The Cost of Maintenance

At this point, I’ve spent most of my life behind the counter in one way or another in an automotive shop. For those of you who haven’t read any of our previous newsletters (we stopped sending them long ago), I’m a sick man.  I’ve devoted a huge part of my life to working on European Cars, mostly German – with the odd Swedish, Italian, British, and Asian thrown in for good measure.  Much like the animal lover who cannot bear to leave a haggard, tired animal out in the wilderness, I can’t resist an ill-maintained car.  The basket case, the project car, the “just needs tlc” car – I’ve had them all.  I’ve put lots of money into cars that weren’t worth it, and lots of money into cars they were kind of worth it.  Suffice it to say, I know a bit about maintenance, repair, and restoration.  After now 18 years in the car business, I think I may finally have an inkling as to what it costs.  Here are the top 3 things I have learned:

  1. The Cheapest Car is Usually The Most Expensive

I’m not exactly sure how many times I’ve had to learn this lesson – maybe only a thousand times or so. Every “really good deal which just needed a little work” turned into a semi-restoration or as a friend of mine likes to call it – resurrection.  In nearly all cases, I could have bought the most perfect example of the same car for more than I put into it.   The Lesson here is to keep your car well-maintained.  There is a breaking point (somewhat nebulous for sure) where it has fallen into such a state of disrepair that it’s not worth fixing.  To be fair, it has to be pretty far gone to cross the line, but it’s much cheaper to stay on top of things, rather than let them go.  This leads us to rule number 2…

  1. “If it aint broke don’t fix it” has to be (in my humble opinion) the most expensive saying ever recorded in automotive history.

On the surface, the idea seems sound, but when you dig a little deeper – the real meaning comes out. Essentially, let’s wait until the machine has failed before we try to prevent failures (i.e. we’re not going to do anything to it until it breaks).  One thing we see frequently is preventable part failures.  Usually when one part breaks, it takes something else with it.  Read Expensive.  Most good mechanics will tell you when something is about to break or looks like it might be nearing the end of its service life.  Frequently, they will tell you a rough timeframe when it should be replaced (soon, at the next service, now, or sometimes yesterday).  Knowing what is coming lets you budget for it, and avoid breakdowns.

  1. Maintenance is Cheap.

Now, before you get out the pitchforks, hear me out. We’ve done the math.  In most cases, with most of our customers, Maintenance works out to be about 11 cents a mile.  By Maintenance I mean everything – tires, brakes, repairs, etc. So, if you drive the average of 12,000 miles a year, you should expect to spend about $1320 on maintenance for your car each year or about $110/month.  Some years will be more, some years will be less – but it averages out.  To put it in perspective, it works out to about $27.50 per week, or $5.50 per day.  One Fancy Coffee a day costs more.

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