For most car enthusiasts, the ultimate joy is in the driving. For a slightly smaller, yet still substantial segment, there is also great joy in working on those cars – bringing them back to life, keeping them purring, roaring and screaming. And then there are the rare few that also find joy in the organizing, managing and documenting all that is involved in doing all that work – the paperwork, the binders, the categorized receipts, the spreadsheets and picture albums. These are the folks that find real satisfaction not only in a job well done, but also a job well documented. For those of us fortunate enough to be the next owner of a vehicle cared for by one of those individuals, we are deeply grateful for their effort. Most of us truly want to be that person – to be supremely organized, everything documented and in its place – ready for inspection at any time. But the harsh reality is that most of us are lucky to even remember where we put the pile of receipts, much less be able to find the receipt to the alternator we are sure we changed 3 years ago on the Porsche 944 that has now failed. Or was that on the 911? Such is the challenge of keeping up with organizing, managing and documenting our vehicle’s history.
If you don’t happen to be in the group that truly loves the organization and documentation, what is the motivation to keep all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed and all filed away in reasonable order? Well there are several good reasons.
- For your own sanity. Many of us are beginning to suffer from the effects of CRS – Can’t Remember Stuff – and the effects only get worse with age and the number of vehicles owned. There is no cure, but an effective organization and documentation system has been shown to significantly alleviate the worst symptoms.
- To increase the value of the vehicle. The reality is that we will not be the last people to own our vehicles. There will be a next owner, either through inheritance or eventual sale, and that owner will care about and to some extent judge the value of the vehicle on the level of documentation provided. The odds are also high that the next owner will be a younger person that has a different expectation level for what and how things are documented. The “app” era has created a new level of appreciation for access to a rich set of digital records.
- To preserve and tell your vehicle’s story. More than likely you truly care about your vehicles and you want to be sure their stories survive for generations to come. You will eventually pass the story down to the next owner, but in the mean time there is the joy of sharing the vehicles with others. A rich documented history can be a rewarding way to enhance this sharing experience. Many owners have created and maintained binders filled with records, receipts and photographs that they can display at car shows and others share their vehicle passion through social media channels like Facebook.
So that covers the why, but what about the what? What exactly should you be keeping up with? You can classify the things to keep into three categories:
- Things you are required to keep. This includes items such as vehicle titles, state registrations and inspection records, insurance papers, etc.
- Things you may need later. These are items like receipts for part warranties, instruction manuals, maintenance schedules and other resources and reference materials.
- Things you want to preserve as part of your car’s history and provenance. These might include items such as records of repairs, modifications and upgrades, appraisals, authentication certificates, awards, records and photos of event participation, brochures and advertising materials, magazine articles, photos and videos, and much more.
So how should you keep track of and preserve all of this information? Before the PC era, a well-managed filing and organization system was your only option. Today, most car enthusiasts have settled into a hybrid paper/computer approach with some leaning more heavily one way or the other.
- Paper based. Everyone keeps paperwork at some level, even if it is just the basics stuffed into the glove compartment. The risk with paper records is that they are extremely vulnerable to loss or damage from theft, fire, flood, decay, etc. You should make copies of important cash register receipts that are often printed on thermal paper and become unreadable in only a few short months – either as a photocopy or by taking a digital picture with your smartphone. Important paper based records should be stored in a safe place ideally not susceptible to fire or flood and for the most important documents, it is a good idea to have backup copies stored in a second location to guard against theft and the most extreme disasters.
- Computer based. Many people have taken advantage of standard computer programs like Microsoft Word and Excel, or online tools and repositories such as Evernote and Dropbox, to become more effective at organizing and managing their collections. These are good tools because they are inexpensive (assuming you already own the software) and provide protection from most damage or loss when used properly. But they require as much or more organizational effort than a paper-based system. With files scattered across mobile devices, image galleries and camera rolls, hard drives, thumb drives, cloud repositories and social media accounts, it can be a real challenge to find the specific item you are looking for and very difficult to organize and transfer to a new owner when the time comes. To make your computer based system more effective, you should create a well thought out file structure, organize around just a few standard programs or services and be diligent about archiving and backing up all of your vehicle data regularly, preferably to one of the newer cloud-based services.
- Online websites and services A third option has emerged with the evolution of the Internet and car focused websites. These new options range from brand or marque-specific forums that sometimes allow a user to enter and manage basic information about their vehicles, to more general websites that offer better interfaces and some additional features but are often either ad-based, or are trying to market and sell products, services and/or the cars themselves. With its introduction early this year, RideCache (pronounced “ride-cash”) is the newest entrant into the space and has taken a different approach by targeting serious vehicle enthusiasts with a professionally developed, subscription-based model that is ad-free and does not promote products or services. The business model is built on the premise that owners that invest significant time and money into their vehicles will pay a modest fee for a professionally developed service that is focused purely on enhancing their vehicle experience. RideCache is organized around the tasks, parts, papers, events and resources that are central to your vehicle ownership experience. The app enables very granular privacy and sharing controls for everything you include, allowing you to determine which vehicles and items are completely private, viewable only to friends, or to the general public.
The reality is that organizing and managing your vehicle collection, like most anything in life that builds value, takes a fair amount of work. That is true regardless of the system you use – paper-based, computerized or one of the integrated online solutions. Every minute you spend building and preserving your car’s story adds value and provides enjoyment for those that will become involved with your vehicles in the future. Ultimately you will get back what you put in – as actual increased cash value when you sell the vehicle and as enjoyment in building, preserving and sharing your vehicle’s story prior to that time.