Here’s a new look at the finances associated with purchasing and operating a modern auto:

I generally figure in all my finances that it costs about $200/month to keep each vehicle running, roadworthy, and safe. This is actually a really low number, especially when compared with AAA and other guidelines. However, it figures (a) that I’m actually a fairly accomplished mechanic, (b) that I will have at least some time to work on the cars each month (which I count as recreation, since it refreshes me and is enjoyable), and (b) that I can get new parts reasonably priced from online vendors (or used ones for cheap at a junkyard). [1]

But think on this: an inexpensively purchased car “pencils out” very quickly in light what become proportionally high maintenance expenses.

If you can save money from that already really low maintenance figure, then the car doesn’t really have any type of “invested” funds or value.

If I buy a car for $800, and then over the course of six months replace a tire with a used one ($40), change the oil ($60), put new rear hatch struts in ($55), new brake pads up front ($30), replace the windshield ($180), put new wipers on ($20), top off the other fluids ($15), but spend no other money on the car, my already-allotted maintenance amount of $200/month for this car has completely penciled it out in those six months.

This is in fact what we have done with our 1990 Volvo 760 Wagon Turbo Intercooler (these numbers are approximations because I don’t have my real figures handy, but they are really close).

This is very free-ing from the what has become a “normal” type of financial entrapment in motor vehicles. Since I have already “gotten my money’s worth” from my Blue Volvo, if the engine cooks, a tree falls on it, or something else God forbid happens to it, I can walk away without worrying about the financial loss — there is none.

If I should wish to sell it or try something new, I am not bound to it by any guilt or sense of value. Of course, this freedom is balanced against all the other inconveniences of driving ridiculously inexpensive cars… from AAA towing calls (the costs of a AAA membership is included in that $200/month figure, BTW) to moldy seat belts, to intermittent dash lights, and so on.

[1] If you don’t have these factors working in your favor, what you have is a higher necessary cost for maintaining an automobile. Provided you can actually afford an auto, this works out in your favor: you get to spend more up front and/or see your vehicles pencil out quicker (e.g. if your costs are $400/month, your car’s purchase costs will pencil out quicker).

 
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