Friday, August 20, 2010

Signs of the times

A word for those who care for such things.

I've been a gearhead since birth.

I can't ever remember not being interested in automobiles, their design, engineering and figuring out ways of making them go faster.

It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that I do all of the preventative maintenance on the family vehicles, and almost all repairs, the few that ever crop up (knock on wood).

So changing the engine oil is something that I've come to do out of habit, and I do it religiously. When I bought the Subaru wagon, 5 years ago, I did a few cycles with a name branded conventional oil that I've used for longer than I can remember, and switched over to a full synthetic after I was convinced that the engine had its rings good and seated. There is probably more myth to that sequence and timing described than fact, but I've done enough reading and jawing with others I trust to not deviate from my way of thinking. I want it to survive for at least fifteen years, so that's why it's getting the royal treatment.

Synthetic oil is expensive. I've always known that and it became quite painful enough, thankyouverymuch, when my girlfriend (now wife) purchased her then new car about nine years ago and I made the promise to her that I'd look after the mechanicals for her. This included doing the same schtick as outlined earlier. Five quarts at about six bucks each plus a decent filter brought the usual costs to about forty dollars or so, and that was done about four times annually.

Then we moved to the sticks after getting married, and I started driving 315 miles, minimum, each week, to and from work, often more if I needed to avoid construction or the latest organ donor program on the highway. My trusty '96 Nissan D21 was getting the wheels driven off of her in a big way, and changing the oil every two months has been pretty much the norm now for about the last seven and a half years.

I've told you all of that so I could tell you this; I've always used the same oil in her, Quaker State™ 5W-30 oil and a Wix™ brand filter. This is hardly the most expensive combination of consumables on the market for this sort of thing, but they aren't cheap either. I've had great luck with this combination in every vehicle that I've ever owned and not had any failures with lubrication as a result. I'll be damned if I'm going to change it now, with 210,000 miles on the odometer.

The last time I went to the auto parts store to stock up, I grabbed a case of oil. The same I've used for years. That's twelve quarts, or three gallons. That's not quite enough to do that change three times, but I know that I've got to do it those three times at about an eight week interval, so it's not going to last all that long.

The cashier rings me up.

Two filters and one case of oil.

The bill came out to about $65.

I looked at the receipt and about shat my pants. No kidding here, that case of oil was ALMOST FIFTY GOD-DAMNED DOLLARS!!!

I became determined to find a more cost effective solution about thirty minutes later.

About a week later, I found it at a place I hate going. China-Mart (you know who I'm referencing) has a five quart jug of the exact same product for about eleven dollars. That's about HALF the price of what the auto parts stores charge for the same stuff.


I now have four jugs on the lubricant shelf in the garage.

It behooves everyone to fight the insipid inflation in this nascent depression, that's being obviously flagged now, on a daily basis over at SurvivalBlog, by doing their own post on ways they've discovered to reduce costs on similar or same items.

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Blogger Stephen said...

I once needed some rope for a project. Specifically, I needed rough brown rope of about half inch diameter. I went to the local boat store and they had the rope for $1.75 per foot.

That seemed a bit much to me so I drove down the road to the Home Depot and they had the same rope - from the same manufacturer - for $.35 a foot.

A speciality store is not always the place where you will find the best deal.

7:40 AM  
Blogger theirritablearchitect said...

I'd agree on the specialty store angle, but this is hardly a situation that I'd call a specialty, since auto parts stores are all over the place in this country (at least they are out here in fly-over country), and you'd think they'd try to be competitive about this sort of thing.

Apparently not.

My solution is to not deal with them for anything I can get elsewhere for better money. I've now voted with my pocketbook. It's the dearest way to make them pay for their outright lack of competitiveness.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Mark B. said...

The sad thing about (take your pick) Advance, AutoZone, Carquest, NAPA, O'Reilly's, Pep Boys , etc. raping their customers is that by using slightly smarter business practices they could compete with The Blue Box on price. By doing things like making regional or national buys on those brands that Wal Mart also peddles they could offer volume enough to at least equal Wally World's buying power.

Even granting that they're (sometimes fierce) competitors their purchasing departments could form a buying group that would blow Wal Mart's volume out of the water and they each singly could then enjoy the benefits of bottom-bracket wholesale pricing. Whether they'd then pass those savings on to their customers is an entirely different question, of course.

The elephant's already in the room; might as well use all the ammunition in as many rifles as you can muster to slay the beast.

The other side of this equation, however, is the volume discount deals the vendors have with Wal Mart -- and believe me, I've been there. Wal Mart is unusually cavalier with their wholesale vendors in many respects. They're well known for making marketing deals, openly disregarding them and daring their vendors to sue for misrepresentation and breach. Having grown into Leviathan, their attitude has evolved into, "We can keep you in court long enough to break you."

And it could be that Quaker State, Pennzoil, Valvoline are simply afraid of losing Wal Mart's business on those brands when Walton Inc. finds out what pricing they're giving the (individually) little guys. That's far from unheard of either.


2:25 PM  
Blogger theirritablearchitect said...

The funny (shocking, not Ha-Ha) part for me is this; when I was 16 and could, for the first time, run that stuff down on my own, my Dad would give me a twenty out of his wallet, and I'd come back in about 30 minutes with that same case of oil, a filter and change.

That was 1988.

Shit has gotten out of hand.

Hell, when I used to work for NAPA (all the way through college), I could still manage to afford to do the PM on that pittance they claimed was a paycheck, with only the slightest of employee discounts.

I've been comfortably numb to how the costs have been creeping, no skyrocketing, of late.

For now, I'm going to be stocking up on as much as I can on consumables, across the board, in a effort at controlling the insidious inflation monster.

Oh, and if gas goes through the roof like it did in '72-'77 (I actually remember some of that), we are good and genuinely FUCKED.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Mark B. said...

" . . . if gas goes through the roof like it did in '72-'77 (I actually remember some of that), we are good and genuinely FUCKED."

I started driving during that window in time and believe me, I DO remember all of that. I thought I was being personally hosed for the privelege. Hell, I heard a lot of folks (disingenuously, obviously) asserting that, "When the price of a gallon goes to a buck I'm quitting driving."

Since we owned a Deere dealership, I kept an old Monte Carlo on the road much as you did and still do most of my own maintenance and repair. But let me tell you, I'd like to meet the "engineer" who "designed" the water pump on GM's Vortec V8s so I could give him a swift kick in the cojones.

Our government now has no choice but to deflate the currency so it can default on its direct-entitlement obligations. We're soon to be at the point where a typical monthly Social Security check and a half-ounce gold piece will get you a cuppa joe.



TW: "melend" -- hell, I already did and the .gov pissed it all away and then some.

4:52 PM  
Blogger theirritablearchitect said...

"...I'd like to meet the "engineer" who "designed" the water pump on GM's Vortec V8s so I could give him a swift kick in the cojones..."

The one that's buried inside the engine, ala early '90's Vette LT-1 engine?

Ummm...yeah. I remember looking that bit over and when they introduced that update, with the gear drive(?) and said to myself, "That's a two thousand dollar water pump inside there."

I've never heard any stories about the costs of replacement of those and I'm assuming it's because most people just junked whatever it was they were driving with those LT motors and bought something new.

Anywho, that inflation/deflation bit is really starting to scare the living shit out of me, as I have financial commitments to tend to, and if things go too far south, well, I'm not going to be working and that's not good, unless I get super creative with marketing to a very select clientele.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Mark B. said...

. . . unless I get super creative with marketing to a very select clientele."

I think I know which clientele you're referring to here; I believe they're called "realists."


9:35 AM  

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