3 Questions To Ask Yourself When Thinking Of Replacing Your Old Car

Reader Brenden says:

I looked around the site and didn’t see any handy guide for a situation that I, and I’m sure many others, are in. We have an older car that still runs, but occasionally needs work. At what point do you begin experiencing diminishing returns on your investment? I know there is no hard and fast rule but there has to be reasonable guide lines when it comes down to how much to put into an old car before its just not worth it anymore. I don’t meant to make a request (especially since Consumerist helped me out before) but I think an article on this might not go unappreciated.


Essentially, what you have here is a math problem. There are several factors that you’ll want to consider when making your calculations.

1) How much money have you been pouring in to the car? Grab all of your receipts and total them up. Then ask yourself this question: “What is the current state of my car?” If you’ve just fixed it up and it’s going to be running great for some time, you might want to keep it for awhile. If you’re barely keeping up as one thing after another breaks… it might be time to say goodbye. If you’re unsure about this part of the process, call your mechanic or a trusted friend who knows something about cars. Ask if parts for your car are getting expensive, and if it is going to be worth maintaining.

2) Do you own this car? Your relationship with your car depends a lot on whether or not you actually own it. Everyone’s situation is going to be different. What is the actual value of your car? Can you get anything for it if you sell it? If you’re not used to paying a car payment, are you going to want to start? Run the numbers and see what this car means to you financially.

3) Does this car get good gas mileage, and what does it cost to insure? Calculate the operating expenses of your car. A newer car may save you money on gas, or it may not. It’s probably going to cost more to insure. Once you know what your current car costs you, you can compare it to the numbers for your potential new(er) cars.

Now that you have an idea of what your car is actually costing you, you can start comparing it to what a different car might cost. You might find that your old car is very cost effective, despite the repairs. Or you might not. Generally speaking, however, a car you own is better than a car your bank owns. Personally, we enjoy buying slightly used cars (that we can afford) with cash. Good luck!

Anything we missed? Share your tips for Brenden in the comments.
(Photo: The Joy Of The Mundane )


Edit Your Comment

  1. My wife intends to drive our Honda Accord until it falls apart. Since the build quality of Honda products tends to be second to none, that’ll be awhile, even in Northeast salt and slush. Our car still runs VERY well – not just reliably, but nearly new – at 156,000 miles.

  2. opfreak says:

    I’d also look at the condition of the current car, and try to figure out what it might need done sooner rather then later.

    IMHO, when it starts to add up to be greater then the value of the car. IF your budget allows a new(er) car, it might be time to replace.

  3. ivanthemute says:

    Not just Hondas, but late model Geo’s too. Had a 1996 Geo Prizm that I junked two years ago. Had close to 400k on it, still ran well, but was beginning to have transmission trouble. Sold it to a buddy who owned a tranny shop and repaired it. Last I saw, it was over 500k and still rolling.

  4. SOhp101 says:

    I think it’s pretty much only #1 and #2, because #3 is almost always offset by the high cost of depreciation in a new car.

    If you’re spending more on repairs in a year than the value of the car itself, it’s definitely time to change.

  5. ilovemom says:

    Don’t forget excise taxes if you live in a state that has them.

  6. ARPRINCE says:

    One word..TOYOTA!

  7. balthisar says:

    My Lincoln (yeah, made in America) is on Consumer Reports’ list of best used cars to own/buy. At over 100,000 miles, it still runs like new. You can believe I’m going to drive it until it’s on its last breath. I’ll probably augment it with a Fiesta for commuting once they’re on the US market, but until then, 25 mpg is still damned good for a huge V8.

  8. Geekybiker says:

    I dont think its so much a money question. Your monthly maintence expenses would have to be exceeding the cost of a new car. Its more about if the car is breaking down enough that you don’t feel you can reliably get to work anymore. Or if its spending enough time in the shop that you’re dealing with a huge hassle of dropping off, picking up, and just being out a car for awhile. Your time and reliability are worth alot even if you can’t quantify it easily.

  9. Rupan says:

    It is a math problem that unfortunately does not always include numbers. In addition to what is mentioned above you have to ask yourself how you feel about your old car vs a new one. Would you look forward to possibly having an iPod input? Would you feel safer in a newer car? Do you really like your old car or are you just putting up with it becasue it is cheap to own? What kind of value are you willing to put on things like that?

    I second buying a used car. Depreciation is the main reason for that. Specifically a used car from a private seller, not a dealer. Yes you get a couple of extra assurances from a dealer but the price is often much better from a private seller. Provided that you get the car checked out by a mechanic, you should be fine. That’s my opinion.

  10. noodleman says:

    When my ’87 Escort started costing me as much in annual repairs as would the annualized monthly payments for a new(er) car, it was time to start shopping. My faithful Escort gave me 13 years of service, so I can’t complain. Expensive things (radiator, pumps, etc.) are certainly going to being wearing out after 13 years of continuous driving.

    My current car, an ’00 Focus SE bought as a used dealer rental, is still chugging along with (knock on wood) minimal mechanical repairs. But I’ll use the same benchmark again when deciding when its time to make another change.

  11. Dr. Eirik says:

    We’re actively considering changing my wifes car. She drives a 2001 Grand Caravan, which made sense when we got it because we had a second child about to arrive and the Saturn she had barely fit the stroller in the trunk. She was stay at home at the time, too.

    Now, the kids are a little older, and she works. Commuting in that monster is a killer. We’re thinking about replacing it with a Mazda 3 hatchback which gets almost double the mileage. The only hitch is that we own the car outright and don’t really want a new car payment.

    The factor in replacing it: The thing is not a lemon, but its at least a citrus fruit. I’m rather anxious to dump it before something valuable breaks or wears out (the last, corroding chrome (after market, last owner installed them) wheels that no longer held air for several hundred to replace.

  12. Sucko-T says:


    If you’re going to buy a Toyota just buy a new one. The high resale value makes buying used one pointless unless it’s at least 5 years old.

    -New Corolla Pricing: [www.toyota.com]

    You can buy a new base model for $15,250 or step up to the LE for $16,650.

    -Craigslist search of used Corollas (dealer)

    Most of the used models are barely under $16,000.

  13. fostina1 says:

    i got a 96 plymouth neon. its got over 250k miles, biggest problem so far is o2 sensors. gets 40+ miles to the gallon.

    my wife looked at trading it in 2 years ago and they offered her $300 for trade. i have saved that in gas this year alone. so sure the ford place has some nice focus’ with 35 mpg. but for that price id just be willing to buy a few more neons. no ill never buy new.

  14. geekgrrl77 says:

    My 1989 Volvo that I bought for a whopping $1200 from a single-owner 7 years ago has been great, and I plan to get at least another couple more years out of it. I’ve put a little money here and there into replacing stuff and fixing it, but all in all, I SAVE a BUNDLE compared with my friends who have car payments. I’ve NEVER had a car payment, and can’t imagine having to do so. When/if I do buy a newer car, it will be a hybrid.

    My volvo isn’t awful on gas, but it isn’t great either. I don’t use it a lot b/c I use the metro bus in town (free student pass) so I save money on gas anyway.

  15. samson says:

    I recently totaled my car. When they towed it the guy towing my car did not give me the contact info. I just slammed my car into a wall at 70 mph so I was stunned. No collison and they want $400 plus for me to get it out of impound. I just left it there. I would have paid thier cost but i am not paying them 20 a day for my car to sit in a junk yard. Minor damage to the other car and I just took an online drivers course and done.

  16. Ben Popken says:

    Question #1: What’s the likelihood my car will burst into flames on the highway tomorrow?

  17. ogremustcrush says:

    I have this problem too. I am a poor college student, and I have a 93 Subaru Legacy that gives me a few problems. As far as I know, the engine itself works fine most of the time, but the automatic transmission no longer goes in reverse. I’ve just been living with it like that for a while now, since AT’s cost so much to repair. Most of what I read indicates that when one gear goes out, the rest soon follow, but so far that hasn’t been my experience. The transmission is still pretty smooth going forward, and while the car has 180,000 miles, I don’t doubt that with the right maintenance and repairs it could probably go a lot longer.

    Right now I’m debating whether to just keep driving the car as it is until perhaps it breaks down entirely, having the transmission repaired and a bit of minor work done with the engine (its hard to start every once in a while, but not very often), or to replace it with a newer, but still relatively affordable. Even if I replaced the transmission and did some engine work, the cost would still be quite a bit less than any car I would consider reliable enough to buy.

    I kind of want the feeling of having a newer car, since this car does drive like an older car, but it does get pretty good gas mileage and it seems like finding used cars in good condition that do is getting harder because of the demand. I really don’t drive that much in town, but I do a few 1000 mile round trips a year to drive down to my home town from campus. I mainly just don’t want it to break down in the middle of nowhere on one of those trips.

  18. ltlbbynthn says:

    I have an 01 Mitsubishi Mirage. Over 150k and we haven’t had anything break on it. It’s literally never been to the mechanic for something that needed fixing *right now*. that car is a treasure, but it has so much body damage that no one would ever trade it in for more than a few hundred bucks, and it’s so high-mileage its’ not worth doing any body work on it. It’s a good test of driving around and not giving a fuck what people think of you.
    We’re looking at other cars but we wouldn’t think of getting into a new car payment until my other car is paid off.

  19. mac-phisto says:

    @Steaming Pile: you should be good for awhile. i ran mine up to 289,000 before i parked it into the back of a pickup truck (& didn’t feel like investing $3000+ in repairs).
    to the OP: my uncle has a saying – “you never get out of a car payment – it’s just a question of whether you’re paying the bank or the mechanic on a regular basis”.

    i don’t buy new cars. generally, i think you have to ask yourself what is the type of repairs i am making? are these maintenance repairs (brakes, tires, struts, timing belts, etc.) or are they major mechanical repairs? when mechanics start talking about replacing “assemblies” & buying “clips” of cars, that’s pretty much a good sign that you’d be better off buying a new(er) car.

  20. thomas_callahan says:

    I strongly disagree with the “if the repairs cost more than the value of the car” benchmark. Who cares how much a car is worth? The way I see it a car is essentially a money hole, virtually financially worthless from the minute you buy it — there’s no way to get out with a profit, that’s for sure. Yes, it’s very valuable in terms of the service it provides but your equity in it might as well be nothing.

    How about “if the repairs cost more on a monthly basis than the monthly cost of a new car, factoring in the cost of the hassle of repairing the car” as a much better test?

    For example I have a 18 year old Toyota Camry with 140,000 miles on it. Runs great, looks awful, but it just passed inspection after $400 of minor repairs and new tires. Mind you that’s only the third actual repair other than expected maintenance that this car has ever had, and the most expensive.

    A new car payment on a modest car (think Civic at $200-300 per month) plus the extra insurance (I pay just under $100 a year on the Camry, compared to $750 a year that I’ve been quoted for a new Civic) and RI state excise tax ($0 for the Camry, several hundred a year for a new car) adds up to around $400 a month. So until the Camry starts needing $300 in repairs per month (leaving some money for the hassle factor of having a car in the shop) it’s staying. I’m hoping for 20 years and 175,000 miles.

    I should mention that I would love to have a nice car but recognize that it’s not practical for me financially right now — until I win Powerball a car is purely a means of travel. I should also mention that nothing bad would happen if I can’t get to work on time because it breaks down on me.

  21. Sudonum says:

    When a car starts “nickel and diming” me to death, then it’s time to go certified used.

  22. satoru says:

    @Ben Popken: If it’s a Ford Pinto, it’s in the 95% range :P

  23. satoru says:

    @thomas_callahan: $100 a year? Where the heck do you live?

  24. DeeJayQueue says:

    Add up your repair bills for the year, divide by 12. If that number is greater than a new car payment, it’s time to get a new car.

  25. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    This is a problem for actuaries with massive amounts of data. Its also one that doesn’t have a clear cut answer, because its pretty close to gambling.

    The most well defined expense is to buy a new car and start paying the bank. You shouldn’t have to worry about break downs and your expenses will be consistent. You’ll also be throwing this money away.

    If you have a car you know, it may make sense to spend MORE than the car is worth to fix it, if you strongly believe that its not going to be another problem the next month. A broken car that needs a major repair is only worth as much as the steel, you aren’t going to get much selling it. You could replace it with a similar valued car, but you are just spinning the roulette wheel that the car won’t have similar problems in the short term.

    If you buy, its usually a good investment to get a gently used car. There is a lot of initial depreciation and the car will still have lots of useful life on it, BUT, you often don’t know how well it was treated by the original owner. Why are they letting a perfectly good car go at such a financially disadvantaged point in its life?

    I think it boils down to how important RELIABLE transportation is to you. If the car strands you the side of the road every few weeks it isn’t doing its job at any price.

  26. Swervo says:

    @ivanthemute: It does depend on the Geo, as they were all just GM rebadging (and re-bodyworking) other company’s cars. The Prizm was a Toyota Corolla, so it’s not surprising that it ran so well. Some of the others were things like Suzuki Swifts which might not have been so…well…swift.

    My mother had a Prizm for a while. The interesting part was that the Toyota sourced bits, like the chassis and engine, were all flawless. The GM sourced bits, like the interior roof lining and the paintjob, were utter crap.

  27. tz says:

    My 98 subaru impreza has 350k, but is on its second engine and transmission (at 180k and 250k respectively). Really low insurance (hi-deductible – it will get totaled in almost any collision). A few things are loose but it is reliable.

    New car – financing, higher level of insurance, new set of annoyances (seat belt buzzers, washers linked with the wipers – I unlinked mine, daytime driving lights, who knows).

    At some point it will either die or nickel and dime me and I will get another new car and hope to drive it for a decade.

  28. stupidjerk says:

    @ivanthemute: hell yeah! I went thru 2 geo prism’s and they just would not die. One drank oil, but great reliable car. (side note, they were really toyota carolla’s in geo clothing)

  29. robotrousers says:

    I had a ’94 Saturn with some fuel line and gasket problems last October. Was debating whether to sell the car and buy a new one or get it repaired. Decided I should drive the car until it just won’t run anymore, or the repairs get too expensive. $650 of repairs and major tune-up later, car ran great! 13 days later, totalled in a collision with some idiot who ran a stop sign. Thank you irony!

  30. i have a 1996 toyota tercel….which i intend to drive until it literally falls to pieces on the freeway….it is my first car and will be my last.

  31. I have always used this method: Calculate how much money your car is costing you per mile. Include gas, repairs, oil changes, payments, insurance, everything that has to do with the car itself, and divide by mileage. Then estimate the new car payment, insurance, and mileage, and compare the two.

    Of course, like everyone else has said, this just gives you a hard number for financial reasons, there are also personal reasons to factor in as well.

  32. snwbrder0721 says:

    I’m in a similar debate right now. I’ve got a 95 VW jetta with about 160k on it. It just went through a tune up and is running slightly better, but it’s starting to burn more and more oil.

    As a solution I’m looking at a scooter like the Honda Ruckus to get me to work (15 miles, but probably do-able) and do all my small trips around town in. That way I can save the car for longer trips and probably extend out it’s life another year or two. The 80 mpg doesn’t hurt either, the thing should pay for itself withing two years max depending on gas prices. Plus the scooter should still be running at that point so I can continue to only use whatever car I own for groceries / long trips. For me it just makes cents (ha ha).

  33. Amarain824 says:

    I have a 99 Escort that has been totaled twice. Every time I think about replacing it, something happens, and it’s still cheaper to fix than to add a car payment. While I get the philosophy of buying used, I bought this car off the lot and I know every little thing about it. Passing that up for what might have been someone else’s problem is a little scary.

    Not to mention, it’s saved my life twice. It thinks it’s a tank. I think I might have to wait until it comes a part too.

  34. TPS Reporter says:

    @Sucko-T: Yeah, you’re right. We bought a new 08 Corolla last year and they had a used one on the lot for about $800 less. But it had 18K on it and was 1 year old. It did have a sunroof and ours doesn’t, but we didn’t care. Except for that it was the same. But we also got a $500 rebate on the new one, but even at $1300 more without the rebate, it might be worth it.

    As far as the article goes, unless you are putting out more than a car payment each month, and that would be approx. $300-$350 a month, then it is cheaper to just fix your car. The brother mechanics Click & Clack say it is always cheaper to fix a $500 transportion thrifty than to buy a new car. Maybe not a $5k or $6k used car though. But reliability does come into play, its just not about the numbers. Peace of mind that you can get to where you need to when you want to is worth more to some than others.

  35. Eilonwynn says:

    I was put in a situation this spring that I was not fond of. A 96 grand am, on which I had already replaced the engine and transmission, began sliding through intersection. Replaced tires and brakes, had ABS checked, nothing seemed to fix the problem. Finally I just dropped it off with my mechanic, with the words “get it out of my sight and get me a honda”. I ended up taking a phenomenal loss on the grand am, but I no longer am downright frightened to drive on anything other than dry pavement. (I also love my replacement, a 99 civic.) To me, it was the fear – not knowing when or if something major on the car was going to go, and not knowing when or if the brakes were going to fail and I was going to go off an embankment or worse.

  36. Sndtrkman says:

    I used to drive a 92 Jeep Cherokee ( I had it for 5 years and the previous owners had it for 11) and it was pretty reliable at the time. Although I paid 4k for it, it was well worth it although after a while I started putting more and more money into fixing it. The final straw was this past January when some dumb woman rear-ended me. My car’s bumper was pushed in but her car was non-drivable (a Town and Country whose engine was leaking out all of its fluids on the road). The insurance company declared my car a loss since the underside was all rusted up and non fixable. Also, my engine was making it’s “Death Rattle” so I knew it was time for it to go. They ended up paying me a nice sum for my car (about 2k) which I used on a slightly used 7 month old 08 Saturn Vue. I donated my Jeep to a local church and that was taht.

    Looking back, I am damn glad that happened to me because now I can drive around in a car I’m not ashamed of and that I’ll get a lot of life out of.

  37. TangDrinker says:

    @Dr. Eirik: we have 2 mazda protege 5s (the predecessor of the Mazda 3). We’ve had them for 5 years and have had no major problems. We might trade one in for a slightly larger car if we have another kid – b/c you can’t fit 2 car seats in the back with someone over 6 ft tall driving – but if both of your kids are just in boosters, you should be fine in the mazda 3 (or the protege 5). It’s amazing how much stuff you can fit in the back when the seats are folded down – more than in many smaller SUVs. And gas mileage is about 31 on the highway (more like 25 in city). They’re lots of fun to drive, too.

  38. If you want an iPod input, just get a new stereo, they’re cheap these days.

    Love my 1990 Integra (yes, I have two kids and they and the gear fit fine–we took it on a 6,000 mile road trip last summer). If I get a new car, it’ll be a Honda Civic (the closest replacement to my beloved Integra). New, since they hold their value so well that used are close in price to new.

  39. Kirk Douglas says:

    I drive a 1991 Isuzu Stylus that has 641,219 Kilometers on the car, it still returns about 29 MPG(Canadian gallons). It’s had nearly all the mechanical bits replaced at one time or another. Most recently I replaced the exhaust manifold and oxygen sensor, the CV joints and the exhaust pipe down from the catalytic converter. I noticed better gas mileage after that.

    I’ll probably keep the car until the body falls off. I know the car is safe because it doesn’t have ABS or air bags.

  40. Radoman says:

    @snwbrder0721: Ahhh. The scooter question arises. Let me be the first to congratulate you on thinking of a way to actually conserve a lot of gas. Scooters are SUPER popular right now, and it actually might be kind of tough to find one you want.

    Let me also say that the Ruckus is a gutless scooter. I love Honda, but their four stroke scooters, including the Metro are ridiculously slow. Especially at high altitude. (think: Colorado) I test drove both 2008 Hondas, and they could barely hit 30MPH on flat land.

    If you want a scooter, 2-stroke engines are your best bet. They have lots more power and top speed. The Derbi Atlantis, the Aprilia SR-50 (pretty much anything with a Piaggio engine), the Genuine scooters, the Kymco peoples, and the Yamaha Zuma are some of the fastest scooters available out there today.

    Scootering is a lot of fun and saves TONS of gas, but do a little research before you buy. I promise you’ll be happy you did.

  41. SadSam says:

    If you think you want a new car or even a newer car, put away the monthly car payment into a savings account for a few months. If you get sick of your fake car payment after a few months then you are not ready for a new car but you will have a tidy sum saved up. If you don’t get sick of the fake car payment, keep it up for a while and put that towards your new car.

  42. stevejust says:

    @DeeJayQueue: I think you’re EXACTLY right when you said: “Add up your repair bills for the year, divide by 12. If that number is greater than a new car payment, it’s time to get a new car.”

    There are comments here about taking insurance costs into account, etc.,. but when comparing something new or new-ish to something older, nominal increases in insurance (unless you go from bare bones insurance on a Geo Metro to trying to insure a new BMW M3) are kind of easy to ignore.

    The payment on my 48.8 mpg Honda Civic hybrid is just under $3,900 a year with 1.9% financing. In the 4 years I’ve had it, I’ve only spent money on oil changes and last week I had to replace the regular battery (NOT the hybrid battery pack. The regular battery failed because I don’t drive it that much.)

    If you have a car that needs brakes, transmission work and a new set of tires, that could reach $3,900 in one year pretty quickly. Yeah, that might mean you won’t have to spend that money the following year on the car, but it’s still going to be a ticking timebomb. If you have a sudden need for a valve job and you don’t have the cash to cover it and you have to put the money on a credit card, you’re paying a higher interest rate than you would on a car loan for the cost of that valve job.

    In college I tried to develop a theory that no car costs less than X amount of dollars a year, because even cars with no payments wind up costing money in new tires and alternators and CV joints being re-packed, and whatever have you… There might be a window of time between when a car is paid off and when it starts costing money, but that’s when a lot of people sell their cars and get new ones. The new purchaser has a year or two of trouble free maintenance, and then 3 years of brakes, tires, transmissions, electrical problems, etc.,. I think averaged out over 5 years, almost all cars start to approach costing about a $2k a year minimum, no matter how much you “pay” for them. I’m hoping to hear stories from people about how much less than $2k a year they’ve spent on their cars.

  43. DoubleEcho says:

    What about someone like me who drives their car 5-6,000 miles a year? I’ve got a 2003 Mazda with 27k that I bought brand new. I really only drive from home to work and back (my record is 8 minutes from place to place!), store, etc and the occasional trip. By the time it’s 10-15 years old there will probably be some new type of fuel I assume. Should I just ride it into obsoleteness?

  44. stevejust says:

    @DoubleEcho: You ever consider riding a bike instead of driving? It takes me 15 minutes to drive to work here in Los Angeles. It takes me 15 minutes to bike to work on my bicycle (the reason is that on the bicycle I can take a short cut, whereas in the car I’m stuck waiting at red light after red light).

    And yes, drive it until all cars are plug-in hybrids or EVs.

  45. mac-phisto says:

    @Serenefengshui: wouldn’t the rsx be the closest replacement to your integra? or the prelude? what does honda discontinue its coolest models???!!?

  46. firesign says:

    i have an 01 hyundai elantra gt. i’m driving it until it comes apart, basically. it currently has 106k miles on it and has so far never needed anything but routine maintenance and wear parts. the body and interior are in great shape, it gets great gas mileage, it’s paid for,and it’s still fun to drive. it’s one of the best cars i’ve ever owned.

  47. friendlynerd says:

    Oh man. Like my friend’s ’90 Jetta that wouldn’t die. It needed a full exhaust system for about $700 – so she put it on. One week later it was rear ended on I-95 so hard that her back window shattered and the stereo popped out of the dash.

    Thankfully she wasn’t hurt, but goodbye Jetta. And $700 exhaust.

  48. DoubleEcho says:

    @stevejust: Yeah, I’ve had that discussion with other people before. Just doesn’t work for me – I’ve got 2 kids, a 4 year old and a 15 month old, and live in an area where it could rain in December and snow in May – the weather is just unpredictble and the winters are long (Northwestern PA). I have to take them to daycare each weekday. If the kids were older and walked/rode the bus to school I’d definitely consider it though.

  49. TechnoDestructo says:


    Geos were made by different companies depending on the model, and not all were created equal.

    It goes something like
    Prizm (Toyota/GM joint venture)
    Tracker (Suzuki)
    Metro (Suzuki)
    Storm (Isuzu)

    And the Spectrum was also a Suzuki.


    It also boils down to how much you know about cars. Not just knowing YOUR car, but knowing cars in general, and being able to figure out new problems as they arise in your car.

    Saves money on maintenance, AND improves your judgement as to the state of the vehicle.


    Does your threshold adjust for fuel prices?

    Regardless, unless you’re running without insurance on expired tags and stealing fuel, yeah, there is going to be a minimum. But it will vary geographically (insurance, mainly; also different parts fail differently in different climates), by age (insurance), by maintenance skill level, basically no two people are going to have the same minimum.

    And in your example, why mention the tires and the brakes at all? The transmission would be almost the entire amount. (Summer) tires are cheap for anything but trucks and performance cars. Brakes are cheap, and assuming you don’t need new calipers or a new brake line (bleeding sucks) pads and rotors are easy to replace yourself. (On some cars, it is literally as easy as changing a tire)

    Hell, with brakes, it isn’t even a matter of knowledge, it’s a matter of fear.

  50. battra92 says:

    My 98 Chevy Cavalier ran solid with no major problems until 150K miles later it died (transmission issues.) That was last September and I bought an 07 Elantra. I hope that I can get this sucker to last 9-10 years like that Cavalier did.

  51. mac-phisto says:

    @robotrousers & friendlynerd: fwiw, i dropped a rebuilt transmission into a 1982 buick electra estate wagon (that’s right baby – wood grain FTW!) –> [aswoa.com]

    the repairs cost me about $700 & about 2 months later some jack-off in a blazer hit me head-on turning into a gas station. at first, his insurance co. offered me ~$1,500 for the car – when i produced evidence that i just had the transmission rebuilt, they cut me a check for $2,500.

    so, keep that in mind if you get in a wreck (esp. if you have a lot of custom mods that aren’t covered in the value of the vehicle).

  52. thatgirlinnewyork says:

    @thomas_callahan: excellent point–i thought about a new car until i considered potentially higher insurance costs.

    that said, i’ve had two vw jettas, each of which i’d owned for 11 years. the ’97 i have now has had in its life:

    new tires
    minimum tune-ups

    it’s a five-speed, and while i have read that newer jettas don’t compare (depends upon who’s writing, of course), i would consider another. will likely drive it into the ground. solid, reliable car. good luck!

  53. Vulpine says:

    I have a very simple rule: If the costs per month add up to at least half of what a new car payment would be, then it’s time to consider trading. If they add up to the full cost of a monthly payment, why aren’t you in a new car already?

    It’s simple and quick.

  54. ppiddyp says:

    Seems to me it _never_ makes sense to buy a new car. The $5-$8K price range seems about the best, financially speaking. You can get just about anything your heart desires… looking on craigslist here, I see a ’98 V12 BMW 750i for $7K (hahah, that’ll be cheap to maintain!) and a ’97 Camry for $6K.

    Cars in that price range probably have ~100K-150K on ’em, which means the drive trains will last a lot longer. That’s close enough to the bottom of the depreciation curve that you’re not going to lose your shirt. Sure, you’ll be shoveling large amounts of money at it from time to time, but that’s nothing compared to $4K a year in payments for a new car.

  55. stevejust says:

    @TechnoDestructo: You could adjust it for fuel prices. (I drive a hybrid, but I know not everyone understands just how crappy their mileage is compared to how good it could be, so I didn’t even want to get into it.)

    This is what prompted the theory: I bought a slightly used Civic LX in college for like $11,000. I was paying, I think something like $214 a month for it, or about $2,500 a year.

    A friend of mine bought a car for $600. And the proceeded to have problems with it, and all told sunk about $2,000 into it in the first year he had it.

    On a one-year basis, we paid the same amount for our cars. My Civic was 2 years old with 10,000 miles, his car was 20 years old with 100,000 miles on it. I’m not sure exactly how much longer he had it or how much more money he sunk into it. I do know that it was eventually scrapped, and I think he got $50 bucks for it if I recall correctly.

    When I sold my Civic 2 years later, I got $8,000 for it. In the two years I had it I spent $5,000 on payments. But I actually only lost about $3,600 for it, since I sold it for only $3k less than I’d paid for it. My friend, with the P.O.S. also spent about the same. I had a reliable car. He had a P.O.S.

    Our friend had a hand me down BMW 5 series. A free car, right? But it needed $5,000 worth of work that year.

    To me the math is clear, especially when you start talking about resale value at the end of a car’s life. All cars cost a certain amount to drive. And often you can be driving a newer more reliable car for the same money.

    The $600 car cost at least $2600. Let’s say it lasted another year and then died, and he got $50 for it. Total cost over 2 years: $2550.

    The BMW 5 Series was free, but cost $5,000 to fix. Total cost over 2 years: $5000.

    My $11,000 Civic was sold two years later for $8,000. Total cost over 2 years: $3000 plus interest (about $3600.)

    Now, someone’s going to point out that you could sell the BMW for hopefully at least $5000. True, but it was a free car.

    At the end of the day, the math is so much more complex than most people think. But the easiest way to do it is to do what DeeJayQueue said to do.

  56. battra92 says:

    @stevejust: The problem is it really varies between car to car.

    In my example I paid $2,000 cash for a car that I kept for 2.5 years and maybe put $500 worth of repairs (including 3 new tires) into it. I also got 28mpg with it.

    If I could be guaranteed a life like that out of another used I’d sell the Elantra tomorrow and buy a $2,000 car tomorrow!

  57. battra92 says:

    I forgot to mention my brother-in-law bought it off of me for $500 and it’s still running after he fixed it up.

  58. Meathamper says:

    Another question should have been “Is it worth replacing/Has it broken down?” because I’ve seen people who’ve bought C-Classes and whatnot, replacing their Infiniti just because the Infiniti was “behind a generation.” It’s a bad idea, then you’ll just find yourself buying a new car every year. People should just finnance their car buy leasing it for a year, then you can get a new car every year without actually buying it.

  59. pigeonpenelope says:

    my 95 subaru impreza is on its last leg. at 290,000 miles, its served its time. it still runs but there’s always something that needs to be fixed. i’m running into the dilemma where i don’t want a car payment but feel there is no choice. i’m not buying someone else’s problem so i’m not buying a used car.

  60. battra92 says:

    @pigeonpenelope: 13 Years is pretty good for a car. Considering you drove it about 7,000 miles a year more than norm (Norm usually drives his car about 15K) I’d say it’s a good run.

  61. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Honestly, I can’t think of a worse investment than a car….I mean, what other major purchase costs $20,000+ and then 10 years later is worth almost nothing?

    Essentially, though..if repairs to your current car add up to a significant amount for what you’d pay for a new one…maybe it’s time to think about ditching the old clunker.

    If you’re fuel bill is now equal to some large percentage of a car payment…also maybe time to consider something else. If you can save $150 a month in fuel bills and apply that to your car payment instead of giving it to the oil companies..that’s also worth something.

    If you meet both criteria..constant repairs AND huge fuel bills…definitely time to do something.

    On the other hand, if I were lucky enough to own a used car that only costs $500 a year in repairs, I’d drive it until it fell apart or began to require multiple major repairs.

    Another thing to consider….if you have a used car and you need repairs…at least with repairs, you might be able to do-it-yourself, put off a repair for a couple of weeks, have your cousin Vinnie do it…or whatever. If you buy a new car, you’re locked into a definite payment every month and if you can’t come up with the $$$, you’re really screwed. Banks don’t have much of a sense of humor about missed payments.

  62. TwoScoopsRice says:

    Consumer Reports and other such places can be your friend — have a look at the problems your current/desired car make/model/year tends to encounter. For example, my beloved 280zx (bought gently used from a guy who wanted a big stake for Vegas) only ever needed a water pump replaced in the 4 years I drove it, as well as brake pads (hilly driving). However, that year got the big black CR black eye for rust, so I watched the car carefully. Fixed the first blossom; figured it was a foregone conclusion there would be more shortly thereafter and gave it a good wax and tune-up and sold to a college kid who was happy to have it.

    Your insurance agent’s office should be more than happy to give you projected premiums for several different cars when you are in the early stages of research; you might be surprised what a variance you’ll find among seemingly similar cars. And taking a higher deductible can help ease the bite of insurance on a new or newer car.

  63. jitterpup says:


    yes! exactly! i’ve had an isuzu amigo for the past 14 years. i’ve had a few major repairs–new clutch, brakes, alternator, etc. typical of stuff to be replaced on a vehicle with 175K miles on it. (i’m not counting having to replace the dash wiring after squirrels gnawed. that falls into the “freak accident” category.)

    sure, the total cost of these repairs exceeds the value of the car which is only about $1200 or so but it’s still been cheaper than new car payments and increased insurance.

    i was totally planning on driving it into the ground and only stopped driving it because my m.i.l. gave me her old car, a 2002 ford. since i have no car payment with that, either, i plan on driving that one until it gives out. seeing as it only has 16K miles, that should be a while.