There are the car people at the track for whom money is no object, or at least it never comes up in conversation. They are the ones with the Italian supercars, and the best of them throw you the key and say, here, kid, take it for a spin. There are the car people at the track with the beat-up E36 M3s who have day jobs and are constantly saving up for their next mod, or at least racing seats, so the next time they do a hot lap they aren’t falling out of the window. There are the Real Racers at the track with day jobs but also sponsors, for whom money is less a matter of day-to-day concern and more a matter of lining up their next benefactor. There are also the car people at the track who show up with their Fiat 500 Abarth, which also happens to be their daily driver, which they know they can’t push too hard because a wreck would be devastating in many ways.
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There are the car people who never show up at the track at all, and instead buy a Porsche 911 because it was cool 40 years ago and still is, who stuff it in a garage during periods of non-use and pay their maintenance bills on time because money is but a number. There are the car people who drive a Kia Seltos, who haven’t thought about cars a day in their life. There are the car people — somewhere in between the Seltos/Camry/CR-V and 911 crowd — who drive luxury German cars like E-Classes because they work in industries in which they need to appear successful, because they are lawyers or finance guys or some shit. There are the convertible car people, who are really all over the map. There are the car restoration people, who spend small fortunes trying to impress at their next Concours d’Elegance. There are the project guys, whose goal is less car maintenance and car (re)production. Then there are the off-road and #vanlife and full-size truck guys, whose cars are as important, financially speaking, as their primary residences, because, in many cases, they are.
I would submit, though, that the majority of car owners in America — and, probably, the world — are in none of these categories, but in the category of car-as-appliance. Your car is a tool, not to be thought of until it stops working, like a cell phone or vacuum cleaner. Car maintenance is expensive, but so is life, and for most of us there are necessities that demand your money more urgently than the next transmission fluid flush. Beyond that, there are more fun things to spend money on, like mind-altering substances.
According to a survey Tom highlighted earlier this week, a good majority of car owners are doing exactly that: spending their money on something other than maintenance, or at least waiting, presumably until their conscience gets the better of them or their latest paycheck clears or their car dies. Here is a table with some of the survey’s results:
And for a clue why:
Many people, then, are a little lax about car maintenance, but it’s unlikely that’s a preference, but more of a dollars-and-cents sort of choice: If you’re behind on car maintenance, you’re probably also behind on a few other financial goals as well. Your car runs, after all, and may have even passed its latest inspection, though merely owning an operational car is often itself a luxury. And you’re not going to the track any time soon, unless someone you know has something cool and the right attitude. That can be a very good friend to have.