When Should You Get Rid Of Your Old Car?

We know some of you would love to buy a new car every year. Others want to drive the same car forever, but realistically, when should you find a new (to you) ride?

Consumer Reports thinks they know the answer:

  • It needs repairs costing more than its value.

  • The vehicle’s structural integrity is threatened by a badly rusted floor pan or sills.

  • Despite repairs, the car remains unreliable, and it seems likely you could be left stranded.

  • It has been in a flood or serious accident.

    Boring, we know. The guys at Jalopnik will never go for this, but it’s still good advice… both for spendthrifts and those of you who just can’t let go.

    When to say goodbye
    (Photo:morsteen)

  • Comments

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    1. JohnOB1 says:

      And the people in my family would see that rusted heap of a truck you have in your illustration and ask you how much you wanted for it.

    2. n8srq says:

      Badly rusted floor pan = time for plywood

    3. SimonSwegles says:

      I can remember beat-starting my old Fiat with a length of 2×4. Didn’t replace it until I pressed the brake pedal through the floor when trying to stop once.

    4. bohemian says:

      Rusted out floors just mean you have more ventilation. I seem to have higher standards than I did in my college days though.

      Your still better off buying slightly used than new, but really investigate. The most current car we purchased we did lots of research. We checked to see online what kind of complaints, recalls or other issues were with the model we wanted. We checked blue book and what it was selling for various places. We also did a carfax report and took it to our mechanic for an inspection. The carfax report was $35 and the dealer refunded the cost. The mechanic was $75 and well worth it for some advice.
      Our other vehicle was bought because my hubby liked it and he test drove it. Big mistake. The SUV has a bunch of known issues and every single one of them went bad on this truck. Transmission, ball joints, and about six other things. Now we found out that it has a frame misalignment in the front from an accident. Do your homework.

    5. bachill says:

      Perhaps that should say “repairs costing more than the replacement value.”

      If I can buy a similar, but non-broken, vehicle for less than the repair then I would replace. If I would have to pay more than the repair price to get another vehicle then I would not replace.

      The vehicle being worth less than repair is not the best of metrics (book value versus market value, for finance geeks).

    6. Freightshaker says:

      I was once in a position where over a relatively short period of time I put in so many little repairs that it came to a point where it was hard to let it go due to having so much invested. Better to cut your losses at some point.
      Also…badly rusted floor pan = steal a nice sized road sign…cut to size. They never rust ;)

    7. nweaver says:

      I’m a believer in “buy new and drive into the ground”

      Well, auger into the ground. The hamstermobile still runs, so its not gettin replaced.

    8. Major-General says:

      @n8srq: Bah, duct tape and bondo, get it right.

    9. Kierst_thara says:

      I might have gotten another year out of my ’85 Citation before the transmission died, but my boyfriend pretty much destroyed the exhaust system by driving over a snow-covered log in a parking lot, so we had to part a little earlier than expected. I got 10 good years out of that car though, and I was the only one of my friends who had a vehicle in high school. Good times!

    10. PalmBayChuck says:

      My wife and I made the jump about 2 years ago and got rid of cable TV. There are just two or three shows that we like to watch and we can download them via bit-torrent. I was sick of the sleazy programming and commercials that they pump into my house. You know it’s getting bad when you get embarrassed watching a commercial in front of your kids.

      anyway, ala cart programming would encourage me to get cable again and just purchase the channels that I want. Until then, the cable companies can take a hike.

    11. B says:

      A fine Candidate for Project Car Hell. (Cue Evil laughter)

    12. Rahnee says:

      Everyone has a new car story. Heres mine in short. I bought a 10yo jeep wrangler. Loved it! Bought a Jeep Larado. Loved it, gave to wife. 2 jeep family. No probs. She wants a new car. Trades Larado for a brand new Nissan with 16 miles on it. Her probs start within a month. I trade my old Wrangler in and buy a Land Rover Discovery. My problems start within 2 months. After 2 years of fighting the Landie I take a serious loss and sell it to buy another 10yo Wrangler that I love! Wife still fighting with her brand spanking new Nissan that she had to have. At least ONE of us learned our lesson.

    13. ajn007 says:

      @Rahnee: I hear ya! I’ve still got my 1990 Jeep Wranger and it runs like a dream. Of course it is getting to the age where parts are needing to be replaced, but it generally turns out to be surprisingly inexpensive. And because of the age of the car, I can do much of the work myself. The general rule is that if you take good care of a good car it will last a lifetime.

    14. Sudonum says:

      We research recalls, owners forums, etc, and buy certified used. Bought several new cars from 2000 to 2004. Hated the depreciation. Never again.

    15. jatkins679 says:

      Carry an umbrella when it rains. Buy shoes that fit your feet. Water is wet. The sky is blue.

      I’m glad that CR saw fit to point out this stuff to people. If you have to be told these things about owning a car, you probably shouldn’t own one.

      Except for the first point, it’s simply wrong. Maybe your car is only worth $500 like my 88 Ford Ranger. But to buy a replacement vehicle would be a couple/several thousand. Hmmmm….. gee, that point I think is wrong or at least overly-simplistic.

      Thanks CR! You have officially jumped the shark.

    16. lowlight69 says:

      bought the wife a new honda civic in 2003, great car, its a honda, change the oil and it will run forever. at the time i was driving her old 86 civic to work every day. i loved that car, passenger side turn lights taped on, few dents, etc. but i could merge into any traffic, just pick the most expensive car and go right in front of it. :) they would always let me in. :) in 2006 the little honda finally gave up the ghost and died. :( so i got a 96 honda prelude. runs great, its a honda, change the oil and it will run forever. :) i’ve bought cars brand new before but i just don’t think all do that again, unless i’m buying an Aston Martin, but that is a LONG way off. :)

    17. jamesdenver says:

      I like our family’s system growing up in Michigan. Grandpa buys a decked out fancy new Buick. Sells his Chevrolet to my Dad. My Dad’s Pontiac goes to older cousin, who’s driving an older model car (boat) perfectly suitable for whichever new family member just turned 16.

      Repeat every few years.

      And there’s one mechanic that’s serviced all those cars for years (Spaanstra’s on Fulton, Grand Rapids.)

    18. ganzhimself says:

      @bohemian:

      Wouldn’t have happened to be a Dodge Durango? I went through every one of the same problems, except for the frame misalignment… Sold it before the tranny completely went dead, but it was on the way out.

    19. Buran says:

      @Rahnee: That’s weird because I’d heard good things about Nissan — maybe it was a lemon? A few bad ones in every bunch.

      Now, Land Rover, I can’t really say anything about… maybe they’re known for that? I have no idea.

      I have a VW and I’ve never had problems with them, but I don’t abuse them like a lot of other enthusiast owners do, nor do I install crap that changes the engine and transmission and that then causes problems later.

    20. pureobscure says:

      @Rahnee: I’m a bit surprised. I had a ’97 Wrangler and I had a lot of strange problems with it. Finally traded it toward a Nissan Frontier, which has been perfect.

    21. Notsewfast says:

      @Rahnee:
      I hear your Rover woes… I used to have a Discovery and it was nothing but a headache.

      In early 2005, I was about a week away from buying a new Car (Audi A8). I was talking to a friend of mine who had been leasing his ’05 for around 6 months and didn’t like how big it was.

      Long story short, I got about $10k knocked off the price just for buying out his lease and making him pay the fees for the favor.

      So if you want a late model car, look for somebody who is trying to get out of a lease.

    22. csem16 says:

      I’m with PUREOBSCURE. My 1990 Nissan D21 pickup (which I’ve had since college) runs beautifully, and I have driven it HARD.

      The cab on my brother’s F-250 (purchased new) leaked all over in the first rainstorm.

    23. coss3n says:

      My car is 2 months older than I am (’81). If I let it go, I’d have to admit my own age, too.

    24. Phuturephunk says:

      I drive a 91 integra that I bought in 03 mint for like 1000, that’s 3500 under blue book at the time (the gearbox is really really valuable, so is the block). I just put a new distributor in her and counting up the work I’ve had done I’m still under what i should have paid for the car. Acuras run forever though, so this isn’t surprising.

    25. UpsetPanda says:

      @Freightshaker:

      That’s the situation I have with my car. I love it, it runs so well, but the cost of repairing it (German engineering, sigh) is making it difficult to support in the long term. If anything major happens to my car, I don’t know if I could take the financial hit and justify keeping it.

    26. TechnoDestructo says:

      @n8srq:

      Weld sheetmetal in place. Or if you’re cheap, screw it in place.

      I wouldn’t trust plywood (which would probably get soggy in any place with a bad rust problem) to take the kind of abuse my feet could inflict.


      Also, in Sitka, Alaska, I saw an old Datsun pickup parked outside my Dad’s office every day. The thing was two-tone…light yellow and rust colored. One day I walk by and see the tail gate sitting in the bed of the truck. It had rusted off.

      That’s dedication.

      @MissJoanne:

      The cost of repairing it? Are you taking it to a mechanic?

      If so, you should be doing most of the work yourself. That’ll DRASTICALLY cut down your costs. Most of your parts will still cost a bit more if the car is 5-20 years old give or take (remanufactured parts in good supply) or a LOT more if it’s newer.

      Anything that doesn’t require large or expensive tools (like lifts or engine hoists), and which doesn’t require taking apart more than a few components (like you may have to unbolt every accessory from the engine to do some timing belts)…really isn’t that hard to do yourself. Most of the time it’s just a matter of taking things apart and remembering what you did (or you could take pictures) so that you know how to put it back together. Or simpler yet, things often can only go back together one way.


      If you own an old car, this is the only way to go. Become an expert on your car. It saves a LOT of money, and you end up being aware of what every little noise your car makes means. You don’t have to be afraid of anything but skinned knuckles.

    27. DjDynasty says:

      I drive a SubaruWRX STI, I love it, never had a problem out of it, other than stupid crap, like the arm wrest keeps comming loose. My partner has a Ford Focus, he’s had NOTHING but consistance constant problems with that vehicle.

    28. legerdemain says:

      It’s not for everyone, but some give up their cars. They buy a decent bicycle and ride it, or take public transportation. I’ve read about people who ride a bicycle twenty miles each way to work, while others ride only a mile or two. It’s usually cheaper, and can be quite fun.

    29. Rahnee says:

      Maybe the Nissan was what we call a Monday/Friday car. If it was made on a Monday the factory workers might have been hung over. If on a Friday they are ready to leave early. Tue, Wed, Thurs cars are the best! Somehow you can uses your VIN# to find the date your car was made I have heard.

    30. Froggmann says:

      I’m under the philosiphy that you run the vehicle until the wheels fall off, staple them back on and keep going for another 100,000 miles. I have done that and will keep doing that. Best thing about my truck is I have 16 years of interchangeable parts for it. As long as you know how to work on your own junk and have a cheap selection of parts (Read junkyards) you will always get your value out of your vehicle.

    31. balthisar says:

      I’ve only ever had one bad car, new or used. My 1987 Ford Escort. Too much electronic engine crap that went bad too often. That was after having had a great ’84 Escort (used, hand-me-down), a ’79 Volare (desperate purchase, used), a ’69 Beetle (hot for this), all of which were good cars. That ’87 Escort, though, did to me what it did to lots of people in that era — steered me towards the Japanese. Two Honda Civics, an ’88 (used) and then a ’95 (new). Both, great cars. Traded the ’95 Civic for a ’94 Bonneville (used), and again, a great car. The ’94 turned to a 2000 (new), and then a 2001 Ranger (new), and then a 2001 Continental (used).

      I do my homework, and actually pay someone — a professional — to maintain my vehicles (used to do it myself, but now-days, time vs. money). I have no problems beyond normal maintenance. If you get a lemon, you didn’t do your homework, you know, aside from ’87 Escorts.

    32. zolielo says:

      @Rahnee: Nissan cars can have problems with rust from salt, oil consumption, various exshast system problems, electrical problems (MAF, TPS, alt, starter, fuel pump) (there are bulletins). Most cars will have zero to one of those problems. But a few just had cost cutting design problems. Check various Nissan and Infiniti forums for which cars are trouble free or less prone.

      On the topic. I could talk about operating costs and whatnot (I have in the past talked about how to evaluate cars). But that does not matter if one has a bond with a particular auto. As long as I live so does it.

    33. UpsetPanda says:

      @TechnoDestructo: MissJoanne here. The problem is that there are not very many mechanics shops that will take my car. Apparently, it’s complex and they won’t touch it. There are certain qualified shops that handle my car. The biggest problem is usually when even they don’t know what the crap is going on and have to run a billion diagnostics.

    34. acambras says:

      @Rahnee:
      That’s funny — I once heard an optometrist refer to a defective contact lens (one of the disposables) as a “Friday lens” for the same reason.

    35. 4ster says:

      I recently sold my 1999 Ford Escort with 126k+ on it and got a 2008 Scion xB that I plan on driving forever.

      There was nothing wrong with the Escort, and I sold it in 24hrs on Craigslist for $1000 more than CarMax would have given me.

      I really did not want to get rid of it, but I’m a fire department chaplain and I recently went to an accident on the interstate where the driver had her window down, no seat belt on, and had a tread separation in her Explorer. She was thrown from the vehicle and died at 29.

      I was newly married when I bought the Escort and now I am a dad. There is just something nice about those 6 airbags in the Scion.

    36. jamesdenver says:

      @legerdemain:

      I share a car with my sig. other and ride 9 miles each way to work/back. Been doing it for six years. Fortunately I’m also on a good bus/train route as well.

      Two adults in a house using one car is a killer way to add a ton of extra cash to your household. Because I sold my car 3 years ago my 401k is maxed, we have travel funds, and the Saturn we share costs on will be paid off in 2 years.

    37. Amry says:

      @jamesdenver:

      That’s exactly what my family has always done – my first car was an 83 Accord I bought from an older cousin. My next car was a 94 Civic I bought from a family friend when the Accord died. It’s served me well for the past 7 years, and now that the time has come for a newer model, I’ll be selling the Civic to my younger brother.