Meet Murciélago, my 2005 Honda Element 4WD EX
“It’s the only way to live. In cars.”
~ Gary Numan, English singer-songwriter
From 2013 to 2018, I successfully lived in Mexico and Colombia without a car. In these countries, public transportation is safe and reliable (though not always timely and clean), and a majority of people never even buy a vehicle, opting instead to take taxis, ride buses, hop on motorcycles, and walk extensively.
In 2018, I returned to the United States and spent several months borrowing cars, using paid car services, and doing my best to avoid buying a vehicle. I debated going car-free, referring to books like “How to Live Well Without Owning a Car” by Chris Balish and researching options like public transit and car shares.
Unfortunately, the metropolis where I live doesn’t have the options for being car-free down to a science yet, so I began searching for a cost-effective vehicle to serve as a reasonable daily driver as well as haul my 1981 Vespa and double as a living space for camping and weekend getaways.
Enter the Element
With my criteria in mind, I focused on a car that was roomy but not ginormous, reliable and gas-efficient, more badass than a minivan but less sporty than a Jeep and, most importantly, able to accommodate both me and my scooter comfortably.
I decided on a Honda Element: a vehicle known for the reliability and decent MPG that comes with a Honda, as well as its unique, adventure-friendly design featuring all-access “suicide” doors, flat-folding/removable seats and a pop-up rear sunroof.
The Search and Score of My Element
In my quest to track down an Element, I learned these coveted vehicles were produced by Honda from 2003 to 2011. I found online forums and groups created by Element owners, and an entire culture dedicated to literally living in their Element. My RAS focused on something that resonated with me as being adventurous, reliable, responsible, fun, and unique. Bam!
From October to December 2018, I test drove pre-owned Elements, dodging comments from sleazy salesmen about a woman wanting an adventure car, and ignoring “your credit is your down payment” offers from dealerships. I even walked away from unsolicited opinions, refusing to sign “as is” warranties without detailed inspection reports.
One morning in late January 2019, I received an email from a dealership where a longtime friend worked as the finance manager. I knew I had to purchase the Element from her workplace, where she offered me a fair price and excellent service.
Murciélago, The Adventure Bat
The Honda Element is a spacious car with generous headroom. It is easy and fun to drive, plus the flat-folding seats made a great place for afternoon naps.
I decided on the name Murciélago, Spanish for bat, since the Element is black, stealthy, and enjoys hanging out (parked) as well as flying (down the road). With 170,000 + miles at purchase and corny (but well-made) paw-print seat covers, my appreciation is deep for Murcié’s longevity.
So far, our excursions include transporting El Banano from Sacramento to San Luis Obispo and back as part of the Rides of March scooter rally, hauling numerous household items and furniture to and from secondhand stores, and delivering a queen-sized box spring strapped carefully to the roof.
Onward and Into the Elements
Our next adventure will probably be overnight “car camping,” influenced by full-time Element dwellers such as Ethan Maurice and YouTubers Phil and Vanessa Chan. Whatever is ahead with Murcié, it’s sure to be fun and worthwhile.