“£205 for a small service,” he screwed up his nose as if confronted with a bad smell. It did not seem so much for what had turned out to be not such a small service. Along with the routine oil change and replacement of miscellaneous light bulbs, there had been the problem of the handbrake not working – one cable had seized, the brake not releasing properly, and the other was heavily corroded. The car had spent the whole day at the garage and had demanded a lot of attention; a bill of £205 that included the parts and the VAT had not seemed excessive. In the past six months, the car has needed about £900 worth of work, but it has seemed reasonable value.
It had been a bargain when it was three years old and was bought at the cost of €7,700 and had just 42,000 kilometres (26,000 miles on the clock. Eight years later, the odometer reads 392,000 kilometres (a total heading toward a quarter of a million miles). It is a total so high that no-one would want to buy the car; it no longer has a depreciation cost, servicing and fuel are the only expenditure it demands.
There is a sense of satisfaction in such economical driving, the cost of servicing the car each year is considerably less than the depreciation cost of most cars, and they still have service bills to be paid.
Of course, keeping the car on the road depends on people like Richard, the mechanic who screwed up his nose at the thought of a bill for £205. It depends upon there being small independent garages where the mechanics find no challenge too great and where they will phone around suppliers to seek parts that are the best value for money. Were the supply of people like Richard, and the garage he runs more plentiful, it would alarm the manufacturers seeking to maximise the sale of new cars.
While it remains technically possible for a small workshop in a small town to keep a car on the road, the option of spending modest sums on motoring will remain, people like Richard will continue to provide excellent service. Electronic technology and computerisation will tend to further and further remove the option of minimum cost motoring. The disappearance of the internal combustion engine from the roads in the coming years may spell the end of the independent garages, no more greasy rags or screwing up of the nose at a bill being more than had been anticipated.