The 18-Year-Old Auto Upgrade: Jim’s 1999 Acura TL

Some of you have asked us to tell you more about the Acura that inspired this series about updating an older car with new tech. I’m more than happy to oblige, especially if doing so might inspire one of you to tender an offer.

The Acura in question is a TL of 1999 vintage, with 162,000 miles showing on the clock. I am the second owner and have paperwork going back to day one, so I have no reason to believe the mileage isn’t original.

Both the Acura and I now live in the greater New York City area, although the car was originally purchased in Miami from an elderly gentleman who kept it at his retirement home on Miami Beach. He had it for six years, during which time he racked up about 70,000 miles before selling it to my wife at the time and me for an entirely reasonable price. It had developed a tendency to shut itself off at inopportune times, thus leaving the elderly gentleman with no power steering, brakes, or car. In Miami, this was even less of a good thing in those days than it is now.

Our reasons for choosing the car were simple. We needed a car, and my wife saw it with a for sale sign while she was out for a neighborhood jog. But before making an offer, I called a genius mechanic friend of mine to ask what he thought about the stalling issue. In less than a minute, he diagnosed the problem as a faulty ignition switch, the victim of far too much stuff hanging from the elderly gentleman’s keychain.

Joe’s diagnosis was all the more impressive given that the Acura had been back to the dealer three times to try to fix the problem to no avail. One $50-or-thereabouts part later, the stalling issue was fixed and has yet to return. Let that be a lesson to all of you with five pounds of crap hanging from your key ring. I’m talking to you, Mr. or Ms. bottle opener, locket full o’ pix, and kewpie doll person.

Other than that and the obligatory Honda/Acura transmission replacement at around 90,000 miles, the TL has yet to leave me stranded at the side of the road, and has been largely trouble-free. Unless you count the passenger window switch. Or the driver’s seat motor. Or the leaky air conditioning. Or the sunroof that got slower and slower until I finally stopped opening it for fear it would never close again.

Thanks to a smartphone and YouTube videos, even a schmuck like me can fix many such things and keep an old car on the road. If you’re one of the few who has yet to figure this out, try Googling whatever ails your car, or even yourself. You’ll find free videos on everything from repairing an Acura window switch, to a suspension bridge, to taking out your own tonsils.

As legend has it, my TL was originally a dealer showroom car, and being from Miami it came equipped with the full South Florida Appearance Group. That means in addition to whatever options were offered by the factory, it had chrome alloy wheels, blacked out windows, a gawdawful and curb-magnet supreme aero kit, and acres of a photographed wood-like substance covering most of the console, doors, and even the air vents. It also came with Acura’s first factory navigation system. Consisting of a center screen powered by a box in the trunk the size of a TV cable box and requiring six or eight cartridges to map North America, the nav system in my car bit the big one a long time ago. But all is not lost, because the screen makes a handy flat surface for attaching a phone mount suction cup.

The Acura continues to serve me well as everything from commuter car to the vehicle of choice for dump runs, and it did duty transporting two 90-pound Belgian Shepherds for years. It still runs just fine, passes the 20-footer test, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take it anywhere — even though the dogs rendered the back seat all but uninhabitable for humans years ago. Resale value is not a pressing concern.

The once-proud Miami Vice look has faded as the blacked out windows have become more transparent over the years, and the chrome wheels rotted away before they were replaced with a set of junkyard alloys. The aero kit remains, thanks to the wonders of zip ties. I have no plans to replace the Acura, unless, of course, one of you makes me that offer I can’t refuse. You’d just better have a dog.

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