Being Frugal – Servicing your car & fixing your car

Long time readers of my blog will know that I’ve been on a mission to save money & generally live a more frugal life. For a while life became very extravagant & very expensive. I’ve only just managed to correct a lot of the financial mistakes made during a foolish & stressful part of my life & I’m always looking at ways to save money.

A little over 3 years ago my beloved Land Rover developed a gearbox fault. It cost a lot of money to have repaired & the repair failed, so I ended up selling it for next to nothing. I then bought a sporty Mini Cooper S which cost me a fortune & after 6 months I sold it to buy a Mercedes estate. This cost even more money to run & maintain and after less than 18 months of owning 3 separate cars I was at a point that I could no longer afford to run a car (silly financial decisions & lots of expensive repairs). It was at this point we sold the Mercedes & used the money to start paying off debt. This would be the beginning of paying off almost £20k in unsecured debts.

We lived without a car for months & it was a great time. It was very sobering. For our trips to Scotland every couple of months we would rent a cheap city car & hit the road. We did this for a while & while not having a car suited us, it wasn’t practical with the family commitments we have. So in September 2014 we bought the blue peril (or The Tardis, depending on who you ask). It’s a 10-year-old Fiat Panda, it was a single lady owner car & only had 22k miles on the clock when we bought it. It was a great deal & cost the same amount for the whole car as we paid for the Land Rover gearbox fix. It’s cheap to tax & insure & generally cheap to run. It does 56MPG and costs us nothing in fuel. It’s a big difference to the big cars I’m used to but it’s honest, affordable & we own it outright.

When we got the Fiat Panda it had no service history. This is usually a gamble but as it was such low mileage and by the feel of the gearstick had never left third gear it seemed like a good gamble. When we got it, it needed new brakes and an oil change. That was it. The brakes cost £220 and an oil change cost £80. I wanted to do the work myself but didn’t have time at all. This year however the time came around to service the car & I was determined to do it.

The benefits of doing your own service are both financial & personal. The sense of achievement is great & you get to know your car so much more. I was also able to source my own parts & oil and got great items really cheap. The oil is a real high spec Shell fully synthetic and I know the job will have been done properly.

To buy 5 litres of oil (I only needed 2.8), oil filter, air filter, sump plug hex key, oil drain pan and an oil filter removal tool costs just over £30. Remember for an oil change alone the year before I paid over £80. £50 saved already & next time it will be even cheaper as I only need another 1 litre of oil and the filters. I now have the tools for life.

Servicing my Fiat Panda
Servicing my Fiat Panda

It’s usually very straightforward to service a car. A haynes manual is a must & reading over the process a few times will mean you know what to do when the time comes.

I jacked up the car & put it up on stands I had made from large bricks. I then laid down some card board & climbed under to see what I was working with. The oil filter had been overtightened and took a good 20 minutes to free, soaking it in WD40 and tapping gently to release any rust in the seal seemed to free it. I only loosened off the oil filter, ensuring no oil came out and then moved onto the sump plug. This had been seriously overtightened by the previous mechanic using an air gun. The torque wrench settings for the sump plug are very light and should be done by hand to avoid over tightening. I had to soak the plug in WD40 & penetrating oil & it took nearly an hour to get the plug out using the hex key & lightly tapping it with a hammer to free. I didn’t want to use a breaker bar as putting too much torque in may have deformed the small sump. Job done the oil drained into the pan I had bought and I left it for 30 mins to have a brew & a swear.

When the oil had stopped draining it was simply a matter of screwing in the new oil filter, screwing in the sump plug & refilling with lovely fresh oil. I added 2 litres & then topped up to just below the max line on the dipstick. I then changed the air filter which took about 30 seconds.

The car is now running beautifully and I saved myself a small fortune on labour for what is (and will be next time) a very straightforward bit of motor maintenance. I’ll be doing this now every 6 months or 6000 miles.

I hadn’t serviced my own car in around 10 years. Back then I had an old mini and no money so I would do everything with that car. I think I had convinced myself over the years that my time wasn’t worth giving up to do the work, or it was easier to let a mechanic do the job, but it’s really not the case. Being frugal & having a car is hard to combine, but by carrying out these simple tasks you can save a small fortune. I even saved enough money to treat myself to a new book.

Being frugal is definitely a state of mind. When I was lay under that car struggling to get that overtightened plug out I could have easily given up and paid a professional to do the work, but now I know for next time everything isn’t overtightened & I can complete the task in 25 mins.

I have since swapped out all the wipers for Bosch ones (really nice wipers) and I intend to flush the coolant & change the spark plugs next month.

I implore you to go a grab a Haynes manual & don’t be afraid to get stuck in. The tools you buy are an investment & once you have done it you will have developed some great skills & be able to save money for life. I wish I had done this earlier. I’ve spent thousands in servicing and repair’s I could have done myself.

This little car is such a statement of intent for me. It’s small & cheap, really classless but I can afford it & it’s mine. I don’t have sleepless nights & I don’t worry about how I will afford to run it. I’ll get another Land Rover one day, I’m an enthusiast & love them, but this little Blue Peril is going nowhere.

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