Ask Bark: The Element of Surprise

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
ask bark the element of surprise

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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2 of 76 comments
  • Recluse Recluse on Mar 05, 2016

    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.

  • Fordcomm Fordcomm on Apr 21, 2016

    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.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.