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Navigating the North American car-ownership maze and enjoying a great relationship with your vehicle

Thinking of upgrading? Do you want something that’s going to look a little more impressive and massage your ego even though it’s a bit of a stretch for you to afford it? You might want to just cool it for a minute and read this before you make the big decision.

At The Garage, we see a lot of cars—different makes and models from all over the world. Because we are an independent shop, we also see a lot of cars that are more than five years old. These are cars that have been kept beyond the period typically covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. So, let’s have a look at your options in terms of upgrading and keeping a car for more than five years.

The entry-level upgrade myth

Entry-level cars are in a class of their own and deserve special consideration if you plan to keep one beyond that five-year period. They are deliberately priced very competitively because the main purpose of designing such a car is to entice owners to upgrade to more expensive models within five years. In order to price them competitively, the manufacturer typically has to cut some corners, as you might expect—although you might prefer to block those thoughts out when you are cruising the showroom with an eager salesman. As consumers, we think the better the brand the less trouble the car is going to give us. Our expectation is that brand will do a good job and look after any problems. We believe the brand promise.

At The Garage, our experience is that we see some entry-level cars far more frequently at our shop than we do other cars of a comparable price. Not only that, but for some makes of entry-level vehicles, it’s even hard to find maintenance information and parts—and that applies as much to the dealerships as it does to independent shops. That’s equally frustrating for us and our clients. It would seem that the brand promise, to be fully appreciated, mainly applies when you upgrade to a more expensive model that the brand offers.

Canada and the USA are…different

If you see Jeremy Clarkson test-driving a car in the UK on Top Gear, don’t think that if you buy that model on the other side of the Atlantic that it will be the same car. It will be completely different in every way other than appearance. Government requirements on emissions and environmental standards are different here and the manufacturers have to alter the cars to meet them. So, the car is designed for one market and messed with to meet the requirements of others. These alterations, combined with local driving styles and conditions can have detrimental effects on an engine.

As an example, let’s look at oil. In order to sell their vehicles in Canada, the manufacturer has to meet modern Canadian oil consumption standards. This has lead to the use of extended life oil, so that the manufacturer can claim their vehicles use half as much oil in the expected vehicle life span as they did under previous standards, thereby helping alleviate environmental concerns. This oil needs to be changed less frequently—theoretically. The problem is that, with varied driving conditions and particularly a propensity of slow, stop-start town driving, the engine gets choked up with dirt. This dirt gets carried in the oil that needs to be super clean to operate delicate and complex computer-monitored functions. As you drive, and without you knowing about it, the computers compensate for the gunk as much as they can until a ‘check engine’ light is activated when it no longer can. By then, damage can have been done to the engine, causing an unnecessarily expensive repair.

Everything needs to be looked after

Have you been to the gym lately? Do you eat healthily? You can think about your body in the same way as you think about your car. Either you can ignore it and see how long it lasts (which you are perfectly entitled to do), or you can get expertise, doctors, dentists etc. to inspect it and do things to ensure you have a long, healthy life. You can choose to invest time, expertise and money to reduce the risk of breakdown and repair. Your car is no different. It’s a sad thing that many people don’t even read the manual to find out how to best operate the vehicle, as they assume that the brand will somehow handle it for them. And they expect it to run perfectly.

So, who’s your car doctor? Just as you need a close and trusting relationship with your physician, you need the same with your car—if you want to keep it beyond the manufacturer’s warranty period. These days, it’s rare to be introduced to a technician at a dealership. Dealerships are there to sell cars on a five-year rotating basis. Dealership technicians are merely there to handle anything else that comes up during that period. Many dealerships now prevent customers from visiting the service bay and talking to the technician for that reason.

How to live a long and happy life with your car

If this all sounds a bit depressing, it needn’t be. If you want to keep a car for a long time, independent shops like The Garage are there to help you keep that car on the road, in really good condition, for as long as you want to. The key to the successful extended ownership of any car is to have a good relationship with a trusted service technician.

Even before you buy a car, if you are planning to keep it for even 20 years (and most cars are perfectly capable of lasting that long in near-new condition), the best thing to do is talk to a technician at an independent shop who services that model. Because the technician also works on vehicles that are past the manufacturer’s warranty period, they know what is good and what is bad about that model. They will know how frequently transmissions fail, how much tires cost, what software upgrades are needed and more. Dealerships probably won’t even have this information as they are just focused on sales and newer cars.

After you’ve bought the car, keep checking in with your technician so he or she can understand how you use it, adapt to how you take care of it and do the right things in a timely fashion so the car can survive you! You will also be in control of your budget and have peace of mind whenever you need to make a long trip.

Tell us about your experiences with entry-level cars, dealerships and independent shops. We’d love to hear!

 

Ronald Tremblay

Ronald Tremblay is the owner of The Garage, a fourth-generation family business in Vancouver, BC, specializing in vehicle maintenance and repair. Clients of The Garage enjoy a high-level of service whereby lifestyle and usage of their vehicles inform the service schedule and they are fully informed about the status of their vehicles. In this way clients can make empowered decisions, control their budget and save real money as the the life of their vehicle is extended long past the manufacturer's warranty expectations.

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