By on July 31, 2012


Nicholas writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Daily reader but not a commenter. Had a question regarding a recently deer damaged car that I wanted to see what you and the community might have to say about it. I’m the owner of a 2003, Honda Civic LX, 4-door, manual transmission, with 56,000 miles on the odometer. The car spent most of its life in an underground parking garage in the District of Columbia and was driven sporadically on the weekends. As a result, it was in great condition until its unfortunate encounter with the deer.

My insurance company estimated damages at approximately 3600 dollars (cracked headlight, chipped windscreen, windscreen trim, dented hood, fender, rear passenger door, and missing side view mirror). I opted not to have the car repaired immediately and the assessor cut me a check for the amount of damage less my deductable. I had the body shop put on an aftermarket mirror and the car is now drivable albeit ugly. No damage to the frame or mechanical bits. CarMax offered me 4,000 for the car in its current condition.

Right now I use the car for a once a week mega commute to DC (200 miles round trip) and to drop my infant daughter off at daycare in the mornings. My wife drives an Audi Q5 that we use for everything else.

Since my car was 9 years old and somewhat small, I had been thinking about getting a new car. I wasn’t planning on doing so until next year since there’s a lot of interesting new products in the pipeline. As I see it now, I have a couple of options going forward.

1. Get the Civic repaired. The only problem with this option is that I’ll never get the put into it money back when I sell/trade it in. This is more true if I pay for OEM sheet metal (insurance will only pay for aftermarket). Right now if I were to sell the car to CarMax and cash the insurance check, I’d have 7,000 in my pocket. If the car is repaired I can’t see that I’d get more that 5-6k for it, so I’d basically be losing 2,000 dollars. One caveat, I did an autotrader search and saw that identical civics (same year, manual trans etc), which more miles on them (80-100k) were being offered for sale a 7-8k. A lot of them had accident damage according to the carfax reports (damaged bumpers). Perhaps I could get more than 5-6k for mine, but not certain.

2. Get a new car. I planed on driving the Civic for the next year or so while I determined what kind of car to replace it with. Against my better judgment, I was thinking of getting a German car (my wife has had excellent experiences with her current Audi and the A4 she owned before that). GTI, Audi or BMW are all under consideration. Although I could afford the Audi or BMW, I’m wondering if it’s really worth the 40k to get one (spend money on experiences not things etc.). GTI is expensive when compared to Camcords, but significantly cheaper than the other German iron. Problem is with a child and potentially another one in the future, should I really be spending my on a 4-door hot hatch? I pretty much driven the equivalent of ‘hair shirts’ my whole life, so part of me wants to actually get a nice ride for once.

3. Drive the ugly Civic until the wheels come off. Although it offends my aesthetic sensibilities, the Civic is drivable. The only issue I’m having is wind noise from the after market mirror that the body shop put on. Can’t seem to cure it with high-density foam tape. Considering the primary use of the car is for a DC commuter, does it matter if it’s ugly? Did I mention I’m the son of immigrants so frugality has been ingrained into me?

I think that’s everything. Probably need to make a decision in the upcoming months so a speedy resolution would be welcomed.

Thanks in advance\

Sajeev answers:

Son of immigrants?  Okay with driving a junky looking car because someone close to you has an Audi Q5?  Your story hits close to home.

That said, this is a no brainer: drive that little shit until there’s nothing left! Don’t use new OEM parts, any junkyard or aftermarket bits will do fine.  Going on eBay is a good idea, you can easily install a cheapy repro headlight in your spare time.  But let the rest be for a while.  You can get the hood,windscreen, etc fixed later.

Ahem, this is also a good time to tell everyone to inspect their (Halogen, not HID) headlight filaments to look for chrome peeling or other degradation.  If so, replace them.  I’ve seen some people need new bulbs after 2 years of use, so this is IMPORTANT!

See if your body shop can exchange that noisy mirror for a proper Honda part from the junkyard. Doesn’t matter if it’s the wrong color, just paint it (both?) semi-flat black with some cheapy rattle can paint. Be proud of what you are doing.  You are obviously of the fixer-upper personality from your letter, so don’t be shy. Roll that bucket up and down DC with pride!!!



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53 Comments on “Piston Slap: Can I Still Drive This?...”

  • avatar

    Keep a copy of the accident report and insurance reports and all that in the glovebox.. The last thing you want is a police officer pulling you over and interrogating you “because we had an hit and run accident in the area with a 2003 Civic with a manual transmission, etc, etc.”

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Obviously, if appearances count for zero in your world (but what’s up with the Q5; why not something cheaper — admittedly not as nice — from Korea or Deetroit?) then keep driving this clapped-out P-O-S until the wheels fall off (hopefully not on I-95 at 75 mph).

    Personally (although it’s been a few years since I rented one), I find driving even a non clapped-out Civic on the freeway a less than pleasant experience.

    If you want that “German” experience, I don’t see what’s wrong with a GTI, assuming your willing to take the reliability risk. The back seats are perfectly serviceable for a couple of kid seats, not to mention the kids themselves. Here in DC there are a lot of CPO GTIs that still have some of the original warranty left. So, when you add on the CPO warranty, you get a longer warranty than with a new car.

    I’d go shopping and use the $4K offer from Carmax as a base number when negotiating your trade with a dealer.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you answered your own question: “admittedly not as nice”. Everyone doesn’t have to drive the cheapest car that will meet thier needs.

      VW CPO warranty really ins’t that great, its a 24k b2b, not as good as the new car 50k warranty. He would be better off leasing a new one, they have great specials.

  • avatar

    Driving an older Civic in good condition = Frugal
    Driving a car with body damage when you have the funds to repair = Cheap.

    Just my opinion.

  • avatar

    Definitely get rid of that thing. Take Car Max’s money, and don’t look back.

    If you live near a car rental office, then I would seriously consider spending that 200 mile commute day in somebody else’s car. (Enterprise and Hertz Local Edition will both pick you up and take you home if you need it.) If you can save your own personal car for local errands and weekend jaunts, then reliability won’t matter so much and you can buy what you want.

    • 0 avatar

      I have never understood why you would want to rent some POS for a trip. I didn’t buy any of my cars to have them sit in the garage and collect dust, I bought them to DRIVE them. And over the years I have had as many on the road issues with rental cars as I have with my own cars. Admittedly I am an unusual case – I drive Hertz cars as much as my own.

      In this particular case, if you like the Civic, fix it properly and drive it, and don’t worry about any “resale value” BS. If you don’t like it that much, dump it at Carmax and buy whatever floats your boat.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t get the rental thing for trips either. My car is almost 15 years old with 185k miles, does not a great reputation for reliability, and I trust it more than most rentals. It survives a few hundred miles per week, why get rent something just to avoid driving it a few hundred miles on it at once?

      If you don’t trust your car for a single trip of 200 miles, see a mechanic or replace it.

  • avatar

    In my area any Honda is like catnip for thieves and joyriders; with the collision damage the criminals might leave yours alone. Not that there is any crime in DC…

    If you make the repairs you will have a low mileage, reliable, presentable, *paid for* 2nd car that will last for years, and the Q5 for the weekends and/or travel. Looks like a winner to me.

  • avatar

    I take it the above picture is not of the car?

    However with the damage you noted, I would keep driving it until you find the car you like in the next year or so, as long as it is safe to do so. Personally I would fix it, but that only because I would buy all junkyard/craigslist parts and do all the work myself. Since there is no long term plan for this car, repairs would not be worth it.

  • avatar

    I’d sell it and move on, $4,000 for your car in that condition is actually pretty good, especially considering it’s CarMax. When I took a car there, they offered me about half of what I could get from a private party.

    It also makes me wonder how they’re going to make enough money on it to be worth their while, my guess is fully repaired it’s worth around $6k-$7k. But it’s going to have an accident on the vehicle history, which is going to lower it.

    Also, I personally would steer clear of all the unwanted attention driving a car in this condition would attract. I could see you getting routinely pulled over by police officers. Say you had a drink out while you were at a restaurant or just did a happy hour. Do you really want to deal with that hassle, not to mention just the overall embarrassment of driving a car everyday that looked like you just got in a wreck?

  • avatar

    FYI – If you decide to go for a new GTI, I would wait until the MkVII goes on sale next fall. In addition to being a new lighter weight platform, it will have a new 2.0L engine that will be more powerful and offer dual injection(similar to the system used by Lexus) so no more carbon build-up on the intake valves.

  • avatar

    I love my GTI but I wouldnt want to use it for a commute that long into DC. I used to do the DC commuter thing for a few years, that city is brutal on a nice car. The GTI is firm on broken pavement, doesn’t get great gas mileage, and is loud on the highway. Long term reliability is not a strong point either, regardless if you had good luck before. Rock chips and door dings from DC driving and parking wouldn’t help long term value either, resale on them is already not great.

    Why kill a nicer car on a crap commute? If I were you, I would keep the Civic as a commuter beater, but don’t waste money at the body shop fixing it. Fix the mirror and keep an eye out for junkyard parts. If you get the hood and bumper damage fixed, maybe spend $200 on an Earl Shibe job getting it color matched, but otherwise who cares? Most of the drivers on the DC commute are half asleep anyway, no one is looking at your car.

    Take that $3600 and buy yourself a toy for weekend duty and around town. It would make a nice down payment on an FRS/BRZ or a Miata, or any number of used fun cars. Since you don’t have to worry about the long commute miles, you could also lease something nice and fun, there are some pretty good subsidized leases out there that won’t make you feel like a bad parent for spending your money on a car payment. :)

    • 0 avatar

      “Why kill a nicer car on a crap commute?”

      To make the crap commute that much more bearable?

      • 0 avatar

        Thats not a bad reason, sure. But he didnt really complain about driving the Civic on the commute anyway. Considering fuel economy, the Civic isnt a bad commuter, esp a sedan. Plus, a GTI isn’t going to be more comfortable either.

        But if one of the goals is a more comfortable commuter, then I still think he would be better off selling the Civic for $4k and using that money to buy an older comfortable highway car for commuting, not getting a new fun car and running it into the ground commuting.

      • 0 avatar

        then I still think he would be better off selling the Civic for $4k and using that money to buy an older comfortable highway car for commuting

        Why older? Used cars aren’t nearly the deal they once were.

      • 0 avatar

        Popular used cars are not the deal they used to be. Unpopular ones can still be found for good deals, like a late 90s gold Buick or something similar that would be treated like herpes in status hungry DC.

        All I am saying is that extreme commuting in DC is a car killer. Most people just buy/lease a new car, drive it for 3 yrs until its used up and get another one. Whatever you drive becomes throwaway. Nothing wrong with that if you can afford it and if you don’t care what you drive. For a fun car, or a car you care about, you are either going to suffer the commute in a sports car or you are going to end up destroying a car you like.

        The OP is frugal, but wants something fun. He is budget constrained, and he has kids. So my answer was geared towards his situation. Commute in the reliable throwaway car, and buy himself something fun for weekends.

  • avatar

    you have the time and some money from the insurance company. why not go oem used from a recycle yard? here in mn many of the auto recycling centers have their parts linked into a common database that the public can access. need a front clip to a 2003 civic in bland beige? yup there is one at abc recyclers for $xxx.xx and it is in perfect condition or needs 1 hour of work, etc. could not be simpler. i would think you could do the job for less than the check and it would appeal to your sense of frugality. then there is more $ for experiences to grand parents house. (imho experiences are overrated for new kids, they need attention early on, not trips to mexico). my $0.02.

  • avatar
    George B

    I would fix the Civic using junk yard parts if you can do this yourself. I would be somewhat concerned that your wreck has made the Civic less safe if you get into another wreck with energy absorbing parts already pre-crushed. Fix it enough to be safe.

  • avatar

    Just take it to WagonWerks in Potomac Yards and be done with it. It’s a Civic. While the previous generation will last until the End of time Singularity, your generation should last until the second coming of Zombie Jesus. Fix it, upgrade it with bluetooth/burners/etc, and ride it for another 6 years.

  • avatar
    D in the D

    If that car in the picture is yours, I’ll bet your wind noise is from the front end, and not the mirror.

    Oh, and I’d take CarMax’s money and keep running – right out to get something else…

  • avatar

    DC is the unofficial home of the Civic. You will always be able to sell it(maybe why Carmax offered so much?) Driving in the area is so rubbish, I’d fix it and drive it till you sell it on.

  • avatar

    I would like to see a picture of this Civic. I’m hoping it’s not the one associated with this article.

    I’m a cheap guy, but I also wouldn’t want to be driving around in a complete $hitmobile with visible accident damage. Which it sounds like your Civic is (in its current state of repair). If you still enjoy driving the car, fix it with some used/salvage parts for as little as you can to make it look presentable. Drive it until you’re ready to get rid of it and maybe you’ll get a better trade-in/private sale value.

    If you’re sick of the car and don’t want to deal with the hassle of getting it fixed, take the $7000 and put it toward a down payment on something shiny and new.

  • avatar

    Sell the old Honda to Carmax and then visit your Hyundai/Kia dealer.

  • avatar

    If you have a passion for body work I say repair it yourself. If you do not don’t start – it’ll quickly become a chore to finish whatever project you start Friday night in time to drive to work on Monday morning.

    If you aren’t ready to pull the trigger on the car of your dreams 7K should buy a decent commuter that you can sell for little to no loss in a year or so. I am shocked and saddened that Sajeev failed to steer you toward a panther; seems like DC would be full of menacing black ex-FBI Crown Vics.

  • avatar

    The chrome on the filaments?
    I thought we settled on tungsten a long time ago?

  • avatar

    I would worry about safety. Does that Civic even have side airbags? If it’s not an EX it doesn’t have antilock brakes either. No big deal, people lived without that stuff for years, but you do put a kid in it from time to time….might be worth upgrading to something with this century’s safety features.

    Also, what’s coming soon for maintenance? Timing belt/water pump?

    I am all for a crappy DC commuter, but not quite that crappy. Go get a MKV – MKVI Rabbit/Golf. Soft, big car suspensions, yet small in size. Perfect city cars (not GTI versions).

  • avatar

    Are the airbags blown? Sell it immediately.

    Are the airbags good? Repair the vehicle (possibly with aftermarket parts) and keep driving it while you decide on your next ride. As a transportation appliance, the vehicle is probably worth more to you than to someone else, since you know its history, the severity of the damage, and how carefully the repairs are done.

  • avatar

    I don’t get it.

    I have zero deductible comprehensive on a salvage car (2001 Avalon).

    We hit a deer back in June, insurance covered 100% of a 4900 dollar repair bill with zero out of pocket. New hood, right front fender, headlight bucket, misc. shrapnel and a very nice refinish from the windshield forward.

    I’ve seen others on this forum say comprehensive is a waste of money.

    I say, the buck stops here. In my favor.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 I agree.

      So many people think they are getting a great deal by cutting their insurance down to the bare minimum…until the day they need it (and Murphy’s Law proves itself). Then they are stuck with a pile of junk that would be totaled, yet they now have to take upon themselves to repair or scrap.

      (That isn’t exactly the situation with the Civic – it is repairable fairly easily – but it is exactly what happened to a relative of mine with a notoriously expensive-to-fix car.)

      I guess minimum insurance is okay on a 25-year-old junk hauler truck that gets driven rarely, but people actually skimp on their daily driver that has to get them to work…I don’t get it either.

      • 0 avatar

        People tell me how cheap thier insurance rates are. My first response is “did you ever try the brand X dishwasher soap?” How about the cheap lawn fertilizer? Maybe try a cut rate hair dresser for your special lady?

    • 0 avatar


      How can comp be a waste of money?? I pay an avg of $40 every 6mo for comp for my 3 cars, its about 30% of my collision coverage and I too have zero deductible, compared to a $500 collision deductible. Super cheap.

      I can see dropping collision on a beater but not comp.

      • 0 avatar


        Even on my 1yo BMW, Comp is $6/mo. Collision is only ~$20/mo. Deductibles of $100$500 respectively, from State Farm. ~$5-6 higher for my beater ’02 Jeep GC, which is worth maybe $6-7K on a really good day. I drop collision on cars when they get to the $2K range, but I never drop comp. Too many deer, too many busted windshields in the winter here. I try not to think about the moose!

        I have had 4-5 comp claims over the past 20 years. One was for a tire tread from a truck that took out most of the front end of a ’90 Volvo. That one claim paid for comp for pretty much the rest of my life at these rates. Doesn’t count against you personally in Maine.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not for everybody, but I’ve lived without comprehensive and collision for 28 years and it’s definitely paid off. This includes several new vehicles.

      Insurance companies thrive for a reason. Consider it self-insurance or betting on yourself. You do have to alter your driving style and just like a biker, you leave nothing up to chance. You’re always aware of traffic around you, especially who or what’s behind you. I always slow down for blind intersections because most accidents happen in intersections. If I’m driving in a cluster of cars and I feel uncomfortable, I’ll back off.

      If you absolutely had to get across town without any problems, you would. Drive like that everyday and you’ll likely never have a problem. Some things are just up to chance (like moose encounters), but there are dozens of things you can do to hedge your bet.

      • 0 avatar

        I can understand about collision, on some vehicles and for some drivers it can get expensive. My teen daughter, whos insurance rates are sky high, lives without both. She drives an older cheap to repair/replace car, and I stress to her to drive extremely cautiously. Being a teen, she doesnt listen, but some ppl have to learn the hard way!

        But I think the point was that comprehensive is relatively cheap. Sure you can cut corners, but on my cars it is less that $70 a year. If I lived in a deer/moose prone state I would for sure want it, and even here in Florida it is nice to have for potential hail damage.
        That being said, even my collision coverage is relatively cheap compared to the liability coverage that is required. So if I wanted to take a $20k gamble to save less than $300 a year I could. I cannot gamble the $20k, esp around here with so many uninsured motorists that drive so badly. But the real ripoff to insurance is the mandatory liability that is costing me over $1000 a yr.

      • 0 avatar

        Most people don’t even realize that you can have Comp coverage without Collision. Comp covers acts of nature, theft, vandalism and, in most cases, run-ins with animals. Most standard insurance companies don’t count Comp claims against you…at least not the first one.

        I’m an insurance agent in Georgia and I’m lucky enough to get a break from one of the companies I represent. I pay $627/year for $500k/500k/100k in Liabiility & the same limits for Uninsured Motorist plus $100ded Comp, $500ded Collision on a 2006 Mazda3. The Comp coverage with a $100 deductible is only $90 of that while the Collision with $500 deductible is $232 of it.

        But I’ve paid dearly in the past- I’m 37 now (and divorced) but until I hit my mid-30s, I was paying $2000k/year per car!!!

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    This guy can’t be legal to drive with no headlights, are you kidding?

  • avatar

    Art car time.

  • avatar

    I like a firm suspension so I don’t mind the GTI’s ride. It has a good sound system so road noise is not such an issue and the GTI is only noisy on rough surfaces.
    I would pick the Golf TDi though, for long commutes. Softer ride, quieter then you would expect from a diesel, plenty of power / torque and massively good gas mileage.
    BTW if you fix the headlights please make sure they are properly aligned… So often I am followed by a car with one headlight shining right into my rear view mirror and one lighting up the sidewalk… neither safe for yourself and other motorists.

    • 0 avatar

      The Golf TDI has the same suspension as the GTI. The only reason the TDI has a softer ride is because of smaller rims.

      • 0 avatar

        I am pretty sure the TDI has the same suspension (and wheels) as the pre-2008 GTI, its a little less firm and not quite as low. The 2dr TDI has 17″ rims, not sure on the 4dr, I havent seen one. The newer GTI suspension is still more firm and with 18″ rims the tires are not as forgiving either. The TDI might have different non-performance tires though, I never checked. That might help the ride too.

  • avatar

    I disagree about ‘wait to fix the windscreen’. Get the windshield replaced ASAP if keeping the car. It’s a safety issue, and against the law in many states, maybe all?

    Be frugal, not Cheap.

  • avatar

    Time for a car bra. Bailing wire and plumber’s tape should get it back into shape and a bra should hide most of the damage. I take that his Civic isn’t nearly as bad as the one pictured.

  • avatar

    If you are handy, buy used OEM parts and install yourself. Don’t freak out if the fit is more 1980 Citation than 1990 Civic. Get a few years out of it and sell to a Honda fanboi. Can’t fix it yourself? Then sell it and move on.

  • avatar

    Replace the windshield (structural and safety issue)

    Fix the headlight (you don’t want it going dead on you)

    For the rest, well, Ceconite is cheap! Just stretch it over whatever gap you want to cover, sand the paint down right by the edges, glue it to the steel, and heat it. It’s good to 150 MPH on airplanes this way.

  • avatar

    Make a visit to Certifit and drop $300 on some straight-from-China re-pro parts (core support, radiator, fenders, etc are bolted on) do a quick Maaco (or self?) front clip paint, have the boys from Abra/Safelite, etc. throw in a new windshield.

    Since it only has 56k on it, this car should last another 200k with regular maintenance (especially with a stick!). Drive the wheels off of it, and to boot (not A-boot, my friends to the north :) you’d save the $15-20k on a new ride.

    The cheap paint might not look the prettiest, but…in a world of $3.50/$4 gal gas, just think about it.

  • avatar

    Check out a site like that searches for salvage (used) parts. At least you can find a used OEM side-view mirror and headlight that will function properly! The hood is also an easy replacement and you can probably find a used one in the same color (for $150 or so, based on a quick search). It may not be the body shop perfect paint match, but from 10-feet away, no one will know the difference.

    So I suggest spending around $500 in used Honda body parts and try to do the labor yourself. A hood, headlight and mirror that match the car will make a nice difference, I’m sure.

    My first car was a 1980 Honda Accord 4-door and three of the four doors were dented to the point of looking completely concave! A half hour with a toilet plunger and all four doors were almost dent-free! =) That doesn’t work on the thin metal skin and high-tech paint of newer cars, but it worked on my old ‘beige bomb’!

    Good luck!

  • avatar

    Maybe off the subject, but why is it on this blog so much, some driver always says “a child and another one on the way”? Are you all trying to out-breed each other? If the writer is son of immigrants and frugal why are you having another kid? If you decide your family is complete you can buy whatever car you want. I have no kids, I would probably take the 4000 from Carmax and buy like a Honda Accord for more space on the long commute.

    • 0 avatar

      Frugal = not buying expensive, disposable consumer products.

      Kids are expensive and some truly low-income families that can’t support them without help should remember that, but it sounds like the writer can move things around a little and afford another kid easily.

      Most don’t look at kids as a line item on their budget.

  • avatar

    I don’t think so that you drive this car again, because its condition is too bad. You have to spend a lot of money to repair it instead of that you can think to buy a new car. that will be better for you If you purchase a new car.

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