People have the tendency to criticize us auto enthusiasts for the way that we spend our time and money. And I don’t think this is something that is limited just to auto enthusiasts, as I’m sure many other hobbyists get the same sort of grief. I mean, “Honey, did we really need to turn another bedroom into a scale model of the Union Pacific Railroad?” I think not.
We spend a lot of time and money on our hobby, there’s no way around it. And while we all seem to understand that this happens, there’s a weird disconnect when we mentally price out the cost of building and maintaining our projects. In my instance, the best example of this was a ‘90 Volkswagen Jetta that I owned for the early part of my 20s. It was originally something that I purchased as a “winter beater” when I was in college, which ended up becoming a bit of a side project. I bought this car for $300, and until the day I sold it, I told people it was a $300 car. Except when it came time to sell, and I did out the math on all of the parts alone, discovering I was about $8,000 into this “$300 car.” Tons of us out there are guilty of the same thing, yet sometimes how we get from the $300 car to the $8,000 car is a bit hazy, so let me explain the leading cause of this.
I like to call it the “While I’m in There” Phenomenon.
Let me Bob Ross a picture for you: Your car is in need of a clutch. But we’re car enthusiasts, so the car doesn’t really need a clutch, you just want a light-weight flywheel and a clutch that bites a bit harder, so we go with “it needs a clutch.” Okay fine, $1,000 on a good clutch kit with a nice lightweight flywheel and some hardware. But you know, it really is a pain to yank just the transmission, so why don’t we just pull the whole engine and trans instead of doing the job on our back? Now the engine is out and the gears in our head start turning. Next thing you know, we have a nice set of equal-length headers on the way (no this isn’t a Subaru, don’t worry,) and maybe a few gaskets too. How about a chassis-mounted shifter? This would be a great time to do that as well. And all of a sudden, your “it needs a clutch” turned into “it needs everything,” when at the end of the day, it really didn’t need anything at all.
We fall victim to this phenomenon constantly, and it often shows its face as a much simpler version of the scenario depicted above. A brake job is a prime example of the “while I’m in there.” Pads and rotors can quickly turn into pads, rotors, braided hoses, wheel bearings, extended lugs, etc., and that’s assuming that we don’t venture down the path of a brake upgrade. Our brains are like encyclopedias of components, cultivated through years of Internet browsing. So when we’re going to be accessing a certain section of the vehicle, or a particular system within, our mental encyclopedia turns to that page and begins thinking of all the things we should service or could upgrade while we’re in there. This creates a subconscious list of maintenance components (gaskets, seals, hardware, etc.) and upgrades (the sky’s the limit, really). We manage to find a very interesting way of rationalizing this to ourselves, and often to our human counterparts, like an addict would.
So what exactly do we do about this? Nothing. It’s part of what keeps this hobby fun, and our significant others hot and bothered. But if you want to at least try and budget appropriately, beware that the $100 brake job is never going to be $100. And as long as you dive into your project knowing that, you’ll be alright.