The Sound of Maintenance

Last week as I was leaving my house on an errand, I happened to roll down my window as I reversed out of my driveway. It was then that I heard that familiar high pitched squeal: the squeal of money flying from your wallet, carried away by the cost of new brakes for your car. I inwardly groaned at the thought, knowing that we faced birthday party expenses that weekend. I also wondered how long my brakes had been singing to me since I could not hear them at all with the window rolled up.

I continued on my errand, but as I drove I felt this stronger and stronger urgency in my spirit that I did not need to drive my car anywhere else and that we needed to get my brakes checked immediately. It was one of those moments where I have learned to trust the voice of the Holy Spirit in my life. When He prompts you that something is urgent… you had better take Him seriously.

The next morning, Matt and I dropped off the car at the repair shop and sure enough, they called to tell us that one of the brake pads was completely gone and had started to go into the rotor. Fortunately they were able to grind down the rotor and repair it (I know mechanics everywhere are groaning at my terminology ~ please forgive me) and we didn’t have to pay to replace it. We have had to replace a rotor before and it was a few hundred dollars! Matt and I were so relieved and thankful to the Lord in the way He had taken care of us. Instead of groaning about the money that we had to spend on new brakes, we were celebrating that we didn’t have to buy new rotors! It is amazing how your perspective can change so quickly. A little gratitude really goes a long way.

It is funny how often we view the maintenance and repairs that come along with owning a vehicle or home as the enemy. We groan when we have to repair something, and wonder where we will get the money. Yet the reality is, if you are going to own a vehicle there will be costs to maintain it. Your brakes will need to be changed about every second year. Your oil will need to be changed twice a year. Your tires will need rotating. You will need new windshield wipers every so often. Every few years you will need a system flush, a new car battery, or brand new tires, or minor repairs. Unfortunately, these repairs usually come at unexpected moments. I think it is actually the difficulty of planning for the timing of repairs that makes car maintenance such a hassle.

Which leads to the question: how do you budget for car maintenance? There are a couple of ways to do it. If you keep a logbook of repairs for your vehicle, it may be easy for you to look at car expenses for the year and come to an estimate. Taking into account the infrequency of repairs, I would actually take your total of the past three years, add up your receipts, and divide that number by 36. This will give you a rough monthly total of what you should be putting in an “automobile” savings account every month as part of your budget.

However, if you have no idea what your maintenance schedule is or even what a logbook is, you might have to determine your costs a different way. The following is a rough guide to maintenance costs for a mid range or economy vehicle. If you have a luxury vehicle or sports car, these prices could double or triple. Another things to keep in mind is these costs are only for one vehicle:

Windshield wipers: $40 once a year or even every second year

Brakes: $160 every second year

Tire rotation and wheel alignment: I suggest going to a place that offers FREE brake inspection and then ask them to rotate the tires when they are putting your wheels back on. Your wheel alignment will cost you about $80. The wheel alignment is more infrequent, but you really should rotate your tires often.

Oil change: $20-30 twice a year (you may have to change your oil more if you drive a lot or very hard, or you can go by your vehicle’s recommended oil change schedule which is about every 5,000 miles. Note: the only places that recommend every 3,000 miles are the oil change shops and dealers because the more you change your oil, the more money they make! Check your vehicle’s manual for recommended mileage between oil changes.)

New battery: $60 every 3 years or so. The limited warranty on a new battery is usually for three years although some batteries can last for much longer, or much less.

General Repairs: varies in what it is, but we seem to need some sort of repair work every two years or so (air conditioning, or some valve goes out, or electric malfunction)- $500

In total you will spend about $840 every two or so years on car maintenance. That breaks down to about $35 dollars a month to put into a savings account for auto repairs and maintenance. Again, if you have a luxury vehicle, you may need to double or triple that amount. That may seem like a lot, but if you choose not to maintain your vehicle, then you will certainly face major engine repairs and a car that will be worthless when you try to get out of the money pit it has become. The question is not “if” you will put money into your car to maintain it, it is “how much?”

If you already have a savings account for your auto insurance payments, you could use this account for your maintenance savings as well. Every month, you would make a payment into that account that would be available for you to draw from when you have any maintenance needs. It is actually a wonderful relief to face a car repair bill knowing that you already have the money set aside for that need.

However, if your budget is already stretched to the max, you may want to consider your automobile expenses as part of your emergency savings needs. Matt and I have done this in the past. We put a sizeable amount into our emergency savings account every month and then when repairs were needed, we drew from that savings account. It is less to track, but it is also not the best plan. When you draw from your general savings, you are depleting your money for other emergencies and needs as well. It is a better plan to have money specifically for automobile needs. Whatever plan you choose, accepting automobile repairs and maintenance as a part of life and as a part of your budget will set you up for fewer financial surprises, and better preparation for the costs of owning a vehicle.

On a closing note, I would like to put in a plug for keeping records of your car maintenance. My Dad has always kept a logbook for each of his cars. I kept one until my senior year of college when he told me that I didn’t have to keep one anymore for my vehicle. “Hallelujah”, I thought and I have never kept one since.

However, in researching for this blog, I discovered several articles on the value of keeping a logbook, and I think I am having a change of heart. According to one of the articles, a logbook of every repair done to your car can help you know if your new brakes are still under warranty, or can indicate a bigger problem. It can help answer the question, “Didn’t I just buy a new battery for my car?” With a log and an envelope to keep your receipts in, you’ll know who did the work and when, and whether or not there’s a warranty on the repair. A service logbook is also an asset when it is time to sell your vehicle.

I still don’t want to track my gas mileage like I used to, but I do see the value in tracking my maintenance and repairs in a log book and I am going to start one for each of my vehicles. Fortunately, I already save all of my receipts for repairs and maintenance, but it would be very useful to have that information to see at a glance. I think it will actually help me to be able to predict brake life for my vehicle, and the more I am prepared for the expenses that are coming, the better I am able to budget for it. Hopefully, next time I won’t have to wait to hear my brakes singing to me to know it’s time to replace them; I’ll already be prepared for the chorus.

God bless,