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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Organizing Your Car Maintenance Records

When you think "car paperwork", what comes to mind?  Your purchase agreement? Title and registration? Insurance?  All the maps and directions to where you've been?

(Post-It® Jaguar via Scott Ableman)

What about the receipts for all the maintenance and repair you've had done to your car?  Are they squished in your glove compartment?  Do you lovingly smooth out the wrinkles and file them away in the Household section of your Family File system?

Last month's issue of my newsletter, Best Results for Busy People:  Organizing Your Modern World, featured an article about preparing your car for a road trip, which got me thinking about cars in general.  After our homes, cars are our second largest expenses, yet we don't always treat the paperwork related to our vehicles with respect.  Today, we'll review some options for maintaining that paperwork and/or safeguarding the information by avoiding paper altogether. 

No Tech

When we discussed creating a basic Family File system, I said:

Auto Maintenance Records
Even if your mechanic keeps computerized records of all maintenance to your car, keeping accurate records will help you financially.

If your automaker issues a recall or technical service bulletin, you may be able to recoup money you've paid for repairs.

If you sell your car privately, prospective owners may be more inclined to purchase a car with a carefully maintained service history.

Keep a file folder for each car in the household in order to track:
  • Service records -- Each time you get an oil change or have a car repair, the mechanic should provide you with printout of what was done, on what date, at what mileage.
  • Purchases – Include records of all purchases for your car, such as tires, batteries and windshield wipers.
  • Mileage records – While not essential, if you maintain mileage records for purposes other than tax deductions, keep these here.

Standard file folders are low-tech and easy to maintain, but heavy-duty drivers and those who road travel for work might be inspired to keep auto maintenance records in a flexible three-ring binder under the driver's seat or in the glove box or console.  Sheet protectors (as we've used to organize recipes) can keep oily/sticky paperwork from further damage or degradation.

Ease of access is an advantage of an in-car maintenance notebook, but Paper Doll worries about what happens to carefully-kept records in case of a serious accident or car theft. For most drivers, it will suffice to just keep a photocopy of major purchase records (for tires and batteries) in the car in case you need to replace a warranteed part while traveling; originals stay safely at home.

Either way, in a file or notebook, nothing could be easier to maintain--just drop in each new receipt, diagnostic or record (reverse chronologically, of course).  However, the longer you own your car, the more paper there is to manage, and the bigger your folders or notebooks get, and the more faded those tissue-paper-thin receipts become.  The alternative?

Moderate Tech

Your Garage Online is a web site devoted to helping you track the information related to your car.  It stores information in three broad categories:
  • The Virtual Garage stores the basic data you need to know about your car--not just the color, make and model, which you're unlikely to forget even after a theft, but the VIN (vehicle identification number) and your license data.  You can manage up to three vehicles per account. 
(Let's face it--if you own more than three vehicles, you're either a car aficionado and probably have your own record-keeping system, or you're Jay Leno or Mario Andretti, and you can afford to pay someone else to organize your records.)
  • Searchable Repair Forms let you use search terms to find any repair or maintenance record, even if you can't remember when, where or if it occurred.  This is particularly helpful when there's been a recall or a technical service bulletin that would allow you to recoup the cost of a particular repair for free, provided you can find the record of the repair. 
  • A Comprehensive Service History allows you to keep track of everything done to your card, whether the service was performed by the dealer, an independent shop or you and your (eight-year-old) shadow.
Signing up for the service is a snap: create your username and password, then agree to the Terms of Service.  You'll be asked whether you wish to keep your car record public or private and told that autos registered as private will not be able to be displayed in the system's "Showroom". Paper Doll suggests that unless you own a Nash Rambler, or some other car for which recordkeeping is secondary to getting to show it off to other gearheads, list your car as private.

Completing the sign-up automatically prompts you to fill in the registry form with your car's Virtual Garage data, so you won't even be tempted to procrastinate on getting started. Next, you'll be encouraged to start filling in your basic repair records so you'll later be able to search by keyword.

So, are you going to fill in all your back maintenance records on a ten-year-old truck?  Probably not, though it might be an interesting task to assign a newly-licensed 16-year-old to encourage responsibility and allow the earning of driving privileges.  However, for those of you who are digitally-inclined and have a new(ish) vehicle, hoping to get off on the right tire (I mean, foot), this is a fun alternative to collecting piles of curling, fading car maintenance receipts.

RepairPal is an independent service site formed by car enthusiasts.  Use drop-down menus to enter your car's basic information and mileage, then easily create your account. The system will display a small profile card with a photo of your car model (though not in your color, as the registration doesn't ask about that), the basic information you've added, and links to commonly reported problems, recalls and technical service bulletins.

At the bottom of the "card", you click a button to "Add a service".  The ensuing screen offers an incredibly detailed drop-down menu of very specific car maintenance/repair options (from all aspects of general maintenance to brakes, drive train, electrical engine, exhaust, HVAC, suspension, etc.) but in the unlikely event you had something done that isn't in their database (perhaps you had the car's aura scrubbed?), there's a field to add it in.  There's also space to record the mileage at time of service, the date, the cost and ample space for service notes.  You can search the database by zip code or keyword for the location of the repair shop, or enter an unlisted shop (or your own driveway).

If you're tracking expenses for business tax purposes, or even if you just like to keep track of your auto budget, another nice feature lets you upload scanned images of your receipts and other maintenance records.

RepairPal has other useful features--it helps you find a mechanic, get an impartial estimate on a repair type, review complaints about other car makes and models, fill in time-saving self-diagnostic forms, and review an encyclopedia of car-care articles or the blog for even more auto-education. (Pun intended, dear readers.)

ServiceBeacon.com is slightly fancier than most of the other car maintenance web sites, but is still available at no charge, and for many cars as you choose to register.  First, you enter your car's basic information (year, make, model, VIN, engine type and current mileage); then, the system provides:
  • An electronic version of your vehicle's official maintenance schedule (that you've ignored since you bought the car)
  • Recall notices (on your account screen and via email)
  • Monthly email reminders regarding when upcoming regular maintenance is due.  If you aren't the one who normally cares for the car (i.e., your spouse usually takes it in), you can arrange to have the emails sent to someone else instead of or in addition to you.
  • An option to use the service to book an appointment with your service provider.  Instead of waiting on hold (and wincing at that easy-listening music), the system sends a service order with all your basic information to your preferred repair provider.
  • Online storage of a record of each instance of performed maintenance
Carefully maintained auto records are always a boon when you're trying to sell your car; ServiceBeacon goes that one better by allowing you to transfer the electronic car history to the new owner once you transfer ownership.

eCarLog helps owners log, track and check vehicle maintenance records. The site offers suggested maintenance intervals for your car based on your reported current mileage. You can then have eCarLog email maintenance reminders to you. 

The basic free account provides access to the Check-My-Car™ feature for oil changes and the Log-n-Track™ for other common maintenance tasks. You can set up one reminder, upload a picture of your vehicle and set up one classified ad.  This free account is only suitable for tracking information for one car.  Upgraded account levels let you increase number of vehicles and offers broader selections of Check-My-Car™ features, including more emailed reminders, display pictures and classified ads.

Finally, while we're talking about car maintenance and servicing, because Paper Doll's mission includes helping you save those little green pieces of paper, I would be remiss if I didn't point out two other sites worth noting:

Fuelly helps car owners track, share and compare fuel mileage information. While fuel prices are down from what they were last summer, they're up close to a dollar since December. Fuelly helps you gauge your fuel efficiency so you can make smart decisions about your budget, what vehicle(s) you choose to keep and how you maintain them.

After a quick sign-up for a free account, add any car, truck or motorcycle to your profile.  Fuelly lets you keep track of miles driven between fill-ups by using your vehicle's trip odometer, or you can just record what your main odometer shows at each fill-up.  Record your information once you get back to your computer, or, for you fancy space-age Paper Doll readers, upload mileage/fuel information from your smartypants iPhone using Fuelly Mobile.

Fuelly configures member-reported data to allow everyone to share and compare fuel efficiency by make and model.

FrugalMechanic.com is so easy to use, it doesn't even require registration. Just select your vehicle's year, make and model from the drop-down menus, then choose from major or minor categories of parts:  accessories, air intake, body, brakes...and so on.  The site's database of over five million vehicle parts and configurations lets you search and compare prices and attributes from a wide variety of auto parts retailers. 

Got a tip or question about organizing your auto maintenance records? Please share a comment.  Until next time, drive safely!

posted on: 6/2/2009 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by Jacki Hollywood Brown on 6/2/2009 11:49:53 AM:

I keep track of mileage (kilometrage in Canada) and also note the odometer readings when I have my winter tires taken on & off (winter tires are law here). That way I know how many kms are on summer & winter tires and approx. when I should be looking to buy new tires.

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 6/2/2009 7:39:56 PM:

Thanks for that, Jacki, and for introducing many of us to the term "kilometrage".

by Janet Barclay on 6/9/2009 3:57:31 PM:

I keep track of my kilometres, but I still call it my Vehicle Mileage Log. :)

by Jacki Hollywood Brown on 6/10/2009 10:04:46 AM:

@Janet @Julie - funny you should mention it, in English I call it a milage log but in French it's "kilometrage", it is much easier to say that word in French. I don't know if it will ever become popular in English.

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 6/10/2009 3:00:13 PM:

Hey, I'm just pleased to have my blog go bilingual occasionally.

by Kay on 6/16/2009 11:54:01 AM:

You guys might like this neat idea I just saw for keeping records handy in the glove compartment: www.chicaandjo.com/2009/06/16/track-and-organize-your-car-maintenance-records/

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 6/17/2009 2:17:41 PM:

Nifty. Thanks for sharing the site, Kay!

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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