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

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