In this article, I tell you about the hidden costs of keeping a new automobile for more than 10 years. I kept my last vehicle for almost 18 years, and some people might think I got scammed maintaining and repairing a car with over 200k miles. Maybe I did, but in all honesty, I wanted to see how far I could push it and at one point I thought I was going to get my truck up to one million miles.
Boy, was I wrong!
READ ON to hear about my opinion and story of owning a Toyota Tacoma for almost 18 years! The wisdom in this article will apply to any old car.
Buying My First New Car; A Toyota Tacoma Pick-Up Truck!
Whether it’s a car or pick-up truck. Whether it’s a Ford, Dodge, Honda, Toyota or even a Jaguar. At some point, every vehicle becomes a money pit and a scam to your wallet.
Before I bought my first brand new car, I had lots of questions I wanted to know the answer too. It was the year 2000, and luckily the Internet was pretty well established so doing the research was easy.
I searched for questions like:
- How long do you keep a car on average before selling or trading it in?
- How long do new cars stay reliable and last on average?
I had many, many more questions relating to financing and the best way to work out a deal, etc. I’ll save those questions for another article down the road.
It all started in early November of 2000, my existing car at the time was a used 1991 Toyota MR2 (that I had boughten a year earlier.) For driving around town, it was a fun little two-seater car! But, my life was changing, and an MR2 was just not practical for camping, snowboarding, or doing any hauling of construction materials purchased from Home Depot.
I had recently just bought my first home and living on my own for the first time, so Home Depot was a whole new experience for a 21-year-old. A pick-up truck was going to be required now!
So in late November I finally decided it was time to buy my ultimate dream car, a brand new Toyota 4X4 Pick-Up truck. Ever since I saw Marty McFly driving one in the Back To The Future movies, I knew I had to have one.
The exact model I bought was a 2001 Toyota Tacoma 4X4 TRD (with the V-6 3.4-liter engine.) Here’s a Kelly Blue Book link for more info: https://www.kbb.com/toyota/tacoma-double-cab/2001/
Here’s a pic of my Toyota Tacoma just before I sold it in May of 2018.
What Owning A Toyota Tacoma For 18 Years Was Like
In the beginning, everything was excellent and almost perfect. I had a brand new truck with less than 50 miles on it. Plus, the Consumer Reports rated all Toyota cars and trucks with better than average ratings.
Check out this consumer reports article about my exact year Toyota Tacoma truck.
Quick Note: Given the reliability of a Toyota, I knew this car would last. In hindsight, I realize now that I should have sold the car well before it hit 2ook miles. I’ll explain more about this in the next section.
For the first 10 years, I was driving an average of 20k miles per year. So after 5 short years, I needed that first 100k standard major service at the Toyota dealer, and it was expensive at around $1,500 dollars.
100 thousand miles on any car is a lot of driving!
It’s expensive replacing the timing belt, water pump, and doing a full tune-up, etc. That does not even include the costs of oil changes, brakes, and tires too. By 100k miles in this truck, you’ve gone through 4 sets of tires, a set of shocks, and at least three sets of brakes for the front wheels. Surprisingly the rear brakes did not need replacing yet.
When the truck hit 150k miles, it still passed smog tests with ease, and only required oil changes, brakes, tires, etc.
As it approached 175k miles, it was a different story; the dang check engine light started to come on pretty frequently. With each time requiring a diagnostic test and the replacement of some kind of electronic sensor relating to the engine or the fuel/exhaust system.
The cost of those small electronic sensors really adds up! (The first time the check engine light came on it was simple, it was for a code saying the gas cap seal was broken. So I bought a new gas cap, and the light went off. If only the other check engine light problems were that simple! LOL)
The lesson learned… Regardless of the car, you need to do standard maintenance and fix annoying check engine light problems. This is a requirement for passing smog tests, which is also required to register your car in states like California. It does not matter if it’s a Ford, Chevy, Saturn, Honda, Toyota, Audi, BMW, Hyundai, etc. Doing smog checks with an old car sucks!
At, 200K Miles Everything Really Sucked!
After about 10 years and 200k miles of driving it was time for the second 100k mile major service at the dealer. It’s the same service I paid $1,500 bucks for previously. I was expecting to just get a tune-up, new timing belt, and water pump with the service. After dropping the truck off for only an hour, I got a call back from the mechanic with some horrible news instead.
The engine seals on the heads were bad, and the engine needed to be rebuilt. The total cost of the job was going to be about $3,300. Plus another $700 to complete the 100k major maintenance service (tune-up, air filter, plugs, wires, and miscellaneous check-ups, etc.)
At the time, I really felt like I was getting taken advantage of. To be sure I was not getting scammed I even got a second opinion at a smaller mechanics shop before authorizing the work at the dealer.
The second opinion gave me the same diagnosis, so I knew the needed repairs were legit. The second quote was not much cheaper though, so I decided to have the dealer perform the repairs. By having the dealer do the work, I was also able to negotiate a free rental car for two weeks. This was a nice perk since life can be hell without a daily car to drive.
When the truck was ready 14 days later, I paid $4,000 cash! Ouch.
My main reason for spending the money on the repairs was this:
For all of the years, I’d had the truck so far, it had never broken down and ran flawlessly. Plus, the truck was only 10 years old, and Toyotas last forever, right?
And… What else was I suppose to do? At the time, the Kelly Blue Book value of the Tacoma was still around 12,000 dollars. Even if I wanted to sell it, who wants to buy a non-running automobile for top dollar? The math was simple; The cost of repairs was way less than the current market value of the truck at $12,000.
Then, for a few more years, everything was fine. I really enjoyed driving my Toyota Tacoma with a brand new rebuilt engine.
At 250k Miles, More Bad News!
At 250k miles it was time for another smog check, and it was a major fail. I needed a whole new Catalytic Converter and several O2 sensors. This type of work is not cheap either. A new Cataylic converter will easily run you 1500 bucks if you go for OEM.
More little things began breaking too; such as:
- A worn out and torn drivers side seatbelt
- An airbag warning light reporting I needed a new drivers side airbag replacement
- Two exterior broken door handles
- Power window motors going out
- A broken A/C unit
Between the smog repairs and some of these other little things breaking, I easily threw another 3,000 dollars at this car. Uggg.
Finally, At 275k Miles, I Sold The Truck!
After almost 18 years and 275k miles, I finally sold the truck to a mechanic on Craigslist. I got $2500 dollars and was happy to see it go.
The last straw that broke the camels back was another failed smog check (the car ran fine, but the check engine light was on.) And for kicks, I decided to check the oil level to see if the Tacoma’s engine was burning a lot of oil up. To my surprise, the oil on the dip stick was a milky creme color (it actually looked like a latte from your local coffee shop.)
After a little bit of research and asking a mechanic friend, I quickly discovered that creme colored oil meant there was water/oil contamination inside the engine. The water most likely was from the engine’s radiator, and it means the engine seals were bad again.
In disbelief, I threw my hands up and decided it was time to stop throwing money at this crazy Toyota Tacoma Pick-Up truck.
It was clear I would not be driving it to one million miles like I’d hope.
The current market value of the truck in tip-top shape was only 5 grand. It was not worth doing any more major repairs on.
The mechanic from Craigslist loved buying my old Toyota Truck; they said they’d easily be able to put in a new engine and transmission. Heck, they’ll probably take that truck to one million miles since they know how to work on cars.
The lesson I learned was this: The most reliable car in the world seems to run forever if you can keep throwing money or time at it!
Another picture before I sold it in May of 2018, it was in pretty good condition with 275k miles on it.
Hating The Car, You Once Loved
You love your car when it’s new, then it gets old, and you start to hate it.
The story of an old car goes something like this: You fix one expensive problem, everything is fine for a bit, then you fix another costly problem. That’s the frustration of an old car or pick-up truck.
I had many, many frustrations in the last five years that I owned my Toyota Tacoma.
Especially with the smog checks!
Every time I needed to get it smogged, I would stress out with fear. I knew I would be spending lots of money because the check-engine light was on. After the repairs are made the light turns off. Then turns on again 3 to 6 months later.
It sucks the money right out of your wallet.
It’s not just the check engine light though; you also get to deal with repairs like:
- Stalled or rough engine idles
- Fuel injection problems
- Dead car batteries
- No Air Conditioning on a hot summer day
- Airbag warning lights
- Torn seat belts and seats
- Dirty and stinky air vents
- Faded and oxidized car paint
- Slow moving power windows and locks
The list could go on forever!
In the end, you spend lots of money on an old car without the benefits of a new one.
When old car repairs start costing you an arm and a leg, its time to do some financial planning to see what your options are. Sometimes it will make the most sense to ditch the old car and buy a new car (or newer used car.) Especially if the new car payment is cheaper than your monthly repair bill maintaining the old car.
Seriously consider this
I really hate car payments, but at least you won’t have to deal with:
- Constant smog check fails
- Time wasted at the mechanic’s shop
- The stress of randomly breaking down
- Unpredictable costs with repair bills
Instead of just enjoying a fresh brand new reliable car. I learned all of this the hard way, after 17 years of repairing and maintaining the same car.
The Smog Check Scam
For smog checks, I have a perfect dream. In my dream, you should be able to take your car down to the shop one time, spend no more than an hour, pass the test, and then go on with your life.
But with a very old car, it’s a nightmare if you don’t pass.
It goes like this:
- You don’t pass the initial smog check.
- You pay for a diagnosis and expensive repair bill.
- The car’s computer that controls the engine gets reset and has to do a self-diagnosis.
- You have to drive the car for a few days until the computer can be “smog test ready“ again.
- Then you go back to the mechanic’s shop and do the smog test again (and hopefully pass.)
- Pray its not more than 2 – 3 trips to the repair shop over a 1 or 2 week period (if everything gets fixed properly.)
Waiting for a car’s computer to be “smog test ready” is a very frustrating and time-consuming process.
Especially when you waste a trip down to the repair shop to find out it’s still not ready!
Do you want to ease the frustration and know 100% when your car is ready for a smog test or re-test?
Do what I did and buy this BlueDriver ODB-II Scanner (amazon affiliate link) that hooks up wirelessly to your Droid/iPhone smartphone. It can talk to your car’s computer and tell you when it’s ready to be smogged. You can view all the diagnostic information right on your smart phone’s screen. Pretty slick! This device is totally worth it and also does a great job scanning for check engine and airbag light codes. Out of all the auto ODB-II scanner tools I’ve used, this BlueDriver is the best one by far.
My Life Time Expenses Of Owning The Tacoma
Below I list all of the money I spent maintaining and repairing my 2001 Toyota Tacoma. It covers the entire time I owned it, just under 18 years. Lots of these expenses racked up in the last 5 years I owned my truck. Consequently, I drove my truck the least amount during that time too.
The below list includes parts and labor. Most of the work was done at a Toyota dealer where the cost of service is more expensive than a small mechanics shop.
- $420 = Smog Checks
- $6428 = Tires, Brakes, Shocks, Alignments
- $450 = Car Batteries
- $3998 = Smog Parts for Check Engine Light (Catalytic Converter, Mass Air Flow Sensors, O2 Sensors)
- $3000 = Oil Changes (50 bucks every 5,000 miles)
- $4840 = Major Service (Timing Belt, Water Pump, Tune-Ups, 100k mile service, etc.)
- $500 = New Radiator
- $605 = Two Bed Liners
- $521 = Windshield Replacements / Repairs
- $3300 = Head Gasket / Rebuild Engine (at 200,000 miles)
- $750 = CV Boots Replaced
- $300 = Seatbelt (driverside)
- $100 = Airbag light
- $430 = Power Window went out
- $240 = Install Door Handle
Grand Total = $25880 (the cost of a whole new truck)
The purchase price of my new Toyota Tacoma was $25,184 (out the door in the year 2000)
Fun Fact: I spent an approximate $38,194 on gas driving it around 275,000 miles. If you average the cost of gas at $2.50 per gallon (assuming you get 18 MPG.)
CRAZY RIGHT? That’s what I thought when adding up all the invoices and receipts from all these years.
The lesson learned is this: Get rid of your car after 7 years or 150k miles if you predict it might start costing a lot of money to repair and maintain. Especially if you’re having problems with a blown out engine, burning to much oil, passing a smog check test, or too many electronic sensors/gadgets start failing.
Keep in mind that I knew I was paying a lot for repairs because I always went to the Toyota Dealer for the work to be done. I always wanted to make sure that factory OEM Toyota parts were used.
My life experience has taught me that small mechanic shops are not worth it for the cheaper price. Unless you get a lucky referral to a good one. The dealer is reputable and can back up the quality of work they’re going to perform.
Every car and situation is different though. So what about you? Tell me about your old car repair nightmare story below in the comments.