A Letter to Floridians: Driving in the Cold

A Letter to Floridians: Driving in the Cold

Dear Floridians,

I’m a Michigander at heart. I admit that I had no desire to leave my home of more than 25 years, especially to live in Florida, but alas, here I am and here I’ve been for 8 years. I’ve married a Floridian and we own a business in Florida, so we’re not planning on leaving anytime soon. My son will probably live years before he has any memories of snow. My heart is broken. I love snow…and yet I live in Florida!

For those of you who get to head up north with the advent of the holiday season, I’d like to share with you my experiences of driving in snow. The one downside of the majesty of a wintery wonderland is that it’s not easy to drive in as, unlike rain (wet is wet), there are many variations of a snowy road from black ice to slush (wet snow), and frozen snow to powder and everything inbetween.

Here are my top 5 tips for driving in below freezing temperatures:

Continue reading “A Letter to Floridians: Driving in the Cold” »

The Trust Cost of Vehicle Ownership

The Trust Cost of Vehicle Ownership

We’ve all experienced that moment when someone providing a necessary service for you tells you the price on the final bill and your heart plummets into your stomach. Your heart continues to beat heavily way down there while you are mentally reviewing your bank account. How am I going to pay for this?

Andrew and I know the feeling all too well. For us, it doesn’t come from maintaining and repairing our vehicles since we can do it ourselves, but in other areas of life we know what it’s like. I recently gave birth to our first son. He was barely four days old when I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. I then had two major surgeries and spent nearly three weeks in and out of the ICU.

When I was getting ready to be discharged, we got down to business about how much this was going to cost. Let me just say, the amount was way more than we would have been able to pay ourselves, so that bill was terrifying! (Thankfully, we had planned ahead for such an emergency and had access to a resource that covered the bill in full; that’s another story for another day, but you are welcome to ask).

You don’t have to look at a bill in panic when it comes to your car. There are ways you can plan ahead and, in many cases, have enough in your bank account to fully cover all the costs of owning and maintaining a vehicle.

Purchase Cost vs. Ownership Cost

When a person buys a vehicle, whether new or used, usually all they’re thinking about is the upfront cost of the vehicle purchase. In our experience, very few people have in mind the varying costs of maintenance and repairs. For example, the cost of an oil change can range in cost from vehicle to vehicle depending on the type of engine. Some oil and filters are higher in cost than others. That’s just the beginning, however, if you consider the variance in labor times and parts costs for everything from a simple repair to a complex multiple-day repair procedure.

It’s wise to ask the right questions and do your research before buying a vehicle so you have a better idea of what it is going to cost you, not just to purchase the vehicle, but to own the vehicle over several years. One of your first steps here should be to consult with a trustworthy mechanic, which can help you focus your research effectively.

Planning Ahead for Repairs and Maintenance

$1,000 a year is a conservative figure to expect for repairs and maintenance. Many vehicles will easily exceed this figure. The degree to which you want to maintain your vehicle (Do you want to limp it along? Or do you want it reliable and safe?) also affects this number. So we suggest this number only as a starting point for budgeting. While we understand that for some people, that’s a lot of money to put away every year when you have so many other expenses to consider (it certainly is for us!), but if you think about it, $1000/year – $83.33/month – is less than a car payment. Even at $2,000/year (or $166.66/month), we’re barely approaching car payment territory. We have a customer that bought a new used vehicle with financing and after she paid her car off, she kept making the same payments into a savings account. She used this for oil changes and had no qualms about sinking a couple thousand into repairs when the time came.

The Value of Regular Inspections

A vehicle that hasn’t had much attention for several years is probably due for a significant investment of preventative maintenance and repairs (Remember, $1,000/yr is a conservative number!).  However, to keep costs down and expenses more palatable, every vehicle owner should consider to planning to have your mechanic put your vehicle through a comprehensive inspection and plan maintenance and repairs every 2-3 years.

At our shop, this type of inspection means we go through your vehicle with a fine-toothed comb and hand you a comprehensive list of everything we’d like you to consider for the next 2-3 years, barring inevitable unforeseen repairs (which should be fewer and farther between). This includes urgent safety concerns, things that are wearing down but can wait, and maintenance items on the manufacturer’s schedule. Think about it this way, a vehicle is a machine and machines wear or break! Many of these issues can be caught in advance, saving you time, money, and stress.

Investing money in a vehicle doesn’t always feel the most cost effective at the time, but it often costs less than replacing it. However, we won’t hesitate to tell our customers when it’s time to invest in a replacement vehicle over repairing the current one.

We understand how difficult it can be to save money. We also understand wanting to get the most out of what you pay for. Please let us know how we can help you make financial plans and decisions that you feel confident in.

-From the Mechanic’s Wife

Getting Your Car Ready for the Road Trip to Grandma’s

Getting Your Car Ready for the Road Trip to Grandma’s

Some of my fondest childhood memories involved piling in the car with my parents and siblings to drive down to Nana and Papa’s house. My sister, the youngest, usually sat between my brother and I. Maybe  this was because she was smaller, or maybe because it reduced the amount of, “Mom! He’s touching me!” and “Mom, tell her not to…”. I can’t say the car rides were enjoyable, but the anticipation of being with family made them a faint memory compared to the visit itself.

Arriving at Nana and Papa’s involved a lot of fanfare and we got special treatment during the whole visit. Even though my sister and I never really liked the matching outfits – complete with hats, gloves, purses, and lacey socks – that Nana put us in, we put up with it because of how proud she was to show us off to her friends at church. The memories are so fond, I can still feel the hugs, smell the food, and picture the family sitting around the den on the orange shag carpet. Then, back in the car for 5 hours with my family and a humming carousel of photo slides projected on the wall to click through on our next visit at my grandparent’s house.

Now, as an adult, these trips are just as much about the drive as the time spent. Before I met Andrew, I used to just hop in the car and go. However, I’ve learned that a little planning can make the trip go a lot more smoothly with more assurance of a safe arrival to my destination and back home again.

Whether you are just visiting grandma a couple hours away for the weekend or staying with family and friends several states away, here are some things you should consider before you hit the road:

1. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Schedule Service

If you have any concerns about your vehicle, do not wait until a day or two before your trip to have them addressed. Give your mechanic ample time to diagnose and repair the concern. Some issues can be handled within a day, but others may take a couple, or even several days depending on the problem, parts availability, and time needed to complete repairs. Keep in mind that repair shops tend to get really busy a couple weeks prior to a major holiday as people prepare to spend time with out of town family and friends.

2. Check Your Oil

You should be checking your oil level monthly, anyway. Whether due to oil leaking or burning, or normal engine operation, some vehicles require oil top-offs between oil changes, and road-trips put a lot of miles on the vehicle in a short time. Furthermore, oil will sometimes leak faster during extended cruising because it gets very hot and thins out with the heat! We suggest you check it before you leave, occasionally during your trip (gas stops are a good opportunity), and once more after you return.

3. Check Your Tire Pressure

The last thing you want is for your tire to blow-out half-way to your destination. A low tire reduces your vehicle’s ability to handle properly, and, strange as it may sound, increases the risk of a blow-out due to increased friction against the road and heat that builds up in the tire. Again, this is something you should check on a monthly basis, but right before a trip can prevent an especially unpleasant situation. Please remember that you should not use the maximum pressure shown on the tire sidewall, but rather the manufacturer’s recommended pressures listed in the driver’s door area.

Make sure your spare tire is inflated as well (we check them during inspections, and they usually aren’t!). Even if your tires seem to be in good condition and properly inflated when you leave, there are certain road hazards that simply can’t be controlled. You don’t want to be stuck with a flat only to find your spare is also flat!

4. Preventative Maintenance Items

For example, has your brake fluid ever been serviced? Since brake fluid is hygroscopic, it will pull water moisture out of the air over time, which lowers the boiling point of the fluid. This is particularly important if you expect to be driving in hilly or mountainous areas.

Also, check your wipers. You don’t want to get stuck driving in rain or snow with worn out wipers.

When did you last replace your battery? If it wasn’t recently, it may be worth getting it tested. Additionally, make sure you’ve got jumper cables in the car in case it runs low for some reason (I’m really good at leaving my lights on accidentally when I’m out of my usual routine).

How old are your tires? Limited use vehicles (or vehicles that sit for long periods) sometimes have dry-rotting tires that still have plenty of tread on them. If you’re not sure how old your tires are, or whether you have obvious, visible dry-rot, these are good questions to ask your mechanic.

5. Consider Your Driving Conditions

Driving through the mountains? Make sure your brakes are in good condition. Driving to the chilly north? You may need antifreeze washer fluid. Also, get up to speed on defensive driving tactics for ice and snow.

On top of that, you might consider how your car handles in wet and high-speed conditions. If your tire tread is low or your suspension has gone soft, you may have less control over your vehicle at higher speeds and/or in rain, sleet, snow, or ice. Low tire tread increases the risk of hydroplaning and increases your stopping distance. Worn out suspension components can reduce the car’s ability to handle emergency maneuvers (worn shocks or struts can increase stopping distance as well.).

6. Be Prepared

You and your family may be really looking forward to being together in the upcoming Holiday season and the last thing you want is for car trouble to interrupt that valuable time. Being prepared in advance can greatly reduce that risk. However, it’s smart to stay on top of your vehicle’s condition regardless of a planned road trip because you never know when a family emergency may warrant an unplanned trip. Being proactive can not only save you the stress of the unexpected, it can also help you plan your budget and possibly even save you money by preventing a domino effect of surprises.

Most importantly, enjoy the precious moments you are able to spend with your friends and family. Have a fun trip and enjoy the journey!

Three Things New Drivers and Concerned Parents Should Know

Three Things New Drivers and Concerned Parents Should Know

I hopped in my parents’ minivan with my high school friend, Liam (not his real name – we’re still friends and I want to keep it that way!), on a crisp Michigan November afternoon. I was a little nervous but also pretty excited. It was one of my first times driving without my parents or another adult in the car. Liam and I were headed to my Grandparents’ house to help clean out their basement. I felt sooo grown up!

As we headed down the scenic M-22, snaking around Grand Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan all seemed to be going fine. The tires were humming slightly, which my mom told me was because they had just put snow tires on the car in preparation for winter. I nervously engaged in conversation with Liam, still not a fully confident driver, as the humming grew slowly louder. I kept saying, “I think it’s getting louder. Do you think it’s ok?” to which Liam assured me it was like my Mom said, just the snow tires gripping the road. It came to a point where we had to yell to hear one another and I said, “I think we should pull over just to be sure.” Continue reading “Three Things New Drivers and Concerned Parents Should Know” »

How To Reduce Stress With Your Next Vehicle Repair

How To Reduce Stress With Your Next Vehicle Repair

My car is acting up, so I make an appointment with an auto mechanic shop. I figure I’ll take my car to them, I’ll describe the issue, and they’ll find what’s wrong and repair the problem. If you are like me, the thought process stops there. But then, I arrive and talk to a mechanic, or maybe a service advisor, and then I get overwhelmed. They ask questions I don’t know the answer to and I’m in a hurry to get to the next thing on my agenda.

Before I married a mechanic, I definitely didn’t know how to make the most of my appointment with an auto mechanic shop, making it a stressful experience. Now that my husband and I own a shop, I’d like to share with you some things I’ve learned that will save you some of the frustration I used to experience. Continue reading “How To Reduce Stress With Your Next Vehicle Repair” »

Start the New Year Right for Your Car and Your Wallet

Start the New Year Right for Your Car and Your Wallet

New Year’s Resolutions have gotten a bad rap over the years. Instead of an opportunity to better one’s life each year, this annual resolution has turned into a promise with little hope of completion for many. That’s why I’d like to encourage you to avoid them at all costs. No diet and exercise plans, no promise of kicking that bad habit, of being nicer to your siblings, or of completing that project. Instead, I’d like to encourage you to start every day with 5 minutes to quietly ask yourself, “what can I do today to make wise choices?” Don’t make this a resolution. Don’t get down on yourself if it doesn’t happen every day, just give yourself the gift of 5 minutes.

In that five minutes, you’ll likely come up with something different today than you will a week from now. For example, maybe one day you are thinking about choices you need to make about your vehicle, but the money thing is stressing you out. On that day, pull up this blog post, and follow these steps for making wise choices for your car and your wallet. Once you take the first step, you won’t have to work so hard to stick to a goal.

Continue reading “Start the New Year Right for Your Car and Your Wallet” »

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