How Long Do You Want Your Car To Last?

Sensible planning achieves your vehicle goals

For all the complexity in modern vehicles, there is one irreplaceable system that is more critical than any other to keeping you on the road confidently and safely… you.  Each driver must take responsibility for the function of their vehicles.  Anyone can drive a car, but the decision to keep it working for the long term requires conscious thought and active participation on your part throughout the life of your vehicle.  You must accurately evaluate your transportation needs and driving habits to get the correct vehicle in the first place, and then you must decide how long you intend to own the vehicle and establish a budget and schedule for its maintenance.  Then, it is your responsibility to keep on track with the maintenance plan you’ve established.  Finally, you must be prepared for the day when your vehicle is ready for the “great highway in the sky” and be responsible about when to stop spending money and effort on a vehicle that can no longer return value.  Let’s look at those points a little closer…

Make a Clear Plan

You should have a clear plan when you decide to own a car.  There are many types of ownership plans, and most people will tend not to have any plan at all. Two possible examples of ownership planning and behavior are the “use it up” and the “drive the wheels off it” scenarios.  The first is to buy a vehicle with the intent to run 60,000 to 90,000 miles on it and do nothing but the minimum on maintenance or repair.  We call this the “use it up” program, and this is fine as long as you follow through and get rid of a vehicle when you originally planned.  You don’t want to fall in love with a car and then decide to keep it after it’s used up.  The second extreme is to buy a quality new or low mileage vehicle and plan to keep it for the long-term; “drive the wheels off it”. You plan to take impeccable care of it to make sure those wheels stay on for a long time.

Trouble comes when you try to combine these two opposites.  We frequently hear the lament “It’s always been such a good car. I never needed to do a thing to it, why am I having all these troubles now?”  Complex as today’s vehicles are, they are very robust mechanically and can keep going for quite a while before they show problems.  If you “never do a thing” to your vehicle, it allows the larger, more expensive faults to set in and a list or wear and problems to quietly build up.  By the time they become apparent the expense of fixing all the problems at once can outweigh the value of the car, a situation we call being “economically totaled”.  Whichever way you decide to go, make sure your Service Advisor here knows your intentions so they can give you the appropriate advice and service. If you don’t have an ownership plan and would like to get some advice ask us.

Vehicle Choice

Shopping for a vehicle is the great paradox.  We all love the excitement of a new (or new-to-you) car, but the hard work of research, comparison, and negotiation can take the edge off the fun.    Entire books have been written on how to buy a car, but it’s really a personal choice with no right or wrong answer.  You may want the off-road monster, but you’ll suffer in gas mileage.  A mechanically dependable car may not be the best one for staving off a mid-life crisis.  That little hybrid may be great for the planet, but your kid’s soccer team may be cramped.   From the point of view of taking responsibility for your vehicle, the most important thing to know is that your decision will govern every other decision throughout the vehicle’s lifetime.  The quality and choice of your vehicle affects the service relationship you will have no matter where you go. No one can turn a bad vehicle into a pleasure to own. It’s your responsibility to know what’s most important to you and make the right decision that will support those priorities.  We are here to help you with these choices; ask us for advice when you are shopping for a vehicle.

Wise Budgeting

Once you’ve made the big decision, it’s time to plan a maintenance schedule and budget.  The most responsible way to get the most value from your transportation dollar is to plan appropriate care for the vehicle for the time you plan to own it.  Depending on whether you bought a beater to get you through a summer of camping or a car to carry your kids now and when they’re in college, you’ll care for each vehicle in a different way.   In most cases for a short term vehicle, it makes sense to try to stick to safety and function issues.  No matter how briefly you intend to drive the vehicle, you want things like starters, brakes and tires to be working.  For vehicles you intend to own for a long time, things like fluid flushes and seal integrity become more important.  Talk with your Service Advisor so they understand your needs and priorities, and work with them to establish a yearly budget for your car’s maintenance.   Once you’ve made a plan, STICK TO IT!  The only thing worse than spending money on your vehicle; is spending it in a way that doesn’t accomplish what you’re setting out to do.

Setting Priorities

This brings us to the maintenance decisions you’ll make while you own the car, and how we determine the priorities and recommendations we’ll make to you about your vehicle.  If your car is towed in with flames belching from under the hood, the need is clear and there’s not much of a decision to make.  For ongoing vehicle care, there are more options.  We prioritize our recommendations in this order: safety first, then breakdown items, and finally maintenance.

  • Safety– When we find a safety-critical system (brakes, tires, etc.) that has problems, we consider that a non-negotiable need.  Aside from any liability issues, we don’t want to put our clients out on the road if they could injure themselves or others.  We bring these to your attention with our strongest possible recommendation that you fix the issue properly immediately.
  • Breakdown– If you decided to own a car you want it to be safe AND reliable, so if there’s some system that’s hanging by a thread we let you know.  Even if you decide not to repair it right then, you’ll be aware of the situation and can plan accordingly.
  • Maintenance– This is probably the wisest money you’ll spend on your vehicle, because small investments in maintenance payoff in big savings on repair in the long run.  It’s also the easiest to let slide when the end of the month comes and you’re trying to decide where to put those scarce dollars.  However, if you budgeted for maintenance and have been sticking to it these maintenance needs won’t be unmanageable.

It’s important to note that we can’t force you to do the repairs and maintenance we think you need.  When we do our comprehensive inspections we tell you the list of issues and prioritize our recommendations, but you’re the one who makes the decisions and writes the check.  The vehicle is ultimately your responsibility.

Follow advice for your vehicle’s health

Caring for and maintaining your vehicle is much like caring for and maintaining your health.  You know what your health needs are, whether they’re running a marathon or living to 100.  Your health-care provider knows what kind of things you should be doing to achieve those goals.  When you’re looking for someone to guide your health decisions, you ask around to find someone whose advice you can trust.  Once you find them, you work together to make a plan for your ongoing care.  You have checkups and a few routine things, and every once in a long while some big unexpected thing happens that you need to take care of right then.  Keeping to recommendations may be difficult, but deep down you know it fends off the large, avoidable problems that will devastate your health and your pocketbook.  You’ll make some wise decisions and some not-so-wise decisions (how’s that eat-right-and-exercise thing been working out for you?) but you at least know what you should be doing.  Your health-care provider can advise, but can’t make you do anything.  It’s up to you to do the things you need to do to stay healthy.

Whoever has the power to change a situation has responsibility for it.  Remember that the safety and reliability of your vehicle is YOUR responsibility.  We can help you make a plan, guide you when things are right, and fix things when they go wrong, but we can’t make you do the things you planned on.  When you accept the responsibility for your vehicle, you’ll proactively work to keep it on track and your vehicle will pay back your investment with many years of confident and enjoyable driving.

How to determine your ownership goals

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