Is this car a good fit?
March 19, 2021 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Whelp, my 2007 Honda Fit with the problems starting seems to need replacing. Is it worth replacing with a 2019 one given winter weather?

Following the excellent (and frequently hilarious) advice about my 2007 Honda Fit that has had continual battery issues, I finally have the car in to a well-respected mechanic to find the parasitic draw. Now it turns out that both front coil springs are broken, so I'm likely looking at somewhere like $2000 or more in repairs on these two issues and fixing a dead headlight. Which, the car has only 78,000 miles on it...but also it's a 2007 vehicle that has consistently not started since I bought it used in 2009.

That said, I really like the functionality of this car. It meets my car criteria: 1. very small, 2. is reliable (well, in theory), 3. not really pricey, and 4. I can use it to haul lumber periodically. If Honda hadn't discontinued US sales on the Fit, I'd be tempted to just buy a new one. There is a used 2019 LX model with under 3,000 miles (not a typo) being sold "certified pre-owned" at the dealership for a reasonable price.

But if I were to buy this car, am I just going to have same issue? I'm in a very cold and snowy area of the US (multiple weeks of subzero high temps in the winter), and as best I can tell, the newer one looks to still have the (*cough*go cart*cough*) 340 CCA battery in it. So, a few questions that I'd greatly appreciate thoughts on:

- Is there any logic to dropping $2000-3000 on repairing a 2007 Honda Fit? It's not the end of the world for my budget to either repair it or replace it (we have savings yadda yadda), but I don't necessarily want to waste money either.
- People who know cars, is this car always inherently always going to have the same issue in bad winter weather winter? Should I give up the dream?
- Would it reasonable to ask the dealership to wedge a bigger battery into this used car in order for me to buy it? I know at the least that a 360 CCA battery fit into mine. There's some apocryphal internet tales of wedging in batteries as large as 500 CCA, but I suspect the dealership isn't going to be willing to saw off edges of the plastic battery tray to do this. Or is there something else I should be asking for or checking on?
- Or any suggestions of some other car that fits the 4 criteria above? I don't want anything super fancy--this little go cart has fit my niche up to this point, if only it would start.

Thank you!
posted by past unusual to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
Best answer: Replacing front coil springs and a dead headlight is not a $2k job. It's not a $1k job. Either there's a lot more work included in the the job that you glossed over or you're being overcharged. Suggest going to an indie mechanic- even one of the big, dubious car repair chains can probably swap out some springs and headlight without screwing things up too badly. An indie mechanic will also be more willing to go off piste with installing an oversized battery. So, if the repair costs are more appropriate, that will skew the repair/replace equation a bit. Good luck!
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 11:52 AM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As a general comment, "barely used" cars like you describe are almost never a particularly good deal, especially with brands with high residual value (for instance, Honda). For essentially all brands (including Honda), the depreciation curve start slow do significantly around 3 years, so I'd suggest you look in the 2017-2018 area to compare to.

No, cars don't inherently stop working in the winter. However, modern cars have non-trivial amounts of load even when the car is "off" for things like the security system, entertainment system, navigation system, etc. As a result, expecting the car to operate without being driven at least weekly is not something car manufacturers design for. You should expect if your car is driven less than weekly in the deep winter that you attach a trickle charger to the battery all of the time. The "all of the time" part is important here - car batteries are not designed to be "deep discharged" at all and even a handful of complete discharge events will damage the battery. Further, batteries are consumable items; you should expect to replace it every 3-5 years.

As for repairing or replacing your car, I'm in a similar situation - I have a 2009 Hyundai Sonata that has a resale value of perhaps $1500-$2000. I currently budget roughly $1500/year for repairs. My rationale for that is I get value from the car whether or not the car can be resold. I assume the cars I buy will cost $15-20K and I will drive them over 5-8 years. Hence, the "cost per month" is $208-$250/month. I target a bit less than that for repairs because I'd rather drive a newer car at this point - but I have no strong need to. Under your model, yeah, I probably would pay the money. However, I'd be really suspicious if there is another set of large repairs needed within a year or two.
posted by saeculorum at 11:57 AM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should clarify - what I got was "Both coil springs are broken and the bottom of the coil is not seated properly. I recommend replacing the front strut assemblies and performing an alignment." The estimate for "replace both front struts, mounts and springs" is $1655 and an alignment for $129. There are other little costs like replacing the battery that I expected and the testing itself, which is where we're getting to almost $2000.

This is a local non-chain mechanic where a friend of mine had a parasitic draw issue resolved for a reasonable price, which is why I went there.

Thanks again!
posted by past unusual at 12:01 PM on March 19, 2021

Response by poster: Also, and then I promise to stop replying, in a normal year I drive my car approximately 2 miles to work and back each work day, and slightly more or less on the weekends. The dealership repeatedly told me that this was not enough driving to recharge the battery from starting the car, and that I should go for at least a half an hour drive on the weekends to recharge the battery. I find this suggestion to be an unreasonable expectation and a waste of gas.

Instead, during the winter, I would have to trickle charge the battery overnight about every 2-3 weeks from December through February to have it consistently start.
posted by past unusual at 12:05 PM on March 19, 2021

Best answer: The price still seems high for the work... does the mechanic know how little you use the car? Genuine honda coil springs (wholesale) look to be about $75 ea for that vehicle. You can pretty much expect a mechanic to double the wholesale price on items like that and it's a fair bit of labor to install them, but still... Are the struts terminally rusty or leaking? I suspect that the mechanic is going for "redi-strut" assemblies (it's the coil spring, strut, mounts etc all preassembled) because they're easy to install and cover all the bases. Ask the mechanic if there is a less expensive way of fixing it (reusing the old struts, going for low grade aftermarket strut assemblies.) With your use case (sounds like toodling around town for a couple of miles every now and then) the car is going to die of old age before the replacement parts wear out, so there's no need to go for premium parts or do the job in the very best way possible.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 12:28 PM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've owned two Honda City's, great car (handled great on very bad roads too) but I found the camshaft needed replacement around 150,000 km, mechanic told me the design didn't get enough oil up there.
posted by unearthed at 12:32 PM on March 19, 2021

Best answer: Agreeing with LDS that $1600+ seems very high for struts. It looks like Honda no longer offers complete strut assemblies for that car, but it's easy to find aftermarket struts for less than $200 for the pair. Bolt them on, do the alignment and be done. The electrical specialist might not be the person to do it, though.
posted by jon1270 at 12:45 PM on March 19, 2021

Honestly, from the description of the trouble you're having with your car and the small amount of driving that you do, I'd say get a new electric hatchback. likes the Tesla Model Y, Kia Niro EV, Hyundai Kona electric, Chevy Bolt, and Nissan Leaf, in that order. Much less maintenance than an internal combustion engine, shouldn't be a hassle to start after sitting for a while.
posted by Sublimity at 12:48 PM on March 19, 2021

Best answer: I also have a 2007 Honda Fit, with around 100,000 miles on it, and I drive a similar amount to you. I remember your earlier question and while I've never had a similar issue, my main concern about buying a newer Fit would be the long term availability of parts given the car is no longer being produced for the US Market. As someone who drives cars for a LONG time (I had a 1998 Civic I bought new and drove until 2014, then got the Fit I have now) I would want parts available for the long haul.

I had my Fit's battery replaced over the winter, and the mechanic who came out from AAA told me it's hard to find that tiny battery the Fit takes, so my fear is that would just get worse.

I'm currently shopping for a replacement for mine and looking at the HRV which, while an SUV, is really a Fit that's just a teeny bit bigger, and available with AWD, which I want for snowy weather.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 12:51 PM on March 19, 2021

The dealership repeatedly told me that this was not enough driving to recharge the battery from starting the car, and that I should go for at least a half an hour drive on the weekends to recharge the battery. I find this suggestion to be an unreasonable expectation and a waste of gas.

For better or worse, what your dealership is describing is an expectation by car manufacturers. Car manufacturers expect a car to be driven for a while (15-30 minutes+) weekly to maintain the battery.

You will have a similar problem with most every vehicle on the market. Any car needs to be driven, or put on a battery tender (all the time, not just periodically every 2-3 weeks), in the use case you're describing.
posted by saeculorum at 12:57 PM on March 19, 2021 [5 favorites]

If I were you, I would seriously consider a used electric car. I don't know all the ins and outs, but you can get Nissan Leafs, Chevy Spark EVs, Kia Soul EV, etc, for around $10k (less for really old Leafs). You'd need to find a way to charge it, either at home or around town. Do your homework and all that, but you have an excellent use case for an electric vehicle. They also don't require nearly as much maintenance as a gasoline car, and go farther on a dollar of electricty than gas cars go on a dollar of gas. For the couple times a year that doesn't work, rent or borrow something gasoline powered.

The dealership isn't wrong - gasoline cars need to be driven and you just aren't driving yours enough. Electric all the way.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 12:59 PM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I hear everyone on the electric car, and if it were say 2-3 years in the future when I was more planning to buy a new car, I would be all-in. I'd love it if there were an option for either the electric fit or the Honda E being sold in the US, but as it is the electric options are either more sedan-y or more SUV-y than I want. Also, my part of the US is really behind the curve on this. I could get it set up potentially to plug in in my garage, but we just don't have the infrastructure in our area for this yet - we have one electric plug-in my metro area and, honestly, I'm not confident on mechanics working on them here (my SO has had perpetual issues with a prius sound system that just cannot be fixed for no apparent reason). Also, as far as I can find there are 0 electric cars for sale used in our region and as your classic underpaid higher ed staff person, I definitely cannot afford new cars that are stretching into the 30-40k+ range, even with hypothetical tax credits.

Also, I understand in principle that you need to drive your car, but in practice our city just isn't that big. Everyone I know has commutes of 2-3 miles each way, and NO ONE I know has this problem. When I had a 2001 Toyota Corolla and the same commute distance, I did not have this problem. I need to be very clear my level of car use is normal in this area, and my car repeatedly not starting is not normal.

I'll check around and see if either this mechanic or another is able to do the repair for less. If anyone has any other suggestions, I'd love to hear them. Thanks!
posted by past unusual at 3:33 PM on March 19, 2021

Best answer: Whatever you get, consider if you can fit a trickle charger with a socket fitting that attaches permanently to the battery, and plug it in every night. Find a trickle charger that understands how to switch between charging and floating so that it isn't pumping electricity into a full battery. This works for motorcycles and I think you can do the same for cars. Fitting the batter mount cable involves 15 minutes with a spanner, so even if you don't do it yourself a mechanic shouldn't charge over the odds.

The idea is that lead acid battieries deteriorate if they're being charged when full, if they go empty, and in cold weather. This sort of charger makes sure none of those things happens, so you can leave it attached all the time if you choose.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 3:55 PM on March 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

I’m really sad to hear the Fit is discontinued in the US, as we loved ours. We did upsize to an HRV, which is also great, because we were making some long drives and wanted a little more room. So if you liked the Fit overall, the HRV may be a good option for you as it is larger but not really big.
posted by PussKillian at 4:25 PM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: An update: I called around to another mechanic that our family has worked with. He looked and initially had found only more the expensive parts that I think were causing the pricy quote, but then called me back to say that he'd found an option that he could order by mail. Giving it time for those parts to arrive will bring down the cost to a figure that was less than half of what the other mechanic was proposing.

Thank you all for giving me a better idea of what costs to expect on the repair. The Honda Fit lives to roll on for another day! (Hopefully, now in a few years I can get that electric car.)
posted by past unusual at 9:31 AM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

« Older How can my company best contribute to disaster...   |   Easiest way to install a home climbing gym? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.