No, this guide (soliloquy?) is aimed at Joe and Jane Canadian, the working class heroes living paycheque to paycheque, with 2.3 kids, a tract-tacular Plywood bungalow, and a 12-year old Caravan just waiting to launch something important through the oil pan. I know what you’re going through. And I’m here to help.
Let’s get one thing straight; the definition of a driving cheapskate does not include driving an unsafe vehicle. Unfortunately, this is what many consumers will do, in order to afford the holiday trimmings, or Junior’s braces. Back in my days in the parts wholesale business, I required regular visits to the chiropractor, for all the head-shaking I was doing. Ever seen a brake hose swollen to zucchini dimensions? I have, with the excuse for not fixing it based on Christmas presents yet to be purchased.
At a tire shop, I heard a customer state the following; “I’m looking for the cheapest tires I can get. Nothing special; its for the wife’s minivan.” Talk about a hopeless romantic.
The Canadian Automobile Association has a Driving Costs Calculator that is quite the eye-opener for those crunching the numbers for vehicle ownership like fuel, tire wear, maintenance, insurance and depreciation. Thinking electric? You could lop about a lot off of your annual fuel costs for plugging in an electric car, depending on electricity costs in your region. This assumes that you never want to ‘go for a nice drive in the country’ ever again. Even a bus pass will be a thousand dollar bill on average per annum. (It could pay off though; that’s how the late Canadian author Carol Shields found most of her characters.)
Let’s assume that you have a car in the driveway today, which may/may not be rife with issues. The first thing to address is the body structure. The paint may be faded, the panels dented, and a few rust bubbles may be starting. Now get down on your knees. If there’s more rust than good metal left underneath, its time to let go. There’s nothing you can do. For those who lack the knowledge of how to work safely under a car, have your vehicle’s underbelly inspected by a certified technician.
Few collision repair facilities will even consider doing rust repairs anymore. It’s very easy to eclipse the value of an older car with paint and bodywork. Rust is like an iceberg. By the time you see it, the rest of it is has been eating your car from the bottom up.
The man, the car, the legend
Ever heard of Irv Gordon? He’s the Long Island, NY native who hit 3 million miles on his original ’66 Volvo P1800. I spoke to Gordon as he was inching closer to his goal. The one tidbit of note that stuck in my mind was this; he keeps the underbelly of his Volvo as clean as the topside.
There’s really only one way to keep the rusties away. It’s messy, leaves stains on the driveway, and it works. (Sounds like Buckley’s cough syrup.) The petroleum-based rust inhibitor spray treatments go by many names. It’s also the cheapest insurance available to keep your car around for the long haul, with annual applications pricing out around the $120.00 mark. I’ve seen cars being built, on many different assembly lines. Let’s just say they’re not putting the paint on thick enough underneath to cause any globs. Manufacturers have been telling the public about their corrosion protection measures since the Rambler American. It works fantastic, right up to the first stone chip that exposes bare metal. As they say around the GTA, and other rusty places, get your car oiled every year.
Tired of spending $17.00 in Loonies at the car wash? Maybe its time to get into Wax On, Wax Off. A typical bottle/jar of car wax costs about as much as a drive-thru lunch of regret. I’m not expecting you to use high-end carnauba; just don’t apply it with sandpaper.
A couple of coats of cheap wax on your car makes it easier, and cheaper to wash. While you’re applying it to the paint, do the same to the exterior glass. It’s cheaper than fancy glass treatment goo. Hit your headlamp assemblies and taillight lenses while you’re at it. They won’t get as dirty as fast, which means you might be seen, avoid a collision, and keep your insurance costs low. How cheap is that?
OEM is worth it
There’s no such thing as good, cheap auto parts. You might be able to get an off-brand set of brake pads for your Honda Civic for a third of the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) cost. They also tend to last about a third as long as the OEM.
Cheap auto parts are only good for one thing; getting the car safe enough to put up for sale. Most technicians deal with parts jobbers, which carry parts of OEM quality. In some cases, its not a name you know, but know this; auto makers aren’t in the business of making parts. It may say AC Delco on the box, but General Motors didn’t make it; they sourced it, just like everyone else who builds cars. As for the Honda, I’d rather do one brake job instead of three. The labour cost is the same every time. Be cheap; ask for OEM.
And so are used OEM parts
Used parts are often overlooked, which is a shame, as the auto recycling industry has plenty of young used components, with plenty of life left in them.
If a car was declared a total loss at 15,000 kilometres, and the left front axle was properly removed, that axle on the shelf is still good, and with something resembling a warranty to go with it. Recyclers offer used tires too, though remember that how good the tires are depends on how well the vehicle they were on was maintained. Some new tire dealers/distributors offer blemished tires, which can’t be retailed, usually due to a labelling goof in the tire press. While they exist, the chances of them being available in your size, when you need them, are quite slim.
Four-wheel alignments aren’t a cash grab; they ensure that your vehicle isn’t suffering from tracking that is other than straight. If you want to get the 100,000 kilometres out of your tires that the tire dealer placard said you would get, you need periodic alignment checks. A vehicle that isn’t properly aligned can start to wear suspension and steering parts faster. These items are never cheap to fix.
Read the manual
Lastly, the best way to drive cheap is to follow the severe service recommendations for your vehicle. Unless you live in the room temperature vacuum that accompanies Canadian government fuel mileage testing, you live in a pretty demanding climate. All fluids, from oil to coolant will degrade over time. That’s when they start to degrade everything else they’re running through. The service interval lamps aren’t there to annoy you; they light up to keep you on the cheap.
The ultimate driving cheapskate isn’t me; its Irv Gordon. He hasn’t had to buy a new car since 1966. I should call him up to congratulate him. Collect, of course.