Expecting the Unexpected
In this series so far I’ve covered why you should consider driving your car to 300,000 miles and how to maintain it well. In this final post, I want to share some advice on how to deal with inevitable unexpected repairs.
You’ve just been having a blast hanging out with friends. Now you are on your way home, pumping your jams, just taking in the moment of the good time you’ve had today when you hear an awful noise coming from your vehicle. Suddenly, the atmosphere in the car changes. You love this car! It’s your baby! It’s gotten you through college and job promotions, maybe even a job demotion, and you aren’t ready to give up on her yet.
Sometimes the hardest part of making a vehicle last is making the difficult decision to spend a significant amount of money to keep it running. It really helps if you are prepared to expect the unexpected, and here’s how.
Every so often, you should get your vehicle into your mechanic for a comprehensive inspection (this is different than diagnostic testing). He should be able to identify key concerns for your vehicle ranging from problems you are currently having (maybe you were aware of them or maybe there’s no way you would have known) to problems which you should plan on dealing with over time. The mechanic should be able to provide you with a comprehensive list that will help you plan for repairs, or if warranted, to make the decision to get rid of the car for something more reliable.
About a year ago we had a married couple bring us both of their vehicles clocking around 250,000 miles each. Andrew performed comprehensive inspections on both and then spent some talking through the condition of each vehicle. They asked a lot of questions and took some time to think it over. Eventually they decided to keep one of the vehicles and get rid of the other.
The vehicle this couple kept needed some significant repairs, but the repairs ended up costing less than replacing the vehicle for something of equal value and reliability. The car they got rid of required repairs that they didn’t find to be worth spending money on in relation to their goal for the vehicle. Soon after they replaced the vehicle, which the wife drove, they welcomed their first child into the world. We’re glad their child is safe and sound in the new vehicle but that by keeping the old vehicle, they were able to save a some money.
Major Repairs and Unexpected Problems
If you drive your car or truck up to 300,000 miles, it’s not a matter of if you will spend some significant cash on repairs but when. Sometimes you can plan for these repairs, especially if you get a comprehensive inspection done every so often. However, sometimes, no matter how closely you pay attention to your vehicle, some problems come as a big surprise. Therefore, you should always expect to be surprised every so often.
We recently had a 20 year old truck come into the shop with about 150,000 miles on it. It’s owner keeps meticulous records of the truck’s care almost down to every last drop of oil. He had an inspection done on it about 5 months prior and was getting the recommended repairs done diligently over time. Then one day he was driving around town and started to feel something off. Andrew had to deliver the bad news – he was facing transmission trouble.
Yikes! That’s a major expense that the customer hadn’t anticipated. He talked through the options thoroughly with Andrew – one option being to replace the whole truck. He soon realized that despite the great cost of replacing the transmission, the cost and risk of buying another truck of equal reliability with it’s own set of problems was a lot more. So, he decided to go ahead and replace the transmission on his beloved truck.
If I haven’t made it clear enough already, let me say it as plainly as possible: you WILL need to spend money to keep your vehicle going. Again, it’s not a matter of if you’ll need to spend money on repairs, it’s a matter of when.
How I wish I had considered this when I first bought my car. I was a college student at the time and then went on to work the next 10 years in the not-for-profit industry. I never made a lot of money and I wasn’t very wise in my own budgeting. So, as I mentioned in the first post in this series, I got to a point where I needed to put a few thousand dollars into repairs and I instead opted to make payments on a newer used car, which ended up setting me back three times what fixing the older car would have cost over time. Plus, I still had to pay for repairs on the newer car not too long down the road.
We strongly recommend starting a car fund to save up for expenses, both known and unknown, so that when the time comes, you aren’t scrambling to figure out how you are going to pay for it. We’ve processed repair bills anywhere from $20 – $7,000 that made complete sense for the vehicle being repaired.
There are several ways you can plan to save, but ultimately it depends on how much money you make, your cost of living, and how old your vehicle is. Let’s say you put away $25 each month and don’t end up needing it for two years – that’s $600 which can cover a variety of repairs, or at least lessen the blow in the likelihood that the total cost is more than that. Saving $25 is equivalent to passing on eating out one or two times each month, which I know is a lot more fun than getting your car fixed, but neither is not being able to go anywhere because your car doesn’t work. Keep in mind, it’s not unusual to need to spend a thousand dollars or more during a single visit. That’s why knowing the condition of your vehicle can be really beneficial to help you start planning.
One customer recently told me that she had financed her vehicle, and yet after it was paid off she continue paying that same monthly amount into an Auto Repair fund to help with maintenance and repairs down the road. You’ve already made it work in your budget to make payments on the loan each month, so it shouldn’t be hard to continue paying them. Even if you payed for your vehicle outright, consider making a “car payment” to yourself each month anyway. You’ll thank yourself later!
When all’s said and done, unless you live in a city with top-notch public transportation, you will need a vehicle to get to work, get kids to and from school, do errands, and visit with friends and family. Your vehicle is a necessary expense for survival whether you’re low income and drive an old economy car or well off and drive a luxury vehicle from this decade. You must be wise with the time and money you invest to keep it running well for you and potentially the person you’ll sell it to down the road, should you choose to move on.
This is the third and final post in a series. Be sure to read about why you should consider driving your car to 300,000 miles and how to maintain it well to get there.
– From the Mechanic’s Wife