This was an interesting car to tackle as it had a good deal of miles on the clock (144,000) and was used primarily as a commuter car and airport car. What I mean by airport car is that the owner would pick this to be the one of his vehicles to leave in the long term parking lot at the airport when he would have to fly out for business. He never had to worry that someone would ding a door or that its paint would be ruined by jet-A soot.
It was a reliable car that had been in the family since it was new and he wanted to be sure that all the required maintenance was done as well as some sprucing up. So it arrived at Jim’s Garage.
First off I perused the service records. Thankfully this owner kept all of them and they told of a time line where this car was well looked after. Then I put them through a three-hole punch and into a binder so that they wouldn’t become glove compartment excelsior.
While this car had been regularly serviced there were a few items that needed to be done. Certainly an oil change was in order and the customer supplied the Mobil 1 synthetic and I picked up a K&N oil filter. The K&N is a higher priced filter but I find the 1″ nut they put on the bottom a guarantee that the filter won’t be stuck on by the time the next oil change comes around.
The spark plugs were pulled and they showed enough wear that they required more than re-gapping. So a complete tune up was in order. That meant new rotor, distributor cap, ignition wires, spark plugs, and fuel filter. Oh yes, and a new PCV valve.
The owner also wanted the coolant refreshed. Since the coolant hoses were original it was a good time to replace them all. It is much easier to do that now than to wait for a hot July day when one bursts while you are trying to drive home in stop and go traffic. I also put in a new thermostat and gasket. I had checked the service records and the water pump had already been replaced along with the timing belt and drive belts.
At Jim’s Garage we use the Air Lift vacuum tool to fill the coolant system. It pulls a 25-30 pound vacuum at the radiator’s filler neck and then the coolant is sucked into the void. This does two things. First, it lets you know that the system, its hoses, clamps, radiator, has no leaks because you wouldn’t be able to hold a vacuum unless that was true. Second, it makes it far less likely that there will be any air pockets left in the system. Now Honda provides a bleeder valve for that purpose, but with the Air Lift system there were never any air bubbles to bleed out.
We had talked the Civic owner into upgrading the 13 inch wheels and tires to something much better. We found a nice wheel and tire combination on Tire Rack. It was a 15″ Borbet Type B wheels and Bridgestone tires that would provide nice traction on summer days as well as excellent characteristics in the rain and light snow. The price was reasonable as well and they would be delivered to the garage mounted on the wheels so all I would need to do was bolt them on.
As long as the wheels and tires were being improved it was a good time to look over the suspension front and rear. Since the tires were going to have better grip it also meant that there would be more force on the suspension. The ball joints and tie rod ends were visually checked for cracked and leaking boots that would signal a need for replacements. The brakes were checked to see that there was plenty of pad life left. The brake and clutch fluids were vacuumed out and replaced and then vacuumed bled.
Since the new wheels would be a five spoke design it was a good time to clean up the brake calipers and drums and give them a coat of VHT caliper paint. We found some black VHT paint that would give them a fresh clean look as they were viewed between the spokes.
It was decided that the front suspension would provide better feedback and handling if a strut tower brace and a lower suspension brace were added. These don’t add much weight, but they do ensure that chassis flex is minimized and that provides better feedback to the driver.
The owner had asked if the ride could be improved so we took a look at the springs and struts that he had installed about three years prior. The springs were Eibach, which we like and the struts were KYB AGX adjustable. This is a perfectly good shock, but they were a little bit of overkill for a commuter car. But we didn’t want to go back to a stock strut so we talked to the folks at http://www.shox.com/ and they recommended Koni Reds as a replacement. They gave us a good price and had them to us in no time.
While we were interested in handling we didn’t want to ignore the rest of the car. After all, you sit on the inside. We looked over the interior and recommended that it would improve the atmosphere if we replaced the old carpet with a budget replacement of good quality. So for about $200 we had new molded carpet to install.
That meant removing all the seats as well as the center console and then fitting the new carpet around the existing interior. We used the original as a guide for cutting holes but made them much smaller to begin with since it is easier than trying to add carpet back to fill a hole. Replacing carpet is a lot of work but even with a budget carpet the results are a nice smelling interior with a nice look under foot.
The owner had wondered about options for the steering wheel so we checked in with a local shop that specialized in Honda modifications. They showed us many options but they meant that the airbag would be gone. They also said that adapting the horn button was difficult in most cases. So what to do? The old wheel was showing wear and was kind of slippery now.
We checked at a local car upholstery shop and they said that for about $100 they could install a Wheelskin. This meant that the rim would be covered in leather which would provide a comfortable and secure grip with the suppleness of real leather. We scheduled that for the next opening.
This car was a five speed yet the factory did not see the need for a tachometer. We went on eBay and found an instrument cluster that fit and had the tachometer. It is about a five minute job to unscrew the surround and pry it off of the dash. Then the old instrument cluster unscrews and unplugs. The new cluster uses the same plugs and mounts the same. So in about fifteen minutes they owner had a tach along with a digital clock we also picked up.
The wiper arms had originally been black but over the years had worn to a dull metal finish. The same for the metal on the outside of the door, just under the side windows. We cleaned them up and gave them a fresh coat of semi-gloss black paint. New wiper blades were also installed.
The customer had said that the rear hatch was giving some problems and sure enough, the hardware holding the gas struts to the glass had stripped and were just about useless. The only option was to get those mounting pieces from the Honda dealer which meant they were no bargain. The new struts were found on eBay for a better price than the local parts stores could offer. All of this was put together and now the hatch stays up and the struts stay securely attached to the glass.
With all the fresh semi-gloss black trim items fixed up on the car the factory chrome Honda medallions looked out of place. These were removed and sanded up so they could be painted semi-gloss black, too.
The car was given a good bath with a high quality car wash shampoo and then, after it was dried, it was given the clay bar treatment. This prepared the paint for a good coat of high quality carnauba wax. After all that the paint glistened.
The car needed just a little more edge to it so we added a nice black urethane lip to the front bumper cover. It is amazing how much that changed the car’s personality.
The new wheels and tires came and were mounted and also provided a drastic improvement. Now, instead of the tires hiding in the deep recesses of the wheel wells there was some meaningful rubber that went right out to the edge of the fenders. It gave it a stable and confident look. The Borbet wheels were a simple wide five spoke that really complemented the car’s personality. The tires were Bridgestone Potenza G009 in 195/50-15 which were a big change from the 175/70-13 tires that were on the original wheels.
The owner asked if we could get them filled with nitrogen so after they were mounted on the car we went to the Nitro Fill dealership and had them filled. The service writer and several others gathered around the car and admired the look.
The next day we took the car over to our favorite alignment shop. This is something that should be done every time you get a new set of tires. That way you don’t introduce unnecessary wear into the life of the tire due to toe or camber being off.
With that we had transformed this commuter car into…a great commuter car. We didn’t add so much bling that the owner would be concerned about leaving it in the local airport parking lot. It would still be an economical commuter and the original paint, while shiny and clean, still had plenty of stone chips and minor door dings. The point was not to make this a flashy show car. Instead it is a gas sipping sleeper that the owner can jump into after a long flight home and have a fun ride back to his home.