Friday, January 8, 2010


Winter of 2004-2005 rolled around and somehow or other I had managed to do $4000 worth of damage to the engine in the car I was driving, which at the time was only worth about $7000. I was unemployed and didn’t really want to spend the money to fix a car I bought used 3 years prior, which had always been a little bit of a problem child anyway. So what did I do, of course I bought a new car. Sensible, no, but I thought it was necessary. I figured if I was going to spend the money, I may as well spend it on something whos problems were my very own. I had already invested enough in my current vehicle which had been bestowed upon me complete with someone else’s problems. There was that, and the fact that I bought the vehicle while living in Texas, and thinking I would never leave southern climates, did not care about the fact that this particular SUV did not have 4 wheel drive. In New Hampshire however, this seemingly minor factor can be a pretty significant problem. Thus I opted to purchase a new vehicle which would have a fully functioning engine and the ability to tote me around relatively safely in the snow. (I say relatively because my driving is the primary concern in this particular equation).

I did not want to, nor did I have the means to spend $40,000 on a new mode of transport, so despite the fact that I wanted something in the SUV ilk, I didn’t have the large financial wherewithal to support that. And I wanted to buy something no one else would ever want. So at around $20,000 fully loaded (and there wasn’t really much in the way of fully loaded), I went for the Honda Element. Having had a Honda save my life once, I was rather enamored by them. I thought I should repay the favor to the company that assured that the rear end collision that totaled a different car years back, not only allowed me to walk away with nothing but shaking hands and a few moments without my glasses, but also spared the $300 worth of groceries and liquor in the trunk (minus the homemade cookies which just turned to dust). And when I say totaled, I mean totalled. Somehow or other the trunk of that Honda Accord just accordioned around the stuff in it and although the car, which completed its lifecycle in the middle of 93 South somewhere just north of Braintree, MA was half the size it should have been, I was fine, my cat was fine, and the bottles of vodka and juice were all fine. So suffice it to say, I sort of felt like I owed the Honda company, and in my opinion they made the ugliest car on the market. The Element.

I decided on the Element less for the price than for the fact that I was sure that no one else would ever buy one. OK, some people would buy one, but not that many people and then I would be part of some sort of freaky brotherhood (sisterhood) of people who buy insanely ugly cars. There was that, and then the secondary and tertiary factors of price and all-wheel drive. I still wouldn’t have 4 wheel drive, but I would have something that would at least play a small role in my not colliding into a tree in the snow.

So off to the dealership I went to buy what I was sure was the most unpopular car on the planet. And in orange no less. The ugliest of ugly vehicles. But then this strange thing happened as I was driving back from the dealership. I started to notice all of the Elements on the road. Not so many orange ones, but still a lot of the make and model. Too many. So many in fact that I almost wanted to return mine. I was part of a somethinghood alright, but it was far too large for my liking. After all, I’m not much of a joiner, and I was terribly disappointed to learn that I was really just common. Bummer.

But I kept the Element and discovered that it was fabulous in other ways. For example, a 50 gal trashcan can fit upright in the back. You may not think that this is a valuable asset, but I can tell you as someone who brings her own garbage and recycling to the dump, this feature is invaluable. In fact you can fit pretty much anything in the back of an Element. I have flipped the back seats up and travelled for 800 miles with two dogs and three cats in relative comfort.

For another example, all four seats fold all the way back to allow one to sleep in said vehicle with three others. I have not yet used this function, but should I ever need to, I am certain I will be glad for it. I did notice however in playing with the seats and other features of this wondrous people mover, that the moon roof is set too far back from the driver’s seat to adjust while driving. I know what you are thinking, the driver shouldn’t be doing anything but driving so that’s probably a good thing, Well, yeah, but it’s still really inconvenient and you sort of have to climb in the back seat to adjust it which I personally think is a giant pain in the ass. Well several years after making this purchase I had the distinct pleasure of working with one of the original designers of the Element and was told that the Japanese individuals from the parent company were so into moon gazing that they wanted the “moon roof” to be an actual moon roof. Thus the odd placement of the moon roof is designed so when all four seats are reclined everyone can see the moon. Cool, huh?

Another, but not final, example of the fabulousness of this vehicle, shortly after I bought it I was pulling out of a hotel parking lot only to find that I missed the road and ended up in a ditch. Apparently I was not the first person to do this since the sign indicating where the road ended and the ditch began had already been run over and was smashed to the ground. The Element bottomed out and made a ghastly scraping sound, followed by a very abrupt rebounding bounce. I looked at my darling wife sitting in the seat next to me, and only one word came to mind. Mind you we were in the middle of Oklahoma trying to get to Arizona and at that time had three cats and one dog along on our travels. Oh what to do if we had just bashed a hole in the underside of the Element. But alas and alack it was not so. This fabulous vehicle took the hit, remained completely unscathed and was able to continue on for what was left of the 1600 mile journey.

The rear seats are elevated so passengers can see through the windshield (which could be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on who is driving). My in-laws love this feature since we often stick them in the back with the two dogs and three cats. The rear seats also are removable so you could probably fit another dog or two in there – why we didn’t just take the seats out, I can’t tell you, but the past is the past. There are tire chocks for bicycles which can be used with the rear seats flipped up or taken out, it warms up amazingly quickly in the winter, and the gas mileage is great considering it’s a giant box on wheels and quite possibly the least aerodynamic shape ever. The only thing that is really irritating about the Element is that the floor, which is rubber, has no drain holes, so hosing it out is not as easy a task as you would initially imagine. I suppose if you washed it on a 60º slope you’d be all set, but most of us don’t have one of those available at all times.

Recently one of the LED lights in my dash burned out. I know this is not supposed to happen and I’m quite certain it doesn’t happen very often, because in order to fix it, it would cost me $800 to rebuild all of the dashboard wiring. $800 to change a dashboard light? No thanks I’ll pass on paradise.

Other than that small fluke, which I’m certain is a one-off failure, the Honda Element is really the most functional vehicle I have ever seen. It is safe, easy to drive, comfortable, and can fit absolutely anything. It handles in well in the rain, great in the snow, pretty good in the mud and excellent over unpaved roads, which I know since I live in the country and drive over many unpaved roads every day. It is relatively easy to clean and has plenty of space for “stuff”. It’s not super wide or super long so driving in the city isn’t a problem and neither is parking.

The new Elements don’t have the nice, durable rubber on the bumpers which I always liked so I’m not too crazy about that “upgrade,” but there is now a Dog Friendly version of the vehicle which comes equipped with numerous dog accessories. This, I must say is awesome. Given the odd shape of the back of the Element I have been unable to find a dog cage that fits it well enough to keep the dogs from jumping into the front seat. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with this issue, because the dog friendly Element comes with a really nice, cushy looking car kennel. Not only does Honda make a great vehicle, but clearly they listen to their consumers.

As with anything else purchased, people buy what they buy to fill a specific need. I know the Element is not a luxury vehicle by any stretch of the imagination, but it is quite possibly only of the most utilitarian vehicles on the market. I am frequently asked how I like it, and I always say the same thing. I love it. Even if I’m not the only one on the road driving it.

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