February 20, 2017

Tow Vehicle Maintenance

Let's talk about tow vehicles.  Last week was...expensive.

I know they're designed to do this, but can we talk for a second about my 1/2 ton truck being totally suspended in midair in this picture?  Tow trucks are badasses.

My engineering brain likes to learn how things work by taking them apart, and I pretty much got my career through a strong desire to solve problems for myself instead of waiting for others.   #independentwoman. Usually this ends up well, like the time I saved $420 by changing my own spark plugs and wires on the truck.  Sometimes it ends up with my beloved tow vehicle on a flatbed going to my favorite auto repair shop because half of an oil pressure sensor is sheared off and stuck in my engine block.

Expensive life lesson, that.  (Although I waited 6 weeks to get it fixed until I had a coupon for 15% off labor over $200, so it's slightly less expensive than it would have been!)

Especially now that I have two vehicles, and two 2005's at that, anything I can do myself is good, but there are some things that aren't worth my time (example: Spark plugs on the 4 cylinder Vibe where the plugs are on the top of the engine: $89 parts and labor total.  Literally not even worth my time to DIY it).
Replacing the stereo is worth it to DIY for sure.

Then there are some things that really are worth it to learn how to do, like doing the truck's spark plugs (there are 8 of them and they're hard to get to unless you have small hands like me, so my shop wanted $420 in labor.  Took my bumbling self two hours and $47.) or replacing the cabin air filter.  $49 to replace the air filter at the Chevy dealer, I think my place charges $30, but it's a $6 part on Amazon and took me literally less than five minutes to change the first time I did it.  Pull off the glove box and it's like changing a furnace filter.

And let us just say, living on a farm was not kind to the Vibe's old cabin air filter.

One thing I don't do myself is oil changes, at least in the truck, because my favorite place not only changes the oil, it also gives me a four page printout of dozens of things they inspected, along with photos of consumable parts and of the screen readouts on the equipment they used to test it.  They don't expect you to take their word on it, although I would: they're going to prove it to you.

(My town is the world HQ for Cummins, and the owner of this shop is a former Cummins mechanical engineer, so you can tell why I like the methodical evidence-based way they operate).

The printout also has quotes on how much replacing those things will cost.  They try to give me at least a two-oil-change/6 month heads up on upcoming needed maintenance so I can stagger and plan my maintenance costs.  They also take into account that I'm going to be spendier with the truck (which I want to last forever + it hauls my horse) than the Vibe (which, at 206,000 miles, is not going to get quite as much money put into it, although it gets all its routine maintenance regardless).

It's worth it to me to have some expert eyes looking that closely over the vehicle that will pull my horse along at highway speeds.

FYI for new truck owners: replacing brakes is EXPENSIVE on large vehicles.
How do you handle your tow vehicle's maintenance?


  1. Right now the only things I do on my own are rotor/brake replacements (surprisingly easy), oil changes and lightbulb changes. I'm sure other things will crop up eventually that I'll learn to do haha.

    1. I'm considering doing brakes. My roommate does his own and can teach me. Still on the fence about that one.

  2. My hubs does most of my truck maintenance -- and what he can't do, the former owner of the truck (a good friend of ours) and his best buddy the diesel mechanic work on together. We get a lot of things fixed via the barter system 😉 one of the times k really appreciate living in a small town!

  3. Aside from one very small fix, we managed to bungle something and it cost us $700. So we take it to the Ford Truck place about 20 minutes away. Those guys only do Ford diesels, and they're pretty no-nonsense, so I feel like we get good service at a not terribly exorbitant cost. Plus I just don't have to deal with it, and these days, I'm struggling to stay ahead of my to-do list, so it's worth it to me to pay someone to do it right.

  4. We change the oil in the truck ourselves, but it goes to the Toyota dealer in town for all the scheduled maintenances (like replacing fluids, timing belt/drive belt, etc).

  5. My stepfather is a mechanic so he does almost all of my vehicle repairs for beer and the cost of parts. A few things he can't do, like when I needed to have the frame welded. That was expensive. He just fixed my 4 wheel drive and brake lines a few weeks ago.

  6. Between me, my SO, my brother and my dad we do almost everything ourselves, including a planned transmission swap (Automatic to manual). The only thing in recent years I've had to have done is the injection pump, because for the life of us we couldn't get it timed properly. It's fabulous having so many mechanically minded people to help me out, what's not so fun is trying to coordinate schedules :)

  7. I'm fairly obsessive about bringing it to the mechanic & working with them to do whatever it needs. I do basically nothing except minor cosmetic work myself, not my skillset and I don't have the time.

  8. I'm so not looking forward to this part. I just stare longingly at my truck waiting for a trailer

  9. Oil changes on my F250 diesel get done at the local Ford dealership - they pick up and bring back to my work at no extra charge. Husband does all the other routine maintenance and repairs so far except when the transmission had to be rebuilt. Has saved a ton of $.

  10. I don't know ANYTHING about cars or trucks... mine go straight to the mechanic, lol