Dogs and Old Cars: Why Both Are Worthy Of Being Man’s Best Friend

I was surfing the Internet this week when I stumbled upon a brilliant essay by The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten on why old dogs make the best dogs. In it, Weingarten astutely observed:

“It’s no big deal to love a dog; they make it so easy for you. They find you brilliant, even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife.”

That’s exactly why I’m such a dog lover: they’re the perfect pet for dull witlings like yours truly.

That being said, don’t be misled; I know dogs appeal to millions of fascinating intellectuals too. After all, what’s not to love about them?

Dogs are not only faithful companions and protectors, but they never complain either. Dogs live to please and they’re loyal to a fault, worshiping us regardless of whether or not we’re deserving of their adoration.

Those characteristics are why I didn’t bat an eyelash when our Rhodesian ridgeback, Major, recently had to have surgery that required me to shell out a thousand bucks. That’s right, I didn’t blink an eye; my dog is definitely worth every penny I’ve ever spent on him.

Weingarten made a particularly interesting observation about old dogs: their most important virtues, such as gratitude and trust, don’t really appear until they reach old age.

Maybe it’s because my dad used to sell used cars in Ohio, but I feel much the same way when it comes to old cars. That’s because an older properly maintained car’s most important virtue is the money it saves its owner over time.

Man’s Other Best Friend

The Honeybee and I have two cars: a Honda Civic we bought in 1997 for about $13,000, and a 2001 Honda Odyssey we bought four years later for roughly $26,000. We still have those two cars today and they’ve served us well over the years. Our intention is to keep them for as long as we can because as long as they stay reliable, we have no reason to buy a new car — and that saves us thousands of dollars every year.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Len, as a car gets older, the maintenance costs probably become overwhelming! Nope.

Here is a year-by-year look at our automobile maintenance costs (in then-year dollars):

As you can see, over a 14 year period, the maintenance costs for my 1997 Civic have averaged just a hair under $400 annually; for the Odyssey, they’ve averaged less than $600. Depending on the loan, those totals could arguably be considered roughly equivalent to a monthly car payment for a brand new Civic and Odyssey, respectively. And don’t get me started on expensive luxury cars; they’d be even more of a financial drain.

Lest you think I’m scrimping on maintenance, think again. Our maintenance routine for both cars generally follows the Honda recommendations.

To help you correlate my costs to the actual maintenance performed on my cars, here is a service summary for my Civic. As you can see, I keep fairly meticulous — if not 100% complete — records.

The Moral of the Story

If you’re looking for one of the best ways to save money over time, then buy a car and keep it for as long as you can. Remember that a well-maintained car will save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle. The best part is there’s no reason why you couldn’t keep a vehicle for decades — assuming you treat it the same way you’d expect your best friend to treat you.

On average, I figure my two old faithful friends that are parked in the garage currently save me approximately $11,000 annually in car payments. That’s $11,000 I end up spending each year on much more important priorities instead. You know, stuff like retirement savings, family vacations and, well … the occasional vet bill, of course.

Photo Credit: dphiffer

25 comments to Dogs and Old Cars: Why Both Are Worthy Of Being Man’s Best Friend

  • Colleen

    You should submit your article to Consumer Reports!

    • Len Penzo

      That’s very nice of you to say, Colleen. Thank you! However, the rumor is their editor prefers cats, so it would probably be pointless. ;-)

  • Not spending a lot on automobiles has allowed me to save a lot more of my income over the years. Most of the people I know who are struggling financially have really nice cars that are suitable for someone in a higher tax bracket. Or, they have two or more new cars on payments at the same time. There are definitely better things to spend money on.

    • Len Penzo

      Me too, Bret. I guess it all comes down to priorities. Still it never ceases to amaze me when folks lament their tight incomes and completely overlook the brand new car(s) in the driveway that is/are eating up a good chunk of their paycheck.

  • Len, The key component of this anaylsis has got to be that you went with Hondas! I’m a Honda man myself and keep ‘em forever. My first car was an ’84 Accord that i kept until 200K miles!

    • Len Penzo

      I agree, Hondas are extremely reliable. I’ve got over 140k on my Civic (not bad for a 14 year old commuter car!) and it is in tip top shape. Our Odyssey has about 90k (but that includes two cross-country road trips). I love ‘em!

  • My cars are 16 & 14 years old and like you are both Honda cars. They are great cars, however I am a getting bored with them. I detailed last summer to spruce them up, but they are still the same cars. The only thing that stops me is my sensibility and I hate payments.

    • Len Penzo

      I’m one of those folks who look at cars as simply a tool to get me from point A to point B — not as a status symbol or a statement-maker. I know where you’re coming from though, believe me. Yeah, Hondas are extremely boring. And they are far from sexy, that’s for sure. But they are extremely practical automobiles — not only highly reliable but a great value to boot! (And that, friends, concludes my free commercial for the Honda Corporation.)

  • Nice! We’re almost a match – we have an accord and an odyssey (my civic was wrecked by a drunk driver or we’d still be driving that as well!)…
    We plan on driving ours into the ground as well.

  • Garnetstar

    I bought a Honda Civic in 1986. It lasted *18 years* with nothing except annual maintenance. Not a single system ever broke down.

    When at last I decided it had reached the end of its life, it was still running fine. But small things were starting to wear out–a hose here, a pipe there.

    And talk about savings! It got great gas mileage even at the end, and the total insurance was $200 a year. Also, it was theft-proof, since no one wants to steal such an old car.

    Of course I got another Civic, $15,000 for a four-year-old car. Nothing has required maintenance yet. I’m going for two decades on it.

    Hondas. They work.

    • Len Penzo

      Forgot about that! Yes, the gasoline mileage is the icing on the cake! I never get less than 35 mpg with my Civic. I remember our Odyssey was pulling 27 mpg on our cross-country journey.

    • Len Penzo

      You need to trademark that last paragraph; it’s a great advertising sound bite!

  • You keep very meticulous record, nice. Generally, if I start to spend much more than $1,000/year, I would start looking for a newer car. I don’t mind driving older cars, but I hate to get stuck somewhere.

    • Len Penzo

      I understand where you’re coming from because, in the end, you can’t really put a price on peace of mind. That being said, when I think of all the miles I’ve driven (it’s got to be, literally, a million), and the number of times I’ve been left stranded by all of the cars I’ve ever owned because of a mechanical failure that was not the cause of my neglect (twice, both with my first vehicle — an old Datsun 510), then I figure the risk of getting stranded is so low it doesn’t justify the added expense of the new car. But that’s just me.

  • I’ve finally convinced my husband to keep our Honda Element until it dies. It’s only 6 years old and is in excellent condition (thanks to my husband, of course.) Since we’re a one-car family, I’m sure that in a couple of years we’ll need another car and Mr. LH is constantly drooling over new vehicles (he’s a bit of a car fanatic). But I’m just so happy he’s seen my point of view and no longer wants to trade in Ellie. Old, well maintained, cars are money savers.

    • Len Penzo

      Good work, Jennifer! And to keep him from changing his mind, constantly remind him how much money he’s going to save each year in car payments.

  • tim

    I completely agree with the premise of the post. I agree that driving a car until it dies is a great boost to personal wealth. However, I need to ask how much of the maintenance you perform(vs paying a mechanic)? My main question is 2002. It appears that for $44, you got an alignment, battery, oil and oil change, and replaced the tires.

  • Len Penzo

    Good catch, Tim. I have a trusted mechanic. The disparity was probably a bookkeeping error, where I suspect some of that auto service was placed on the credit card — which has a separate line on my expenses tracking sheet — and we forgot to transfer it to the proper bucket.

  • Len, the engineer in you was definitely showing with that maintenance log. :)

    Major sounds like a great dog and I’m glad to know you’re the kind of person that wouldn’t hesitate to spend money on your faithful friend.

  • R Peterson

    If you pay personal property taxes for your vehicles you also get a tax break if you drive an older car. We have a 2010 Prius and a 1996 Buick Park Avenue and the taxes this year were approximately $350 and $50 respectively. The Prius is used primarily for a 125 mile daily commute which adds up to over 30,000 miles per year. Our first tax bill two years ago was over $500. I called the assesor’s office in my county to ask questions about it and found out that if I submitted a service receipt that showed the mileage at the end of each year it would reduce the taxes on the Prius because of the high mileage. Doing so has saved us at least another $100 in taxes the past 2 years. I don’t submit one for the Park Avenue, however, because it has low mileage for its age (65,000 miles) and that might cause the assessment to go up.

  • John

    My Honda Accord is a 96 still runs good; Maintence is the key. had a Dodge dekota with 300000 miles on it when I sold it, I do a lots of my maintence after warentee expires. Will only but used cars in the future!

  • R O

    96 Accord with 214k that 2 teenage boys now use , 06 Acura TSX with 87k for the wife (bot as a loaner w/ 4k on the odomoter at a great price) and an 03 Odyssey w/148K. Shooting for 300k with the Accord, know the other 2 cars will be around for many years. Love these cars and have put nothing more than regularly scheduled maintence and a little wax.

  • [...] speed at impact was not much more than 10 mph, the only appreciable damage to either car was on my 1997 Honda Civic: a slightly bent hood, a cracked grille molding, and a broken headlight housing bracket.Assessing [...]

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