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Deferred maintenance to "save" money?
Old 02-17-2010, 09:51 AM   #1
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Deferred maintenance to "save" money?

This is just anecdotal, but I took my pickup for the state inspection and asked them to do a load test on the battery since was 7 years old and original with the truck. Ended up buying a new battery because the old one was about to go. To me this was a no-brainer decision since a tow is almost the cost of a new battery and there's never a convenient time to have one's car die. Plus I'd end up buying a new battery anyway.

Talking with the shop owner about business he said it's the slowest he's seen in 27 years. He said many people are simply not doing normal maintenance on their cars, relating one story of a guy who finally brought his in for an oil change. The engine had almost no oil in it and what there was there was sludge.

I don't get it. If money is tight, and one can't afford to replace the car, wouldn't it make sense to take extra-good care of the car one has to make sure it lasts as long as possible? Why would anyone risk having to buy a new engine (or car) to save $25 for an oil change?

He related several other stories along a similar line, for example people not doing a brake pad replacement, then having to replace the rotors (at ~$200 each) in addition to the pads when the inevitable happens.

Even if one had to pay credit card interest rates to do the maintenance on time it would still be cheaper in the long run.

Why do people do that?
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Old 02-17-2010, 10:19 AM   #2
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No wonder your friend isn't doing much business. He charges $200 for a $30 rotor part that he probably buys wholesale for $15.

To answer your question directly though, Yes people should do the maintenance. However Modern cars don't need all that much. Other than oil changes my car doesn't need much at all until it hits 100k miles.

In some cases, the car maintenance business is a racket designed to over maintain cars and extract lots of money from the unknowledgeable.

I agree on the battery though. After 7 years it's time for a new battery. people should also check their oil level regularly. Ditto for water and other fluids.

Some day when my ship comes in I intend to do a science experiment. I'll buy a new car and then see how long it runs without doing any oil changes/oil addition , filter changes, etc just to see. My suspicion is that The total ownership cost would be less and that I would actually save money over a dealer - maintained car.
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Old 02-17-2010, 10:33 AM   #3
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No wonder your friend isn't doing much business. He charges $200 for a $30 rotor part that he probably buys wholesale for $15.
And he has to pay labor, insurance, unemployment compensation, training, rent, utilities, garbage, property taxes, FICA, hazardous waster removal, etc......but I digress.........

Sure, some folks can do it themselves, but how many? One of my friends always changes his own oil. He tells me he can do it for about $15, and it takes him about 30-40 minutes. I get coupons, and get it done for $20. The savings in my time counts for something.........
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Old 02-17-2010, 10:37 AM   #4
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"Pay me now or PAY me later." Remember that commercial? Preventative maintenance.
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Old 02-17-2010, 10:43 AM   #5
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Sure, some folks can do it themselves, but how many? One of my friends always changes his own oil. He tells me he can do it for about $15, and it takes him about 30-40 minutes. I get coupons, and get it done for $20. The savings in my time counts for something.........
I went through my Motorhead stage but have now recovered. I have still been changing my own oil but have to wonder why with prices such as you quote. If nothing else though, it gives me the opportunity to scope out any issues under the car.

I had a woman friend who recently paid $2200 for "normal" maintenance at the dealer on a car worth maybe $4000. She's probably paying more for maintenance than for car payments. People like that would probably be better off owning new cars. The payment would be more but the total cost would be less.

People drive these old cars thinking that they are saving money. If they pay maintenance costs like that then they sure aren't.
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Old 02-17-2010, 10:51 AM   #6
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I don't get it. If money is tight, and one can't afford to replace the car, wouldn't it make sense to take extra-good care of the car one has to make sure it lasts as long as possible? Why would anyone risk having to buy a new engine (or car) to save $25 for an oil change?
Even if one had to pay credit card interest rates to do the maintenance on time it would still be cheaper in the long run.
Why do people do that?
I think it's because people can't tell what they're doing to equipment when they neglect it.

If a car had as many sensors as a nuclear submarine then it'd be very clear that they needed to keep up with the maintenance, but usually they can't tell that anything bad is happening until it's too late-- even if the symptoms are clear to a trained eye/ear. Imagine if car engineers had to design their vehicle maintenance systems to appeal to a teenager. Or imagine if the Star Trek Enterprise's computer lectured you every time you went over an oil-change interval.

The "check engine" light is a great concept for an in-your-face trouble alert, but even that cries wolf sometimes-- like with the fuel tank vent.

In defense of waiting until it's really necessary to fix something, the Navy's preventive maintenance system used to start with manufacturer's design data to decide how often to inspect equipment. Sometimes you'd tear apart a perfectly good piece of machinery just to verify that it was working satisfactorily, and you'd break all sorts of other things getting it apart and putting it back together. Good training for mechanics & electricians but very labor-intensive, disruptive, and expensive. Over the last 15 years or so the trend has been performance monitoring or "keep testing it and don't fix it until it needs it", which has worked out a lot better for labor & cost.

If that monitoring could be done more easily at home (or without sales pressure at a dealer's) then perhaps owners would take more care.
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Old 02-17-2010, 11:18 AM   #7
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I've found that the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedules are pretty reasonable. It is the dealers that cook up this additional maintenance "requirements" - at inflated prices.

Re brake pads - in the old days rotors were really expensive and only replaced if badly warped or scored. These days it is almost standard practice to replace the rotors with the pads, as the rotors are much cheaper and resurfacing the rotors is time consuming and not always possible due to minimum thickness requirements.
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Old 02-17-2010, 11:22 AM   #8
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I had a woman friend who recently paid $2200 for "normal" maintenance at the dealer on a car worth maybe $4000. She's probably paying more for maintenance than for car payments. People like that would probably be better off owning new cars. The payment would be more but the total cost would be less.
I made a spreadsheet to answer the question of "when will it cost more to maintain an old car versus buy a new one". The answer was never. Even paying the hypothetical $2200 for maintenance is cheaper than car payments.

We actually did this recently. Not quite $2200, probably more like $1500, on a 2000 low end Honda Accord. Maybe a $5000 car today?? But we have maintained it well, mostly per mfr recs (mostly ). It is low mileage, just a touch over 100k miles. We had to get the timing belt changed, new water pump, oil change, transmission something or other, spark plugs, 2 new tires, etc. Typical 100k mile stuff. A year later, and all we have done is change the oil 1x for $30.

Taxes on the current 10 year old car are $200 less per year versus a similar new Accord, insurance is probably $200-300 less per year. If we bought a new Accord, the payment on a $20,000 loan at 4% interest for 5 years would be 368 per month, or $4400/yr. Say $5000 more per year for five years to own the new car. Now that the 100k stuff is done, there is very little routine maintenance items each year for 4-5 more years, (maybe $300-400/yr plus whatever unexpected failures we have). The routine maintenance tasks on the old car would be similar to those recommended for a new car.

Sure 5 years from now we will have a 15 year old car worth maybe $2500 versus a 5 year old car worth $8000-10000, but we also would have spent roughly $25000 more to get the 10 year newer car. Ignoring time value of money here (discount rate = 0), the old car saves us $17,500 versus a new car, or $3,500 a year. Times 2 cars we own, that is $7000 a year. But we have to drive older cars. I'll take $7k a year in exchange for driving 10 year old(er) hondas that run very well.

But yes, at some point we will have to replace them. A brand new car will be cheaper than a divorce, says the DW.
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Old 02-17-2010, 11:36 AM   #9
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Sure 5 years from now we will have a 15 year old car worth maybe $2500 versus a 5 year old car worth $8000-10000
That's real money that needs to go in your spreadsheet.

The bottom line is that a new car costs more but has very little maintenance costs. If you are going to pay thousands a year to maintain an older car then it just might not be the bargain you imagine.

As an aside - The great thing about many Japanese and increasingly all cars is - How great they run when they are not maintained.
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Old 02-17-2010, 11:38 AM   #10
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.... Over the last 15 years or so the trend has been performance monitoring or "keep testing it and don't fix it until it needs it", which has worked out a lot better for labor & cost.....
The method currently proposed for a valve on this bit of organic machinery. As the doc said, "you could do ok with that valve and it might not require replacing till you are eighty - and you might get lucky and be hit by a bus at seventy-nine". Other options are quite invasive and sometimes there are oops moments.
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Old 02-17-2010, 11:45 AM   #11
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I won't get into what is a fair price for a brake job/rotors (or even an oil change). But your question about deferring maintenance seems to imply that it's never a good idea to do so. If you have a basic understanding of cars and understand the risks, it might make all kinds of sense. Let me give you an example. The beater I use when I travel to the mainland for a couple of months is overdue for replacing the timing belt. But, since the car is a 91 and hasn't been washed since 1999 (I'm dead serious), I'm letting the timing belt go. If it breaks (and probably ruins the engine) I'm stuck on the side of the road with a tow to the junk yard. Fixing the belt could be $600 or more ($500 the first time).

So I figure the beastie is one major repair away from the scrap heap. Deferring maintenance on it seems to make sense to me.

My current "good" car has the engine light on all the time. I know what system is causing it - the fuel recovery. I found out for "free" when my local mechanic charged me $250 to diagnose and change a valve cover gasket on a 4 cyl. engine. So don't be too harsh on me if I don't ask that mechanic to "fix" whatever would make the light go off (don't think it's the gas cap, but I suppose I could be getting limp wristed in my old age).

I guess my point is that car maintenance is what I would call expensive. (YOU might be able to justify it, based on shop time - $115 at my (former) mechanic - standard hours per each jobe, etc.) But for me, I think it's outrageous. So if I sort of know what is wrong, I'll play the odds on whether to fix it or wait. I'm willing to take the chance in most cases. What I'm no longer willing to do is dig into a greasy POS and work on it myself. I'll pay the man - but only when I think it's worth it.

Another "story". Battery on "good" car died. Took it to the place where they have used batteries "Guaranteed for 30 days". Saved 2/3 of cost of good battery which would have been replacement-warranted for 2 years, then pro-rated for a couple more. I now carry the back up battery booster in that car - just in case. Always have jumper cables.

Never replace the oil at 3000 miles like the quicky-oil places say you should. Manual says 7500, so that's what I do (could stretch to 8000, heh, heh). But I check the oil regularly and if it started to look dirty, I'd replace it before 7500. Oil changes here are no less than $30 on a good day, and then there's the hassle/time factor. God willing, I'll never crawl under a car again and change my own, so I'm stuck with the quicky people.

One more (sorry, but you strated it). Tires on "good" car got down to 1/32" tread so figured time to replace. Went to Sams and paid $110/tire - used to pay $34 on the beastie. Installation would have been the rest of the day cause I was "in line". To get to the "front" of the line, I agreed to bring it back at 7:00AM next day. Still took 'til 12:00 to install 4 tires (probably a cousin or two somehow got ahead of me, heh, heh) So $450 and 5 hours of my life that I'll never get back to get me 4 new tires. That's another reason I'll defer maintenance.

Well, if this sounds like a rant, I'll plead guilty. I hate dealing with car repairs, so I'll always play the odds and hope for the best. I do inspect the cars (especially DW's) to look for anything obvious and I would never let brakes or even tires go too long (by my definition). I do NOT ignore maintenance. I just have my own rules on what is "normal" maintenance.

Well, gotta run. Going to my new mechanic to see why the AC has been out (on the "good" car) for the last year. He thinks it could be as little as $700 to fix. Whoooopie! Such a deal.
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:00 PM   #12
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since the car is a 91 and hasn't been washed since 1999 (I'm dead serious
That's only 11 years ago - maybe it doesn't need it yet !

Koolau - You take defered maintenance to a whole nuther' level.

Quote:
Going to my new mechanic to see why the AC has been out (on the "good" car) for the last year. He thinks it could be as little as $700 to fix. Whoooopie! Such a deal
The first thing I would do is give it a refrigerant charge. They sell cans of R-134a (freon replacement) at many stores. You can put a can of the stuff in, in about 3 minutes - no kidding. The cost - maybe $4. Even if it leaks out in a month or three it still is less than $700.
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:10 PM   #13
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The method currently proposed for a valve on this bit of organic machinery. As the doc said, "you could do ok with that valve and it might not require replacing till you are eighty - and you might get lucky and be hit by a bus at seventy-nine". Other options are quite invasive and sometimes there are oops moments.
I've been looking at the medtech side of valve replacements. Every decade you can wait makes the new hardware (and its insertion technology) that much better. Look how far open-heart cardiac surgery has come in the last 10 years.

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... If it breaks (and probably ruins the engine) I'm stuck on the side of the road with a tow to the junk yard. Fixing the belt could be $600 or more ($500 the first time).
Nice thing about living on an island is that you're rarely more than 30 miles from home, and never stranded in the middle of the desert.

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Well, gotta run. Going to my new mechanic to see why the AC has been out (on the "good" car) for the last year. He thinks it could be as little as $700 to fix. Whoooopie! Such a deal.
Second the motion for a Wal-Mart refrigerant-addition kit. That made the difference on our 13-year-old Altima, which we also don't want to put any more money into.

I also know a good husband & wife shop in Waipahu, but from your side that's about the limit both for 30 miles and the middle of the desert...
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:15 PM   #14
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If a car had as many sensors as a nuclear submarine
I definitely do NOT want one of these!

I am one of those who babys my 2000 Dodge Stratus with manufacturer recommended maintenance (oil changes/air filters/fresh hoses/belts, etc. when due) - it has worked for the last 130,000 miles, and I hope to get as many more miles as possible out of her! But I actually got 9 years out of the stock battery!
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:20 PM   #15
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I definitely do NOT want one of these!
Funny, I hear that a lot around my house too...
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:48 PM   #16
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That's real money that needs to go in your spreadsheet.

The bottom line is that a new car costs more but has very little maintenance costs. If you are going to pay thousands a year to maintain an older car then it just might not be the bargain you imagine.

As an aside - The great thing about many Japanese and increasingly all cars is - How great they run when they are not maintained.
My spreadsheet has the value of the new and old car included, along with annual depreciation and future values discounted to get net present value.

The bottom line is that it just never pencils out to buy a new car vs. maintaining an old one. I'm sure it eventually would, if, say I needed a whole new engine, transmission, tires, paint, windows, etc all at one time. But using fairly reasonable assumptions (not worst case, but worse than I expect to actually happen), it just didn't pencil out to replace an old car.

Realistically, I don't plan on spending "thousands" every year maintaining our 10 year old cars. Part of the reason that I don't plan on spending a ton of money fixing mechanical breakdowns going forward is that we have maintained the vehicles very well over the years. Some stuff we have deferred or ignored that just didn't seem worth it to complete and the risk/damage of not completing was minimal or zero (other than inconvenience of having that system fail eventually).

Take, for example, the timing belt. It will fail eventually. Our hondas have interference engines. Failure of the timing belt while the engine is operating could cost a few hundred extra (beyond the cost of replacing the belt anyway) or basically total our cars (if a new engine were required). Yes, it is $500-700 to replace the timing belt, but it is worth it if it extends the life of the car another 7-10 years.

Another example: is it worth it to replace the transmission fluid for $60 every 5 years if it will give you a 90% chance of making your transmission last the life of the car versus not changing it ever and having a 50% chance the transmission will grind down at 80-100k miles, resulting in a $1000+ service? I'm not an automotive engineer, but that is sort of how the guesswork works in my mind. Paying just a little bit to maintain a given critical system is cheaper over the long run versus paying to replace the system.

Sometimes reliability and peace of mind makes maintenance worth it. DW, for example, would not drive a 10 year old car if the maintenance lights were constantly coming on, it was smoking, and broke down every few months. So I have non-engineering considerations to factor in to the maintenance/deferred maintenance decision. Pay a few hundred bucks to keep it maintained, or pay $20,000 for a new car.
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Old 02-17-2010, 01:16 PM   #17
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I think a lot of people, myself included, have a really hard time differentiating between critical maintenance and services that the dealer is trying to push on us. I am good about routine stuff that I am confident the car needs - oil changes, brakes, tires, battery. But I'm not so sure, for example, about the many flushes the dealer is constantly pushing. There are literally 5 different flushes the Subaru dealer tries to push on me constantly. I do them, but since I'm a low-mileage driver, not as often as they recommend.

Then there are those services that to me are highly suspect. Several years ago, the dealer was constantly recommending "Cabin Air Filter service". They had posters all over the service center, sent out regular emails, and even sent snail mail offers touting this important service (for $99!). When an advisor explained to me that it was important to the air quality inside the car, I thought to myself "Not Now. Not Ever."

The problem is that all this creates a sense of mistrust on the consumer's part. I really do want to have my car serviced as needed, but just wish there was a better way to know what (and when) is really critical. And I'm not convinced that the owner's manual isn't biased in favor of the dealer's service center.
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Old 02-17-2010, 01:25 PM   #18
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<snip>

Take, for example, the timing belt. It will fail eventually. Our hondas have interference engines. Failure of the timing belt while the engine is operating could cost a few hundred extra (beyond the cost of replacing the belt anyway) or basically total our cars (if a new engine were required). Yes, it is $500-700 to replace the timing belt, but it is worth it if it extends the life of the car another 7-10 years.

Another example: is it worth it to replace the transmission fluid for $60 every 5 years if it will give you a 90% chance of making your transmission last the life of the car versus not changing it ever and having a 50% chance the transmission will grind down at 80-100k miles, resulting in a $1000+ service? I'm not an automotive engineer, but that is sort of how the guesswork works in my mind. Paying just a little bit to maintain a given critical system is cheaper over the long run versus paying to replace the system.

Sometimes reliability and peace of mind makes maintenance worth it. DW, for example, would not drive a 10 year old car if the maintenance lights were constantly coming on, it was smoking, and broke down every few months. So I have non-engineering considerations to factor in to the maintenance/deferred maintenance decision. Pay a few hundred bucks to keep it maintained, or pay $20,000 for a new car.

Did the Subaru timing belt replacement at 100k miles, new gears, pulleys, etc, flushed the trans. despite it having a "lifetime filter" (huh? what good is it to change the fluid then?) ... roughly $1,800 later. Then, 28k mi. later, transmission threatens to die - slipping terribly. Told the wife, the car was 10 yrs. old, does it make sense to stick a new transmission in? End up buying a '08 and, in the trade, getting $3k more than a car with a shot transmission is worth, to me. But, the '08 was marked up $1k more than it was worth according to Edmunds or one of those sites. So, I tried, but sometimes you just gotta bite the bullet; those other non-engineering/financial considerations you alluded to.

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Old 02-17-2010, 02:24 PM   #19
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..............<snip>........... And I'm not convinced that the owner's manual isn't biased in favor of the dealer's service center.
I can't speak for all manufacturers, but when I was writing maintenance schedules, maintenance was shaded more by making sure the car met its emissions and fuel economy requirements. Throwing the dealers a bone was never a consideration.
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Old 02-17-2010, 02:26 PM   #20
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I change the oil every 5,000 miles, rotate the tires every 10,000 miles, and flush the transmission fluid every 25-30,000 miles. My cars tend to last a long time...........
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