Our car story, by the numbers

by admin on July 26, 2011

On February 3, 2000 I surprised my wife with a car she had been dreaming about: a brand new 2000 Volkswagen Passat GLX V6 Sedan with automatic Tiptronic transmission, black metallic paint, and a 6-disc CD changer.

I believe the sticker price was $31,430.

We paid a total of $29,683 in cash (actually it was a personal check, but “cash” sounds better), as follows: $27,800 purchase price, plus $1,668 sales tax, plus $140 registration fee, plus $75 miscellaneous dealership fee.

2000 VW Passat GLX

In addition to regular maintenance like oil changes and tire rotation, here are the dates and amounts for major repairs:

Dec 2003 $420 three new tires (used full-size spare as fourth tire)

Feb 2005 $165 coolant leak diagnosis and simple repair

Feb 2005 $1,747 repaired/replaced cam seals leaking oil, 100k mile major service, replaced coolant pump, timing belt

Oct 2005 $312 replaced stripped lug nut, new battery, new headlight

May 2007 $704 new rear brakes + new rear tie rod

Aug 2008 $472 replaced front right axle shaft

Aug 2008 $472 four new tires

Sep 2008 $796 new right front suspension control arm + link + alignment

Nov 2008 $265 tuneup w/ filters, belts, etc

Dec 2008 $55 check hydraulic control assembly

Jul 2009 $1,361 replace left catalytic converter

Sep 2009 $454 new front brakes

Oct 2009 $1,345 replace right catalytic converter

Nov 2009 $167 check engine light evaluation and reset

Apr 2010 $382 repair short in wiring

Apr 2010 $112 evaluate and reset diagnostic computer

Jul 2010 $668 repair air conditioning

Aug 2010 $522 replace cracked aluminum rim + tire

Oct 2010 $353 replace front left axle

Feb 2011 $91 new wiper blades, tire rotation, oil, etc.

Mar 2011 $683 purchase & install new motor mounts


Total repairs: $11,546
Average repair: $550
Average number of months between repairs since purchase: 6.5
Number of incidents: 21
Lowest Amount: $55
Highest Amount: $1,747

*does not include oil changes or $319 for cracked windshield replacement in 2008


Assuming we sell this car in the next few days for about $1,200 that will be 137 months of ownership, during which we’ve driven nearly 179,000 miles (about 1,300 miles per month).


Our $29,683 total purchase cost divided by 137 months = $216.66 per month

Our $29,683 total purchase cost divided by 179,000 miles = $0.168 per mile


Our $11,546 total repair costs divided by 137 months = $82.28 per month

Our $11,546 total repair costs divided by 179,000 miles = $0.0645 per mile


Our $29,683 total purchase cost plus $11,546 total repair costs (not counting basic oil changes, etc) = $41,229 total purchase plus repair costs


Our $41,229 total purchase plus repair costs divided by 137 months = $300.94 per month

Our $41,229 total purchase plus repair costs divided by 179,000 miles = $0.2303 per mile


The numbers above do not account for the time-value of money, or the eventual selling price of the car.

Obviously this is one single experience, but it does inform how expensive owning a $30,000 car can be, even when “driving it into the ground.” Cam seals leaking oil ($1,747), plus the right and left catalytic converters ($2,706) were the major repair bills, but there were plenty of others above $400 along the way.

So, what’s your opinion? What is the best way to acquire a car if it’s to be used 5+ days per week and driven 1,000+ miles per month? Buy? Lease? Grand theft auto?

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Best Self Improvement Blog
August 31, 2011 at 4:32 pm

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Colin Harris July 27, 2011 at 8:38 am

Hi Mark,

My suggestion, on whether to buy or lease, if you utilize a vehicle at least 5 days per week at approximately 1,000 miles per month is emphatically to lease, as long as you’re not looking to do personal customizations to the vehicle.

Firstly, you will always be driving a new vehicle, so there is an emotional side to this suggestion. Second, you will always be under warranty. Third, you won’t worry about normal wear and tear because, frankly, it’s not your car. My idea is to let the respective vehicle finance arm have the headache of trading in the vehicle when its time.

Here’s a quick example to highlight my point(s):
My wife and I leased at 2009 Mercedes Benz E350 4Matic with the AMG sportline package in March, 2009. Did you know that you can lease a European luxury vehicle for LESS than you can lease an American mid-luxury sedan? It’s true and it’s all about the residual. i.e. the portion of the car you are “renting”. Mercedes and BMW’s carry some of the highest residuals.

In this case, our residual is 50% after 4 years. This means that I am only “renting” half a car! Here’s the breakdown:
’09 MB E350
MSRP $58,275.00
I ‘negotiated’ the Gross Capitalized Cost of this vehicle down to $48,141.88. Yes, there is always room for negotiation.

So, with a minimal downpayment of $1,900, my wife and I pay $569.93/mo. for 48 mos., and get a beautiful vehicle, with 1,000 miles per month, that’s always under warranty. (As an aside, so when your daughter breaks the rear center consol, MB replaces it under warranty – that’s how a luxury manufacturer works.). Cost of ownership, about $.60/mi. (not including about 3 oil changes @ $99 per). Satisfaction of ownership, “a grin on your face everytime you turn the key”. Headaches with repair facilities…zero.

I would always suggest leasing at least one of your family vehicles based on the above rationale. Thanks for the forum.



Mark Gavagan July 27, 2011 at 8:44 am

Thank you, Colin, for your terrific feedback and advice!

Is there a formula or resource to let the average person on the street know when they’re getting a good or bad leasing deal?

Td August 8, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Compare the maintenance costs of this car with other cars in the same category (size and price) to get a better idea of the cost of long-term ownership. Cars from other brands can have significantly lower maintenance costs. Replacing so many suspension and electrical components seems to have contributed significantly to the long term maintenance costs for this car.

Td August 8, 2011 at 4:40 pm

With regard to leasing, look up “money factor” to determine if you’re getting a good deal.

Rarely does it make sense to put down money for a lease – best bet is to go through an independent broker, not directly through the dealer. The brokers offer far better deals, almost always with zero down, at least in the New York area. Basically, they match the monthly payments of manufacturer-advertised specials, but without the down payments.

admin August 8, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Thank you for your great ideas Td. I wish I had done this years ago. -Mark Gavagan

Eric August 8, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Hi ,

Don’t buy a Volkswagen! They have documented poor reliability.

My 1992 Toyota Tercel was purchased from my parents for $1000 at 48,000 miles in 2004 and is going strong at 100,000 miles.

I never wash it, some body damage, but it only costs me maintenance, gas, registration, and insurance.

Best regards, Frugal Eric in Santa Clara, California

JC August 8, 2011 at 10:46 pm

awesome record keeping, however, two major expenses you also left out that factor into the pennies/mile equation:
Fuel + $20,000 (27 mpg = 6700 gallons, avg at $3)
Insurance + $7,500 (maybe a low estimate for 10.5 years of insurance…)

Also a third smaller expense:
Annual Licensing

admin August 9, 2011 at 5:24 am

Frugal Eric,

That’s great, especially for a 19 year old car. One more year and it’s officially a “classic.” Thanks for your post. -Mark

admin August 9, 2011 at 5:26 am


Good points. I never thought about all the fuel over time. The idea of 6,700 gallons blows my mind, but you’re probably right. Thanks for your very good ideas. -Mark

Steve Jones August 9, 2011 at 6:59 am

This really is awesome and super informative. A couple things that I’m taking away for future use:
1) Outside of 2005, your maintenance costs were pretty minimal for the first 8 years (through 2007). But if you’d sold at the end of 2007, and perhaps gotten a new car under warranty, you’d have saved $8200 in maintenance costs
2008: $2060
2009: $3327
2010: $2037
2011: $774
Although caveat, a few of these expenses appear to be routine maintenance, so maybe a bit less, but still, on a monthly basis, that’s about $200 in savings.

2) It’s really difficult to really budget for car repairs, especially on an older car. Even on an annual basis – there’s major differences each year.

Very helpful stuff! Thanks

admin August 9, 2011 at 7:57 am

Steve, Thanks for your insightful commens. As you point out, that’s a lot of financial pain in those few years beginning in 2008. -Mark

Adam August 9, 2011 at 11:45 am

I stumbled upon the article and was intrigued because I have almost the exact same car! Mine is 4 cyl w/turbo and doesn’t have the 6CD changer, but same model year, etc.

I bought mine in 2006 for $8,000 (cash) when it had 70k miles on it. It’s now at 140k and facing major repairs so I’m at a crossroads with it. I’ve been quite frustrated with the repair bills on the vehicle, though it’s been generally reliable. My main complaint is that it’s overly complex with too many sensors and things that can go wrong. I had a $600 repair because of a sensor that was bad that said something was wrong when it wasn’t and a $300 repair when I was unable to open the gas door and there’s no manual release. Stupid, unnecessary expenses. I also had many of the same expenses (axels, arms, tie rods, etc.).

Now, I need to replace at least one catalytic converter and I live in an area with emissions testing requirements so I can’t simply ignore it. It’s very helpful to see what things will end up costing in the next few years, though! Thanks for the article!

Td August 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Definitely worth checking reliability ratings in Consumer Reports, as well as researching owner experiences online.

Hopefully your next car will be much more reliable, with fewer repairs and lower maintenance costs.

admin August 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Good thinking. Next time I’ll use the Consumer Reports ratings. Thanks Td!

admin August 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Hi Adam. Thanks for your comments. You’re right, the sensors are sooooo expensive to repair. I hope your experience going forward is a lot better than mine was. -Mark

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