Prepare for Unexpected Car Expenses with a Car Maintenance Fund

by Kevin on August 5, 2009

Yesterday I told you it was always something and that we had recently run into an unexpected expense. We ran into the expense last Friday.

Can You Prepare for a Flat Tire?

My wife had picked up a two week short term gig teaching music to some kids at a camp. Friday of both weeks was the big finale with a little show for the parents. She called me this past Friday about 20 minutes before she needed to be at the camp. “I’ve got a flat tire. I’m in the driveway,” she said with a hint of panic in her voice.

I promptly put on my Superman cape and thanks to my great employer was able to get home in about 10 minutes. (We live close to my office.) Disaster averted she took my car to camp, showed up a bit late, and everything went off without any problems. I was left at home with the stranded car, but was able to get the punctured tire off and get myself back to work in about an hour.

While I was working on getting the wheel off — without my breaker bar, no less, just a decent sized socket set! — I noticed the tires were pretty worn. I ran inside and grabbed a penny.

Why a penny? To perform the penny test. You take the penny and put good old Abe head down into the tread of the tire. If you can see his head in its full shining copper glory your tires need to be replaced soon. If 1/2 of his head or more disappears your tires are fine and still have several millimeters worth of rubber on them.

Needless to say her tires failed the penny test. Double whammy time — a flat tire and then discovering we need four new tires. Thankfully we have a car maintenance fund just for things like that.

Plan for Major Car Expenses with a Car Maintenance Fund

We should have seen this coming. Routine checks of your tires will easily show you how much tread is left. You can use this to plan on replacing the tires. Of course knowing they are getting toward replacement gives you time to start saving for the next set. I had neglected doing this type of check for quite some time.

We try to anticipate costs like this by saving $25 per month into our car maintenance fund. This is separate from all other forms of saving including our emergency fund.

I figure every three or four months we each get an oil change. That’s six to eight oil changes per year. At $25 a pop you’re looking at $150-200. Saving $25 per month comes out to $300 per year. That leaves $100 for other routine-but-not-as-often maintenance issues.

Assuming you don’t run into any major issues that $100 every year will build up to the point where you can afford major malfunctions.

As luck would have it we recently had dipped into this fund and it stood at $30 on Friday. Kind of hard to buy four new tires for $30.

Thankfully we had a great financial month in July primarily related to me getting an extra paycheck. I was really looking forward to saving the full check for our financial goals. After ordering new tires online and getting them installed (plus an alignment) we’ll be able to still pocket half of that check.

This has made this week interesting. We’ve carpooled to work the past two days and I’ve had to move my client lunch schedules around. The tires should be here today and we’ll get them installed sometime this week.

This little adventure has also shown us that we simply can’t be a one car family. I need a car during lunch and she works too far away from my office for it to make sense to drop her off.

I guess my Dad is right. It’s always something.

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August 28, 2009 at 5:00 pm

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Golfing Girl August 6, 2009 at 6:56 am

I can’t imagine having the patience to wait and order tires online. I simply call around town to get the best deal and go there that day. I hope your patience paid off in some great savings.

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Leigh August 6, 2009 at 10:44 am

I keep a seperate sinking fund for car insurance and maintainence. I’m going to need new tires before the year is out so I’d love to hear more about the online buying experience.

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Kevin August 10, 2009 at 1:43 pm

@Golfing Girl: It was definitely annoying having to carpool for a couple of days, but we managed (and learned that we would never be able to do it full-time). I got a great deal online both in terms of price and quality of tire. The local shops wanted anywhere from $50-100/tire for “okay” to “mostly decent” tires. I was able to get good tires for $62/tire, free shipping, no tax. Ordered on Saturday, arrived and installed on Wednesday.

@Leigh: We calculate car insurance separate because it is a known cost. I’ll drop you an e-mail about buying online. It’s pretty easy.

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