Thursday, February 22, 2007

Preventative Maintenance

I was recently speaking to a friend, Silas, when he mentioned, somewhat despairingly, how badly his car was running, and what a burden it was. He wanted to buy a new one, he said, but he didn't really have the money for it.

I asked him what was wrong with it, and he had a long list. I was horrified--not at the condition of the car, but by how many of those things would've been easily prevented with a small investment. If he didn't take care of this car, I inquired, why did he expect a new car to do any better?

It turns out that clueless Si barely knows how to gas the thing up--he doesn't know how to check or fill the air in the tires, change a wiper blade, check the oil, research good tires, or find a mechanic. Well! I may not have any kids, but my mothering instinct for my friends is alive and kicking.

He spent about $3000 on this car (with ~150K miles, an older Toyota--it should have another 100K miles in it, properly maintained). He hasn't had an oil change in over a year, and it's 6 months late for its inspection. The paint is scraped, the A/C doesn't work, the seals around the doors are loose, the wipers are split, the brakes squeal, and the tires are worn. The cassette player's broken too, but who has cassettes anymore?

Let's break this down, shall we?

Things I can teach him or help him do right away:
Repairing scrapes: $20 for ugly but effective anti-rust measures (no need to be pretty--they just need to not rust)
Replacing wiper blades: $15
Air for tires: Free
Changing air filter: $15
Weatherstripping repair kit: $20 (possible overlap with scrape repair kit)
Oil change: $20 (if we had some garage space, I could do it myself for under $10, but alas, everything is covered in snow at the moment.)
Si's Total: $90

Slightly more intensive repairs:
Inspection: $25 (plus fixing whatever's wrong)
Brake pads: $100-150 (if rotors need replacing too, add'l $300)
A/C: depends what's wrong. If too expensive, he can get by without it.
Modest set of tires: $400
Si's Total: about $875

Si is a student, and works part-time. He's very careful with his money, and is afraid to spend anything he doesn't have to. He's proud that he doesn't carry a credit card balance from month to month. But his ignorance of car repair is intimidating him so badly that even basic maintenance seems daunting and expensive. Even more daunting and expensive, though, is the idea of simply buying a new car every time he drives his into the ground. I'm hoping to show him that spending that $965 now is far preferable to spending another $3000 for a new car when his breaks down--and it will. It's hard to convince him of that, because he doesn't have the $965.

But then, he won't have the money for a whole 'nother car very soon either.

Are there any basic maintenance things that I've missed? I'm planning to double check fluid levels and check the hoses & belts, but I'm open to suggestions from more experienced home mechanics.

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