Budgeting Your Pastime

Bench Racing

by Ryan King

Managing costs is an extremely complex issue, but its importance for the automotive hobbiest – especially one on a tight budget – can't be overstressed.

For the enthusiast, not watching pennies can result in a loss of thousands of dollars very easily. Whether you're buying a car, restoring a car, modifying a car, or repairing a car, not sitting down and doing an accurate financial projection can mean making choices that lose a lot of money because there are so many "hidden" costs that await you.

If you are buying a car, sure, it's simple to over spend on the initial purchase, but it's also relatively easy to reign that in by putting a budget in place and keeping yourself to that budget. However, the most common hidden area is cost of ownership.

Great, so you scraped your pennies together and you managed to afford a Viper, but did you stop to think how much that thing is going to cost to keep on the road and in nice shape? Trust me, pizza-sized brakes aren't cheap to work on by a long shot and body panels for a low-volume automobile aren't easy to come by, either.

If you're performing a repair, it is so incredibly easy to use the parts replacement method of diagnosis. It usually goes something like this: "I think it's the gizmo." You replace the gizmo. It still runs like shit and is still throwing that code. Twelve parts – and months – later, after fighting with the problem you either give up on it or learn to diagnose the problem and discover that the actual method for diagnosing an engine malfunction goes through several steps, not just reading the engine codes and replacing a defective part, so you do all the steps in a proper diagnosis of an engine malfunction which includes inspection and testing of the entire circuit the engine failure occurs on and ultimately discover there is an intermittent short in the wiring – none of the parts you replaced were an issue at all.

If you are modifying your car and you think "I'm gonna swap me an intake and be awesome," I have some news for you. You won't be awesome. You will swap the intake and something won't work right – mostly the engine won't be properly tuned for that intake and there will be some weird driving issues you didn't anticipate and it'll ruin your driving experience, not improve it. The major hidden costs here involve R&D. You will need testing and tuning time on a dyno, with an air/fuel meter, as well as some performance testing on a track to work out all of the wrinkles. Of course, you'll also have needed the education to do all of that before you got started. That $500 intake swap becomes several thousand dollars very, very easily. First, the carb needed to be re-tuned, then you discovered that a tuned engine doesn't just mean a carb swap, but the matching of every other single component in the engine to your fancy-Jim-dandy intake. That means more time on the dyno and on the track with headers and exhaust modifications, that if done wrong, will further ruin your driving characteristics, not improve them. Modifications are the black hole of death for automotive enthusiasts. Your finances will let you know, trust me.

Restoring or rebuilding your car? Ha. Guess what, you have to re-manufacture an entire automobile. If you think the Craftsman tool set you got last Christmas and the second stall in your attached garage are going to get it done, let me assure you there are some hidden costs involved that your pocket book likely isn't prepared handle.

There are hidden costs everywhere in the automotive hobby and the pitfalls are deep. Learning what those pitfalls are and how to manage your hobby financially is critical for your financial health and wellbeing, and the ultimate success of your pastime.

Ryan