Before you hit the showroom, make sure you’ve researched a car’s true cost of ownership
Your economically priced new car is definitely hiding something. Several somethings.
If you’ve ever suffered even a parking lot ding or a minor fender bender, you already know the cost of a car is rarely as expensive as the sum of its parts. It’s true that vehicles have never been safer, but it’s also true they’ve never been more complicated (and expensive) to fix – especially from the outside looking in.
Headlights are a notorious sore spot; the entire component often has to be replaced and even on a mainstream, relatively inexpensive car that can average $800 to $900. Can’t you just replace a bulb? Maybe, but don’t count on it. And whereas in bygone days headlights were round or square, they are now increasingly part of the car’s structure and crush zone, as well as contributing to the aerodynamics.
“The other thing to consider is that for the first five years or so on many vehicles, you have to use original equipment parts; there is no secondary source available,” says APA consultant John Raymond. “Your ability to go a cheaper route is compromised in that initial stage.” He notes that even when those secondary sources come to market, both they – and recyclers – will still charge 50 to 75 per cent of the OEM price.
“Ask ahead of time about something as basic as oil requirements,” suggests mechanic Chris Muir. “GM is all synthetic dexos, Nissan is ester oil and Dodge diesels are over $100 per oil change. Basic maintenance items on a new car can be frightening.” His point? Things that used to be the territory of the upper echelons have now filtered down to the regular folks. It makes sense; we also get a lot of those bells and whistles and spectacular technology, but that doesn’t mean we are always prepared for the costs that go along with maintaining it.
When you’re doing your research, make sure you’re reading the manufacturer’s fine print on fuel economy. Some are now basing their published numbers on using high-octane fuel, but you won’t see that high-octane fuel being a requirement – only a choice. I’m aware everyone is looking for an edge, but not putting a “high-octane fuel recommended” sticker inside the gas door but basing your loud and proud fuel numbers on it is misleading.
Rain-sensitive wipers are also working their way down the food chain, but if you’re used to getting your windshield replaced for a couple of hundred bucks, guess again. Those wipers work in conjunction with the actual windshield and that makes it original equipment at a significantly higher cost. I had one reader who believed the function itself was broken only to discover it was the replacement windshield that was to blame.
“Low-profile tires look great in the dealer showroom,” says mechanic Eli Melnick. “But replacement cost – particularly for larger wheels – is much higher. Also, high-performance tires don’t last. Replacing OEM large-diameter alloy wheels is very pricey; they’re easily damaged by potholes. Run-flat tires can be a serious pain in the wallet and not every shop has the proper equipment to replace them.”
The APA’s Raymond echoes Melnick’s tire concerns, and adds this reminder: “With the weak Canadian dollar, tire prices are definitely taking a hit. Consumers need to consider how much replacing those tires and investing in winters will cost in today’s economic climate.”
Perhaps the most sobering reminder of all that your car is rarely worth the sum of its parts comes from insurance broker Debbie Arnold of Sound Insurance. “If the repairs are going to cost more than the vehicle is worth, it’s written off. Typically, when airbags go off it’s an indication of the severity of the crash and the likelihood of severe internal damage.” In entry-priced vehicles, and even some midrange ones, the costs of airbags simply makes it too costly to bother fixing. They don’t repair piñatas for a reason.
If you’re not happy with an insurance company’s decision, some will allow a client to purchase back a salvaged vehicle but as Arnold warns, it can be very costly to rebuild and many insurers will not insure a rebuild, which will show on the ownership.
You have a lot of research to do before you hit a showroom. Make sure the true cost of ownership lands on that list, and ask some good questions at the back of the house as well as up front.