Monday, September 1, 2008

Fixing up our Element for the road

We're finally getting close to heading for the border. We are hanging out with Cornelius' parents in Florida for a couple of extra days as we wait for Gustav to finish with the Gulf Coast. To get ready for our trip, we made a bunch of modifications to Caballo (besides adding the ECamper camper top), thanks to the helpful posts at Honda Element Owners Club Forums. Some were simply cosmetic: we didn't opt for the fog lights, but Chris thought the empty spaces left in the front bumper for the fog lights looked funny so he installed 3/4" mirrors in their places.

Other modifications were functional: the radiator is pretty exposed in the front of the Element, so we installed a black plastic gutter guard, attached with black zipties behind the front grill to protect the radiator. This is called the Home Depot Grill Guard Modification on the forums.

Additionally, we installed LEDs in the dome and map lights to minimize drain on the battery. We opted for a blue LED for the passenger side map light to minimize distraction to the drive while the passenger is navigating. Once again, check out the A new type of LED dome light post on the user forums. The hardest part of the whole thing was figuring out how to order the right LEDs from This site is great- I bought a cigarette lighter flashlight from the site along with my LEDs, and it did not fit in the cigarette lighter of the car. I sent it back and they refunded my money.

As we're anticipating some fairly rough roads, we are leaving behind our mini-spare and bringing a full-sized spare. However, a full-sized spare doesn't fit in the spare well. Since the spare tire helps support the plastic panel that covers the spare well we added a support beam by laying two 2x4s on top of the spare tire mount and drilling a hole through the boards to secure them using the spare tire screwdown. This space will now be used for extra-secret storage. (Hopefully no banditos are reading this section.)

Lastly, we made improvements to make the car more comfortable. With much encouragement, assistance, and collaboration with my mother, we impressed ourselves by sewing curtains for the car. Emboldened by this success, we then sewed screens for the front windows to keep out the bugs. The curtains are suspended on poly drapery cord strung between the various handles, hooks, and seatbelts around the interior of the Element. The side curtains don't need to be taken down to drive the car, as they can be gathered at the frames between the door. The front and rear curtains can be easily put up and down as they are hung using mini carabiners through grommets in the curtains (brief video on YouTube or below).

Side curtains are gathered between the back-seat door and rear side window, and are attached in the middle of the car via grommet-carabiner, which hook to a ziptie around the handles above the door

Grommet-carabiners attach the rear curtain to the hooks by the rear door, and by zipties around the rear seatbelts.

The front curtain is strung in a similar fashion between the two handles above the front doors, and I put some velcro tabs at the edges of the front, side, and rear curtains so they can be non-permanently attached together to mamimize coverage.

For the window screens, I bought mosquito netting from EMS, and elastic drawstring, large beads, and cord locks at the West Concord 5 and 10, the local Concord Massachusetts general store. The screens fit over the open front door and can be cinched tight once the door is shut to form a closer seal. Once we arrived in Florida, Chris's mother (who is an excellent sewer and quilter) added darts to contour the screens to better fit the door, and reinforced the seams with lightweight denim to protect the more delicate mosquito netting from repeated door opening and shutting.


  1. Hmm, I see you still haven't updated your blog to give mom some credit for your curtains...

  2. It was entirely unintentional!!! Sincere apologies! I've updated it to reflect the invaluable contributions of both my and Chris's mothers. Glad there are people out there keeping me honest...

  3. Wow, that's some nice work! I especially like your curtains. I had thought of using the same "VW inspired" method and really wish I had. Despite only needing the curtains occasionally, I find the snaps I opted for to be a pain in the butt. Grommets and beaners definitely look like a more durable option. Enjoy your trip!


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