One less car

The total weight of my worldly possessions dropped by about 2,557 pounds a week and a half ago: I gave away the 1992 Acura Integra that had become a driveway-bound monument to how getting around D.C. has changed for me.

Integra mileageI should have done that long ago: November of 2007, to be exact, when the Washington Area Bicyclist Association had a promotion running with Zipcar that would have yielded $500 in driving credit on the car-sharing service.

Instead, what finally pushed me to research my options (I was the “Rob” who sought Greater Greater Washington’s advice) and choose WABA’s current, less generous offer of a year’s free membership was seeing the oil-pressure light come on.

Two mechanics told me that probably would require dropping $1,000 or so on a new oil pump, and that the diagnosis alone would cost over $100, and that was enough to end an automotive relationship that began in the spring of 1997.

Transportation in Washington was much worse back then. There was no ZipCar, no car2go, no Capital Bikeshare. Bike lanes were vanishingly scarce, protected “cycle tracks” unimagined. No signs or mobile apps counted down the minutes before the next train or bus arrival. The city’s taxis ran on the idiotic and unfair zone system, as interpreted by cabbies who rarely missed a chance to rip me off. App-driven, ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar were a decade from being possible.

What would it take to get somebody with no off-street parking and no need to drive to work to write a check for $9,294.60 to buy a used car? All of those things.

Integra gearshiftAnd I really did love that car, so much that it took this long for me to accept that I ought to give it up. This Integra RS must have been the least luxurious Acura ever made, lacking power windows, power locks or even power side-view mirrors, but it handled great, the stick shift was a joy to work, and that little four-cylinder engine roared delightfully as it neared its 6800 RPM redline.

(One memorable drive: On New Year’s Day of 1998, I made it from Greenwich Village to Clarendon in three hours and 45 minutes by not stopping for anything and generously interpreting the speed limits. That’s not a record I plan on breaking–as if I-95 these days would let me.)

And for a car bought basically for fun, this was amazingly practical. I often beat the EPA highway estimate of 28 MPG and once notched 36 MPG on a particularly blessed tank of gas. And with the rear seats folded down, the Integra could haul almost anything–a full-sized bed frame, a Christmas tree of any size, not one but two bicycles.

(Another memorable drive: In May of 2000, I went to Manhattan with my friend Doug for Bike New York, with said two bikes in the back. We somehow found an open parking spot outside my cousin’s apartment on Carmine Street–at which we had to pay for less than an hour before it went unmetered for the weekend. That’s probably the greatest street-parking job I’ll ever accomplish.)

Acura Integra in 1997I babied that car for years, regularly washing and even waxing it, as the photo at right reveals. But then in late 2001 I scratched the passenger side by taking a turn too tightly on the way out of my condo’s garage and decided that I did not need to spend almost $800 to fix the damage.

Getting married didn’t really put a dent in my driving habits, but my wife’s problem-plagued Dodge Intrepid blowing a gasket in the summer of 2005 did: The Toyota Prius we bought to replace that snakebit vehicle could carry almost as much stuff as mine, fit into the same parking spaces and got better mileage. And then my wife got a job within easy walking and biking distance, leaving the Prius free for me to use almost all the time.

My annual mileage totals went from four digits to three digits–I’d put over 33,000 miles on the Integra by then–to the low three digits. The biggest problem on this incredibly reliable vehicle became having its battery run down from a lack of use.

And so after 38,478 miles together, it was time to say goodbye to what is almost certainly the last solely gas-powered car I’ll ever own. A week and a half after I last saw my car–behind the tow truck hauling it down the street–I can’t say I miss the old girl. But I do have one small regret: I forgot to check the coin box when I cleaned out the inside, and I suspect I left a quarter or two there.

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