My Jeep Wrangler just turned 13, and like any other teenager it's getting to be a pain and is costing quite a lot to support.
If gasoline stays near $3 a gallon much longer, I may have to let this symbol of Americana rust in peace.
But, actually, the cost of keeping a sport-utility vehicle on the road for 13 years hasn't been that bad. I'm a pack rat and almost never throw anything away, including decades-old bills, so I know pretty much what I've spent.
The vehicle cost $14,120, plus $883 for Ohio sales tax. But, of course, that was just the start of a long list of expenses.
Add $2,930 for finance charges, roughly $7,800 for gasoline (at prices ranging from $1 a gallon to over $3), about $7,900 for insurance, $600 for oil changes and lubes, $620 or so for license plates, $400 worth of parking tickets in downtown Toledo (all paid, thank you), maybe $500 for tires and batteries, $250 for accessories, and more than $4,800 for repairs and maintenance. The total is just under $39,300.
Given that the Jeep just rolled over 100,000 miles (101,200 currently), that works out to 39 cents a mile. This restores my faith in government accounting - the standard business-mileage deduction was 31 cents a mile a decade ago, increased to 40.5 cents for most of 2005, and has been 48.5 cents since late last year.
Those guys know what it costs to buy and keep a car.
I do, too. In 1993, I totaled up the costs of owning and operating a 1985 Ford Escort for eight years, until it died of old age with about 150,000 miles on it. The dollars were different in those days, but that $8,000 car ended up costing about $28,900 after repairs, taxes, insurance, etc., or 19 cents a mile.
Of course, if you start out with a $40,000 car, the math becomes much different.
In the case of the Wrangler, the costs include $186 for a new door half and window. One of the disadvantages of a ragtop is that thieves can get inside pretty easily. Unfortunately, one thief didn't realize that and sliced up a plastic window.
And costs also include a $40 "bikini" - yes, an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bikini top for use in the hottest days of summer.
The Wrangler has been very useful over the years - not only as basic transportation but also as taxicab, delivery van, moving van, and work horse (great for tasks like pulling saplings out of the ground). Last summer, I customized it into a sort of "flat-bed truck" at a cost of about $120 worth of lumber and hardware.
Repair and maintenance bills include the usual brakes, belts, hoses, bulbs, and wiper blades, but also some whoppers, such as $940 for a new clutch.
Some parts have been replaced several times, like the valve-cover gaskets, but the Jeep still has its original muffler, which now is quite musical - it whistles and hums, accompanied by banging and clanging.
The Wrangler is 91 in dog years and is starting to show its age. But there are benefits. Oil changes are less frequent now (I figure adding oil is about as good as changing it).
And I no longer fill up with gas: There's no point in having a car die with a full tank.
The expense list is likely to grow. My birthday present for the Jeep will be some cosmetic surgery to get rid of the proliferating rust spots. That will cost a few bucks, but it beats the heck out of another car payment.