When to replace a car?

Just got a $1000 repair estimate for my $3000 blue-book value car.  ($500 in absolutely necessary to turn the check engine light off repairs, $500 to replace a couple of axles that cause vibration.)  The car is 10 years old with 36,000 miles on it.  (It’s also all shiny and clean because DH had it detailed for me as a Christmas present.)  To get a newer model of our current car would be about $15,000.

Since we’re only taking one car with us to paradise next year (this is one of those sacrifices people make in paradise if they want to continue saving for their kids’ college, but there’s public transportation so it’s not so bad), if we do decide to get rid of the car, this summer would be a good time to do that so we don’t have to find a place to store it.

In the past, my rule had been to replace a car when the cost of repairs was greater than the value of the car, but that was easy when we had a single major repair cost.  When they start coming in in drips and drabs like this it’s harder to make that comparison.  At the same time, the drips and drabs are annoying when each one means we’re down to one car for a week (I end up having to do all pick-ups and drop-offs and don’t have as much work flexibility, unless DH plays chauffer which means extra driving).  Time is money!

It’s still a good little fuel efficient car.  And it looks all shiny and new on the inside right now.  I’m a bit attached to it.

So we’re paying the $1000 now, and we’ll rethink this after the next repair bill or it’s time to go to paradise, whichever comes first.

How do you decide when it’s time to replace a car?

32 Responses to “When to replace a car?”

  1. zenmoo Says:

    The two factors I consider are safety & whether the car fits our needs. So we replaced my husbands hatchback with a seven seater Mitsubishi outlander because we find ourselves hauling around quite a few kids or extra people these days (but not everyday so we don’t need a ‘ real’ 7 seater.) I am seriously considering updating to a new Honda Jazz even though my current 2006 model has only done 60,000km because it now has 5 star safety rating rather than a 4 star. And y’know, my babies ride in the car. But I just hate spending on cars.

  2. becca Says:

    I’ve never made intentionally made this decision. I did recently inherit a newer car (with 36k miles on it) and get rid of my older car (with 144k miles on it). Getting rid of my old car kind of hurt, despite it’s many flaws (no A/C, no rear driver’s side window opening, plastic missing where the power window controls are, windshield wipers out, check engine light on due to combination of trivial gas cap issue and perhaps something more serious, needing to have oil added every 500-1000 miles, and brake light on due to sitting too long without being driven and brakes rusting into place). But it was the only car I had owned, and I’d driven it for so long it was like an extension of my brain. Also, even with the oil issue it still got like 38mpg highway and I’m driving a ridiculous amount for work these days.

    So the short answer is… whatever exactly it is I decide based on (it’s on fire?), I probably wouldn’t opt to replace one in your shoes ;-)

  3. Lynn Rose Says:

    I typically drive a car until I “know” it’s not worth repairing. My current car is a 2001 and has 156,000 miles. I love the car because it is so dependable. I’ve asked a mechanic at the dealer how long it should last and he says to plan on being able to get to 200,000 miles and not much more. A couple of months ago I had a $1,000 repair and our regular mechanic said he thought it was ok to go ahead with the repair because within the past few years I had done some pretty extensive preventive maintenance (new tires, replaced the water pump, timing belt and all other belts and hoses). He thinks the car will go to 175,000 miles before needing additional major work. So for $1,000, I can expect to get about 20,000 more miles which is a couple of years of driving a car I really like. To me that repair was worth it. At this point, If something truly major came along such as a new transmission or engine, the repair would not be a good idea. Or if I didn’t like the car or I thought it was unsafe, I would not repair the car further.

    Since I keep my cars so long, the book value is not important because the decision is whether I want to keep the car, not what someone would pay for it. In my decision making, I figure the car will be worth $0 when I’m through with it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We tend to think of the blue-book value as the replacement value rather than what someone would pay for ours. At the point where we think we want to replace it, it is probably worth less than the blue book value because it isn’t in average shape!

  4. gwinne Says:

    I replaced my car when it had 140K+ miles on it, it was worth roughly 1500 and needed at least 1000 worth of maintenance/repairs just to get safely through the winter. If I was in a 2 car situation, it’s possible I could have gone longer…but given we’ve got the one car, kids need daily transportation, etc, I didn’t want to chance it. Very happy with the decision, and the new car.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That makes total sense. I’m always worried that we’ll end up with car problems when DH has left the car at the airport in the City. We do have cab service in town, but that’s not how I want to get the kids to daycare! DH did once have to rely on the mechanic shop’s shuttle to get the kids to school and home when I had the other car at the airport in the City when there was unexpected car trouble.

  5. Rented life Says:

    Our rule is similar to yours and we have a good mechanic who is upfront about it. The last car we get rid of we could have fixed but he said he didn’t think it’d get us much more time out of it to justify the cost. So it’s gone and we are down to one car. But how do you only have 36,000 after 10 years? Ours is barely 5 and have over 80k

  6. bogart Says:

    With the exception of my small pickup truck, which I loved but that I sold when it was a mere 14 years old, with only ~200K miles on it (it wasn’t an ideal new-parent vehicle, and lacked air bags), I have thus far replaced my vehicles when it seemed that their book value less cost-of-repairing them <=0. Though in retrospect, I was unduly cautious about the functionality of the Datsun I drove through (most of) grad school.

    As I'm aging, I'm getting more cautious (and wealthier, at least so far), and auto technology is changing faster. I now figure when our current vehicles are 10 years old, I'll look at whether a new car would offer noticeably better safety and/or environmental features, and might consider replacing one or both if so. Of course I'll do that in the context of our then-driving patterns, whatever they may be.

  7. oilandgarlic Says:

    I usually drive my cars until at least 150,000 miles and then change when repairs take too much $ and time. For me, the deciding factor is when many parts start breaking down and it seems like I’m at the mechanic every few months / weeks for different repairs, or when the mechanic can’t quite figure out what’s wrong. 36,000 miles after 10 years is incredible!

  8. chacha1 Says:

    Personally, I think going by blue book value is a way to trick yourself into trading cars before you need to. Nobody should expect to keep a car running well, once it’s over five years old, for less than a thousand dollars a year in maintenance. Mechanical components do wear out. Unlike human bodies, car bodies can get transplants pretty cheaply!

    My formula is this. If a payment for a new car would be more than what I pay (averaged out) to maintain my car, it makes more sense to keep my car. This is why I am still driving the 1995 Accord, because my total cost for this car – INCLUDING the $6000 cash purchase price – is still barely $250/mo over the time I’ve owned the car. No way could I buy a new Accord for that. (Obviously I don’t count gas and insurance here, because that’s an expense no matter what car I have.)

    However … new axles at 36,000 miles says something. My 95, with over 160,000 miles, is still on its original axles. Also, if you are looking at this long-term as “we’ll try a one-car lifestyle once we’re back from sabbatical,” then I’d sell the car right now since the repair is fresh and it still looks good enough to get maximum cosmetic points.

    And obviously if you have lots of money in savings and can pay cash for a new car when the time comes, then the above considerations probably don’t apply. I am not in a position to pay cash for a new car. That’s why when I paid cash for a car, it was a twelve-year-old car.

    postscript: I lived four years in L.A. with no car thanks to Enterprise. I had a job I could walk to. When I really needed a car, I rented one. Saved a boatload of money.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We won’t be trying a one-car lifestyle once we’re back from sabbatical… we still need two cars for emergency daycare pick-ups. (Though we did have one car prior to DC1 being born.)

      We will definitely be paying for our next car in cash (unless we end up in a situation like we had with DH’s car where the credit union loan rate was smaller than their CD rate!).

      I probably should have mentioned that this is a low-end Hyundai Accent. It’s not a Cadillac or an Oldsmobile or anything really built to last that tends to stick around the used-car market.

  9. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I would keep it. Repairing is usually cheaper even if you have to do a thousand dollar repair every year. However, driving around with young children is a different story.

    My 2000 Malibu seldom needs repairs even with 197K miles.

  10. Practical Parsimony Says:

    We sold a car that was seven years old with 70K miles on it. I only drove less than a mile to school to drop off and pick up children. They were too young to safely cross a highway. However, we did drive it to Mexico and to Canada and three times to NY from the South. The dealer was astounded that a car that old had so few miles.

  11. omdg Says:

    It depends. We got rid of a 2000 Jetta in 2008 with about 75000 miles on it because I had a feeling the transmission was about to fail AGAIN. Except this time it was no longer under warranty. My only regret was buying that damn car in the first place.

  12. Katherine Says:

    My husband and I had a hypothetical version of this conversation yesterday! My car is 5 years old and has 33.000 miles on it, and I like it a lot. It’s a small sedan, but it has good trunk space and feels bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. My husband hates the driver’s seat with a passion. We’re both on the side of driving cars for a long long time, but I’ve floated the idea of trading it in for something that he likes better and would get even better fuel mileage once we have kids in the next few years (he’s not giving up his little pickup truck, so once there’s a kid in the picture we expect to trade cars often based on who’s taking the kid somewhere). We also take cross-country trips with some frequency, and if we don’t need the truck’s functionality we take my little car because of gas mileage. He does at least 2/3 of the driving on long trips.

    My husband was totally shocked at the idea that I might get a new car before my is 20 years old and totally dead, even though it means he has to drive a car he hates!

    • Katherine Says:

      Another thought: building a car involves a lot of expensive and potentially hazardous and/or recyclable materials. If you were to get rid of the car, what would happen to it? Do you think there is value in continuing to drive and repair an old car so as to create less waste?

  13. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    A ten year old car with only 36,000 miles on it that you already own is worth a lot more to you than $4000, isn’t it?

  14. Thisbe Says:

    I am driving a 17-year-old Subaru with about 160K miles on it. It gets terrible mileage, burns a huge amount of oil, and for no particular reason I don’t feel comfortable driving it outside the county in winter. (There’s no specific risk, but it’s possible that it could break down very far from anywhere in the very cold – so even if the risk is low, the fail state is so potentially bad that I just won’t go there.) I live a mile and a half from my work and I walk or bike half to a third of the time depending on weather; other than that I basically only use the car to drive the dog to the trailhead.

    I am in an approximately similar situation to you; we’re solving the two-body problem by way of Me Moving There sometime between now and July, so I figure I will just sell the car whenever that happens and we can go back to being a one-car family, where the one car is a three year old Prius C that I love intensely for its high efficiency.

    If/when we get another car again, it will be a high-efficiency diesel station wagon with AWD. Last time I checked, the only one available on the US market was a BMW, and I can’t really bring myself to pay that much for a car. VW was supposed to come out with one for model year 2015 but they didn’t. Now they’re talking about 2016 but I don’t really believe them.

  15. J Liedl Says:

    We’re a one-car family and have been for almost twenty years. We start watching our cars very closely for the likelihood of replacement about seven years into ownership. Depending on the mileage and repair bills, that’s usually when the costs of repair start to eat into the savings we’ve doubled-up after paying off the purchase. Happily, that’s ALSO usually when you can look at the savings and say “hey, guess we have enough saved to afford that replacement as long as we don’t go crazy.”

    How do you people drive your cars so lightly, though? Our 2009 Jetta has about 140,000k on it and it’s not even six years old! Kids and their sporting activities and living in one of the largest municipalities in Canada in terms of land area, NOT population, means we drive astonishing distances for some pretty mundane trips. Have to get around all of those lakes, swamps and rocky outcrops, as well as those mines! The horrible winters and our terrible roads also tear up cars something awful.

  16. Leigh Says:

    I wonder this too at times. I put a few more miles my car a bit more than you do – I’m at about 17k after 4 1/4 years. I’ve yet to do anything other than windshield wiper replacements and oil changes. The guy at the dealership says I’m going to have this car for a long time every time I see him. This is such a nice change from the beater I had in high school! If my car breaks down, I’ll cab places until I get a new one, so it’s not so bad. I’m definitely a bit attached to my car at this point. It’s been good to me.

  17. Sue Says:

    Personally, I try to get every car we own to 200k miles. The last car made it to 187k and we bought it new in 1998. About a year before it died, we put 1k into it to fix the exhaust system. The car was only worth about 1k but I thought if it could get us 2 more years than the 1k in repairs was worth it. About a year later, the manual transmission didn’t always shift. Who needs second gear anyhow? And with a heavy heart we bought a new to us car and paid cash. I love not having a car payment! This won’t surprise you but I would vote to keep your car going. 60k miles sounds new to me!

  18. My car worth $750 needs $1000 in repairs | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] then we hopefully won’t be posting about car repairs or the when to get a new car dilemma for a few […]

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