N2G – It’s a way of life!

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So here you are. You have made your first Not2Grand purchase. Maybe it was a cheap runabout, maybe you’ve opted for something a bit bigger, a bit more German, with a bit more cowhide on the inside. Either way, you now find yourself a certified member of the N2G club.

What’s next, then? Aside from driving your car and proving to everyone that reliability and comfort can be had for very little money (well, unless you’re Pollitt, perhaps…), it is time to start thinking about living the N2G lifestyle.

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Jake there, making sparks. And possibly swearing. We’re not too sure. 

‘Lifestyle’ is one of those overly grand and increasingly meaningless terms bandied around mercilessly, but what I essentially mean is learning to look after your car. The problem with buying a car for so little money is that every bit of maintenance hurts, and it doesn’t take a lot for a repair to suddenly equal a significant proportion of your original outlay. When you buy a new car, you get a warranty that covers your maintenance and repair costs for the first few years. Buy a lightly used car, and you don’t mind the occasional bigger bill to keep it in shape. But what if you’ve gone in for an N2G purchase?

A couple of years ago I brought home a BMW E39, and a few months later it was in need of a brake job. The discs were okay, but I decided to do discs and pads all around. The cost estimator on ClickMechanic.com suggests that having my local garage do all the work should cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of £440. That’s bad enough to begin with; it’s much worse when you realise this is encroaching on half of what I paid for the car.

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Jake’s rather handsome E39

What I want to suggest is that ‘living the N2G lifestyle’ means looking to avoid these extra costs as far as possible. And the best way to do that is by learning to do some maintenance on your own.

Let’s take the E39’s brake job again. Log on to Euro Car Parts, and you can pick up the pads and discs for a tick over £100, less than a quarter of the cost of the garage estimate. In the vast majority of cases, brakes are not difficult to do, either. I can do the fronts on my BMW in less than an hour. But even if you’ve never done them before, with a good tutorial (and they are easy to find in this internet age), it shouldn’t take you more than a few hours. You’d spend that time waiting at the garage anyway, so why not get your hands dirty and pick up some useful skills?

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This isn’t Jake. It is, however, a general mechanic image. Look at him, elbow deep in an Audi. Dirty boy. 

With some basic hand tools, you can begin to do a lot of your own maintenance. If you’ve done your homework on your N2G purchase, you will hopefully have a car in your driveway that only requires regular maintenance to keep it going. Basic servicing, brake jobs, changing fluids, swapping out worn suspension bits, all the main things that keep your car healthy, are things that can be done by just about anyone with some basic DIY skills.

Pick up a set of basic hand tools at Halfords, where starter sets are often on offer, and you are on your way. Adding different tools to your Christmas and birthday lists is a great way to slowly build up a good collection, which then enables you to do even more. Occasionally you will need a car-specific tool, which you can usually find on eBay. When you’re done with it, keep it in your collection or sell it on to someone else who needs it. Find a tutorial for the required job, and you will soon find that cars aren’t as complicated as your mechanic would like you to believe.

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Another generic image. Those grease smudges aren’t fooling anyone, love

As you get more familiar with cars and gain experience working on them, it will give you increased confidence to tackle bigger jobs. Take advantage of the wealth of information in a Haynes manual or on YouTube, and you will be surprised to learn what you can do on your own. Last year, I bought a Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra. The service history was all there, and said the cambelt had been replaced 10,000 miles prior to my acquisition. All good news, until the water pump started leaking a few months later. That made me question whether the cambelt had been done (given the puddle of coolant under the car). Or at least, the job hadn’t been done properly.

With more than ten years of spannering experience behind me, and a great online tutorial, I decided to attempt my biggest DIY job yet. ClickMechanic.com tells me that at my garage, a cambelt and water pump would be an £850 job. The parts on their own? £96, plus £20 for some fresh coolant. Sure, it took me eight hours in the driveway, but with patience and due care, it ended up being a fairly straightforward job. Not only did I walk away with a huge sense of accomplishment, but with the money I saved, I basically could have bought another car.

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Jake’s Seat Leon Cupra

Getting your hands dirty or laying underneath a car might not be for you. You might not have the time to spend in the driveway. That need not disqualify you from the N2G club, though. It is about doing things smartly. Get to know your car in order to diagnose what might need fixing. Make friends with someone who enjoys the smell of petrol and grease. Stocking their beer fridge or passing them a few quid might be all it takes to enlist their help in getting you back on the road.

No matter how thoroughly you do your homework, something in the N2G price range is going to be older and well-used. Stuff will go wrong from time to time. But the more you learn to do yourself, the less those problems become a major financial upset. So live the N2G lifestyle, and get those hands dirty.

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If you liked reading Jake’s words – and why wouldn’t you? – you can find more of them via his little corner of the web. You can get to it by clicking these blue words. And you should, because they’re good words.