To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade: Weighing Car Maintenance Costs

June 5, 2013

With our uncertain economy, high fuel prices, and the frequent maintenance my car needs, owning a car isn't cheap.  From my side of the windshield, it doesn’t seem like many people keep their cars very long these days. With leases and warranties running out, the thought of trading for that new model looks awfully inviting. With 335,000+ miles on my shiny well-maintained 2001 Japanese-branded SUV, I’m wondering if it might be time to trade her in for something less worn out. 

Prompted by this curiosity, I asked Jack who is my auto dealership service agent how much money I’ve spent maintaining my car over the past 11 years. Jack tallied well over $15,000 spent maintaining my SUV - that’s about $1,364 per year just changing oil and fixing and replacing worn-out or broken parts. In my more than 24 years of commuting 120 miles daily to and from work, I’ve never kept a car over 11 years, nor have I maintained one as rigorously as the SUV I’m driving now.  In the past, I did the maintenance as long as the warranty was in effect.  After that, I mostly just kept adding oil and fuel. I guess my maintenance recordkeeping habits have matured because now, I dutifully record every fuel purchase and religiously calculate fuel efficiency.

Let’s see, do I want a brand new $24,000+ vehicle, or should I hang in there with my looks-new-proven-reliable car, with its $6,000 bill?  Quickly, at least for me, the choice became clear.  I could have the benefits of a nearly new but paid for vehicle with the annual maintenance and repair costs. After coming to my decision, I splurged and added $3.59 for a “new car fragrance” deodorizer.  Now, my SUV runs, looks, and even smells like new!

Overall, this ride has pretty much been like driving a state highway - mostly smooth with a “pothole” here and there.  The potholes have come in the form of replacing an alternator, a couple of air conditioner compressors, brakes and the brake cylinder, alignments, and a battery or two.  And, believe it or not, it still has its original clutch!

If you’re like me and have foregone the decision to buy new recently, I recommend that you follow the vehicle maintenance schedule provided by the car’s manufacturer:

  • Oil changes, oil changes, and, more oil changes. (I’ve done about 96 of them to date.)
  • Tire rotation about every 6,000 miles. (That’s about 55 times for my SUV, so far.)
  • Replace tires as needed. (My “Proud Mary” is currently rolling on her 6th set.)
  • Replace the air filter as needed. (She’s gotta breathe clean air.)
  • Fill ‘er up! (At 25 mpg, I’ve used 13,413 gallons of gasoline.)
  • And often! (I’ve refueled about every 280 miles, meaning 1,198 trips to the gas pump.)

In my last conversation with Jack, I told him,“I’m going for 500,000 miles before I even start thinking about a trade.”  I was really angling for the Great Customer Loyalty Discount, and just paving the road, so to speak.

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