Hey all! After many years, I’m finally an E owner again and so glad to be back in the club! This is my 3rd Element but the only one I currently own, now. New EOC poster. I’m going to keep this thread updated with my progress along this journey.
I just bought an ’03 EX AWD Manual with basically 200k miles (198k to be exact). The trip is from Alaska to the “bottom of the Earth” in Argentina.. the Arctic to Antarctica (since we will probably take a short cruise to Antarctica from Ushuaia to finish the trip). 40k+ miles over the course of 2-3 years once all is said and done, since we won’t exactly be taking the “main route”.
I’ll be restoring this E to a worthy condition (though it’s already pretty great for its mileage with all the service that has been done in the past, for which there are extensive records), and I will be building it to be our home on wheels for the next few years. Myself, my wife, and our now 5 year old daughter.
For now, I’m looking for some advice on what to look for and address first when it comes to restoring/building my new Element for a hugely adventurous trip. I have a long list from a lot of research, but would like some input before I waste precious time and money on unnecessary procedures, and/or skip things that I should have done.
I picked it up for $6,450, which though slightly out of the Kelly Blue Book range, is well within the market range based on what I see other ones going for, and I feel like I got a pretty good deal, especially for a rare version fitting the exact specs I was after. It is also JUST within my maximum limit for mileage, but I know if I take care of it, this E can easily last another 200k miles or more.
Anyways, I’ll be restoring and building this myself, into a light overlander for my family of 3 to travel the Americas with. Nothing much out of its range of capabilities, but definitely not stock by any means. Probably 50/50 Highway/Softroad travel. I will be doing most of the work myself, barring any walls I hit with my skills and tools selection, though I might have someone working with me who is much more experienced in car restoration, and who might come along on the adventure I’m building this E for. I also might make use of some good DIY shops with mechanics on duty, which should help to keep costs down if I run into anything I can’t do, myself. So I have the time, a budget, google/YouTube/EOC, ordering the Honda Repair Manual now, potentially a savvy partner, and I can follow directions really well, and me and my family are adamant on this trip.
The reason I decided on the Element for my vehicle of choice is it’s longevity, practicality, community, budget-friendliness, versatility, and brand-awareness in my destination countries in case I need help with repairs (though other manufacturers would have been better for this last point, it’s ok for Honda). Musts for my particular Element were the AWD, manual transmission, and first gen for electronic simplicity (another plus when traveling remote areas where shops might not have diagnostic computers). Even though I know the AWD isn’t much for real off-roading, it will fit my purposes better than a 2WD would. An older Toyota 4x4 would have gotten me further out there, but for a much larger price tag, and we’re on a budget. And speaking of other vehicles I was considering, I narrowed it down to 5 (including the Element) that fit near my budget, but the Element came on top in most categories of my pros/cons (the only other one I ended up truly considering was the CR-V, but really only for the cheaper price tag, which would be negated anyways by fitting it for my purposes, which the Element comes closer to in its stock form).
Now that all that’s behind us, this is the list I’ve come up with for what to do first, based on many, many hours of research over the past couple months, and a lifetime of attention to restoration projects and other car-related builds (though limited first-hand experience). I also have an entire build list complete for what I’d like to do before leaving on this trip. But for now, I’m focused on what to do first in order to not damage anything by driving on worn or broken components. And I’m hoping EOC can help add to my list of things to address first with this new-to-me but well-used Element.
First to address:
Buy a Honda Repair Manual for the Element
200k mile service
Catalytic Converter protection
-cover assembly and visible sticker to let thieves know to politely keep it moving
-for now, use the tires on it, replacing with optimal all-terrains later
-check all rubber components, replacing anything worn too much
-Replace drivers side CV axle (boot is torn) (this is the only real problem the pre-purchase inspection found, aside from a slight oil leak from around the oil pan)
-Address, reassess after getting a complete understanding of the situation, restore or replace (this will be a slight issue as this E has a history in the “rust belt”, but it doesn’t look too bad given that circumstance, and is certainly not beyond repair.. I checked all the notorious problem spots and it’s manageable)
-For now, leave alone unless anything costly needs immediate attention, in which case upgrade the whole system now rather than later
Valve Adjustment (no record of it being done)
Pre-Purchase Inspection said this:
Slight leak from oil pan, and a broken CV Axle Boot
It’s a great car and he would buy it. Just need to address that CV axle. He’s helped his friend (who is a millionaire and could have any car) buy 3 Elements now as it’s all the guy will drive
Vehicle History Report said this:
No major accidents or any report of loss
1 accident in 2013 (I looked into it, and it was addressed by replacing some of the gray plastic cladding.. no further damage)
3rd owner who I bought it from bought it 6 months ago from the original owner’s son, who bought it from his Dad. Seller sold because the manual makes his kids car-sick, and bought an automatic Element instead.
Recent service history before I took ownership:
There’s a lot of records (from the original window sticker to oil changes to every major service). Also, all recalls have been addressed. Notably:
-All mileage-based services performed and documented
-About $15k worth of work done over the last 10 or so years, 100k miles
*clutch slave cylinder replaced after the infamous clutch pedal stuck to floor symptom, at 190k miles
*fuel tank and vtec solenoid replaced at 186k miles after it was found leaking bad due to a rodent that had chewed through a fuel line
*power steering fluid, coolant, brake fluid, and manual transmission fluid all last flushed at 160k
*replaced front rotors at 145k miles
*replaced catalytic converter at 148k miles, along with muffler and tailpipe (mentions due to inefficiencies, but maybe it was cut?)
*1 side motor mount replaced at 160k miles, power torque mount at 190k
*spark plugs replaced at 160k miles along with induction system cleaning
*lots of suspension components replaced in the past 50k miles (rear sway bar links, 1 front sway bar link, both front struts, passenger lower ball joint, and more)
*supposedly the drivers cv axle (though my PPI mentioned the boot is broken… so one of them is probably wrong… I’ll have to inspect further myself, and a service from 190k says that axle boot is tearing and leaking but wasn't replaced)
*knock sensor replaced at 190k miles
*rear brake system replacement at 190k miles
*idle air control valve replaced at 190k miles
Runs super smooth
Eventual work and mods:
-No lift (power when needed, fuel-mileage, agility, and comfort more important than extra ground clearance via suspension in my case (though I will look for low-hanging underbody components to address))
-Fully adjustable coilover system (since half of the trip will be highway, half will be softroading, and since I will need a strong system to make up for the added weight on the vehicle)
-Somehow beef up the braking system to accommodate for mountain driving and added weight
*maximally cooled system
*larger rotors (slotted and drilled) and calipers
*best brake lines and fluid possible for the purpose
-All-terrain tires on lighter-weight but cheap option for rims, including a full size spare (haven’t decided on best setup here yet, but I’m not opposed to shaving the wheel wells a bit to make room for something slightly larger or offset)
-Nothing too heavy, since I’m looking to optimize torque to the wheels (more on that later)
-Skid plates front and rear and addressing lowest-hanging components
-In need of a bit more power to make up for the added weight, specifically low-end torque (especially useful driving up steep mountain roads at high elevation in Peru, where we will spend a considerable amount of time), so considering these mods:
*Major Intake/Exhaust upgrades
*Professional ECU tuning
*Some internals mods (though this depends on what I have left in the budget, as it would be costly since I probably would employ the help of a professional shop for this job; and not sure how necessary or beneficial this is given the durable nature of the K24 and not wanting to mess with that) (I haven’t looked into this option much, yet, to be honest, and will have to do more research on the issue… if anyone has any input here, it would be greatly appreciated)
*NO TURBO OR SUPERCHARGER (I want to keep this motor as durable as possible)
-Thinking a differential from a CR-V would help with the aggressiveness of the AWD system, as I saw somewhere around EOC (considering doing this)
-Re-gearing of the manual transmission could help getting up steep mountain roads with extra weight on us, so I’m looking into options for this as well (but I believe I’d need more torque along with this to make it useful rather than harmful to my system)
-Upgraded clutch/flywheel for added torque to the wheels (if not, I might at least replace the clutch slave cylinder with something stronger if available anywhere, or at least bring a spare with me, as I don’t want to be stuck with my clutch pedal to the floor (this happened on it about 10k miles ago due to a heavy leak in the slave cylinder which was replaced…. Would this precaution be overkill? Is the replacement good enough for another 50k+ miles even with rough use? Or is the taxing nature of this trip enough to warrant an upgrade or at the least bringing a spare?))
-Lighten the weight of the vehicle as much as possible by removing any unnecessary components I can find to make up for all the extra weight our camp rigging will add, and try to keep added weight lower to the ground (for uneven mountain roads) (any input on a weight reduction would be helpful)
-All kinds of camping gear will be coming with us, but that much is more a personal preference and not something anyone could really help me with at this point, though I will be updating this thread as I build the camping rig, and might need suggestions or help later
-Exterior Auxiliary Lighting solutions (if you have great ideas, especially budget but bright and durable, let me know!)
-Solar Power system to be added in order to power a fridge, interior lighting, and probably an electric stove. Planning as of now to run everything off of electric and have a small backup propane setup that I only use briefly for light cooking in the case of a downed solar power system
I’ll be able to restore, drive, inspect, and work on this for about a year and a half before taking off on the trip
Trip is roughly 30-40k miles or more depending on route and detours, driving from Alaska to Argentina over a timeframe of about 2-3 years
After the trip, depending on next plans, I might ship the E back to the U.S. or to another continent to travel somewhere else. Otherwise, I’d have to sell it to a new traveller in South America who can continue its legacy.
So enjoy this build/trip thread. My plan is to keep it thoroughly updated. And if you have any positive input, I’d love to hear it!