Mechanic on duty

Are we spending an appropriate amount on our cars?

Well, I guess that depends. I always offer to do a little work on my mum’s car when she visits with my Grandma. It saves her money and it’s just the right thing to do.

“Sure I’ll do an oil change, anything else?” I ask.
Always vigilant, she says, “I noticed a little coolant leak under the car”…

So… an oil change turns into a challenge.

No troubles with the oil change…But a mechanic must pursue.

So I’m investigating the coolant ‘problem’ under the hood of her car when I find the suspect. A large hemorrhaging coolant leak ensues. Hide the pets, invite the squirrels. That’s another story…

Being prepared, take note boy scouts, I always have something to catch the crap that pours out under a car when you least expect it. Well, I found the broken piece and now there is a car stuck in my driveway until parts are delivered.

Hopefully, before my Grandma makes me eat even more cake. You do not turn down a 97 year old offering cake!

Anyway, I end up filtering most of the used antifreeze so I can use it again. I definitely don’t want that to enter our water supply nor do I want to buy more. FI Garage car hack #?

Although the situation is not ideal, it is a hell of a lot better than my mum being stuck on the side of the road with an overheating engine or much, much worse my Grandma needing a cup of tea.

These are the skills I’ve learned. (make a good cup of tea). Do not be phased by another car repair challenge. I once offered to contribute to a ‘newer’ car for my mum. But she taught me to be frugal, and as such, still has her trusty 2000 VW beetle. Which I will happily fix forever.

Sometimes I wish I was there to provide roadside assistance, but honestly it’s not something she needs to worry about. Her diligence in maintenance and upkeep are second to none.

But hey, 19 years and 200,000+ KMs take a toll don’t they? One thing we need to realize is that there is designed obsolescence in our cars.

Sure enough, it’s just a piece of plastic that finally had enough with the daily abuse of a hot engine and hot fluid passing through it. That tiny little piece.

So I ordered the parts, $41 for this, $26 for that, another $51 for the other. Now, it’s all about your MMM ability to learn a new skill and get those bits out of there (without breaking more stuff). Trust me, there’s always a youtube to help you anyway. (this video is will help if you own a VW) So, life’s good again, that car will leave my driveway for less than $200, hopefully, tomorrow… Happily making many more miles with a few new parts.

But, what if she had to pay the labour of that repair?

Had the car broke on the side of the road, with a tow and a visit to a local garage. I estimate this repair would have cost upwards of $800 or more (I only charged a very minimal beer fee for services delivered :). That would seriously make you consider selling the vehicle, or wondering why you kept an ‘old’ car in the first place.

The reality is, for many, you may not have a son who is able to repair your car. Or it just may happen at an inopportune time. There is a risk, for sure. But sometimes we overestimate the real cost of car ownership and repair versus the cost of a ‘new’ one. We always underestimate the community of help that is out there.

I would say, network your car knowledge. Friend, family connection, chances are we all know someone that can help. Even if you have to go to a garage, make sure you are choosing a reputable, trusted vendor. There’s no end to the horror stories. There’s always an opportunity for a second opinion. If all else fails, call the FI Garage.

Before I found the broken coolant line, this story was supposed to be about how my mother had been charged $200 for her last oil change. I was angry about that!

Now, I know rotted dinosaur flesh is expensive, but are you kidding? $200!!

I looked at the bill, the dinosaur extract and paper filter were $74, which is excessive. But WTF was the other $120?

Oh, yeah, topping up fluids and a multi-point inspection. Thank goodness they filled up that headlight fluid! Seriously, I just went to Canadian tire and bought the oil and filter and did it myself for less than $50.

Yes, I had to actually do it, how much is that worth? For my mother, priceless.

(No squirrels were harmed in the above described chaos, we did offer them tea.)

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About the Author: Money Mechanic

The Money Mechanic is a 40 something 50% of his way to FI. Active in the FI/RE community. He is passionate about personal finance and educating others and sharing the tools you need on the path to Financial Independence in Canada.


  1. This is such a great, MMM-worthy post. I’m pretty good at DIYing just about everything. But car stuff? Not so much!

    I know how to change my air filters, wipers, and battery. But anything involving fluids and engine parts is just a little too scary/messy for me (for now, anyway.) Maybe one day I’ll have more time to learn…

    Before I sign off, here’s a hotly debated question for you: For an infrequently-driven car (one 15 km round trip, twice a week) should the oil be changed according to the manufacturer’s schedule (around every 6 months)? Or is every 10-12 months okay?

    I’d love to get an expert, FI-informed opinion on this!

    1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed the post. Sounds like you’re above average with car DIY’s. I’ve been thinking of putting on a course to teach people just those things. Something in a parking lot, bring your own car, learn how to do some basics. How many people could change a flat tire? Anyway, good question about the oil changes. I think you’ll find that most Manufacturers schedules refer to time and KM driven, like 6 months or 5000km. You could easily justify once a year with the km’s you’ve indicated. I found this website today which looks interesting, they even have a podcast I have to check out! This article sums up your oil change question quite well. Although, I would not consider west coast driving ‘severe’. At the end of the day, an oil change is fairly cheap regular maintenance to ensure your engine is lubricated properly. Just don’t let them add on any extras like topping up other fluids and a 967 point inspection! You can check all those yourself. Hint, there’s no headlight fluid.

      1. Hey MM, sorry for the late reply… but the article you shared was SO helpful. I love how detailed it was, and that it provided a very rational and unbiased opinion about what needs to be done, why, and when.

        I’ve actually used it, along with your advice, to plan out all the maintenance I need done on my car. I’m going to pay more attention to this stuff—as you said, “an oil change is fairly cheap regular maintenance to ensure your engine is lubricated properly”.

        Thank you for taking the time to post such a helpful, detailed reply to my question!

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