What it Costs to Keep My 1996 Truck Running

Two reasons lots of people slavishly trade in their five-plus-years-old vehicles for newer ones are that (1) they believe the “older” vehicle is or is about to become unreliable and (2) they fear the “older” vehicle will become a cash guzzling big-repair money pit.  I’m here to tell you that’s all wrong.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Maintaining your vehicle is very money smart.

Maintaining your vehicle is very money smart.

There are far too many people who think that vehicles more than 5 years old are due to be traded in. And most certainly that vehicles with more than 100,000 miles on their odometers are ripe to fall apart at any moment and belong in a junkyard. So these people dutifully commit themselves to neverending monthly loan payments on a continuous series of newer cars.  I think it is all an absolute load of crap.  It can all be avoided by maintaining your vehicle.  And I’m not the only one managing to do that.

My vehicle is a 1996 Dodge Dakota pickup truck. It has logged over 142,000 miles in its 19 years of service. Year after year, it has proven itself to be completely reliable. And last year was no exception.  It’s all just a matter of maintaining your vehicle.

My Inspection Related Costs
In my state, annual vehicle inspections are required by law. When I took my Dakota in for inspection this year, the records showed that I had driven 7599 miles in the previous 12 months. The inspection revealed that the truck needed 1 wiper blade, 1 turn indicator light, 1 blower motor relay, and the adjustment of 1 headlight. My total cost to get all this fixed at the service station was $108.53. The inspection itself cost another $16.

But what about the previous 12 months? I drove the truck 14,845 miles. And it passed inspection without needing to have anything done. My only cost was the $16 inspection fee.

And what about the 12 months before that? I logged 6703 miles on my Dakota. And the truck passed inspection with the replacement of a couple of indicator lights at a total cost of $36 – including the inspection fee.

That’s 3 years and 29,147 miles. Total inspection compliance costs for the three years: $176.53. Breakdowns on the road: none. Times I could not start the truck: none. Other problems: none. Even a brand new vehicle could not have done significantly better – but it would have cost thousands just to own, and demanded much higher insurance premiums than my oldie goldie truck. I got to keep all that extra money in my bank account.

My Wear and Tear Expenses
Over those 3 years, the only wear-and-tear costs I’ve had for this truck have been an air conditioning recharge ($120.83), a new radiator cap ($15.99), and 2 replacement tires ($244.64). That’s a grand total of $381.46 for 3 years’ worth of replacing worn parts. Not much more (or actually less?) than one single monthly loan installment on a new vehicle. I got to keep all that extra money in my bank account.

What’s my secret? No secret. I don’t do anything special. I just treat the truck with the respect everyone should give their vehicles. I simply have all required maintenance done according to the specifications in the truck’s owner manual. And that’s not very expensive either.

My Maintenance Outlays
During the 12 months and 7599 miles between my truck’s most recent inspection and its previous one, my Dakota had 2 oil changes and 1 rear differential service. (Nothing else was due based on mfr recommendations.) Total cost for all that servicing was $183.82. And that’s because I was a lazy no-count that had everything done at the service station. On previous years, my maintenance costs were even less.

My Total Annual Upkeep Costs
So inspection-required repairs, wear-and-tear expenses and scheduled maintenance all told cost me a supergrand total of $741.81 for 29,147 miles of driving. That’s 2.5 cents per driven mile without a single reliability incident.  I consider that to be one hell of a deal. I think it is an outcome that anyone could be happy with, regardless of the make, model or age of their vehicle.

My wife has done as well or better with her 243,000 mile, 1998 Subaru Forester.  And there’s more.

Before starting to write this blog post, I reached out to the Mister Money Mustache Forum community for feedback on this article topic.  Quite a few people responded and, as it turns out, many of them have managed to actually do better that I have!  Here’s just a sampling of the cost results reported to me:  4.5 cents per mile for a 2000 Celica; 3.0 cents per mile for a 1995 Corolla; 2.0 cents per mile for a 2007 Camry; and 1.5 cents per mile for a 2004 Honda Civic.   My 1996 Dodge Dakota’s results are not a fluke!

So what’s the message here? That an older vehicle can be completely reliable if it is properly maintained. That there’s no need to keep trading in vehicles just because they’ve aged beyond 5 years or logged a certain number of miles. That older vehicles can keep going on. And that you could keep all that loan payment money in your wallet and/or reduce your wait time to financial independence by several years simply by choosing to drive an older vehicle — and maintaining your vehicle.

Doing that has certainly paid off for me.

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image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. RTW is my hero! I’m cheap, but I greatly admire someone cheaper than myself! I must admit I am thinking of buying a brand new Honda CR-V when I retire. I have a 2012 Honda Fit, and a 2010 Toyota Camry to trade for one, should be near breakeven. I also plan to buy a quite used Dodge Dakota pickup, but not as used as RTW, maybe 2003 or so, for trips to Home Depot etc, plus as an emergency second vehicle.

  2. P.S. I look at a lot of personal finance blogs, and I love the format, look and esthetically pleasing style of YOUR blog a lot! I believe it is on purpose that I see no ads, that you are not monetizing your site. Although I love the lack of ad clutter, I would completely understand if you monetized your site to help defray the hosting expenses and maybe add a little cash to your bottom line.

    1. Thank you so much for the compliment. I’m glad to hear you like the way the blog is organized. It didn’t happen by accident! :O

      At this point, the blog is a work of love. I don’t need it to make money (or the headaches and stress that would come with trying to monetize the blog), so I’m okay for now with the way things are.

  3. Still happy with my 1998 Ford Escort Sport Coupe. Brakes and AC charge mainly, along with oil and tire changes. Saving up for a new (used) vehicle. Should have enough by December. If there are no major issues with the Escort by then I will continue to keep it until it dies:)

    I probably put only about 3000 miles a year on it now that DH has recently traded in his old 1999 pick-up for a 2015 Subaru Forester — we love it, that baby feels solid as a rock — we call it our little tank.

    1. I applaud your ownership of that 1998 Escort. But buying a brand new vehicle (even a Subaru) has never been financially worth it to me. Check out why on my earlier post about my “oldie goldie 1996 Dodge Dakota.”

      1. We looked at used and it was our intention to get a 2-3 yr old used vehicle, but in the end, it simply did not make financial sense, the new vehicle turned out to be a better deal and the 0% financing didn’t hurt either. We negotiated for tinted windows to be added for free and got one of the packages we liked so we are satisfied we could not have done better.

        There were no used Subarus to be had at a better price in the 6 mo we looked – possibly $500-800 difference if you want the exact bottomline, just wasn’t worth it to us…

      2. Well, maybe that 2 to 3 year old vehicle you were looking for was just “too young.” Possibly, it had too much depreciation still untaken. If I were looking today, I don’t think I would look for anything younger than 5 years old. But, if you’re happy, that’s the main thing, isn’t it?

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