The Blog (archived)

Category: Cars

How To Get 400000km From One Car

Monday, September 22, 2008

My car has just driven its four hundred thousandth kilometer. This is a great distance for any car to travel - much more than I expected when I bought it 22 years ago - and I was so pleased I took this photo of the odometer to document the occasion.

Odometer showing 400000kmWhy am I so pleased? Having a reliable car is a great blessing, and not needing to regularly update to newer models has saved me a bundle of money. There’s also the satisfaction of not conforming. In Australia’s consumerist society it’s common to trade in a new car for a newer model every 5 years or so, because we are told it is more economical than driving an older car. Driving one car for as long as I have is the opposite of this, and I take pleasure in rebelling against consumerism in this way - especially when it saves me money!

I confess that my current engine and gearbox are second hand replacements … but the originals both lasted over 376000km - and that’s excellent service! With these two replacements behind me, there’s no good reason for the car not to clock up half a million km or more without further major work. I suspect the body will fall apart before the car stops working.

So what is the secret of getting long service from a car? In my case there is no secret, just plain old common sense:


  • Buy something decent
  • Look after it well with regular servicing
  • Drive sensibly

That may not sound exciting or fashionable, but it worked for me. The following also help:

  • Avoid comparing your own car with others. Depending on how yours rates in the comparison, this can lead to either envy or pride, neither of which are healthy.
  • Avoid paying attention to new car advertisements and car salesmen. If your own car is mechanically sound and meeting your needs, why let yourself be tempted by the lure of something you have been happily doing without up to now?
  • Think about what you really need from a car. If its prime purpose is to get from A to B reliably and comfortably, and it’s doing that, does it really matter if there are scratches, dents, and rust spots? Duct tape can cover a multitude of cosmetic inadequacies!

If your car is unsound or uneconomical, replacing it can be sensible. But if you can be content with something functional but not necessary glamorous, you might be surprised, like me, to find how long it will last.


Help Feed Underprivileged Kids By Driving An Old Car

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I wouldn’t normally think of joining a car club, but I’ve recently come across one that suits me perfectly - the Junky Car Club. After reading what this club is about, I couldn’t not sign up.

According to their website:


“Junky Car Club members are learning to live with less so we can give more. We’re a bunch of happy drivers who are politely rebelling against consumerism by driving junky cars. We encourage our members to use their dough to support social justice causes instead of making fat car payments. We believe in environmental stewardship and hanging onto things a little longer. Junky Car Club members sponsor kids living in poverty through Compassion International.”

I love the thinking behind this - it seems so logical - but I related to it mainly because it describes what I’ve already been doing. I’m still driving the same car I bought nearly 22 years ago, and have been sponsoring children through Compassion Australia for much of that time.

While I’ve kept the same old car to save money in general, not specifically to sponsor children, the money I’ve saved by not upgrading to new cars has made the child sponsorship possible … and much more. I’ve not spent a cent on car purchases or repayments since I finished paying off mine in 1989. This has meant more money to spend on things like travel, paying off the mortgage earlier, and feeding and educating children in Ethiopia … all more worthy causes than banks, car manufacturers and car salesmen.

Speaking of sly vultures, most car salesmen will tell you that running an older car is uneconomical, but that isn’t always true. In my case it has proven cheaper to run in its old age than when it was young (see "Do Older Cars Cost More To Maintain"). My car does have some quirks and small defects, but nothing that can’t be lived with, or patched with duct tape. It ain’t fancy, but it’s got character!

Nothing lasts forever, even with duct tape, so eventually my beloved vehicle will wear out and need replacing. When that happens, I’ll hope to look after a new car well so that it also will last a long time, and become another old car. You see, I plan to be a Junky Car Club member for a long time.


Car Myth: Do Older Cars Cost More To Maintain?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My car at age 18You’ve probably been told - as if it was a proven fact - that cars beyond a certain age cost more to repair and maintain. This, allegedly, makes it more economical to trade up to a new car rather than keep an older car running. When speaking to several car salesman recently (for research only) they implied I was throwing money down the drain if I didn’t replace my old car immediately. Being a curious fellow, and they being salesman, I wondered if it is really true.

In the spirit of the Mythbusters TV program, I decided to put it to the test. Since buying my car over 20 years ago, I have kept track of every dollar I have ever spent on it, and most of the numbers were already in a spreadsheet. I did some calculations, made some charts, and the result was clear.

I excluded car licensing/registration, treating this as a fixed cost because it would be the same whatever I was driving, within that category of car. The only significant variations have arisen due to changes in government policy - not something I wanted to figure in my calculations. I also excluded petrol expenses because of their great variability which has little to do with the age of the car.

Everything else was included - servicing, all parts, labor, oil top-ups, new tyres, major things like a new engine down to little things like a replacement plug lead or light globe - whatever costs were required to keep the car running. I also included insurance because it varies according to the age of the car, and I’ve kept the same policy throughout. Because of the long time period involved I’ve adjusted for inflation (using the government CPI figures) in order to make fairer comparisons. The chart below illustrates the year by year total real costs:

As you can see, costs varied from year to year. The last year was particularly expensive due to a new reconditioned engine and a variety of other parts that were best replaced at the same time. However, more expensive years are balanced out by cheaper years, and its the long term averages that tell the real story.

The car salesmen I spoke to all agreed on ten years as being an optimum age to replace a car. With twenty full years of my own data, the obvious thing to do was obtain an average annual cost for the first ten years and compare it with the last ten:

Average Total Car Costs
(including insurance, excluding licencing/fuel)
First ten years: A$ 1268.90 per year
Last ten years: A$ 954.90 per year

Despite what the salesmen said, my car has cost me LESS to keep on the road as it has grown old … and I’ve got all the receipts to prove it! That’s even after taking into account the recent cost of a replacement engine, which is possibly the biggest expense an ageing car is likely to incur. After the recent work, I expect the average cost over the next few years to be even lower.

What I didn’t consider was the cost of purchasing the car, including loan interest. In my case this was all paid in the car’s first three years, which means I’ve now had over 17 years with no purchase or loan expenses to bother with. This makes keeping an older car even more economical. Had I replaced my car after ten years, I would have had the extra purchase or loan costs - and the higher trade-in value of a younger car would not have offset this.

Also the insurance premiums on a new car are more expensive (approx $150pa more on a similar car). The salesmen’s estimates of the servicing costs of a new car under warranty weren’t much less than I’m currently averaging, so I don’t think having a warranty saves as much as they like us to think, as my experience bears out.

My situation may not reflect everyone else’s. I bought my car new and have looked after it and driven it sensibly. Had I bought a second hand car with dubious history, or neglected it and thrashed it with stupid driving, then the outcome could have been different … logic suggests an abused vehicle could cost more to maintain.

Now when a salesman assures me it is costs more to keep an old car than replace it with a newer one, I can politely say “poppycock!” As far as I’m concerned, that myth is busted.


Its the speed camera’s fault … or is it?

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Yesterday a story on the Today Tonight current affairs TV show (on Australia’s Channel Seven) annoyed me. Like countless other stories before it, this one featured an expert going on about how inaccurate police radars can be, if not operated correctly. It isn’t online, but this story from Channel Nine’s A Current Affair is in a similar vein.

The message of these endlessly recycled TV stories is that speed cameras and police radar traps are inaccurate and unfair revenue raisers, and that anyone driving lawfully will probably be hit with undeserved speeding fines. To these experts I pose a simple question:

If speed cameras are as inaccurate and unfair as you make out, then why, in 24 years of driving at the speed limit, have I never received even one speeding fine from an incorrect camera?

I’ve probably driven past between 2000 and 3000 speed cameras or hand-held radars in my driving years, within a couple of km/h of the speed limit. If all the TV reports were to be believed, I should have had many undeserved speeding fines by now … but I’ve had no fines at all, undeserved or otherwise.

I’m not saying that mistakes don’t happen. Some do, and that isn’t fair. However my experience suggests that mistakes and unfair speeding fines are nowhere near as common as current affairs TV shows portray. Its a human tendency to try to transfer blame for one’s own shortcomings, and giving people excuses to blame speed cameras is obviously popular with TV viewers.