The Now and Not-So-Zen of Car Maintenance

07 Aug

I drove my car to work Tuesday even though I didn’t want to. My vehicle registration was overdue and required a smog inspection, and I need to do it quickly to avoid additional charges. That’s what happens when you don’t drive your car much, you don’t think about it much. While I was at it, I checked the mileage: 3500 miles since my last oil change…two and a half years ago. So it was Jiffy Lube before work, Smog Hut after work.

As much I never liked paying to fill my gas tank (every other week when I drove every day), I hated paying for maintenance more. A minor 15,000 mile service that should cost a few hundred dollars can easily mushroom into eight hundred dollars of charges. And you have little assurance that the repairs are actually necessary.

Smog Test

At Jiffy Lube I turned down an engine flush and air filter replacement. That’s far less than the over $500 in questionable services I turned down at the full-service shop 3500 miles ago. Smog Hut was a flat fee so no issue there. Total cost: $134 or about the cost of a month’s worth of gas when I drove daily.

You might wonder: if we don’t drive it much, why do we keep the car? Well, we are selling a car, just not this one. If you know someone in the San Francisco Bay Area who want a quality 2007 Mazda 3 hatchback, let me know. At 31,000 miles in seven years it’s obvious we aren’t driving it much either.

For those who commute to work or do errands by bike: have you calculated how much less you drive because of it? Or do you end up driving more on the weekends to go somewhere new and fun to ride?

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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Issues & Infrastructure


9 responses to “The Now and Not-So-Zen of Car Maintenance

  1. lorrileelown

    August 8, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Happily, I do almost zero local driving. I’d love to be car-free again (I did it for two years from 2001-2003) but it’s just not possible with my job (ironically, as a bicycle coach). But, when I do drive, it’s typically long trips, so the mileage just piles up. I’m trying to consider CalTrain as a viable option for longish local trips, but, as we discussed, it’s quite expensive if you’re only an occasional user.

    • ladyfleur

      August 8, 2014 at 11:23 am

      You’re not the only one who drives more because of bicycling! As I alluded to in the slideshow, a typical reason I drive is to go to interesting places to ride my bike that aren’t easily accessible otherwise, like road biking in Napa Valley or mountain biking off of Skyline. I suspect that’s true for a lot of my road and MTB friends who commute by bike.

      Caltrain isn’t cheap if you only compare it to the cost of gas for your car trip. If you fully burden the cost of the car trip at 56 cents a mile (business reimbursement rate) or 24 cents a mile (medical or moving expense) it looks a lot better. Are you able to write off your mileage driven for coaching as a business expense? Seems like it should be and that would be a lot at 56 cents/mile.

  2. Tian

    August 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Car free for almost eight years now and still loving it!

  3. Tian

    August 8, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    What happened to me was I got better and better at not needing the car. Then it was usually sitting six days out of seven. One day I got into a wreak. Thanks to Ralph Nader (seat belts, crumple zone, etc.) I walked away from the wreak, but the car was totaled. Then I thought about all the time it spent sitting and I just couldn’t justify the expense of getting another one. Maybe someday if I get a job I have to commute to, but I’m not in that situation at this point.

    • ladyfleur

      August 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      On Twitter I heard from a couple of people who got rid of their car when it needed expensive servicing. One was a mom with husband and two preschoolers in San Francisco. She sold it thinking they might buy another soon. Turned out they did fine without it, even after her leg was badly broken in a collision. She’s back on the bike and still car-free.

  4. Andrew Hsu

    August 8, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Janet, thanks to my regular bike commutes to work, I do drive much less to work (thats a saving of nearly 60 miles each day). So much so, I fill up my tank about once a month. Despite this, with 3 kids involved in many different activities, cars are an indispensable part of my (and my family’s) life. I certainly don’t drive much to places to ride my bike (don’t race as much as I used to!), but it’s just not practical to transport my kids nor shop without a car.

    I always try to make it a point to emphasize that I try to be conscious about my car usage and that my cycling proclivities does not make me anti-car. I just try to think harder about whether I really need to drive or not. And yes, it is an unfortunate consequence of car ownership that you have to sink lots of $$$$ in maintaining them, especially if you want them in tip-top condition!

    • ladyfleur

      August 8, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Labor Day marks my four year anniversary of me starting to bike to work every single day. What I’ve noticed is that over the last four years I continue to drive less and less each year. Part of it is less drive-to-recreational-riding on the weekends, but a lot of it is that I’ve continued to find ways to bike for situations I drove to before.

      First, it was bigger panniers for the bigger grocery trips. Then it was a better raincoat for wet days. Next it was riding to the airport. Then it was tall leather boots and a wool coat for near-freezing days. Most recently, it was buying a trailer for the bigger loads.

      But more significantly, I’ve adjusted the places I visit. I shop at Stanford vs Valley Fair or Santana Row because the ride there is more pleasant and the parking is more secure. Ditto for certain big box stores and restaurants. But I really don’t miss them. There are plenty of other places more accessible that are as good or better.

      I don’t have kids, but if I did I suspect I would buy a longtail like my friend & neighbor Cherie. Where we live in Mountain View the schools and after-school activities are all pretty accessible and relatively close to each other. And we don’t have as many monster roads like you find in much of the South Bay, which would definitely give me pause before carting my kids around. Cherie:

      So I’ve gradually, without even thinking about, whittled away most of the driving I do. There are times I look at the car and think: When did I last drive it? Will it start? It looks dirty. Where have I driven it since I last had it washed?

  5. gasstationwithoutpumps

    August 8, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    I’ve been car-free since I left home for college in 1971. Neither my wife nor I have ever had a driver’s license (I did have a learner’s permit before I went to college). My son, who is starting college this fall, has never had any interest in learning to drive. You can do a lot on a bicycle (or even without—my wife still hasn’t learned to ride a bike).


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