Frugal — Are You Frugal?

Big Red Car here and for the first time I’ve gotten a little of the Christmas spirit. Hard to do when it’s 75F but that’s the ATX. On Earth as it is in Texas, y’all!

So The Boss had an interesting experience the other day that drove home a good lesson in . . . . . frugality. Frugal. Let it roll off your tongue. Frugal.

Huh, Big Red Car?

In the world of startups, it is not only advisable to be frugal but it is a necessity. Put whatever word you like on it — “lean” is a good one but it still all gets down to extracting value from every financial transaction, every purchase.

So, The Boss has an oldish Lexus SUV — 2002 LX470 big black heap of love. It has squired he and the loveliness to numerous social events, driven the cubs (now 26 and 29) to numerous trysts with destiny, and made many a road trip. It has been a damn good car. Maybe the best road trip car ever.

As you may have gleaned (hint, the BRC is 49 years old, y’all) The Boss likes a car that likes him back and Big Blackie has been a very good car — 230,000 miles worth thus far. [Blackie gets the old guy, high mileage oil changes these days because he’s headed skiing today. Son of a bitch gets all the good gigs. I get the house sitter. Not to worry, we’re going to be screaming through the Hill Country top down. Hey, it’s winter in the ATX, haha!]

So, The Boss intends to do right by Blackie.

The sunroof

The sunroof died. It died hard and it was a cold corpse. Big Blackie is not as cool without the sunroof.

Cutting to the chase — Lexus dealer wanted $3,500 to replace it.

Now, The Boss loves Big Blackie but when you throw out numbers like $3,500 you are putting undue strain on the depth of that love. Truth — you are testing the limits of love and that can get ugly quick. You get that, right?

The Boss worked the Lexus dealership pretty hard — they have a coffee bar at the Lexus dealership so you can usually get The Boss to take Blackie for some work there without too much prodding. He says the latte is very good and it is free. Buy an $85,000 car and they give you free coffee? Wow!

No budge — $3,500.

Enter Texas Auto Tops

Texas Auto Tops was the result of some investigatory work by the Big Red Car.

I sent The Boss that direction where he met a lovely young lady who apparently had cataloged and safeguarded the world’s accumulated knowledge in all of Christendom about sun roofs and convertible tops (hint, Boss, convertible tops) and anything else that happens on top of, underneath, or part of an auto top.

Think of her like the keeper of the flame of knowledge on all things auto top. Sort of like a Dark Ages repository of knowledge and, apparently, the only such place in all of Austin.

Her name is Becca and she will surprise the crap out of you as she knows more about the subject than anyone else in Austin by God Texas.

She orders up an exploded view of the 2002 Lexus LX470 sunroof from — the Lexus dealer. She identifies the offending parts. She orders them.

She and Texas Auto Tops fix the thing as good as new for $1,400, half of which is the parts. Lexus parts are not cheap, y’all.

Good. As. New. $1,400 v $3,500.

Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.

Teaching point

The teaching point is simple — take your auto top problems to Texas Auto Tops.

Texas Auto Tops (ask for Becca)
818 N Meadows Drive
Austin, Texas 78758

No, that is not the point. Sorry.

The point is that there is a great big world out there and if you are willing to do a little research and scramble around a bit, you don’t have to pay the Lexus dealership price for shit. You can go to a place where you can mine value.

You will not be overwhelmed with the showroom at Texas Auto Tops (they do not have a coffee bar or a barista). They have a perfectly lovely leather couch which likely came with the building.

You will be appreciative of the bespoke service, the expertise, and the price. They give you a firm quote. They work on the car as soon as you get there. They finish the same day. When they are done, they call you. If you’re late, they wait on you.

No coffee bar, no barista. Becca.

Be frugal. Be cheap. Get value.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. 


7 thoughts on “Frugal — Are You Frugal?

  1. When I was trying to get my Prius back in shape for an inspection I paid $200 for the part, labor oil change and inspection at an honest shade tree mechanic place vs $400 at the dealership.

    Later I paid $120 for used tires with 30,000 miles on them vs $400 for a new set

    Gotta hustle at any pay grade !

  2. On cars, I made up my mind: Cheap, simple, utilitarian, rugged, no attention to luxury, style, or comfort, durable, easy to repair, US brand with huge supply of parts and expert labor everywhere. English dimensions, not metric.

    Any of the extras for automatic this, luxury that, power this other thing, high end anything — no thanks. Why? I don’t want to pay for it when I buy the car and, mostly, don’t want to put up with the extra stuff to go wrong, and especially don’t want to put up with the time, effort, and expense of getting repairs.

    E.g., no sunroofs, no power tailgates, no remote control side view mirrors, no anti-lock brakes, no active suspensions, no limited slip differentials, no automatic four wheel drive, no full time four wheel drive, no consumer electronics, no electrical engagement of four wheel drive, no power seats with ‘memory’, no power seats at all, etc. That is, say “No” to lots of stuff that costs more, can go wrong, needs maintenance, and where the maintenance takes time, money, and effort.

    Really bad: When that optional luxury stuff fails and leaves the car unusable so that have to fix it. E.g., a window is down, the switch for the power windows quits, I have no way to get the window up, I need to get some place, and it rains. Bummer. It happened. Luckly, the power window switch was easy to replace, and a junk yard had one for just $5.

    Driving in a luxury car with the windows down in the rain is no luxury.

    So, right, it’s Chevy or Ford. And it’s a truck or and SUV built like a truck.

    Nearly every car ad I see is 99 44/100% full of stuff that turns me off on the car — style, fancy this, luxury that, don’t want it. I want rugged, durable, easy to repair, etc.

    Impress me? Talk about the stainless steel exhaust system. That I won’t have to cough up $1000 to replace an electrical pump with a filter inside the gas tank. Tell me that the suspension joints and bushings can go 1 million miles with no problems. Explain that have no spring steel on the springs and, instead, have fiberglass springs with at least 10 times the fatigue life. So, no coil springs in the suspension. No suspension softie bushings for a luxury ride — want hard plastic. Want super tough shocks, super stiff, no bouncing — I don’t care about the ride quality. Bumpers? I want bumpers, good, solid, rugged bumpers. Glass and plastic near the bumpers? Hell no. Headlights? I like the old, sealed beam, cheap, readily available, reliable, easy to replace kind.

    Talk to me about corrosion, that is, that your car doesn’t have any, not in the exhaust, the radiator, the body panels, around the windows, at the bottoms of the doors, in the bumpers, in the gas lines, in the brake lines, in the frame, in the brake backing plates, in the gas tank, inside where condensation runs down on the insides of the windows, where condensation runs down inside the trunk lid, inside lamp sockets, etc.

    Tell me about lug nuts: E.g., for a while, GM used lug nuts covered with a layer of sheet metal. Bummer. Too soon the sheet metal got mangled, and to get a wheel off had to drill out the studs. Bummer. I replaced the originals with after-market solid pieces. Little things like that PISS ME OFF. Lug nuts? Must be what is between the ears of those GM people who decided to use the sheet steel covered lug nuts.

    Lights in the instrument panel? In time, right, they burn out. So, replace them? Nope: We’re talking $1000 to R&R the whole instrument panel. Bummer.

    Flimsy stuff? Hate that: So, closed the driver’s side door normally, and the guts and glass mirror of the driver’s side rear view mirror fell out, hit the pavement, and broke the glass. It was a bad spot weld. Gee, can’t make a solid rear view mirror. Bummer. Well, with a lot of shopping, got a new part for about $15. Okay. Put it on? That took a while, a special Torx driver, etc. The maintenance manuals didn’t explain the tricky parts.

    Latch on the driver’s side door? It corroded out. Bummer. Couldn’t close the door; drove that way for a while. How to replace it? Super tricky — I’ve done and published original research for less work. Super bad design — it should not have rusted out, and should be easy to replace.

    Maintenance, guys, ease of maintenance!

    And ruggedness, durability, simplicity.

    A car is not some rich woman’s fashion frock to wear no more than three times and then throw away. Instead, a car is a mechanical tool, like my circle saw, socket wrenches, taps and dies, grinding wheels, lawn mower, weed whacker, channel locks, vice grips, clamps, collection of epoxy glues, etc. A mechanical tool. You even hint one drop of style, fashion, or luxury, and I’m, OUT’A there.

  3. I’m driving a 13 year old (soon to be 14) Prius. I like to embarrass my 19 year old son and tell him I’m going to drive it until it’s 20 and then will get an antique auto plate. Oh the irony! An antique Prius!

    One of my favorite activities is speeding in the left lane by the many Porsche and Maserati drivers here in Fairfield County, CT. True, the handling isn’t as nice, but I really know how to get those little gerbils spinning under the hood. I enjoy the expression of surprise on the faces of those I pass by.

    It still gets 45 MPG and has been on many road trips around the the old U.S. of A. I have never had anything go wrong with it. The most I have spent is on new tires. Also, if you run out of gas, you can just shift it into battery mode and keep going. That has happened to me several times because it goes so long before it needs gas that you sort of forget about going to the gas station.

    Meets my inner frugal nature beautifully. I really appreciate people who keep on driving their old vehicles rather than having to get the latest. It definitely is character defining.

    • .
      Let me admit up front that I was a BMW/Mercedes/Volvo (favorite car ever 1984 MB 500 SEL the same size as an aircraft carrier and the best road trip car ever — kids used to sleep full length in the back seat) guy for a lot of years.

      Now, I drive Blackie, the Big Red Car, and a pickup truck.

      I don’t get Porches, Maseratis — I think they are sings of “inadequacy.”

      I am thinking about getting a Prius for my wife because of the mileage. I rented one in ATL for a long visit in Athens (kids went to UGA) and when I refilled it after a week of driving, it took 6 gallons.

      The one I drove was plenty nice on the inside. But the fillup was a thing of beauty.

      The best car? One that is fully paid for.


  4. Love it. Lot of low hanging fruit like this in the auto repair industry. Wife’s father was a big wig at NAPA. 20+ years ago she need a timing belt. The dealership quoted some outrageous figure like $750, including like $250 for the part. Wife’s father gets it from the NAPA distribution warehouse. The cost was like $10. A little bit of margin in auto repair. Especially at the high end luxury dealers. How many poor lexus, benz, bmw, audi dealers do you know?

    • .
      Great example — timing belts.

      The Lexus manual says to replace the timing belt on a SUV at 100,000 miles. Costs like $2,000. I passed on that.

      I asked the service manager how many repairs he’d done on timing belts and he said, “None.”

      Now, in fairness, maybe that was because a lot of folks got them routinely replaced. So, I asked a foreign car maintenance guy and he said the same thing.

      Had a similar problem with a GPS and the dealership wanted $2,500. It was taken out, sent to a place in California, repaired for $200.


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