Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Mbali, the genuine Zulu aristocrat who runs our little farm office like a smoothly oiled engine, keeps an eagle eye on the diesel usage of our various farm vehicles, which has led to one firing and a dramatic drop in daily consumption.
As a new owner of a demo Toyota Rumion in which she transports all the cousins to school and the stokvel aunties’ groceries from town, Mbali’s newfound zeal to save fuel came with an acute awareness of how big a bite her twice monthly stop at the fuel station is taking out of her salary. This is on top of the high price she is paying for insurance as a young, first-time driver.
The cash bonus she got for spotting the diesel theft helped a bit, but as I warned her, the running costs of owning a vehicle leaves the new owner with very little at month end. That is why she was in tears when she had to replace a rim and tyre after hitting a pothole. We saved some money by hammering the buckled steel rim back into shape but to save future tears, I sat her down to explain, again, how a new car swallows money like a teenager eats pancakes at the church bazaar.
The low-down on tax rates
Mbali was shocked to learn that the taxman deems R4,18 a fair price for people with travel allowances to claim per kilometre during the 2022/23 tax year, up from R3,82 per kilometre in 2021. She thought this was too much, until I pointed out that, with petrol at over R20/ℓ, this left very little room for dented rims and new tyres, never mind big items like a new battery.
I told her we used to keep our Willards on the tractors for years out in all weather, but the battery builders have long gone the route of built-in obsolescence, and none of the battery brands now last much longer than two and half years. That is if some skebenga does not make off with the battery in the dark of night.
The farm accountant joined our conversation and informed Mbali that after fuel costs, the taxman’s maintenance rate per kilometre is based on a sliding scale that averages out at about 50c/km, which includes the licence disk. She advised Mbali to take her monthly mileage and set aside at least 50c for each kilometre, as this rate was determined before the high fuel costs impacted everything else that is made with crude oil, like tyres and wiper blades.
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“I now understand why the taxi fares went up so much,” said a glum Mbali.
Where to trim vehicle running costs
The accountant told Mbali not to feel so bad. At least she is now part of the minority of car owners who are aware of the real costs of owning a car and she could budget for the unexpected, like her pothole-damaged tyre. Admittedly there is not much a car owner can do to trim these
hidden vehicle running costs.
The only ray of hope she offered is that the insurance premium goes down as the driver ages. Apparently, the age of 25 is the magical number where underwriters start seeing fewer crashes. The good news for Mbali is that her quarter century is just a year away, at which point the accountant told her to demand a substantially lower premium to go with her lower risk profile.
Other expenses that can be trimmed are maintenance and service plans. These are still often built into the instalment, despite the Competition Commission’s best efforts to make buyers aware that they will end up paying more interest to the financier by adding the cost of these plans to the car’s price. The accountant added that most buyers at her husband’s dealership prefer a fixed monthly sum to cover an expensive fix to having to suddenly find money.
No free road tripping
I, meanwhile, was checking out AA rates and realised that Mbali’s generation would likely never be able to go on an impulsive road trip for an ice-cream on the beach, like my mates and I used to do when we were young.
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I pointed to one website that quoted the AA advising people to budget on R3,35 per kilometre for a small-engine car. For the average distance Mbali clocks a month, this means she could look at spending R25 000 a year to keep her car paid up and in good nick. This leaves no room for road tripping. Apart from the prohibitive cost of fuel, there are also toll gates on every route not riddled with potholes – and let’s not forget the high price the young ones pay for the data to keep their Google Maps connected.