Driving Cheap: How to earn more by spending less on your work vehicle

The financial success of your painting business depends a lot on how well you manage and cover overhead costs, and of all the overhead costs involved in professional painting, owning and operating a vehicle is one of the biggest. It’s also the cost that you have the most control over. Every penny you save with economical decisions on your painting vehicle go directly in your pocket sooner or later. Here are some ways to drive cheaper.

Money-Saving Tip#1 – Buy Used

Everyone knows that used is cheaper than new. What you might not realize is just how much more expensive new can be. Besides the higher purchase price, you’ve got the higher cost of insurance for a brand new vehicle. There’s also the need for dealer-servicing. But the biggest drawback of all when buying new wheels is depreciation. The last vehicle I bought was one model year old. It cost me $39,000, it had 28,000 km on the clock and it cost $15,000 less than the same make and model available new. Depreciation during the first year I owned the vehicle was probably less than $7,000, saving me $8,000 from the steepest part of the depreciation curve. Buying new saved me more than $650 per month in depreciation avoided. And I am still driving this vehicle at more than 300,000 km.

Money-Saving Tip#2 – Buy Reliability

Once upon a time, consumers didn’t have much to go by when it came to choosing a reliable vehicle. You could buy brand names and hope for the best, but that wasn’t much to go by. None of us ever got the chance to learn from the experience of many previous owners of the same model, so we bought in the dark, often suffering the consequences. These days, things are different. The results of large and trustworthy vehicle reliability studies are easy to find and often surprising. Consumer Reports compiles one of the largest collections of vehicle reliability information in the world, involving data from about 500,000 vehicles each year. The difference between best and worst vehicles is huge. The cost of owning a trouble-prone vehicle can easily be 300 to 400 per cent higher than a trouble-free make and model– not to mention the hassles of dealing with a vehicle that breaks down when it shouldn’t. A couple of makes consistently have much higher reliability ratings than others from brands that can’t seem to get their act together.

Money-Saving Tip#3 – Remember Body Maintenance

Almost all of Canada is hard on vehicle bodies. Except for a few locations in this country, road salt and moist spring conditions cause lots of vehicle rusting. And rusting is the one thing that can never be repaired properly. Sure, you can use body filler and paint to fix body rust, but that’s expensive and ultimately ineffective. Structural rust kills Canadian vehicles faster than mechanical issues, and this means unnecessarily higher overhead costs for you. So how do you stop rust? Creeping oil spray treatments, that’s how. There are many rust-preventative treatments on the market, but most don’t work. My oldest vehicle is a 1990 F-150 that has always been driven in the salt country of Ontario, yet it’s completely free of rust. I know for sure because I had it repainted professionally when the old paint got chalky and dull. Not a spec of filler was required.
A simple sanding job and a $2,000 coat of new paint and the old truck still shines, five years after that paint job. I’ve used both Krown and Rust Check and I find them equally good. These days I spray my own vehicles with product I buy in 20 litre pails. A couple of hours and $50 worth of rust compound does each of my three vehicles. Body maintenance like this makes vehicle rust a non-issue, and it’s the foundation for the next money-saving tip. In my experience if a rust preventative product doesn’t creep and lead to oily, dusty residue along the bottoms of doors and body panels months after application, then it doesn’t work.

Money-Saving Tip#4 – Maintenance is Cheaper Than Replacement

People replace vehicles for all kinds of emotional reasons, and many of these reasons are justified with something that’s simply not true. The flaw in logic usually goes something like this: “Why should I pay $3000 for repairs on a used vehicle that’s only worth $2000? That doesn’t make sense.” Well, actually, a repair like this probably does make sense if you’ve kept up with the rust preventative maintenance work in Tip#3 and you’ve chosen a reliable model. Here’s the logic . . . Let’s say the transmission goes on your otherwise-good work truck, and it’ll cost $3K for a new one. What’s the monthly payments for owning a new vehicle? It could easily be $400 to $600, not including depreciation. Will that new transmission keep working for another 5 to 7 months? Of course it will. It will probably last many years. Will something else go wrong in the mean time? Yes, it could, but the same logic about the value of repairs applies. As vehicles age, more than one thing might go wrong with them, and you could end up averaging hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month in repairs for a while. But when the wear items have been replaced, you’ll probably get many years of repair-free service from that same vehicle assuming two vital things: Have you made rust a non-issue with regular oil sprays? Have you chosen a vehicle that’s got a proven, multiyear track record of reliability? Repairs arrive in bumps. Get over the bump and you’ll be fine for a long time.

Money-Saving Tip#5 – Choose a Vehicle for Practicality, Not Ego

Painting is one of the few trades where a big vehicle is not always necessary. Sure, it’s nice to have a honking big truck and a work trailer and some painting businesses can justify this. Many can’t. Remember, the definition of being able to afford something is not if you can come up with a loan to pay for it. Even having enough cash is not the definition of “affordability”. When it comes to a work vehicle, the big question is “does it pay?” Does that big, fancy painting truck that costs you twice as much two run pay for itself in double the profits? I know painters whose main work vehicle is a medium-sized car. The smaller and simpler the vehicle you own, the cheaper the fuel bill, spare parts, tires and insurance.

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