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My Daily Driver Honda Element Was Totaled

Out of nowhere it started pouring rain. I was at the checkout line on a late-night run to Home Depot in my daily driver, a 5-speed Honda Element. Hearing the hard rain pounding on the metal roofing of the warehouse-sized retailer, the cashier exclaimed, “Wow, it’s really coming down!” It was just one of many trips to Home Depot I made in my Element, and my main concern was to not ruin my lumber by getting it wet. I loaded my materials under the large metal awning and started my drive home.

If someone told me that night was going to be the last in my trusty 2009 Honda Element that I ordered from the factory, I wouldn’t have believed them. I’ve owned the car for nine years, driven it through many Nor’easters, and didn’t bat an eyelash at just another rainstorm.

Pulling out of the parking lot and making my way to the highway, I noticed severe road flooding. On each side of the 4-lane road, both right lanes were completely covered in water, forcing traffic into one lane in each direction. I eventually got to the highway, with my windshield constantly getting splashed by huge waves made by the other cars traveling the opposite direction. As I approached my neighborhood on the highway, I moved over to the exit lane — and that’s where it happened.

Pooled up under the overpass and in the exit lane was a lake of a puddle, and with no other option, I was forced to drive through it. The water was a lot deeper than I expected, and when I hit it, my car slowed drastically, but was still able to motor on. Despite being able to continue, I could tell that something was wrong. The engine was making a slightly different sound, something I wrote off at the time as a potentially broken exhaust manifold. I’d take care of it at a later date with an oil change and a much needed new set of rubber.

The following morning, I got into my car and began my commute. I had completed the highway portion, and was on a surface road when my check engine light illuminated — and, suddenly, I experienced a complete power loss. I coasted the car onto a residential street, called a tow and waited.

I was grateful that the engine didn’t die on the highway, and my tow arrived one hour later — and immediately convinced me that my trusty Element was going to be written off by my insurance company. Shocked, I asked why they would do such a thing. He popped the hood and showed me the milky liquid that was once motor oil, now ruined by water. Having paid some attention years ago in science class, I knew well that oil and water don’t mix, and I had likely done irreparable damage to my VTEC that only showed 115,000 miles. In Michigan, a state law requires flood-damaged cars to be totaled automatically instead of being repaired. This makes sense, as water may have damaged the electrical system, posing more problems down the line.

I got through the denial phase quickly. While I loved my Honda Element — a rare manual transmission example, no less — I was beginning to feel beholden to it. After all, Honda vehicles are supposed to last forever, and I was anticipating getting at least 200,000 miles from it.

My biggest concern now is finding a sufficient replacement car. Four-wheel drive is a wintertime necessity in Michigan, and a manual transmission is my personal preference, making my options pretty slim. While it is a well known fact that I am a vintage car enthusiast, I need a modern (see: reliable) car as a daily driver. Now, with a $9,600 check from my insurance company, I begin my search for a new daily driver. Stay tuned.

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  1. My father purchased an ’04 Element back in 2003 and still drives it to this day. 240k miles and still going extremely strong, never had a major issue. I love that car.

  2. So sad, but on the bright side you got a pretty substantial amount of money for it, certainly more than if you sold it. Now for the fun of car-buying. Maybe a manual wrangler?

  3. Why would you not just replace the motor instead of calling your insurance company and getting a claim mark on your insurance history? $2k max for motor and install.

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Sam Keller
Sam Keller is an Editorial Contributor for Autotrader & Oversteer since 2017. He enjoys covering everything from auto history and classic cars, modern and vintage driving impressions, as well as everyday car news stories. Currently based in Los Angeles, California, Sam can be found on Instagram at @hamptonwhipz where he documents interesting vehicles he encounters on his travels.

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