The check engine light came on in our Xterra last week. According to the guys at Auto Zone, we have a Gross Evap Control System Leak (code P0455). While that sounds bad, it turns out it might be solved by something as simple as replacing the gas cap. But then again, it could be the vent control valve. Going with the simplest solution first (Occam’s Razor), we purchased a new Nissan OEM gas cap for $25. Now we wait. If the light comes back on, a trip to the mechanic is going to cost around $250.
With the prospect of yet another repair looming for our 14 year old SUV, the “big question” once again came up for discussion. At what point does it make more sense to trade up rather than repair? I was curious as to what other folks had to say on the subject so I went to Google. Seems the rule of thumb is that it’s time to trade when your annual repair bill equals 50% or more of your car’s value. Our Xterra is worth approximately $2,400. Our repairs for 2016 currently stand at $954.65. Ouch!
Though we’re approaching that fine line between trade and repair, we won’t be getting another car. If a car payment didn’t fit with our financial goals before, it certainly won’t fit now that we’re un-jobbing. And along those same lines, we most definitely don’t want to use up our reserve funds on a car when we might need that money for a real emergency.
I’m hoping that 2017 will be a year of fewer car repairs (fingers-crossed!). While we may not be able to predict the big disasters in the life of our Xterra, we do have some control over general maintenance costs. Here are a few of our favorite ways to save money.
Oil Changes – It is not necessary to change your oil every 3 months or 3,000 miles. Most vehicles are just fine with oil changes at 5,000 or 7,500 mile intervals. It all depends on your driving. We change the oil in the Xterra every 4-6 months and that’s mostly because we drive less than 8,000 miles per year. Contrary to popular belief, it is not always cheaper to change your own oil. Most auto repair shops offer coupons for super cheap oil changes in hopes that they can talk you into other services. We’re always able to find an oil change and tire rotation for around $20 just by checking our mailbox, the local paper, or even Groupon.
Tires – Whenever possible, buy used. It is cheaper and more environmentally friendly. If you purchase a 50,000 mile tire with 50% tread, you are essentially getting a 25,000 mile tire….for a fraction of the original cost. A few years ago we purchased 2 used 60,000 mile SUV tires with 60% tread ($140 installed). We drove on them for 14 months with no problems. When used is not available, get a quote from your regular mechanic and then shop for comparisons that include all the hidden costs of the tire – disposal, mounting, balancing, stems, etc.
Brakes – Stay away from those specialty brake shops that offer $69 or $99 installation. The true cost of replacing your brakes is rarely ever that cheap. A reputable mechanic will give you a better deal and won’t try to fix things that don’t exist (I actually had this happen at a brake shop).
Tune Ups & Small Repairs – A certified mechanic may charge $200 or more to replace your spark plugs, wires, and distributor cap. I know, we just got an estimate of $278 from our local shop and most of that was labor! Classified ads are a great way to find honest, skilled people to do simple, small repairs outside of a repair shop – like tune-ups and brake jobs. Not only will you save money but you’ll most likely be helping someone who’s trying to build their own business. I’ve used mechanics from Craigslist on 3 occasions, all of which worked out well. Once I was even able to barter payment. I needed a tune-up, he needed a website.
AAA – I can’t count the number of times that AAA has come to my rescue. For $58 a year I get the security of knowing that no matter where I go, if something happens, AAA will bail me out. I’ve had my car towed many times, my flat tire changed, and my battery charged…all at no extra cost. AAA is a sound investment, especially if you travel outside your city and away from friends and family who can help you out in a jam. And it doesn’t hurt that they also offer travel perks for members.
And while it might not be maintenance advice, I would also recommend that you avoid car payments. Car payments put you at a severe financial disadvantage. Average new car prices recently hit an all-time high of $33,560. Even with 0% financing, the payment is $559 per month for 5 years. I can’t imagine sacrificing $6,708 a year for a hunk of metal that just sits in the driveway 22+ hours a day. So many adventures, so much freedom…but I digress…
What are some ways you save money on car maintenance?