Owning a Car is Expensive

Specifically This One Right Here: a Report

yeah, you

The other day I wrote a romantic look at my time backwards, of road trips and first dates. Today it’s nothing but cold water and sobering facts: I happen to have a folder with every single dollar I’ve ever spent on this car accounted for.

It is a shockingly hefty amount of paperwork.

I’m scared.

Let’s get started.

The Purchase

First off, the big one: the price listed here as the “original” value of the car from the Mini dealership was $14,995 (all prices will be in Canadian dollars).

I actually bought it for $9,770 in the end, through various discounts that they were offering and some negotiation. We all know the “original value” is crap.

…but the price goes back up to $10,732 once you factor in mysteriously vague sounding fees and GST. The “admin fee” alone, whatever that is, was $445.

As a funny note, I bought this new (used) Volvo just now for nearly the exact same price 5 years later. With inflation, that actually means it’s cheaper.

Then immediately you register the new plate, which was $128, and insurance: the first year was $1881 (so $157 per month) and gets steadily lower from there every year. I was 20 at the time; young males pay the highest premiums. I opted not to get comprehensive with the logic that, since the premium would go up to $6k a year, as long as I only ever did less than $4k of damage per year and paid out of pocket, I’d break even / be profitable.

This, of course, is an omen.

Odometer started at 138k.

Day one price: $12,741

First Blood

March 18th 2013 — a mere few months and 2200 km into ownership — the clutch slave cylinder dies one weekend. Also, because it was a clutch I had to tow it into the shop myself. I don’t seem to have a receipt for that, but it would have been roughly $150. The repair itself was $460.


This is where I feel a bit cheated — at some point in the first few months, my car started complaining that the passenger seat sensor was broken and as such all of the airbags in the car would refuse to deploy if they needed to.

I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea, but the logic is that if we can’t prove there’s a passenger who may or may not need an airbag, the driver should die too. It’s only fair, right?

Also, my ABS system stopped working. Which brings us to…

My big accident. A four-car pileup in which I was the fourth car, sliding into a Ford Explorer’s rear end on a gravelly post-winter road. I blame the lack of ABS. I blame the tiny ball-bearing rocks for the slide. But it doesn’t matter.

To boot, the police gave me a ticket for “following too closely” which was bogus, but hard to explain when you’re dripping radiator fluid all over the parking lot. I get it. Ticket price: $172

Tow to the shop: $185

Shop fees themselves: $6,089

Remember when I opted to not buy comprehensive insurance? Ha. Ha. Ha.

In the end, though, I did come out ahead since that was the only thing I paid for that insurance would have covered so paying $6k once or $6k per year no matter what seems like a no-brainer.

The body shop, to their credit, did me a huge solid and sourced used parts for me: that hood and one of the headlights they took from a donor car instead of buying brand new, which saved a few thousand right there.

Unfortunately, that car was in the shop from april 3rd to june 18th, which is when I started biking to work, 30km a day, for two and a half months; over 50 work days.

April in Calgary isn’t a warm month.

The one good thing to come from this is that I could completely redesign the front end with better parts: the chrome grill seen above was replaced with a black mesh one, and the bottom bumper became the upgraded JCW aero package body kit. I even asked for them to debadge the nose for me (since there’s holes you have to cover and paint, it’s hard to do yourself).

also conveniently shown: my clunky high school mountain bike, which I rode everywhere for months.

The first oil change on record was in october that year, $106

And in the end I wasn’t ‘at fault’ for the insurance, so the price didn’t increase.

I also fixed the ABS sensor by just buying a new one on ebay. Unknown price, but cheap enough, probably sub-$30.

Also, since this was the second time I had towed the car out-of-pocket I got AMA roadside, which adds $140 a year.

2013 total: $7332

I actually didn’t realize that accident happened so immediately. I thought it was the spring a year later from initially buying the car. Going through these records really confuses / aligns my internal timeline a ton.

2014 is when I decided to voluntarily drop some cash and bought new wheels / tires.

$1277 to buy 17" Sparco rims and Kumho Ecsta 4X rubber plus $700 to buy some gently used studded winters on steelies, which turned out to be the best money ever spent as I have never once been stuck in that car.

I sold the existing Continentals, but I have no idea how much — emails show negotiations in the $200 range but I’m not sure what the final deal was.

This is also when the second accident happened: I was sitting at a red light and was rear-ended by a semi truck, which punched my hatch gate in.

The trucking company decided to settle outside of insurance and just paid the body shop bill, which ended up being $2833, but we won’t count that.

In may I got a speeding ticket for $110.

Yearly insurance was $1827 + $84 registration.

2014 total: $3938

2015 and on are the glory years, actually. No more accidents, not much maintenance. There’s oil changes and a few random things but it’s pretty smooth sailing honestly. $118.

In 2016 they fixed the passenger airbag thing under recall safety warranty which is nice. I had bought an ebay thing to trick the sensor for $20 which had worked for the years interim. That was free, happily.

Replaced the windshield for the first time. $263.

I also bought a boatload of parts to start fixing stuff myself: four corner new struts, bushings, sway bars linkages, control arms, the usual ball joint stuff that was all failing at the same time. To this day most of it is in a box still, but I paid for them. ~$500

General sum total: $4721

2017-2018 is where the start of the aging problems begins: driving a high mileage (213k kms) BMW carries a certain stereotype and we’re falling into it.

  • Throttlebody dies: $673
  • Air filter: $60
  • Oil change: $147
  • Harmonic balancer dies: $1104
  • Summer tires: $780

Total: $6044

And finally, fuel prices. I did log this for two years but honestly it’s a lot of work for very little reward so I stopped caring. We’re going to approximate it using my total mileage difference plus average fuel economy of ~10L/100km and an average fuel price of $1.25 which is sort of a memory-faulty average?

75k kms = $9375 on gas over 5 years or $156 a month. I happen to know the monthly budget numbers and that sounds about right in broad average.

Grande Finale

I think, unless I’m missing anything, this all comes to:


or $8830 per year or $21.50 per day, every day, from january 10th until today, august 26th 2018, including all the days I biked to work (every summer) and

Holy crap.

I’d like to say it was all worth it, that the joy and smiles and raw utility of, you know, getting around could somehow justify the price. It’s still cheaper than an Uber depending on where you go per day, but $736 extra cash per month could be put into, say, rent at a more convenient car-less life location.

I didn’t even include the price for things like car washes, windshield wipers, spraypaint, plastidip, interior shine wipes, Back to Black, Rain-X, the shop time and sweat effort of work I did myself (+friends) or the tools, etc.

It should be made very clear that this isn’t the same as simply buying a $44k car from the start. Almost 1/4 of the total is just for insurance, even as cheap as I got it. Over those years from age 20 to 25 the premium (for the same coverage) has halved because I’m supposedly “mature” and “responsible” now, so no matter what I had bought, really, would have been more.

If you phrase it like that: 1/4 for the car itself, 1/4 for insurance, 1/4 on gas and 1/4 on maintenance and related stuff, it doesn’t seem so bad. These cars aren’t known for their reliability but mine’s been pretty good if only 3 major things broke in 5 years of daily driving use.

The truth is, even if I had bought some boring econobox, I’d still be paying for 75,000 km of gas (regular gas instead of premium saves like $20 a month) and brakes and oil changes and whatever. Maybe a few hundred saver a year. Crashing is still expensive. Speeding tickets are the same no matter what.

Cars are always expensive, but I’d like to think I paid a fairly small amount for a big boost in life quality and general happiness with the specific car choice.