Dear Tom and Ray:
I listen to your radio show almost every week and have learned a lot. But right now my life is going through a great change, since my husband wants a divorce. I need to know how to plan for car maintenance and its costs. I have a 2004 RAV4 (in his name), and I love it. It has 31,000 miles on it, and I have kept up with the oil changes. But I haven't a clue as to how to budget for its maintenance. Can you help me? -- Marilee
TOM: Well, the first thing you can do to save money, Marilee, is to make sure you hold on to the RAV4 in the divorce. Tell him he can have the Jaguar. He'll be confused, but trust us.
RAY: You're lucky, because you have a car that's relatively new, and it's a car that's known for its reliability and infrequent need for repairs. So, you're off to a good start.
TOM: I would say that you should plan to have the car serviced once or twice a year, at the mileage intervals called for by Toyota (7,500, 15,000, 22,500, etc.). Some of those will be "minor services," and some will be "major services."
RAY: What's the difference between a minor service and a major service? About 300 bucks.
TOM: All services include oil and filter changes. In addition to that, minor services usually involve checking a bunch of stuff. Major services involve actually replacing stuff.
RAY: And if I had to take a wild guess, I'd say that if you have it serviced at an independent garage rather than at the dealer, you'll probably spend about $500-$600 a year on these services. All you need to do is bring your owner's manual to a reliable independent shop, and they can do all the services Toyota lists as "required."
TOM: If you don't already have a mechanic you trust, check out the "Mechanics Files" at our Web site, www.cartalk.com. It's a database of good mechanics, personally recommended by other readers and our radio-show listeners.
RAY: In addition to the money you earmark for regular maintenance, you also should put aside some money for repairs and replacements. At some point you'll need brakes, tires, shocks and probably some sort of mechanical repair work. If you put aside another $400 a year, and carry it over from year to year and bank it if you don't use it, I think that should cover most of your needs.
TOM: So $1,000 a year for maintenance and repairs should cover you, Marilee. But just to be sure, have your lawyer demand another $500 a year for a fuzzy-dice allowance.