I always tell people that their footwear will have a greater impact on their life than the car they drive . . . and they laugh. Then they start to think about it. All that money that goes into purchasing, financing, repairing, and insuring a car can be used for so many better purposes (for a non-enthusiast). College. Vacations. Cheap wine. You name it. The list is endless and the knowledge to achieve those ends is definitely out there. But how can it “really” be done? How can the laymen amongst us overcome the stacked deck of MBAs and conspicuous consumption that is seemingly “the American way” when it comes to cars and so many other things?
Education. That’s a big part of it. Obviously not the type that involves the perpetual pushing of pencils, but the freedom that comes from actually doing things. Teenagers and adults, young and vicariously young, need the opportunity to learn by mastering the basics of maintaining a car. Learning to perform an oil change, a brake job, how to check a car’s fluids, and replacing tires and batteries really takes no more than a full day or two of healthy learning. Alone it would save the average person tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetime. It would also minimize the waste of neglected cars in general. It’s also a brilliant excuse for high school geeks all over the world to get out of phys. ed.
I would say that cynicism of the automotive media is the flip side to a good education when it comes to cars. For the last ten years, it seems like every car company is trying to make their cars into a Prozac capsule or a Viagra alternative. When I mention that to folks, they’ll laugh . . . and then reconsider. Perhaps it’s true that the flashy HUMMER can climb a very well positioned rock. But a 15-year-old Land Cruiser, Range Rover, Wrangler or Cherokee can easily do it for less than a fifth of the cost and will be a helluva lot more interesting to drive.
Finally, I would say that investing in quality makes a huge difference in minimizing all forms of cost, including ignorance. I have a friend who bought a 20-year-old Volvo 240 wagon from me for $1500 back in the good old days of 2007. She cares about cars as much as I care about TV shows on the Lifetime network. In lieu of that, I told her that if she simply followed the maintenance schedule I gave her, visited an enthusiast site whenever she had a question, and used parts from companies I highlighted, she would be fine. Two years later the 22-year-old Volvo still drives exceptionally well.