m finding decent-mileage (80-110k) engines in Florida for $550-650.

    P.S. – MMR for 2003 Element EX 2wd
    02/25/16 ATLANTA Regular $2,900 167,587 Avg ORANGE 4G A
    02/09/16 PENSCOLA Regular $2,200 171,050 Avg ORANGE 4G A
    02/17/16 HAWAII Regular $2,600 175,771 Avg ORANGE 4G A
    02/16/16 NEWENGLD Regular $1,500 184,288 Below GREEN 4G 5
    03/02/16 DTNA BCH Regular $2,300 249,883 Avg GREEN 4G A
    02/18/16 TX HOBBY Regular $3,000 286,448 Avg BLACK 4G 5
    02/11/16 ST PETE Regular $2,300 296,417 Avg ORANGE 4G A

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      What’s the Element worth in it’s current state? You might find a mechanic to buy it to flip, but you’re limiting your resale market significantly. You probably need to fix the thing, even if you’re just going to flip it immediately. Like others have said, if you can get away with just fixing or replacing the head that be a lot less than $2800. Your mechanic may have suggested to do the whole engine based on the fact that the short block has 240k on it, probably a <100k engine would be more reliable long term. I actually think $2800 is pretty reasonable for a complete engine swap — even if the replacement engine only costs your mechanic $700-800, any mechanic is going to mark it up and then there's a ton of labor.

      • 0 avatar

        You could probably nurse it through the lanes for $2000, depending on color and assuming its an EX. Its tax time, a burnt valve is not ‘diagnosable’ on the block as such, and anything <$3000 is red-light/AS-IS anyway, so….that's what I'd do if I took it in trade.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      But you are not factoring in the fact that as it sits it stil has some value, you need to add that into the equation.

      I agree that on the face of it $2800 for a used engine is a bit high. However that is probably the we really don’t want to do this job and end up married to the car and customer price. In other words a $500 surcharge because they suspect that the car and the customer will be a PITA for the next few years. I’ve seen it way to many times and I’d tack at least a $500 marriage license fee on a job like that on a vehicle with that many miles, and hope the customer doesn’t take me up on it. If that used engine cost me $500 I’d have to charge the customer at least $800 to cover the labor for the life of engine’s warranty, even if it is a rare case of the seller of a used engine to provide labor coverage with their warranty on the engine.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      ^This, and it was the same advice I gave the co-worker with the 97 Buick.

      An otherwise decent running car with a busted motor or trans is worth scrap/near scrap, but if you fix it you’ll generally get the money back later when you sell.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Waiting for all the comments about how Honda quality has gone down the drain. Just 240K miles? The horror!

  • avatar
    strafer

    I’ve had my 2003 Element since new, and it too is dying a slow death but the motor is in great shape at 170K miles.
    I’ve been considering what to replace it with, but probably end up with a compact CUV.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      How about a Transit Connect?

      • 0 avatar
        thejohnnycanuck

        Worst pile of junk that currently dons the Blue Oval. I wouldn’t wish one on my worst enemy.

        It literally is like driving the box the appliance came in. Only slower.

        • 0 avatar
          strafer

          I did consider FTC and apparently it drives pretty well since it is based on Focus.
          But as I am getting older, NVH matters more in my next car so FTC is out.
          I would seriously consider Mazda if I could get the larger motor with manual on CX 5.

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          @thejohnnycanuck:
          The 2015 Ford Transit Connect Wagon that I test drive the other day drove fine.

          It wasn’t a sports car, but I drove there in a Sienna and found that the Transit Connect drove pretty much the same way, but the newer vehicle had better NVH. Because it was newer.

          I found nothing objectionable about the FTC, beyond the fact that it’s longer than a Mazda5 for the same number of seats. (Tall people may value the extra legroom in the FTC more than my 6yo does.) It doesn’t make you want to drive it either, it’s just a competent tool that will do what you need it to do without any fuss.

          Which is exactly what a light commercial truckvanthing should be.

          • 0 avatar
            jmikemontgomery

            I own a 2009 Element EX 4WD that I bought new; it currently has just under 80K miles, and no problems thus far.

            I share the thought that there really aren’t good options to replace the Element, including the Ford Transit Connect. The recent TTAC review about a FTC noted issues like rust spots forming on the roof of a one year old vehicle, and other gremlins. Knock on wood, I haven’t had any body issues, other than idiots doing the occasional door ding.

            One of the key things about the Element that I’ve loved has been the flexibility of the back seats and storage. The back seats fold flat, they fold up to the side of the car, they are easily detached and removed from the car with handy carrying handles. I’ve moved my daughter in and out of three apartments, moved plywood sheets, hauled three dogs cross country (twice), gone through several moves, etc. Probably the most versatile vehicle I’ve ever owned.

            I’ve toyed with an update as the vehicle electronics aren’t nearly as nice as current models, but I just don’t see a successor. Honda basically makes a bunch of safe, boring vehicles. The Kia Soul looks similar, but the seating isn’t flexible and there’s the stigma of buying a brand that seems to focus on payday lending sales. The Nissan Cube is no more (again, seating isn’t flexible for moving things).

            Just for fun, I looked the other day on autotrader to see what other Elements were selling for. Ones with mileage similar to mine were trading for around $15-18K, which floored me. When all the local truck dealerships went nuts around December trying to move trucks, I did get lots of interest when I mentioned maybe trading the Element in, but there’s an attachment that is hard to part.

            Before someone says I’m blinded by love (of my Element), let’s be realistic about the problems. It is an aerodynamic atrocity. The back seats work for kids, but anyone in or past puberty will hate you for life if you make them ride back there. And it can be noisy, particularly in the wind.

            But still, it’s a hoot to drive, I can u-turn in my driveway, and it’ll carry anything. So I totally understand the OP’s desire to keep their Element up and running. Good luck!

  • avatar
    Lythandra

    I just went thru a similar decision. Mine was a 2003 VW GTI at 150k. My motor was still decent but everything else was falling apart. I enjoyed the car quite a bit thru the years but decided to trade it in for a new Focus ST. While I miss my old car I am enjoying that new car feel. Its rather obvious now how worn out the old GTI was.

  • avatar
    Dan

    If you wanted to dump the car then here was a perfect excuse. You’re asking about it instead of taking it. There’s your answer.

    Three grand isn’t a whole lot of beater these days.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I think it is a 2 part question, if he dumped it , which is more than likely the correct decision, what would he replace it with, it is not a easy question. I say let it go and enjoy the good times it gave you but I can understand if he wanted to invest in it and get another 6 years or so out of it. Let us know which way you go OP.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    As mentioned the “bad valve” is only part of the story. An earlier post on TTAC about a CX-9 owner looking for a connecting rod bolt should be mentioned. Many vehicles sold in the last 15 or so years have few, if any, internal engine parts available. Replace the entire engine or don’t.
    If the $2800 estimate includes things like cooling system hoses and motor/trans mounts I’d say go ahead. If not these ‘little’ items can push the price up considerably. If they are not replaced life will be likely miserable soon.
    These are reasons why 10 or so year old cars get much cheaper to buy. They are usually facing repairs like this.
    Most people say “No, don’t do it. That’s more than the car is worth!”. Which does not take into consideration what was mentioned about memories, experiences and so on.
    Obviously there was some reason why the ELement has been around this long for this owner.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    If you love it and it doesn’t have any deferred maintenance built up go ahead put a ring on it and marry it. If it isn’t true love and it going to need new tires, brakes, suspension, radiator, battery, alternator ect any time soon drop it like the bad idea that putting money into a vehicle that is past it’s economical life is. Sell it to someone silly enough to fix it or just donate it to a local charity and take the write off.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      This, right here.

      The $2800 engine could cost hundreds more (think of things like engine mounts), but any vehicle with that many miles is going to need its first, second, or third set of repairs on Big Things.

      Depending on where you live, I’d start by looking at rust issues on the frame/unibody, fuel/brake lines, followed by soft parts like hoses (all of them), brake hoses, and suspension bushings. Nobody touches this stuff because it’s painful and expensive to do. But a failure in one of them is a real safety concern.

      Also, if the transmission has lived by the no-maintenance theory, just get rid of the car, unless you’re prepared to spend thousands more in the next couple of years.

      Set aside the emotional issues – which I understand – and consider the safety of the vehicle first, and the trajectory it’s on. If all’s well, then swap the engine.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Well the $2800 quote could include those engine mounts(it is a 240K Honda so the question is when they were last done, not if they need it) , a water pump, hoses and a few of those other things. I know I wouldn’t send one out the door without new mounts, water pump and hoses along with spark plugs and a gasket, seal or two.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Sadly, I know I am likely within a year of making a similar decision on my 2004 Lancer (now sporting close to 170k on it). The A/C is periodic, at best and while my commute is only 15 minutes one way, having no A/C here in Alabama for the summer greatly reduces my ability to participate in rescue dog runs. But it isn’t just the A/C. While the motor and trans seem to be holding up well, the old girl is starting to feel a bit tired. Interior bits aren’t working like they once did and even some of the exterior bits (mostly related to the body kit for the Ralliart trim) are starting to exhibit issues. But the car is paid for, and that (right now) trumps everything. I’m not sure what I’d do if faced with a major repair bill like gutting the engine. The car is only likely worth about $2500, and that would assume everything is working on it (A/C included). I’m hoping to get one more year out of it before committing to another car.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Have you tried recharging the A/C?

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Yeah you’d be surprised how many A/C issues boil down to (haha get it?) low refrigerant level. Even on a system in good repair, a very small amount will leak out over time. Stretch that out over how ever many years and there you go. Having a shop evacuate the system to purge it, then refill it (with oil too) wouldn’t be too pricey.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    when my rabbit convertible needed a new engine the mechanic offered to replace all the front end wear items at their part prices since everything was apart and the labor would be the same, plus theyd be working with new parts. got 8 decent years out of it until electrical gremlins and other things nickel and dimed me to the point i got a new honda.

  • avatar
    don1967

    The idea of bolting a $2,800 used engine to a 240,000 mile transmission would cause me to fall out of love with any car.

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      A Honda automatic transmission, no less.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      I agree – at 240K I’d say he got his money’s worth out of the car and a replacement engine at this stage generally doesn’t make financial sense, given there will certainly be some more big ticket items coming along shortly. Yes, even Hondas wear out.

      But as Bark says it’s not always about financial sense. But at this mileage keeping a vehicle like this going is more of a hobby than transportation. When my son’s BMW broke a timing chain at similar mileage we borrowed an engine hoist and swapped in a used engine in the garage. It was pretty cheap and my son and I enjoy that type of project as a hobby. I don’t think we’d have done it if we had to pay a mechanic to do it.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    When my mechanic fix my Integra’s warped head (mill + gasket job) last year in Richmond, CA it was only around $1500 out the door. Burnt valves on a Honda 4 cylinder would likely be more or less if your head is not warped (no machine shop time but you have to buy new valves), so it should be less than $2k. Now if you want a new engine because your engine already has 240k miles, then it is a different story.

    Bear in mind though, your transmission will wear out too, so after $2.8k for a junk yard engine, you will probably also need to save up for a potential transmission swap down the road.

    and the suspensions (struts, control arm / bushings)

    and the accessories like alternator, starter

    and the coils (you can do that yourself if you learn)

    and the mounts (unless you like a rattle can)

    and the AC

    and after all that you will still be driving an old car… so only do it if you are really attached to it, not because you want to save money.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      If a valve is burnt then you will need that seat ground, if not replaced, if you want to last more than a couple of trips around the block. So yeah it is time for a trip to the machine shop. Chances are that some of the other exhaust valves won’t be thick enough to grind and the next thing you know you have a $500 bill from the machine shop, or way more than a couple of passes on the surface grinder/mill.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    A-men

    And not just because I love the Element, although I freely admit that.

    The same advice given about a 1997 200SX (a car I personally care nothing for) gets the same thumbs up. Its about not giving up the connection and bond youve formed with your car.

    Its like a buddy that greets you after a long day to take you home. Its your personal space, you only have to share it with whom you choose. You bond as the miles pile on, you enjoy little things it does, like when it shifts into overdrive in front of the same house everytime. Special moments you remember, stuff the car there as a witness to, too. Before you know it, somthing goes weong, and your brain says dump it for a $145/mo Elantra lease…no. Dont listen. At least, not to the “dump it” part. Get a newer car like the op, but drive the old buddy around a few times a month. If its special, when you feel it, dont abamdon it. Fix it up and keep it going. Itll do you both good. Besides, one day, your grandkids may sell it as an antique to someone who will love it as you did.

    Always there as a backup car anyway, so a flat tire or dead battery in the daily driver doesnt make you late.

    • 0 avatar
      Willyam

      Great post. I’m about to loan out my ’01 CR-V again to a relative in a jam. I bought it years ago looking for an Element (that Element being Au (gold), apparently, as my usual three to five year depreciation used car by was still…$$$$$$$). Anyway, it was one-owner, outside-stored 2wd LX model. All records dutifully written in the Owner’s Manual. I put some new Yokohama’s on it which made it look like a real-life Stomper toy, and a new radiator and blacked out the faded trim. It’s been a faithful puppy ever since. Could I replace it with an equally reliable vehicle for the same price? No. Well, not with the included picnic table, at least. I feel a pang of worry, but I have faith that it will come back home cheerful as ever.

  • avatar
    mason

    Has the head been pulled? Compression test on the remaining cylinders? Was there interference between piston and valve? What are your short term/long term goals with this vehicle?

    Depending on what you find internally and your answer on the last question you could possibly do the job for as little as a few hundred bucks.

    Obviously you’ve found the extreme opposite of the spectrum.

  • avatar
    manu06

    This is my vehicle in the post and let me add a little more info.
    It has 240k on the original clutch . All the regular maintenance
    was done including the valve adjustments
    but still managed to get a burnt valve on the exhaust side.
    I had hoped to get 300k miles out of this vehicle to take me
    to retirement, but my head says more major repairs are just around
    the corner. Right now I drive the Element once a week but will probably
    put it out to pasture soon. I’ll miss the practicality.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      You should be able to find a low-mileage engine from Japan for less than a thousand dollars. You might get an attached transmission for just a few hundred more. That’s one of the benefits of driving a Japanese car.
      If you still haven’t made a decision on what to do, have a mechanic inspect the Element as if it were a used car that you are considering for purchase. If it’s otherwise sound, go for it. If he finds too many problems, you could take the results into consideration.
      I didn’t know they actually offered a manual transmission on the Element. That would be a terrific car on so many levels.

      • 0 avatar
        Ol Shel

        Manual was available in both fwd and awd. The trans cases will accept the 6th ratio from other models, too, It’s an overdrive atop 5th, and much needed.

        I get 29mpg combined in my FWD with MT. AWD folks tend to get 22-23, which is the main shortcoming of the Element, imo.

        • 0 avatar
          strafer

          I get 25 MPG on my 2003 4WD manual, but goes down to 22 during the winter when running on winter blend.
          This is for mixed suburban driving, with brisk acceleration from stops.

    • 0 avatar
      jrrvrr

      I sold my 2005 5mt w. 240K one year ago. I thought I would miss it more that I actually do. Did not realize how much the NVH of the Element exhausted me. I drive 45k a year. Bought a CPO Durango V6. Gets exactly the same MPG city/hwy. Can have a whisper conversation with the backseat occupants at 80mph. Let yours go, you have put your time in.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        O7 Element owner here. Ol Shel, I think you’re exaggerating the mileage penalty for AWD. 99% of the time it’s not engaged, you’re dragging a little extra weight around but it shouldn’t make that much of a difference. Good point about the 6th gear, from what I understand it’s a cheap and easy mod once the engine/trans is pulled.

        jrrvrr, I hear you. Love my E, but for long trips it’s my second choice.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      2006 Element EX-P AWD owner here, 5 speed manual transmission. I really like the concept of the Element (dorm room on wheels) so much so that I concurrently owned another 2006 EX-P with an automatic for three years as well. These are great vehicles for the daily grind of suburban existence, and they were used and abused by my teenage children for the endless transportation needs that came with their high school and college careers. That said, I’ve dropped $4,000 in repair costs in the past two years on the manual one in the 80,00 to 120,000 mile window: clutch, alternator, starter, and all the front suspension pieces. Brake pads, tires, and batteries added to the regular maintenance costs. As a driver, the Element is fairly fun to drive. As a passenger, the short wheel base makes for a choppy ride so much so that my wife refused to ride in it. Rear passengers have actually gotten carsick in my car. Utility borders on the brilliant, and taking out the rear seats opens up a stunning amount of useful space. 22 MPG average on the manual, but only 19 on the automatic, which is a minor disappointment.

      It’s always more economical to keep an older car on the road, but be assured that an engine swap will not be the end of the cycle. At 270k, there is certainly going to be transmission and suspension repairs to come in multiples of thousands of dollars. Still, I’d do it because there really isn’t an equivalent in today’s lineup. Maybe a Flex, but it doesn’t have that vertical height that was so helpful on the Home Depot and Best Buy runs.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I like the crab.

    I once had a pet crab. Just a little one, maybe the diameter of a quarter. As a kid, I had an aquarium that had various fish and amphibians over the years, but it was dominated by a large yellow-bellied newt. I think he lived for close to 15 years. I usually fed him by hand and he loved chicken. He was a mean one though. He ate the fish, killed one newt, and ate both an arm and leg off another (by biting and twisting, just like a crocodile – but they eventually grew back, fingers and all). The crab seemed to be doing okay in there, for a few weeks anyway. Then, one morning, the crab shed its shell. Apparently it takes a few minutes for the shell to harden back up again so the newt ripped it apart and ate it.

    Who would have thought that such a soft and passive creature with no teeth could be so vicious.

    As for the Element, I’d be fine dropping an engine with a decent warranty into it if the rest of the vehicle has been maintained and is in good condition. I can’t say I’ve personally known a 240k mile vehicle that’s worth paying for an engine swap though.

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    Can we make this interesting? Is there another engine he could use with a little oooomph that would be close enough to a straight fit?

    • 0 avatar
      EAF

      All K-series engines will swap in directly AFAIK. I believe the most powerful USDM engine is the K20Z1 found in the RSX Type S. It would offer something like a 50hp gain. He would also need something like Hondata in order to load the proper tune.

      Just swap in a low mileage engine, no big deal, get another 200k out of your Element! It may even come with a good clutch!!!

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I think the element is a tremendous vehicle and would be pretty expensive to replace in kind. Have rebuilt before and have used junkyard engines on Nissans I have owned. One rebuild turned to crap in short order but all the junkyard engines seemed to work for a long time. I expect I will have a similar dilemma with my 4Runner but the availability of a low mileage replacement engine would tend to push me in that direction. Don’t use it for my DD but need something to tow a trailer and perform a significant amount of chores on our 5 acre farm. Yours sounds like you have plans to give it a similar life when/if fixed.

    I think you want to fix it and, if so, I think you might be far better off to replace it than crack open your engine.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    Believe it or not, my fwd, mt Element is kinda fun to drive, up to about 7/10ths. Body roll is controlled and I’m pretty impressed at the damper settings, even with 120K on them. You’d expect it to be crap, but it’s not.

    I don’t know what I’ll replace it with, because I really want a high roof.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    After spending $5000 to fix up a 13-year-old Trooper with 250k miles on it, I’m the wrong person to ask.

    Go for it, especially if you have memories and sentimentality tied up in it, but specifically if it fits your needs and can’t be easily replaced.

    • 0 avatar
      manu06

      The Element actually replaced my first gernerstion Trooper. I bout the Trooper used for $2200 and sold it 3 years later for$1500.
      The Trooper was truly a tin can but never left me stranded,.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Going off on a tangent here, I still can’t believe that GM got so much grief for the Aztek, and yet Honda basically got a pass for this ugly thing. Not meaning to offend anyone here who owns one, but that Element is one heck of a design mess.

    I guess “because Honda”…

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      The Aztek was the nadir of Pontiac’s silly putty design language, well past the point of diminishing returns. It also inherited genetic defects from GM’s inbreeding: front hubs that were disposable, failing ABS computers, poor mileage and performance, expensive brake jobs every 12-18 months, dangerous structural rust (rocker panels), no resale value (although Breaking Bad and internet notoriety make the Aztek a future collectible).

      The Element wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I thought the ride was terrible (felt like the tires were filled with concrete), but it was fundamentally reliable and kept its promises.

      • 0 avatar
        John

        The design extremes of each age seem to become collectible. I’ve been saying the Aztec is a future collectible for the past 2 years. Haven’t bought on, though.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Im more curious as to how Honda got away with faulty automatics, combustible AC compressors, cheap paint, buggy ABS systems, and rust, during the late 90s early 2000s era.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        By those issues cumulatively being less prevalent than in just about any other manufacturer’s product line.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          At gte:

          This list begs to differ:http://m.carcomplaints.com/worst_vehicles/

          These reviews beg to differ too:http://www.carsurvey.org/reviews/honda/accord/2003/single-page/

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            That does not in any way refute my point. Taken as an average across the model lineup for any given year, Honda does better than just about any mainstream manufacturer (aside from Toyota/Lexus) as an overall measure of reliability/longevity. You bring up very real and relevant issues that they had throughout the years, it’s just that everyone else had even MORE issues. What about that is hard to understand? Oh I guess millions of consumers and all those reliability studies from a plethora of sources mean nothing, a random commenter on TTAC has uncovered the truth guys!

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            You’re a random commenter too, no need to get upset over another, random commenter.

    • 0 avatar
      strafer

      Difference is interior usefulness.
      It is quite a bit taller inside than any CUV/SUV, only bested by the newer generation of small vans like Transit Connect.
      I can stand with my legs fully extended but bent over at the waist, and easily change into ski pants.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    One thing that owning a 1995 Miata and 2005 RX-8 have taught me is that engines are (relatively speaking) easily replaced but the body/frame/chassis/etc aren’t and most people have a stronger connection to the latter rather than the former. This is especially true if you put the same type of engine back in.

    $2800 is less money than a replacing the entire car and you could theoretically get another 170k miles out of it (assuming it follows the same path). If you like the Element, replace the engine.

    Better yet, buy a shop manual and replace it yourself. I just had to get the the engine out of my RX-8 for a rebuild (as you do) and saved myself $1200 in labor by borrowing a friend’s garage, hoist and help. I’ve never done anything more advanced than oil changes and shock replacements before and we managed just fine. I’d bet you could, too.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    There are more than 2 (2003) Mustangs for each Element. It’s a brilliant piece of design (and I’ve grown to kinda like the looks) for someone with these exact eerily specific needs in a car, and I doubt there are many alternatives if you have those needs. It’s probably faster than most Mustangs built before 1995 too iirc. At least the ones that get better mileage than the Element.
    As for the engine, if the rest of the car is in good shape it may not be a waste of money. The only engines that will fit without any mods is an original Element, or an Accord engine if I recall correctly. A CR-V engine would be an upgrade, but would be more work. Also, as someone mentioned, it is possible to build a 6-speed if it’s al’ready a manual, but it’s not a simple job.

  • avatar
    zamoti

    I say let it go, buy something newer and more fun. Sure you had good times in it (presumably, though not mentioned by the OP), but you’ll have good times in something newer too. Cars are things, they’re not people. People you keep, things you replace when they wear out. You move out of a house when you want a better one, you buy new shoes when they’re worn, you get a new sofa when the old one is mashed down and smelly. Take some pictures, go for a long (well, depending on that valve situation) drive where you can have one last good time.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yeah, but the Element’s pretty unique. As Ol Shel notes above, it’s actually pretty toassable, and you don’t find that with a high roof very often. Slow-car-fast fun, tons of of cargo room, 5-speed manual, rubber floor, Honda reliability…what else checks those boxes?

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Note that the replacement engine in question only has 70K miles on it, which makes it quite attractive. I’d go with the replacement. If it’s a manual transmission then replace the clutch while the engine is out.

  • avatar
    Jeff Zekas

    Bark M, you are a wise man. Go with your heart. My wife has a Subie named “Tink”, who has shared many adventures. We shall rebuild that car forever. As for me? I wish I had kept my ’58 Beetle, “Baby Blue”, cos of all the memories.

  • avatar
    Bockmed

    I have a 2004 Element EX 2WD – side air bags. Would not sell or trade for anything. 136K on it right now, have had a new AC Clutch and Compressor just in and other small repairs, but like others have said – there is NOTHING that does what an Element does. Honda killed it in 2011 because it had sold 50% less units compared to the CRV (boring, min-cross over useless vehicle BTW). I actually spoke to a Honda Exec a little bit ago that they now realize they made a mistake. What Honda didn’t realize was the Element following. Element owners bought new Elements regularly – so when they canceled it after 450,000 vehicles sold, they cut off the better part of 450,000 repeat Honda buyers because most of us have held on to our Elements without any end in sight. My Element (and Honda’s cancellation of it) REMOVED me from the car buying market for an indefinite period of time; and I am not alone. Elements are very hard to come by used and those that are available are carrying premium prices far about their normal resale value. I get approached daily on the street by people wanting to buy my Element (or wanting to know if I would sell it) – they share with me the frustration of their search when I decline. For Bark – don’t sell it. ALL Element owners have stories near and dear (I think it is inherent in who bought them in the first place) – Even $2800 is cheap to keep a vehicle like the Element – you cant replace it for $2800, nothing else is available to do what it does, a new vehicle will come with increased insurance, immediate depreciation and the list goes on – Element for Life! lol

  • avatar
    Recluse

    My wife and I have a 2008 Element EX 2WD in Kiwi Green that we bought new. I get at least one compliment on it per week (with the last just yesterday). We plan on keeping it forever.

    I will never understand the hate for this vehicle. It’s neither particularly fast nor sporty, but it is not supposed to be. After 8 years of ownership experience, it is clear that it was primarily designed to offer a simple, flexible, worry-free interior combined with the ability to hold an enormous amount of stuff. On this it has delivered: I have been able to simultaneously fit a $1200 IKEA trip and 3 adults.

    It’s also short, ridiculously easy to park, offers decent visibility, and unrivaled access to cargo and pets via the “suicide doors.” It even gets decent gas mileage. I don’t know what we’d get to replace it if it ever suffered some tragedy.

  • avatar
    fordcomm

    The 75 cu ft of cargo room with the rear seats removed is mind blowing. Even better is the roominess up front. I’m 6′ 3″ and there’s plenty of headroom to spare. I can’t even sit in my wife’s Saturn Vue for 5 minutes without feeling like I’ve been buried alive.


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