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Published on September 2nd, 2019 | by Paul Fosse

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My Car Expenses The 15 Years Before Tesla

September 2nd, 2019 by  


I’ve had an obsession with financial software for some time, something that I probably inherited from my father. I remember when we got our first Apple II in 1978 and he used it for investments and budgeting. When he moved to an IBM PC (which I bought for him at a discount since I was an IBM employee from 1984 to 1998), he fell in love with Managing Your Money. I moved to Quicken in the mid 1990s. I’m trying to spend less time tracking my finances and more time writing, so I’m moving to more cloud-based methods of tracking my finances. But I noticed that I had 15 years of data on my auto spending available as part of this obsession. I didn’t have it easily tied to my 7 cars, but don’t think of this as a review of any car, but as a general survey of the fuel, maintenance, and repair cost for 7 cars over about 400,000 miles.

What Cars Did I Own From 2004 To 2018?

1. I bought a 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan loaded with almost every available option that I ordered new from the factory. This car was very comfortable on long trips, but had a lot of potentially expensive repairs. Luckily, I purchased an extended warranty for the car for 8 years that saved me about $8,000 in repair costs. This $8,000 isn’t covered in this article since it was mostly before 2004 when my data collection started. I sold this car in the summer of 2006 when I bought the Honda Odyssey Minivan. I don’t remember the issues with the car, but at 130,000 miles or so, it was shot for a reliable vehicle that you could just drive and expect to work every day. I’m sure the guy I sold it to got another 70,000 miles out of it, but you have to be prepared to either live with a bunch of things not working or know how to fix them yourself or know a guy who can fix them for cheap.

2. I purchased a 1999 Honda Accord in 1998. I wrote in this article a lot about why I purchased this car and how much I loved it. Relevant to this article, I ended up owning that car for 14 years (till 2012) and almost 170,000 miles. It had very few issues. In the end, I only got one repair covered in the $1,200 8 year extended warranty (because nothing else went wrong in the first 8 years) — the radio quit working and it would have been $1,300 to replace. Had I not had the warranty, I would have just put in a $200 radio from Best Buy. At the end, it was leaking and burning a lot of oil, the transmission was slipping, the check engine light was always coming on, and you were always being asked to replace oxygen sensors or catalytic converters or a muffler. The car seemed to need about $400 in brake work every year or two. The estimate I had to fix everything on the car was about $2,500 and I felt it was just going to be a couple thousand every year to keep it running. By this time, I had an EV and hybrid and decided I didn’t need a fourth vehicle, since my daughter was staying in the dorms and could just walk to class and ride with friends or the bus to come home for holidays.

3. In 2010, I put down a $99 deposit on the Nissan Leaf. In this article, I talk about that purchase. What I didn’t know when I wrote up that article is that the husband of the woman who sold me the Nissan Leaf would message me 8 years later asking for my advice on buying a Tesla. He bought a Tesla Model S Performance a couple weeks ago! I kept this Leaf until June 2018 when I traded it in on a Tesla Model 3 Long Range. The Leaf was trouble free with a couple of significant exceptions. I lost a lot of range (from about 84 miles to about 55 miles) and I had to walk the dealer through the process of getting a free pack under a settlement to a class action lawsuit. Even my second battery lost about 15% of its range in a couple of years. Obviously I was disappointed in the Leaf battery. The second issue was the car started to leak brake fluid. When I took it to Nissan, they gave me an estimate of almost $3,000 to replace the master brake cylinder. I couldn’t have this done elsewhere since nobody else wanted to work on the Leaf. That was too much to put into a car with a market value of only $4,000. I decided to just trade in the car and keep a gas car to use for short trips. That ended up being a good decision since over the next year, we only drove that car about 2,000 miles. (Both my wife and I wanted to take the Model 3 everywhere!) When my son decided he wanted to learn to drive, he needed a long range car (to travel across the state to his internship) and the Leaf would not have have met his needs. A 60 mile range is too low to drive 200 miles regularly.

4. Also in 2010, I decided to buy a 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid for 3 reasons. First, my other daughter needed a car to drive to school. (My daughters, unlike my son, were involved in many school activities, so they needed a car if we didn’t want to be driving them all over the place.) Second, I knew my Leaf was coming in soon and I wanted to get a taste of driving electric. Third, and most important, in 2010, gas was down to $1.50 a gallon. This meant the typical buyer forgot about fuel efficiency and I was able to purchase a loaded Hybrid with less than 60,000 miles for about $14,000. This is way down from the $30,000+ it cost new and about the same price as they were asking for a regular gas Camry. This first-generation hybrid had good power (much better than the Prius) and was quiet (much better sound insulation than the Prius). It had some significant drawbacks, though. The battery took up about half the trunk and meant you couldn’t fold the rear seats to expand the cargo area (they later have figured out how to package hybrid batteries without ruining the cargo area). I had an issue with using a local shop to replace the brakes. The shop didn’t realize that you shouldn’t just pry the pads apart, but should use a software command to tell the car to release them. This meant the antilock brakes didn’t work after the pads were replaced and the dealer needed to reset the system. This taught me to be careful about taking a high-tech car to a local mechanic to save money. In 2016, the air conditioning went out, and while that is about a $1,000 repair in most cars, it is about $2,500 (I checked at 4 shops) on this Camry. Air conditioning isn’t a luxury in Florida, it’s a necessity, and with 130,000 miles, the car was only worth about $3,000, so we traded the car in on a 2013 Ford C-Max Energi PHEV.

5. In 2016, I got the C-Max mentioned above for my daughters to share at college. They liked that they could get free electricity at certain charging stations and even got access to special EV-only parking spots on campus, where parking is hard to find. They also liked the idea of it being good for the environment. Since the C-Max has all the parts of an EV and all the parts of a gas car, I decided to buy a 5 year extended warranty on it for about $1,500. Today, after 3 years, we haven’t used the warranty. I noticed that the C-Max goes a long time (one to two years) without an oil change, since for city driving (especially if you plug it in), it uses the electric motor and avoids a lot of the wear on the oil a gas car would experience when driven in the city. I transferred this car to my daughter recently but still help her keep track of maintenance. I recommend the CarFax app for iPhone or Android for that.

6. Also in  2016, my daughter at college was tired of sharing a car with her sister and asked me to buy her a car to take to class (she now lived in an apartment), so I bought a 2015 Hyundai Elantra. I wanted her to get another Ford C-Max (I liked the PHEV concept), but she didn’t like the wide turning radius and the Elantra got almost the same fuel economy. We still own this car, don’t have an extended warranty (other than the 10 year, 100,000 powertrain warranty it came with as a Certified Preowned (CPO) car). The car has had no significant issues.

7. In 2018, I bought a Tesla Model 3. There are no expenses in the Quicken data set from the Model 3 because the first maintenance that I had to pay for on the car (I got my first tire rotation for free from Tesla) was wipers in June 2019 and I decided to cut off the data on December 31st, 2018. I have an article coming out soon on more maintenance and repairs that I have done recently to my Model 3.

Maintenance & Repair Expenses I Paid

I highlight the type of expenses that are similar between gas cars, hybrids, plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs), and EVs (since I owned all four), like 12 volt batteries, headlights, tires (alignments are included), washing and waxing, and wipers. I also had costs related to alternator replacement, belts, brakes, catalytic converter, coolant, coolant fans, CV joints, engine mounts, extended warranty, fluids and filters (includes oil fluid changes and oil, air and fuel filters changes), ignition repairs, remote, spark plugs, starter motor, thermostat, throttle controller, timing belt, transmission service, and water pump replacement.

Although I predicted the Model 3 would have 75% lower maintenance costs, my table shows only 65% savings. Of course, that is in the same ballpark and could be explained by the nearly $3,000 spent on washing and waxing the 7 cars over 15 years. According to this page, it says maintenance is the scheduled maintenance in the owner’s manual, so I don’t think it is included (I use Edmunds definitions for my TCO model). When I back that out of my figures, I come out with a 71% savings, very close to my 75% prediction in the other article.

Fuel Expenses

You can see in the later years, my fuel expenses are way down from the earlier years. There are several reasons for this.

  1. In the early years, we had V6 engines that got about 15 to 20 MPG in the city. In the later years, we had EVs that get about 100+ eMPG, hybrids that got 40 MPG, or 4 cylinder engines that got 30 MPG.
  2. We drove a lot of miles to take the kids to charter schools, while in later years everyone lived closer to their school/work.
  3. In the later years, my kids were buying their own gas, so it wasn’t captured in my Quicken sheets.

Even with the other factors that make it an apples-to-oranges comparison, it’s amazing to me that my fuel costs are down 90%. My electric bill has gone up about $300 a year, though, and that isn’t reflected in this, so that takes the savings down a bit. This isn’t as scientific as taking your old car and comparing it to a new car, but it’s good to compare the theory to the actual expenses and make sure you are realizing the savings you expect. Now, if I can downsize my housing expenses 70%, I’ll really be happy! [Editor’s note: You can do it, Paul! You can do it!]

Conclusion

I hope this detailed summary of almost $36,000 in auto expenses over the last 15 years reminds you of some of the small and big repairs you have had on your vehicles and makes the big savings we frequently claim for EV maintenance more realistic for you. Your mileage will vary, but I thought this was a pretty good real-world data set of expenses that I had available due to my Quicken obsession, so why not share it with others to help them make the decision of when to buy their first EV.

Use my Tesla referral link to get 1,000 miles of free Supercharging on a Tesla Model S, Model X, or Model 3 (you can’t use it on the Model Y yet), here’s the link: https://ts.la/paul92237 (but if someone else helped you, please use their link). 
 
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About the Author

A Software engineer for over 30 years, first developing EDI software, then developing data warehouse systems. Along the way, I've also had the chance to help start a software consulting firm and do portfolio management. In 2010, I took an interest in electric cars because gas was getting expensive. In 2015, I started reading CleanTechnica and took an interest in solar, mainly because it was a threat to my oil and gas investments. Follow me on Twitter @atj721 Tesla investor. Tesla referral code: https://ts.la/paul92237



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