Is It Time To Get Rid Of My Old Car?

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I like the idea of driving old cars into the ground, but sooner or later there must be a tipping point where the cost of upkeep outweighs the slow depreciation. I just can’t tell if it’s time yet. You always see a lot of used cars with ads like “Runs great. New tires, new radiator, new brakes, new…” and you think to yourself “If all that stuff is new and it runs fine, then why are they selling it?” My theory is that the tipping point has been reached.

Here are the stats on my car. It’s a 1995 Nissan, so it’s almost 13 years old now. 93,000 miles, and I’ve had it since 2000. It’s actually run almost perfectly for the first half-decade of ownership. But in the past couple of years, I have had to replace the starter, the alternator, and one of the motors for one of my power windows. Just last week, the other window motor stopped working. I don’t want to spend another $300-$400 to fix it, so I’m just going to screw it into place with the help of my father-in-law. (The original title of this post was “I have duct tape on my car – Time to dump it?”) The brake pads are pretty worn, one of the boots of the CV joint has a hole in it and the mechanic recommended replacing the whole joint ($$$).

Should I starting considering dumping this trusty car and look for another one that will give me another 5-8 years of smooth running? Maybe I’m being biased by my interest in a $5,000 fun car… Perhaps it is more economical to keep patching it up?

(The picture shown is of a ’83 Nissan, which provides a view of what I could be driving in another 12 years… Check out that sweet body kit ๐Ÿ™‚ )

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  1. nepali inverstor says

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    Any suggestions or ideas would be of much help. I just need a bit of guidance.

    Great website by the way.

  2. Seems like Consumer Reports regularly comments that it is usually better to fix a car you have than to buy a new one. Or maybe it’s Click and Clack. Of course you’re talking about buying a used one.

    The window thing is annoying, and replacing the brakes is something you just do. I’ve had the brakes redone on lots of cars. You don’t look at that and decide to buy a new car. Same for rebuilding a clutch (eventually) in a manual transmission car. Unfortunately sometimes you have to buck up for a car expense, but you aren’t making monthly payments, and that goes a long way.

    It sounds to me like you’ve a car with some wear in it. But if the engine runs well and is reliable, I don’t see selling. I sold my last car with 186000 miles on it, and my sister-in-law ran hers to around 350000 miles. Admittedly, there was no value left in her car at the end. But cars regularly go way beyond 100k miles.

  3. I went through this 3 weeks ago with a 96 S10 with 225K miles. It had an electrical problem and oil pressure problem (as in would not hold any). I sold it for scrap for $150.

    The thing about starters, batteries, alternators is that after you replace them the first time you normally are done with that for the life of the car (unless you get bad parts).

    Brakes, tires, tune ups etc are universal so all you would be doing is putting that off for a little time with a newer car. Not really gaining anything there.

    Also, think about the insurance which is normally less with older cars.
    And, you would be lucky to get a few $$ if you sell it anyway. Who wants your old junk?

    Unless you have a motor issue I would hold on to that like car like it was my first prom date.


  4. It’s good that you start thinking about this now. Looks like you have the start of a list of known issues. I suggest making a list of the potential issues (even throw a probability on each) and then figure out your expected cost for the next 1 yr, 2 yrs and so on. It’ll become pretty obvious that there is a right time to get rid of it. As always you can counter it with the market value of a sale at each point if it’s fixed or not fixed given the condition.
    I made the mistake of thinking each $200 (muffler) – $700 (clutch) fix up job on my last car (12 yrs old with about 130k miles) was worth it. After a while of doing a fix up every other month I realized that I may as well be paying the $300 a month on a new, let alone used, car payment and getting a nicer car to deal with in the first place. Instead of making a buck selling the car when it had some life in it I spent a bunch of money fixing it and then I ended up swapping the title for a tow off the highway…

  5. Buy the $5k used car.

  6. The other factor to consider is the amount you are driving. My dad is still driving a 1987 Toyota Corolla that doesn’t have a a second gear (talk about slow pickup) because he drives it less than five minutes back and forth to work. The car only needs a repair once every six to ten months and they own another car that looks nice and rides well for longer trips.

  7. Sounds like just standard maintenance items for a car to me (except for the CV joint). 93,000 miles also doesn’t sound like that many miles compared to what most cars can end up running. One thing that significantly alters your “tipping point” is whether you’re willing(capable) to do any of the maintenance items yourself – for example, replacing the pads and rotors of your car yourself can be done for $15-25 per axle instead of $80-100, window motors can be had for $60-80 instead of $300-400. When a repair shop charges $70/hr or more, its worth it to do your own work. I’ve probably saved over $1000 from being able to do my own work on vehicles, not to mention another several thousand from being able to do my own maintenance work on my (and my friends’) home(s).

  8. Steve Austin says

    I’d get the CV boot replaced if it really does have a hole in it, but a CV joint is probably past your point of diminishing returns. Do you hear any clicking in the joint when you take a turn (check left and right) at speed? If not, just replace the boot. If yes, forget the boot and just drive the CV joint to failure (or unbearable clicking and grinding).

  9. Besides, you don’t have to worry about your car theft at all. Saving in car insurance depends upon your gender, driving record and so on. But if you get a new car, it’s more likely to be stolen.

    That’s why I keep my 96 crap. That gives me peace of mind $ can’t buy.

  10. Figure out what this car is costing you, per mile over the life of the car. That is, original cost of car, plus all maintenance (or “sunk costs”) that you have put into it. Divide by miles driven.

    If it is below 10 cents a mile, I suggest keep it. When it goes above that, get something that will be under 10 cents a mile, excluding fuel, of course.

    I have a 2001 Civic that I have put 114000 miles on since I bought it new, and my per-mile is about 5 cents plus fuel. That includes some recent work, like new struts, timing belt and nice new tires.

    I did the math like this before I did all the work to see what would make sense, just like you are. But, the big question may be for you…

    Are you OK with the idea that you make over 100K and drive a 13 year old car? Do you care? Does it matter? Would a newer car be safer for you and your family?

    It looks like if you took only one months savings you could buy a nice Honda Fit or something…

  11. I agree with most of commenters – keep driving it knowing you don’t have most folks’ second highest cost after accomodation (often referred to as “the real reason you’re broke”) to worry about. A tip for all is to buy the standard version of a car that does not have power windows. Yes you need to wind them yourself (it will also save you the gym memebership) but there is almost nothing that can go wrong with them. The $300/month car repayment most people have is buying you a lifestyle that occasional trouble with your car can’t outweigh. Best, D.

  12. Consider what other uses your current or replacement vehicle may play in the next five years. Fo example, I have a 96 Golf crossing the 96k mark that was mainly a in-town car with the occasional trip to Montreal – until we bought a house….well, I abused my poor car with the trips to Home Depot/Lowe’s – a few bags of gravel, pavers stones, paint, etc…. and now we have a 1 year old and there’s a stroller, car seat, and groceries, can’t fit more than two passengers except for short trips…

    So I expect that you need to consider how the car is going to fit into these life events. I should have gotten a cheap light duty pick-up when I bought the house because renting the RENT-ME truck from HD and replacing the rear suspension costs a few $$$.

    Now I’m looking at a Subaru wagon because its amazing the supplies you need with even one child and the ongoing home improvement projects.

  13. Joseph Sangl says

    I agree with The Saving Freak …

    I drove my old cars (both 1997 model years) into the ground. In fact, I still have both of them. One has 220,000 miles. The other has over 140,000 miles.

    I like my old cars.

    Of course, there are the car part failures that have stranded me alongside the road that I don’t want to remember!

    Drive the car into the ground.

  14. I’m 45-years-old, and between us, my wife and I have owned 5 cars over our adult lives (7 if you count the two our respective parents gave us what we drove for a couple years during/after college) – and 4 of those 5 are still in the driveway right now. Too lazy to figure out getting rid of the ’93 Accord with 265K miles on it that we replaced a couple months ago – we’ve never sold a car before, gave two to charity and had one hauled off to the junkyard.

    As Don says, Click and Clack rightly point out that as long as the frame is solid, it is always cheaper to repair than replace a car. For us, the time to replace isn’t really about cost, but convenience – when the repairs are often enough that it is annoying and inconvenient that the car is in the shop.

    In that regard, you mention 4 repairs done “over the last couple years”. Even given the recommended repairs from your mechanic, that’s no where near my threshold for pain.

  15. I’m running into a similar issue with my car, almost the same age and mileage as yours… it is a 96 Neon with 95k miles. In the last three years I’ve had to fix the a/c ($1k, ouch!), get new tires and shocks ($700), and a new battery due to some electrical issues. I am just waiting for the head gasket to blow, as this is a common issue with Neons, or to replace it with the timing belt as part of regular maintenance.

    Admittedly, I probably should get a new(er) one since I can easily afford it. But I drive so little that I figure even spending $1k per year on miscellaneous repairs is worth it to keep the car, as I can’t imagine ever finding a new (or used) car that would cost me $1k per year. But newer cars are generally safer and offer other benefits (like avoiding the hassle of certain repairs), so maybe that should be enough reason alone? But then again, I do get good mileage… this debate can go on and on. I have my eye on the new Civics, or even a used one, but for $10-20k it is hard to justify on an economical basis.

    I think the moral of the story is: dump the car when the wife makes you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Ted Valentine says

    Considering you could pay cash for about any reasonable car you wanted and replace that cash in a matter of months, this really isn’t a big deal for you. For you this goes beyond financial….the decision is more lifestyle, values, and personal preference.

    If driving a car literally into the ground is point of pride then that can be easily justified financially. If you’re tired of the hassle and want something that doesn’t need work every 6 months, get something newer and move on.

  17. Jonathan,

    If you are really in the market looking for one, buy Japanese like a Toyota or Honda. Nissan works well.

    I may suggest looking into Toyota Corolla. It will give you 33 miles to a gallon. My father drove a Toyota for 17 years and it gave superior gas mileage than any of the American cars will give you.

    Good luck.

  18. I too have always been skeptical of cars with “runs great- new this and new that…” and being listed for sale, until I started looking into selling my 2000 Honda Civic, which too runs great and has new this and new that. It does run great, and honestly the only reason why I want to sell is because I want something more new and shiny. This was a month ago, and I’m over it and going with the Drive the Car to Death method (for now).

  19. 3 words!

    Camry, Camry, Camry

    I am on my 3rd one and will be buying more.

  20. I have seen ads recently for new ford focus for $7999. (tax might bring it to around $9K)

    If this car gives u 4 years with no problems, then ur cost is around $2K or less per year, which is good. (Assuming u sell it after 4 years for about $2K)

    This works out to about $5 a day. If you consider it a car rental, ur getting a great deal.

  21. A 95 Nissan with 93K miles? That’s a baby!

    I’ve got a 96 Nissan Maxima (the year they fixed the window motor issue) with 162K and it’s our most reliable car (other is a 00 Acura TL). In the last 4 years, I’ve only replaced a starter.

    Brakes, CV Boots – that’s all pretty standard stuff. Any car (especially used) you buy is going to have that.

  22. Japanese cars arent’ considered dead until 200k miles! You won’t spend $5,000 for the repairs in 5 years, will you?

  23. hahahahahahahahaha
    First thing I noticed on this post was the picture. I then started reading but my mind kept getting distracted as I pondered, “Is that really his car? Could it be? He wouldn’t have spent the additional money to make it look like that!”

    By the time I got to the bottom, I was relieved to see that you weren’t driving a Pimpomatic car.

  24. A note about the Camry….if you go for a used one, just make sure it’s been well maintained (true for any used car though)…I made the mistake of buying one that hadn’t (I was able to get it for $200 from a friend of friend, so it was sorta worth it), and within a month I had to replace my distributor because of a stalling problem that apparently a lot of older camry’s have (mines a ’95). Now I have a taillight problem…may be just my bad luck, but I think I’m going to go for a Honda next….

    And definitely do the brakes yourself! Just go get the Haynes manual for your car and do it. You will save a ton of money. I replaced my own brakes and I even did the distributor and it saved me a ton!

  25. We learned a hard lesson by trying to go cheap and buy older American made models (Nissan’s quality is probably on par with that of most Chevy or Ford cars, in my opinion.) We end up spending much more on auto repair then owning a newer (2-3 year old) Toyota or Honda models. Remember, the repair itself maybe on chunk of changes, you also have to factor in the opportunity cost of time spent on taking the car to repair shops, finding the right parts, etc. It’s not worth it unless you really like tinkering with cars.

    Frankly, I am quite amused by your situation. You and your wife make well over 200k on salary, you should be able to get a used 2-3 year old Toyota, Honda, Lexus, or Acura for very reasonable price. Those will last you much longer than 93,000 miles.

    I remember you said you have a Buick or Pontiac too? Buick built in 2003 and onward are good, but their previous models are just as problematic.

    Take my word for it. Once you own a reliable machine, you will realize how convenient and easy it is to your life.

  26. Drew Stephens says

    As was mentioned above, it makes sense to get rough estimates of the things that you know need to be fixed (window – $300, brakes – $300, CV joint – $500) and what you could expect to get for the car if you sold it ($500?). If those add up to a significant portion of another car that you’re interested in, say 30-50%, and if you would really enjoy having that other car, then go for it.

    For me, cars are a hobby; I enjoy them in many aspects from working on them to racing them, so it’s easy for me to chalk up a whole lot of the cost to entertainment and recreation.

  27. of course, if you went out and bought a new car and didn’t have any problems with it, you could blog about it =)

  28. I always look at it with 2 questions.

    1. What’s the money situation? Do you spend money fixing the car EVERY month? Am I spending $300 or more, say, every few months?

    2. how do I feel about the car? If you honestly no longer like the car, then you’re just punishing yourself by keeping it. Your happiness (or your wife’s) can sometimes have a dollar value.

  29. I don’t plan on getting a new car until my old one blows up…please blow up soon!

    What am I talking about..I have Honda Accord…those things never break down. It’s pretty much a lifetime commitment

  30. josefismael says

    I agree with natm – I just traded in a 97 sentra with 170k against an 07 mazda 3, even though I knew the sentra could go at least 100k more. Maybe not one of the most frugal decisions (sometimes i swear i can hear it depreciating) but the peace of mind and happiness it brings are worth it to me : )

  31. I’ve got a ’94 Honda Accord going strong with 209k miles on the ticker. Done nothing but standard maintenance. Of course that’s fairly cheap since I do as many of the repairs I can myself. I’m gonna drive it till the wheels fall off. Of course, I’m planning on getting something nicer soon, but I’ll still keep it around for commuting to/from work and driving in the winter (keeping salt off my nice ride).

  32. 5k car? I take it you live in CA wher housing and taxes eat up 110% of your income. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  33. 93,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of mileage. It also says that you don’t drive much unless you purchased it recently and drove 20K a year. Based on these assumptions I’d say keep the car.

    But if you are going for a used car as a replacement I’d suggest you go for the luxury divisions … purely for safety sake. For $8,500 I had to choose between a 2000 Camry versus a 1998 Lexus ES this year and the specifications clearly showed that the Lexus had more active and passive safety features built into it. It was 2 years older and had 20K more miles than the Camry but both were well maintained cars. I went with the Lexus. 9 Months later I am still a happy customer driving a LEXUS!

  34. Ah, sad to say time to dump. I am there too, and so sad, since I love my car. But having to replace two expensive parts in the past six months, and knowing of other issues, well, it’s time. Problem is, the car I want just came out and I am just not ready to spring for a new car. It’s not so much the money (the car is reasonably priced and a new one makes sense for this model), but rather the new factor. I like pre-dinged cars, then, there’s no drama when that first scratch happens. It’s already happened, so you’re cool. Anyway, that’s my hang-up.

    Get yourself something something fun that’s about 5 years old. It’s done its big depreciation by then, and if you pick something with a good track record (hey, Acura Integra, fun car man, get a 2001), you’ll be ok for another five to ten years. Good luck!

  35. A couple points:

    1. I think it depends on the Nissan. If it’s an old Sentra or something, then you may as well trade up to a nicer car. If it’s a Maxima, those are nicer (I have a 96 myself) and you probably won’t do much better for yourself by spending only 5 grand.

    2. As some of the others have touched on — 93,000 miles really isn’t *that* much, and many of the issues you’re having (brake pads, starter, etc.) are routine items that will fail/wear out on any car and need to be replaced. With that in mind, all the items you’ve listed can be fixed pretty easily with a Haynes manual and a few tools. Doing your own auto repair, aside from being a tremendous money saving endeavor, is also rewarding and a useful skill to have.

  36. I second what ARZ said. You guys need to buy a nice slightly used car from a good make with a good reputation and just stop fretting about it. Think of the time you have wasted getting your beater repaired, not knowing if its going to be reliable, the stress and frustration an untimely breakdown can cause, etc. Plus newer cars get better gas mileage, have better safety features, and are just downright more comfortable to ride in. 10K for a new-ish car would be just the ticket.

  37. Graham Lutz, The Young Capitalist says

    I say you buy yourself a 12-15K Honda accord. They last forever! and they’re better looking than that Nissan!

  38. Hey Jonathan, your math is all wrong, and here’s why…

    Your car costs you money every mile that you drive it. It is physically “depreciating” every time you use it.

    And here you are making foolish Mental Accounting errors. Here you are wondering about the cost of these repairs, but those repairs always needed to happen. All of these things you’re talking about are just par for the course.

    Car repairs are INEVITABLE. Just like on-going car expenses (insurance, gas, driver’s license, etc.). The problem here is that you’re annoyed about the one-time expense, but you’ve been driving on credit b/c you haven’t been saving money for the inevitable expense.

    There’s this strange belief that you’re free once you’re done making payments on the car. You’re not! Once you decide to operate a car and lead a car-driven lifestyle, you are forever making monthly payments on that car & lifestyle. Sure you’ll get away with “not paying” for a few months b/c nothing is wrong, but it’s just going to catch up with you when the next part needs repair.

    Bad questions, like the title of your post, just get bad answers.

    Here are the good questions:
    1. What is your actual monthly cost on the car (averaged over the last few years, factor in repairs/maintenance)?
    2. What do you feel comfortable spending every month on the car?

    If #1 “be something else”. This stuff was never going to last in the first place, so why are you annoyed that it’s broken now?

  39. Forget about the boring family car Accords, Camrys and Corrolla’s. Boring!

    You know you really want that used Jeep Wrangler!

  40. Duct tape on your car! Classy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  41. 93k miles on a 1995 Nissan? You hardly drive the thing. My 2001 Nissan Sentra has over 160k miles on it and (cross my fingers) I haven’t had any major problems yet. Just the usual tune-ups and oil changes which I do myself.

    That being said, I wouldn’t buy a new car if I were you. Until you need to replace the engine or a transmission you should keep it. There could be a need for a good pick-up truck though once you become a home owner but I’d buy that in addition to the car you have not and not as a replacement.

  42. I know it isn’t the most financially responsible thing to do, but when I run my car into the ground I buy a NEW car. My reasoning that by that point I’ve been driving a beater for so long that I want to enjoy the comfort of a new car. I’ve been socking away money for it for long enough that it doesn’t hurt, and the warranty is nice peace of mind.

    Here is my criteria for determining when to dump the old one.

    I keep a list of repairs. if the running total over the last 12 mos of repair costs is more than it would have cost me to make car payments its time to buy. Consumables like oil, tires, and so on don’t count in the total.

    I had a ’91 Ranger with 225k on it. The rear axle locked up, and I needed a new rear end. That was the end for me. That would have been a $1500 repair on top of the $2500 I had already dumped into it that year. $325/mo* 12

  43. It’s a risk/reward scenario where you’re trying to “guess” when the risk (or reality) of a big maintainence expense will hit. If you hold it too long, you get burned; to short and you left some money on the table. I’ve bought and sold a lot of used cars. My last one I held on for just a hair too long and got burned. I’d get out of that thing before you’re trying to sell something with mileage in the six digits.

  44. 93,000 miles on a 13 year old car is very low mileage, and i would typically recommend holding on to the car if it runs well. But considering the engine has already been replaced and now you have the CV problems, it sounds like it’s not the best of cars and you might expect to run into other problems before long. And if you expect to get a good car for $5,000, i’d say chuck it!

    That said, selling the Nissan for anything close to Blue Book would be tricky with the CV problem (the assumption, of course, is that you will disclose known issues on the car).

  45. Actually, I usually find that people want to sell cars because they want new cars. & most people’s tipping poing is one repair. A new alternator? My go – time to dump the car!!!! (Are you kidding me?). IT’s what people tell me all the time…

    IT really depends on the car. I had a Toyota and a Saturn that I bought over a decade old with more than 150k miles. They were awesome cars. Not sure if the Saturn ever had a repair in 3 years (was an interim car) and the Toyota we replaced a few parts over the decade I drove it. Those are good makes though.

    I had a Mustang I bought at 30k miles and had to replace everything at around 60k miles. That is probably the norm on most cars – you replace everything at some point and can relax. I have to say it sure as hell beat buying a new car, but never having a budget of more than a few hundred a year for repairs on ancient cars I was really annoyed with it all the same. $1k/year on repairs easy. That’s what a Ford will get you. YEar in and year out.

    I bought a much newer minivan with 30k miles and spent 2k to repair it this last year. STUPID stuff. I had read the reviews and thought it was a good car. I am not too impressed. I’d probably take your Nissan any day. YEah the biggest problem I have had with the van is the windows don’t friggin work. Fixed them twice already. My point being, going new won’t solve all your whoas.

    I’d shop carefully if you do move up.

    For me generally the tipping point is a new engine or transmission or something. Thousands of dollars. Everything else is kind of expected on an older car, and generally MUCh cheaper than upgrading. But if you can afford it, sometimes it is just nice to upgrade.

  46. Duct tape would be too depressing for me–whether I kept the car or not, the duct tape would have to GO.

  47. I was just in the market for a new car myself. Not because my current car doesn’t drive OK, just because I was putting more money into the current car and had to put up with the inconvenience of taking it in.
    Even though a lot of people here are advocating drive it into the ground, I’d also say that your lifestyle should be taken into consideration.

    For my lifestyle, having a reliable car is important and it can’t be too shabby. After all, I want to be thought of as a competent young professional, not a cash strapped student, and co-workers occasionally go out to lunch together. Also, being a young woman stranded on the side of the road in the dark isn’t a pleasant thought either.

    I decided to hold on to my old car for a few more months so I’ll have some more emergency cash (in case the economy takes a dive). In the meantime, I’ll get it an oil change and debate the costs of a long overdue tune-up.

  48. I’m definitely an advocate of running cars into the ground — minor/moderate repairs are to be expected and should be thought of as your car payment. Obviously you want your repair bills to be significantly lower than a car payment would be on a newer vehicle. Also note that with an older car (which is presumably paid off and not worth all that much), you should adjust your insurance appropriately.

    Just set aside an appropriate amount of money monthly to cover the repairs/maintenance, knowing they will happen, but on an unpredictable schedule. Where people get into trouble is not having the funds set aside.

    As far as major repairs, I’ve heard the rule of thumb being once any repair costs 50% of the value of the car, it’s time to ditch it. Such was the fate of my old Toyota Corona (duck tape grey, which happened to be advantageous near the end of its life). If you’re setting money aside for maintenance/moderate repairs, then hopefully you’ve got some cash handy when the car finally dies.

    And buy used (of course). I’ve only bought new once, probably wont again (it was nice, but ultimately it wasn’t *that* nice).

    I’ll actually be looking to switch cars shortly — for various reasons I have a vehicle I don’t like too much, but which made no financial sense to dump over the last few years. It still doesn’t make financial sense, but it’s the right thing to do and I can certainly afford to car swap into something I want (and I’m sure there’s someone out there that wants a low mileage, good condition Acura MDX).


  49. I’m with Razmaspaz, but I think it IS the financially responsible thing to do – I buy new and run it into the ground. Now, if you are going to buy a domestic model or a foreign job that depreciates greatly, used makes sense. But we always buy cars, like the Accord, that really don’t show that much depreciation, and if you negotiate well, you can get a deal that rivals or beats that of a used model.

    You never know what you are getting with a used car.

  50. I’m just curious how much your time is worth. I must be the only one reading this that doesn’t agree. I have yet to meet a mechanic that wasn’t a crook. That’s the first step in buying a used car: get it checked out by a good mechanic. Here in Texas, I’ve heard stories on the news and from 2 friends about buying used cars that were soaked in Katrina, brought to this state and given a new title. I’m at the point that you’d have to pay me to take a used car if I didn’t personally know the original owner.

    My wife’s car is only a 2002 Saturn and doesn’t need many repairs at all, but I’m looking to replace it next year since we’re talking about starting a family and I do not consider it very safe. Similarly, my car is a 2003 and I wouldn’t mind getting it replaced either as it was a sportier model that doesn’t really fit our lifestyle now that we’re married and have a house.

    Financially, I know it’s not the best move, but I view them as objects that need to do a particular job. A lot of people seem to think their cars are status symbols or just transportation from point a to point b. To me, the automobile needs to fill a role, and for whatever reason, that role has changed over the years.

    What I think you really ought to do is run your stock/etf/mutual fund picking analysis against it. Though it’s depreciating, the car is just another asset. You should evaluate the conditions that existed when you bought it, compare those to the current ones, ask yourself if you’d buy it again today, etc. That’s the only way I know when to sell stocks and replace them with others — you have to evaluate how they compare to the other options.

    It’s amusing to me how so many people brag about how many miles they put on. I’m more interested in putting in fewer. Figuring you average 35mph between highway, city, stopped at traffic lights or bank drive-up windows for all driving. At 200k miles, how much of your life have you wasted in your car?

    I say dump your old car, consider yourself as having a better return than average, and move on. This whole topic reminds me of the pissing contest at the office about who’s stock picks had the highest return, or who had the best shot on the 7th hole. I don’t see bragging about how many miles you got out of a car as helping make any decision regarding whether or not the car fits your needs.

  51. A low mileage Japanese four-banger should the way to go in terms of reliability and economy. I sold my ’98 Honda Accord sedan for about $5,000 two years ago with 75K on the dial. You can also save a lot if you can give up your car for city car share or public transportation. You don’t need to worry about gas prices, maintenance, and insurance. Cheers.

  52. Thanks for all the comments! Good points on both sides.

    I know, with all these repairs I figure I just paid for them so why not enjoy the results. I guess either I need to bail now or just stick in for the long haul. The windows are probably the only non-expected repair I suppose.

    To clarify, the stuck window is a rear window that I never use anyways. For some reason the front windows that I use all the time still work fine.

    I’m not very mechanically inclined, but my father-in-law is. Maybe this’ll be a learning experience. So the duct tape should be gone soon ๐Ÿ™‚

    Yeah, another sticking point is the 90,000 miles. For me 3,000 miles takes like 6 months, so I change the oil every 3,000 miles. I used to use public transportation most days of the week, and now I live close to work. This puppy should keep on running a long time.

  53. Hazzard – Yeah I was looking for old Nissans and couldn’t resist the hint that such a clunker was my car ๐Ÿ˜‰

  54. Invest in a decent set of tools and a service manual. Craigslist is a great source for tools and a manual can be found at any auto parts store. You can do quite a bit of auto repair work yourself and save thousands. If you maintain your vehicles properly they will last a very long time.

  55. The problem I have with swapping my second hand car for a newer second hand car is that half of the parts you replace, you only have to replace once. Things like a automatic transmission or clutch, starter or alternator and catalytic converter break down once in the lifetime of your car.

    So you have two options, fix them on your own car or buy an other second hand car, that will have those same things brake down within a few years too.

  56. Your mileage is pretty low. I have a ’95 BMW 318ti (bought new in ’96) and today, have put in almost 160K miles. With proper and scheduled maintenance, I’m expecting it to last >200K miles if not more. Most of the repairs have been wear & tear items with most of occuring this year alone. My original clutch, for instance, was finally replaced at 158K miles earlier this year. I’m now on my second set of battery and have gone through 3 sets of tires. Oil changes (BMW synthetic) at every 10K miles per BMW’s scheduled service interval. Naturally, there is a tradeoff as to when to get rid of a car. To me, as soon as I run into a catastrophic failure that puts the repair value at more than 40% of the car’s value, is when I’d consider replacing it.

  57. Our 1998 Buick LeSabre just hit 160,000 and has given us almost zero trouble except for the usual brakes, battery, tires, etc. My wife drives it most of the time so she is getting uneasy about it breaking down. I want to run it until at least 200,000… she’s not sure. I’m betting we’ll do it and save $$$ for another 2 years and buy something newer then. The struts are worn and it has a few dings but is still a nice car to look at. Drive it into the ground say I!!!

  58. At least you don’t have clear packing tape on your car! (DPO used clear packing tape on my air intake hose….yeah, red flag.)

  59. Wow, a chunk of my post got clipped…

    The gist of it was if you’re operating a car, don’t assume that the cost of the car drops when the payments run out. Instead, pick a monthly number for the “value of operating a car” (say $800) and put that money aside every month.

    Sure you “feel” rich when you’re done paying for the car, but that’s not the end, but the decreased monthly payment should still be rolled into a “special account”, b/c you’re not done with the car. You still need:
    – Future repairs (which are accumulating all the time)
    – Down payment on next car (or full cash)

    Put the money aside now and when the inevitable car repairs come up, you’re armed. You have cash in the bank ear-marked for the car, you can actively choose your route: repair vs. move on.

  60. something else to consider…

    (this is true in New Jersey atleast). whenever you buy an automobile or anything else that requires a title, you cannot avoid paying state sales tax on the purchase. so on a $5000 car, you will probably be paying an additional $250-500 + higher insurance + possibly more for new registration/tags. for those people buying $50k cars every few years, thats a few thousand just in sales tax that they are throwing away. doesnt make much sense…?

    i am in the same situation as you are. make good money but want to use every last dollar i earn to invest. but at the same time, really want a different vehicle even though mine still runs (although its not the most attractive thing and it does have its mechanical issues..) ive been pushing off getting a newer car for years now, and usually i am glad that i keep driving my 100k mile truck.

    i would say… is your vehicle compromising the lifestyle/feeling you want to have? are you where you want to be financially and how much would the purchase set back your financial goals? go from there

  61. sfordinarygirl says

    90K is very low mileage. I’d drive it to the ground. But it also depends on your needs and lifestyle like other people have said. If you’re planning on kids soon, you might want to consider something without so many problems?

    my ’93 camry has 190K miles- the driver side power window is stuck so i have to open the door if i drive and pay toll crossing the bridge. and the key handle broke so i can enter through the passenger side. the toyota logo on the trunk has been stripped. but as long as it still drives smoothly and gets good gas mileage, it’s still a keeper!

  62. Unless you’re just tired of driving your older car, I say fix it and keep it.

    My wife had 1994 Isuzu Rodeo with 125,000 miles that we sold for $2,500 in 1995. She might still have it if it weren’t for needing to haul people around from work. She replaced the alternator, tires, brakes, a window motor, and spark plugs over the life of the vehicle. Way, way cheaper than buying a new car for sure. I don’t think buying another used car for $5K is going to get you anywhere. You’ll likely be right back where you are now in another year or so.

    I also have a 1998 Ford F-150 with 131,000 miles. If you want a reliable vehicle, and especially since you don’t drive much anyway, buy a full-size pick-up. They are generally low maintenance and have multiple uses. I’ve replaced the brakes twice, tires once, a window motor and replaced the coil once. Compared to a $400 per month payment or $25,000 for a new one, I can afford to drive my truck another 10-years. My dad has 200,000 on his Ford F-350 and my father-in-law has more than 300,000 on his F-250.

  63. That is a SWEET ride…LOL

  64. One other thing to add, with respect to when do you get rid of the car: mine is a 96 Maxima with ~132,000 miles. I’ve replaced both the drive axles, the starter, and all the other standard-issue items, and it has all the dings and whatnot you’d expect from a 12 year old car. I’d love to get a new car, but like Jonathan, I don’t drive it much (less than 500 miles/month), so it really isn’t worth it from a monetary standpoint.

    I would, however, be willing to jump in the car and drive across the country right now if I needed to do so, and have no worries about whether the car would make it or not. The day that I feel I’m gambling when I get in the car is the day it gets replaced.

  65. I’ve driven cars into the ground (poor graduate student), and once bought a new car then sold it only 2 years later. If given the same circumstances I’d do both again.

    The key factor was how much I *depended* on each vehicle. In graduate school I could walk to class and only drove for groceries, holidays, and travel. When I bought and sold the new car I was relocating across the country for a job and it was more important to have 100% reliability in that situation than saving a couple thousand dollars per year. (I sold it because I once again was able to walk to work and came out ahead even after eating the new car depreciation–my actual cost per month was about $200 on that car.)

    This whole discussion, with most posts in favor of used cars, downplays the genuine lifestyle benefits of a new car. You can have great peace of mind and interruptions for 3-5 years. You can take a looooooong road trip without concern. When I was in graduate school, for the last 2-3 years of my beater, I’d have to rent a car for vacations.

    The bottom line is that if you can afford it and want it, go for a newer or new car. A new econo car without a major commute can run $3,500-$4,500 per year with insurance and operating costs, whereas basic housing easily costs $10K to $20K in most higher income areas.

  66. Keep the car. My rule is if the maintenance costs regularly exceed about $300/month, then it’s time to start shopping for a spanky new-to-you 8 year old car.

    Oh – and 93K miles? That’s a young stud.

  67. Talk about talking your money to the grave!!!

  68. Gates VP, you made an important point that cars cost money even if you already paid it off. However, aren’t it’s true that as a living breathing human being, you cost money from the moment you were born? The most economical way in this thinking is to end ones life as soon as possible in order to realize biggest savings. Kind of oxymoron isn’t it?

    My point is, it’s not a mental accounting error. In fact, you can argue mental accounting is not an error at all. “Error” indicates there’s a right from wrong. But in the social economics, there’s really no right and wrong when you can produce strong arguments from almost any point of view, and no one can convince anyone else except by forcing them (well, that’s WRONG isn’t it?)

    Nonetheless, I have an opinion. I think those hidden cost should be left along and consider them as a completely different category of spending.

  69. It’s great that you are thinking about this early.

    I have had several cars and get tired of putting more and more money into them for maintenance. The last time I bought a car (about a year ago), my previous car needed about $1100 in repairs and that was the last in a long line of repairs needed. I opted to just buy another car.

  70. good engine = keep it
    i’ve got my 1983 honda!
    i paid $900 for a new axle
    it’s not like axles fall off all the time, this one just got old.
    but the engine is excellent.

    i also ride a bicycle. ha ha and u say ur frugal

  71. marius pudzianowski says

    If you think 93K miles is “getting old”, you DESERVE to sell that car and buy something new and waste your money!

    You are clearly mentally defective; I suppose you will go ahead and do it, because you can’t do ANYTHING in your life without blogging it! (you’re some kind of attention freak.)

  72. I spent hours analyzing whether to fix my old car (99 Nissan Maxima), get a good used car, or lease a new vehicle. I ended up getting a new BMW 328xi and all my headaches are gone. I don’t need to think about maintenance or fixing anything. You also get the benefit of all the new safety innovations made over the last few years. I say stop racking your brain on how to squeeze every penny from a vehicle (which you need to make a living) and enjoy the car you plan to drive.

  73. 200k a year and you drive this piece of shit?

  74. 5 words…

    camry, camry, camry, camry, camry.

    Brought to you by your neighborhood Toyota Dealership.

    100K miles on nissans are not even close to 100K miles on a camry.

  75. 150K camry = Brand new Dodge Neon


  76. 300K Camry = Brand new Ford Festiva

  77. They don’t even make Festiva’s anymore. I didn’t realize the Camry was that bad. I’ve never owned one, but I know several people who don’t like them and have promised to never buy another one.

  78. Brian, i think u misunderstood me. I meant to say CAMRY’s are the best cars ever made!!!

    I meant to say that a camry with 300,000 miles will drive as good and be as reliable as a Ford Festiva with zero miles. Thats what i meant really.

  79. ’83 Datsun/Nissan Maxima. Disc brakes all around, Powered Steering, Powered Mirror, 120HP, rear wheel drive. not a bad car ๐Ÿ˜‰

  80. Jerad Gardner says

    I have a 95 Ford Taurus. It belonged to my wife’s family for most of it’s life, but when they were ready to sell it, someone ran into it while it was parked and caused some body damage. Car still ran fine, but the insurance payed about $2000, so her family gave me the car. I have had it for 5 years, and it has 180,000 miles. I have made some repairs, but the engine is going strong. No one could possibly pay me what this car is worth to me if I tried to sell it. Once a car’s bluebook gets around $2000, it seems to even out and stay around there for a long time. My thought is the same as most of the others: I’ll drive it until something expensive goes out, and then I’ll sell it to a mechanic for $100 or something. If the tranny goes, that will be the end. Otherwise, a new radiator here, new alternator there…better than a car payment!

  81. Drive into ground!!

    I have a ’97 Honda Civic that is starting to show it’s age but it runs w/o problems!! Just passed 100k and the cost of upkeep is very low.

    Japanese cars run forever so unless you have some big bills (bigger than the cost of a replacement), drive it into the ground.

    Good luck.

  82. I bought an 85 Lincoln Town Car signature series in 1995, The car was like new and only had 36,000 miles on it. Around 95,000 miles, antifreeze got in with the oil and ruined the engine bearings. I replaced the head gaskets and it didn’t solve the problem. I changed the oil and used the “engine Honey”. Motor didn’t sound too bad. I traded it in on a 95 town car, Nothing was finallized, was testing out the car for a few days. The 95 seemed to have more wrong than my older 85, so I told them no deal. Fords 4.6 liter engine shouldn’t use oil. I must have went through 3 quarts during those 3 days. I drove it about 2000 miles. I got my old 85 back and it is a far more comfortable car and has more assesories, at least the a/c still works great. The car had good book value yet in 1999, so I spent the 2600 for a rebuilt engine including labor. I didn’t expect that car to run as good. It was like driving a new car. I still have it now with 71,000 miles on the power train , Transmission was rebuilt around 98,000 miles. The body must have been made pretty good. I never really touched up the scratches like I should have. It is showing a little surface rust around the side mouldings. The car odometer shows 171,000 miles. The engine and transmission are still strong and the engine runs smooth without any noises. I think I could use a new set of valve covers, but it’s not that bad. Here is the question, It needs new springs. A power steering gear, it leaks but it will end up costing me nothing since it has a lifetime warranty when I replaced it several years ago. so, a little touch up on the body, valve covers, transmission fluid change, rear springs, shocks, front end alignment. would you spend $500.00 dollars on this car? I sure can’t find many 10 year old cars with a body in as good of shape as mine. I have done so much to this car that I practically do not need any kind of manual anymore. The only real problem is that this big car has a 5.0 liter v8, it is very easy to work on, but it sure does love gas. 1985, junk it or fix it ? yes, I know it would make over 200,000 no problem. This car may outlast my 99 buick century that only has 59,000 miles on it. If you were me, would you junk the lincoln or fix it ?

  83. I’d spend the $500 and fix it. If you purchase a new vehicle it’s going to take five or six years to earn back the expense of the new vehicle based on the gasoline savings alone.

    I have a 1998 Ford F-150 with 130,000 miles and I drive it every day. A new car with 30 + mpg capability will cost me in the $20,000-$22,000 range at least and for that kind of money, I can fix most of the little things on my truck and be way ahead of the game in the long run.

  84. I had to get rid of my 95 Ford Mustang (141,000 miles) today. I loved that car and my Mach 460 sound system. I shed a tear for it, but it needed at least $3000 in repairs. If the repairs are more than the Blue Book Value, time to say goodbye.

  85. I too am deliberating about whether to trade up to a new car or keep driving my good ol’ reliable but my situation is slightly different than those in the other posts on this page:

    My current car is a 2005 Acura TL with Navigation – 164,000 miles which I am original owner of. I have already replaced the CV boots, power steering pump, starter, navigation system itself, timing belt, and much to my surprise, the transmission blew out on my unexpectedly at only 75,000 miles which normally would have angered me but I did have the extended Acura care warranty – so I got a free new transmission installed by an Acura dealer at 75K miles – so my current transmission has under 90K miles on it. I have maintained it impeccably throughout my ownership. I fix things before they leave me stranded at the first sign of trouble. It has never been in a major wreck but has had a few parking lot fender benders and has 2-3 very minor body issues that are so small I never bothered to fix them.

    At the moment, the car runs beautifully (literally as good as it did in its first mile) and the tires have a good amount of life left in them too. Part of me can’t justify taking on a car payment to replace a good reliable car just cause it’s old. However, just to prepare for the inevitable I have started to research new cars to see what I would replace it with when the time comes. I’ve settled on either a 2016 Maxima or I may switch to a larger SUV size car and get a Murano. I have been offered close to $5,000 as trade in value for my existing TL.

    I am a real estate agent so having a reliable car that doesn’t break down when I’m taking clients out to look at homes is ultra important so once this car needs to be in the shop frequently leaving me stranded, I will need to replace it even if the cost of repairs is more economical than the new car payment.

    I have concerns that if I roll the dice and keep this car longer – assuming it will remain as reliable as it has been, I could regret it if a major engine or transmission repair comes up. Based on mileage, if this transmission has the same life as the first, I’m already on borrowed time with it. Also, it is almost time for the 2nd recommended timing belt service which is expensive and it seems like ages since I’ve done the breaks but they keep saying I don’t need them yet when I have them checked which seems amazing to me. If a major transmission or engine problem were to arise that had a cost of over $1,000 max I would definitely decide to get rid of it and get that new car then. The problem is, if I wait until that happens, my 5K trade in value goes away and I’ll be lucky to not have to pay money to have someone haul the scrap metal off to a junk yard. Also, I suspect I will get a slightly better deal on my new car by timing it perfectly – buying at the end of the fiscal year and perhaps getting a left over 2015 model, etc. whereas if I wait until I am truly carless I will need to buy at whatever timing fate dictates and won’t have so much time to shop around. So, the way I look at it is if it dies 6 months from now, it actually cost me $833/month to keep it due to the 5K lost trade in value. But, if it surprises me and keeps working reliably for several more years it will be more beneficial to keep it. Without being clairvoyant to know what the future holds, I’m really not sure what to do so I’m asking those on this message board for their opinions – what would you do? Take the 5K and run now introducing a new car payment or roll the dice and drive this til it becomes worthless knowing that 12 months is the breakeven point (if it lasts 12 more months and then dies I will have lost the same in lost resale value as the new car payment would have been for the same 12 month period but I do end up with a 1 year newer new car – extending my timeframe til I’m in the same boat 10-15 years from now). I’m curious what others would do.

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