There used to be a time when cars wouldn’t last more than a few years. The parts would wear out. The systems would cease to work. There wasn’t a choice – you had to replace your car out of necessity.
Over time, manufacturers have gotten better at building reliable parts and cars. No longer can you expect a car to last a handful of years. In fact, according to a recent IHS Markit study, the number of pre-2005 cars and trucks on the road today has climbed to an all-time high. One in four vehicles on American roads are at least 16 years old.
One-hundred thousand miles on a vehicle used to be considered a breaking point. Now, many car owners who hit that milestone say their vehicles are just getting started.
Still, if you’ve driven your current vehicle for years, it’s hard not to wonder at what point it’s better for your wallet to invest in something new. You like not having car payments. Your car may have been cost-effective up until now. But how do you choose whether to keep your car or replace it? Is your car worth fixing, or should you start shopping for something new?
Start with a simple question: Is it cosmetic or mechanical?
People often start considering a new car for one of two reasons: The car may no longer appeal to them visually, or repair bills are starting to escalate.
Why are you considering investing in a new car? Is it for cosmetic reasons? Is the paint chipping? Do you have scratches and dents all over the car?
Maybe a little bodywork could improve its looks. Yet before you take your car in for estimates on sprucing up the outside, think about the inside for a moment. Does your car shake, rattle, and roll? Do you continuously smell gas fumes when you’re near the rear?
As a driver, paying attention to the way your car handles is part of being a good driver. It helps you recognize what’s happening underneath the hood, and make good choices before your vehicle leaves you stranded by the side of the road.
If you’ve put money into repairing it before small fixes turn into larger problems, it might be worth fixing a few car dings, or even repainting your car. It can make you feel happier when you walk up to your car in the parking lot, and drive it on the city roads. It can even add to the value, becoming something someone else wants to drive rather than an eyesore they hide from their friends.
Mechanical problems are an entirely different issue. Small repairs that can be easily made maybe a decent trade-off, especially if you no longer have a monthly car payment. But when small repair bills grow in size, it’s time to start questioning their value.
Where do you draw the line?
Get a car repair estimate
The good news is if you bring your vehicle in, and trust a neighborhood mechanic rather than a dealer, you’ll get an estimate before we even start the work. Neighborhood mechanics almost always charge less for repairs than dealers – it’s just one of the ways they keep their large lots in business.
Before you decide what repairs to make to your car, take a look at the estimate and see what work needs to be done. Transmission assembly can be well over $6,000. Replacing an engine begins at $5,000, depending on make and model. Replacing a hybrid battery and reprogramming and engine control model can be in access of $4,400.
Once you have your estimate in hand, talk with your mechanic. Is there a way to make the process less expensive? Are there certain parts of the process you can forgo, or at least put off, spreading the costs over several months? Can you use salvaged parts? Or can you rebuild rather than replace?
That’s where working with a neighborhood mechanic stands apart from working through a dealer. Neighborhood mechanics understand it takes a lot to budget everything in your life. They are more willing to give you options and help you make the right – and safest – choice for your needs.
Run the numbers
With an estimate in hand, you can now run the numbers. Use Kelley Blue Book to determine the value of your car if you were to sell it to a private buyer.
If your car is worth $3,500, for example, and the repair estimate is in excess of that amount, it would be hard to justify the repair. Edmunds makes a simple rule of thumb that applies to this situation: If the cost of repairs will be greater than either the bluebook value of your car or one year’s worth of monthly payments, it’s time to consider a new vehicle.
Remember, though, that repairing a car will ultimately be less expensive than purchasing a new one. It’s not always the money alone you should consider.
- Do you want to take on several years of car payments?
- Are you worried your car will break down even after this repair?
- How is the outlook of your job?
- What changes are occurring in your life right now?
If a repair could bring you several more years of reliable transportation, it might be your best choice.
You know this car, and its history. It might be better than going with another used potential problem.
Make the right choice for you
As you’re making your final decision, remember reliable transportation is always crucial. And there are still ways around getting a reliable car.
If you’ve had your heart set on a specific car, can you lower your expectations for the time being? Instead of a Honda Accord, will a Honda Civic be a better choice for now?
Or maybe you can purchase a used car. We offer an inspection service that will check out the major systems and give you more assurance you’re investing in a quality car rather than a lemon.
No matter which direction you choose, regular maintenance is critical in keeping your vehicle on the road without leaving you stranded.
Have further questions about repairs for your car? Just ask.