By on June 1, 2015

Junked ford Focus Derby Car

About a third of the questions I get from readers center around one issue: euthanasia in the car world, or what I like to call “automotive decrapitation”.

In other words, when is it the right time to recycle an old car and transform it into a cheap Chinese washer and dryer?

The logical answer I give these folks is shockingly simple. You should get rid of a car when it’s worth more dead than alive.

When a car costs more to repair than replace with another one just like it in better condition, it’s time to put it on Craigslist and pray for a real customer – one that hopefully isn’t some hideous combination of scam and spam.

Once I tell a non-enthusiast this, the conversation too often changes direction and they usually blurt out something along the lines of, “Oh! Well…let me tell you about this problem that my mechanic can’t figure out,” as if I have some paranormal E.T.-like power to figure out which of the 10,000+ parts of a given car are going wonky at a given moment. After a few minutes of whistling old Bruce Springsteen tunes inside my head, I start to feel like Tony Soprano when one of his drugged up underlings starts spouting off on how he should run his business.

“Look. I do this for a living and let me tell you, your car is not special. Really. Toyota produced over 400,000 of them that year and they were all boring as hell. Go get a Miata and live a little bit!”

Of course, I only say this to the people who can withstand a Jersey verbal barrage without going psycho, which in Georgia means absolutely nobody at all. So my response is usually a tame version of this.

“Oh. Um… well…. let me ask you, why do you want to keep the son-of-a-bitch?”

Weddings. Family life. The trouble-free miles of times past. Nobody really mentions those things. Most folks don’t want to keep a car because they loved it not too long ago.

Instead it’s usually because they’re either too financially strapped, too cheap to ‘invest’ in the maintenance the car needs, or too bored with their present life not to turn a simple decision about a crappy car into a rolling rendition of Hamlet.

The car buying public is not logical. If they were, you wouldn’t see the common citizen finance over $30,000 on a new car that makes the daily commute only 6 percent less miserable than the old car. You also wouldn’t see a MINI with an automatic.

So let me offer the five best answers to the question, “When is it the right time to get rid of your car?”

  1. When you can no longer refer to it as a “shitbox” in a loving manner.
  2. When you decide to become an owner that deserves the last name Kevorkian.
  3. When you visit the repair shop so often that you start up old conversations with the owner right where they left off.
  4. When any interest in your car immediately conjures up the words, “Please! God! Thank you!”;
    and finally,
  5. When you have enough resources to pay cash, and some foolish entity is willing to heavily subsidize your purchase with cash back, rebates, incentives, tax credits, and 0% financing. Then you tell a friend or family member about the car, and they sell you their old one at a steal of a price.

Feel free to share any advice, especially bad pearls of wisdom you have come across in your travels. In my experiences, most old beaters deserve better than their owners, but some broken down claptraps truly need to have their old Kia recycled into a higher quality Kenmore. Feel free to share those as well.

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135 Comments on “The Deeper Dive: When Is It Time To Junk Your Car?...”


  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’ve only owned one car to the end of its life.

    My bright blue 1990 Pontiac Sunbird LE coupe was bought new in 1990 for my sister’s 16th birthday. She drove it until 1995 when she decided to get a new ’96 Honda Civic.

    At the time I had a 1986 Nissan Sentra as my daily driver while the Land Ark was under cover. The Sentra was in good shape other than the mysterious stalling it was prone to. So we did the ole switcharoo. She traded my Sentra in on her Civic and I got the Sunbird.

    I drove it through the rest of high school and nearly to the end of college when it blew a headgasket. I had a ton of adventures in it and I doted over it constantly, keeping it clean and … modifying it. I got most of my terrible ideas out of the way with that car. But I still loved it.

    when the hg blew I had it towed 55 miles back from school to my folks’ house. We found someone in town to replace the motor on the cheap. And of course as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. It never really ran right, very “lumpy” as Mike from Wheeler Dealers would describe. I didn’t have the time to work on it and I had gotten another car to replace it in the meantime.

    My folks drove it around as a 3rd car for a few years until that motor blew. That’s when the tough decision needed to be made. We hoped to find someone to give it to but no one even wanted it for free. I thought about turning it into a race car. But I had no money nor the ability to do that. So it was decided that it had had a good run and it was time to put it out of its misery. It was taken away to the local pick and pull, the same place I had found many of its parts while I was “fixing it up.”

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The time to part ways is different for different people. Like Steve, I usually tell people that when the repairs exceed the value, and their ready to part with it, it’s time to move on.

    Most people become bored with or ashamed of their cars sooner than that, so they can usually figure it out on their own.

    For me, I usually don’t know when to quit. I’ve put engines and transmissions in cars that should have gone to the scrapped, totally neglecting the value of my time, just because I could get a replacement engine or trans for cheap.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought a ’77 Corolla in ’85 for $450 (~$900) in 2015 dollars. Every year, for the next 8 years, and 90,000 miles that I drove that thing, I put about more than what I had paid for into it in big repairs. But my total car costs, including gasoline and parking tickets (but not tune-ups, because I did those myself) came to 20 cents/mile in 2015 dollars. In other words, bargain transportation. And it only stranded me once. Close to home.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Beater life. You can definitely keep old cars running cheaply, but any given repair could be it’s last if the driver loses his will to keep it rolling.

        • 0 avatar

          There you go. I’ve given up on cosmetics for my 300k car, but the suspension is perfect. Its a BMW beater, with a cash value of $3000, maybe…so unless the engine pukes, it runs forever. DIY and reasonably priced aftermarket parts…and an obsessed owner.

  • avatar
    colin42

    Steve. Welcome back to TTAC

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    My last 92-93 Accord helped me see the light.

    I really never should have bought it. I had a perfectly good 99 Maxima with a new manual transmission and mods to get it just how I like it. On top of that, I was living in NYC with alternate side street parking AND I DIDN’T EVEN DRIVE TO WORK. The Accord was an NYC car (strike 1) with mods (strike 2) and problems (strikes 3-6- burned oil, bent wheels, a few other problems that screamed RUN). But it was a clean shell and I had big plans.

    I put a lot of blood, sweat and money into that car. I swapped in an F22B DOHC engine, did a 5 lug swap, put in a decent stereo with a 15″ sub, and kept up with maintenance. But the lowered, less than great suspension on NYC roads = banged engine pans, resulting in 2 or 3 engine swaps and AAA calls. Living in the ghetto = my stereo was stolen. Crap suspension with 5 lug swap = the 8th gen Civic Si wheels I got rubbed constantly, prompting me to get rid of them. Final straw was the 3rd engine developing a nice knock on my way to get my wife from LGA, which became a full on roar once I got off the BQE and stopped at a light. The car stalled. I got it started again, parked it on a side street and junked it a few days later. New stereo, 5 lug swap, everything all to the junkyard. I was sick of even looking at the car.

    It all worked out great. That $300 or so in insurance and the daily stress of scrambling to find parking for a car I barely drove did a lot. It was basically like a raise. Wifey got a raise too, and we packed our stuff and moved out of Crown Heights up into what we thought was a great apartment on the Upper East Side. It was at that apartment I got my first motorcycle. But that’s another story for another time.

    There is def a selection of enthusiasts who almost take pride in owning a PITA. “It has “character””. No way. My Z was great. Started up every morning and only needed a clutch bleed. My Civic now is every bit as fun as my best Accord while being so much easier to live with. Having a reliable, dependable car is criminally underrated in the auto enthusiast world.

    • 0 avatar

      that’s quite a story!

    • 0 avatar
      Synchromesh

      So lets get this straight: you bought a modified beater of a car, you modified it further under a tree shade by yourself, you put used unchecked components, you drove it lowered on horrible roads and then you are surprised than it was falling apart constantly? Shocker indeed.

      But this the exact reason why I never touched any modded Hondas. Both of mine were bone stock when purchased (’93 Accord and ’00 Integra GS-R) and each served very well for 6+ years.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Mentioning the cesspool that is Craigslist, my #1 defense against spammers on there is taking a picture of my phone number and putting that up with the car pictures. That way only real humans reading your ad will get your number.

    Programming a bot to sift through thousands of ads a day to harvest phone numbers is easy, but they’re not going to pay a real human being to do so.

    So far they haven’t resorted to using OCR software.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      For vehicle sales on Craigslist, I always have mentioned that no offshore sales unless an “international money order” in US dollars is received and held for 30 days. International money order is an instrument that is in fact available world wide.

      Asking for the international money order typically eliminates the scammer sending cashiers checks schemes from the mix.

      • 0 avatar
        Vojta Dobeš

        econobiker: Not that I would ever buy a car sight unseen on Craigslist, but I did a few time on discussion boards (Moparts.com, mostly). And I would never, ever touch anything like money order or check. Europeans don’t use checks, we use wire transfers, because that’s the way it’s done in 21st century. That, or PayPal.

    • 0 avatar
      Verbal

      I have bought and sold cars on craigslist and have never encountered any scammers, spammers, bots, trolls, predators, Nigerians, space aliens or Elvis impersonators. Am I doing something wrong?

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        Apparently! You may well be the only person alive who can say that!

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          Nope, I’ve had the same experience. CL has a phone number hiding feature so it doesn’t show where the bots can easily get it.

          I did get some texts from some lowballers, but that was the only undesired communications I got.

          • 0 avatar
            izzy

            I put down something like: lowballer, you know who you are, don’t even bother. Still, I get e-mail from them asking what is the lowest price I can sell it for.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        Apparently! You may well be the only person alive who can say that!

        Do you sell as a dealer or “by owner”? Do you post your phone number publicly?

        • 0 avatar
          Verbal

          Sold “by owner” and listed my phone number in the ad in the body of the text.

          Whenever I scan craigslist I flag those ads that are obviously generated by spambots as a public service. :)

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        I got 2 or 3 instaspammers when I put my smart car on CL, but the true scammers apparently couldn’t be bothered.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      That’s one of the lesser known functions Wolfram Alpha is for; it’ll generate a CAPTCHA image for any text string preceded by the word “captcha.”

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      When selling a vehicle on Craigslist I always include “Cash or cashiers check from local bank. No exporting or seller financing available.”

      It seems to weed out the scammers and most deadbeats.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    For me it was a simple decision: drivetrain failure in a car that was otherwise worth scrap value and no more.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I was having this very conversation with my neighbor yesterday. He has a 19 yr old kid, who is a great kid, who goes to the local community college and juniors daily driver is starting to show its age. Two weeks ago they spent about a grand replacing the radiator and various components. The vehicle in question….03′ VW Jetta with 198k in the odo and the original automatic trans.
    yesterday the passenger door had blac plastic where the window goes as the components that hold the window up disintegrated and the window is for now hopelessly in the door. The dad seems to think that continuing to repairing this pile is the correct trajectory. I did not want to argue with him, but did point out that junior may be better off with a 3k lesabre with 150k than the current Jetta with 200k. Neither of them are particularly mechanically inclined and they use various local shops here in town to keep the car on the road.

    We have had various threads here on beater ownership. I am currently driving what I consider a beater, mainly because most of my cars that I have purchased in the last 15 years or so all cost greater than 20k. I find the sub 10k accord that I am cruising right now to be quite liberating, but am absolutely out on the prospect of driving a car that is literally dying a slow death while I am behind the wheel. That is for my 19 year old….

    • 0 avatar
      55_wrench

      87,
      Please do not mention a Lesabre as a proper substitute, unless you can find a late 90’s version. I had the misfortune to buy a 2001.. Speaking from experience here, I guarantee father and son will be replacing window regulators on that car too. I did 7 in three years, one of the main reasons I took a huge hit in cost of ownership just to get rid of the wretched thing. The 3.8 pushrod V-6 was the only good thing about the car, the rest was utter trash.

    • 0 avatar

      Now, the Mk.3 Volkswagens were pretty bad, but those Mk.4s (and pretty much everything VW Group made from 1999 to 2006, and maybe through 2008 for Audi) are what put them on the map for having terrible reliability. Any car from that era is essentially disposable.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        I agree Kyree. But, I find it impressive that they have been able to keep their sled going as long as they have with up till now very modest repair issues. They paid around 5k for it five years and 60k ago and it has made its way down through the ranks of their children. As far as 5 grand cars go, this one has been relatively decent for them to own. I am very much in the camp though, that it is time for it this ride to become a parts car at the pick n pull.

    • 0 avatar
      matador

      A LeSabre is always a good choice… as long as it’s a 1992-1999. I own a 1995 with 225k miles. I had a newer transmission put in last year (Cost more than I paid for the car), and I drive her every few days.

      If your car has a soul to you, don’t sell it. My Buick got me through some rough times in my life- selling her would be removing a part of me. I’ll keep that car as long as it’s not severely crashed, rusted (Unlikely out here), stolen, or burned. I wouldn’t be surprised if that car is still with me in 30 years. Sure- I’ll spend more than it would cost to buy something much “better”, but to me, there is nothing better. If that’s true for you, keep the car.

      If a car becomes “just a machine” to you, then it’s time to sell. I figure it’s time to sell when you have no feelings at all towards a car.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    End of life calculations are always tricky, because it involves an estimate of how long the vehicle you have is going to last. When owning a car, you can trade maintenance and repairs for depreciation, and vice versa. How much the repair costs relative to the cost of the car isn’t important, it’s how much life you think you’ll have once the car is repaired. If you have a car that is worth $2000 but needs a $500 repair every three months, you’re driving a beater for no good reason. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I had a $2500 car that needed brakes, struts, a timing belt, and a motor mount pretty much all at the same time. But, it only had 100,000 miles on it, was in good shape, and everything worked. By the standard of the repairs being the car’s value, this one was a candidate for the junkyard, but realistically, once all that stuff was done, the car would probably go another 80,000 – 100,000 miles with fairly minor repairs.

    I finally got out of that car when it was 12 years old, when I realized that I was only saving about $500 per year versus a new similar car. If you’re looking at modestly priced cars, that’s the difference per year in buying a new one and keeping it 10 years and buying an older car and having to repair it, especially if you have to pay retail prices for those repairs.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      If you are mechanically competent and have the location to work on the vehicle then it also depends on what type of aftermarket or owners forums are available and the identification of typical problems with easy/cheaper fixes or work arounds.

      ie: 1st gen Dodge Neons suffered from shifter cables (both auto and mtx) mount points wearing out. New cables were $100+ each x 2 required= $200 to fix. Then someone developed bushings for the old cables @ $20 plus the time to fix the pair of cables. Perfectally available if you did your own repairs but a regular mechanics shop would freak out and not want to do a fix at all.

    • 0 avatar

      One thing I have observed is that a lot of people get rid of cars just for routine maintenance needs. I had a friend whose tires were so bald, you couldn’t see a single piece of tread on them. With all the rain we’ve had lately, she literally couldn’t drive it. And new tires were going to be at least $400. So what did she do? She took her car, which was still being paid on, and traded it in. Now her payment has gone up about $80 a month relative to the old one because of the negative equity she carried over. Was it smart? No. Is it going to cost her a lot more money in the long run? Yes. But she did what she had to do, because her finances are tight and she could afford a somewhat higher car payment, but she could not afford her existing car payment *and* $400 for tires in a single month.

      Thing is, she told me all of this after the fact and had I known she was going to do that, I would have paid for the tires as a gift.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Im amazed that she can afford a car payment, but not a $400 one time expense.

        • 0 avatar

          $25,000 x 8% (NY sales tax) is $2,000.00. That is the bare minimum money you’d be sending into space for a typical transaction.

          I keep that in mind when something needs fixing…even if you accept eating depreciation, that new car will cost quite a bit out of pocket in wasted money.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        This kind of sums up the state of all too many Americans’ finances these days. No planning, no emergency fund, but you just have to have that new car with a 96 month payment so you can afford the monthly bill! I too have acquaintances that let a bunch of small issues pile up with their older but serviceable cars to the point that the repair bill after years of neglect is indeed hard to stomach. Solution? New car, new payments.

        • 0 avatar
          izzy

          Tires and shoes: things that are worth spending extra money for. In other words, don’t just get the cheapest stuff.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            Tires and shoes: Two things that are worth buying used. You would be amazed on the depreciation that a new pair of shoes or boots takes.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Now if she would have just budgeted for car related expenses that are absolutely known to occur like new tires then she would have been fine. Half of that increase in the monthly payment for just a few months and she would have had the money on hand for new tires. Also there are places around here that do used tires and they have dropped in price significantly there are quite a few that advertise $17.0$20 installed. Yes that is for a single tire that is not great and their nice sets of 4 will often go for under $200 out the door all in.

        • 0 avatar
          matador

          I’ve bought used sets before. They don’t last as long as good new tires, but they do fine. I’ve had a couple of sets of used Michelins that lasted as long as a set of cheap new tires, and cost less….

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            If you shop and know whats what you can get great deals on used tires. If you don’t know whats up you can get ripped off.

            If you want winter tires used is often a good deal as you’ll find people that used them for a year and then got rid of the vehicle they bought them for.

            Craigslist can yield some killer deals when some takes the factory tires and wheels or just the wheels off their new or new to them car. I got a set of winter tires that had 10/32″ of their original 11/32″ for $200 on wheels for my daughter’s car. A new set of that tire would be $500. I need to put the wheels on Craigslist and see if I can get $100 or at least $50 of that back.

            The most recent deal I got was a set of the 2005 Mustang Bullitt wheels with center caps for $100. Another great deal I got was some Fusion 16″ wheels to put the winter tires on for my wife’s car. Including the center caps and the stock lug nuts I payed $50.

          • 0 avatar
            sco

            just faced this decision on my 98 Civic with 273,000 miles on it. Car was my daily driver then went through three teenaged drivers,the last of whom needs it for three more months before college. Leaks oil but more critically the tires were shot. $375 new, maybe $200 for a set of 4 used tires + $15 per tire for mounting. Bought a set of used tires mounted and balanced on rims for $175 on craigslist.

      • 0 avatar
        baggins

        your friend really needs to evaluate her spending patterns and figure out a way to get a a couple of K in the bank.

        no restaurants, no cell phone, no new clothes, no 4 dollar starbucks

        I assume she is still spending on those things, if not then I am more sympathetic.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    A big part of the question for many people in northern climates begins and ends with rust. Once the tinworm takes hold in a structural area, it’s over. My brother’s friend in Central PA just failed an inspection on a 1996 4Runner Limited like mine for a rusty rear trailing arm mount. Truck was otherwise in spectacular shape, the body itself was remarkably free from rust, the rest of the frame wasn’t too bad either (4Runner frames are fully boxed, unlike the Dana Corp Tacoma C-channel frames of recall infamy). Thankfully the frame on my 96′ is clean enough to eat off of (assuming you like Fluid Film on your food). I handed my 1998 Mazda MPV 4wd back to my parents when the front jacking points of the unibody started to get ventilated, and the front and rear fenders were starting to go. Along with that brake lines, gas tank, sway bar link mounts, corroded calipers and rotors, rear A/C line. In fact I’d say 75% of that poor old girl’s problems were directly related to our incredibly salted roads (hilly Ithaca is just south of a large salt mine, and our municipality spares no expense on the stuff). They keep it around as their boat and farm implement hauler, it’s a total monster in the snow on its dedicated snow tires.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      What can Krown do for you?

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Do you have any experience with it? I’m thinking about getting our cars rust proofed, but there are no Krown facilities around here. I guess I could cross the border to Windsor. Is Ziebart any good?

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          My 4Runner had a Ziebart treatment when it was new, complete with the holes drilled in rockers to coat the insides. It’s held up well, most of the frame still has the original coating. I’ve since supplemented it with a yearly application of Fluid Film (applied myself, a messy process but worth it). It all boils down to a diligent and thorough application. If done well then yes I think aftermarket undercoating is very effective. But I’d stay away from rubberized undercoating, it just traps pockets of moisture and makes things worse IMO. Stick with oil/wax based options.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            My only issue is that I don’t seem to keep my cars long enough to make it worthwhile. Although, I think I’ll keep my C-Max for awhile. I can’t see having the MkT for more than another 3-4 years. That isn’t because I don’t like it. It has more to do with the next Navigator coming out and me purchasing the current updated one that is based on dinosaur bones. Used, at a discount of course.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Looking in my crystal ball, I see your MKT sticking around more than a few years.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I had two of my cars done last year and will have it done again in the fall. The Pontiac rear wheel wells liked to rust, I suspect because of the two winters it spent in Buffalo, but not this year.

        • 0 avatar
          mikey

          I have tried them all in my 45 years of vehicle ownership. Everything from used motor oil,and a dusty road, to crawling around with a paint brush, and axle grease. I have had mixed results.

          Properly …key word..”properly” applied Krown is by far the best product, I have ever found.

    • 0 avatar

      We get a lot of those cars here in Oklahoma, where we don’t have inspections. I had a friend go up to Pennsylvania to buy a Ranger that wouldn’t pass inspection due to rust—but which was otherwise fine—from his sister.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Well in this particular truck’s case, the trailing arm mount was eaten away enough at the weld for a hairline crack to appear, that is, the mount was separating away from the frame. This would be pretty ruinous if it failed while at speed. Last I heard, the guy was going to try to get it welded up. It’d be a damn shame to junk, it’s a 2 tone Limited like mine with the desirable rear locking differential option.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    My opinion is probably highly skewed since I have the ability to bulletproof most cars for known common issues, and can work on my own stuff. Also, I own a Subaru 360. Also, I maintain a fleet.

    Your opinion might also be skewed because you’re a dealer with access to $400 LS400’s with non-ripped up interior.

    So I have a problem with your wisdom here.
    “When a car costs more to repair than replace with another one just like it in better condition, it’s time”

    This assumes that the next car is truly in better condition, which can be a big unknown. For example: Car A (with a 20k mile transmission) has a coil go out, owner freaks out and swaps to car B, which blows it’s trans a few months later. There is value to something you’re intimately familiar with, and can rely on without worry. My point is further reinforced by what typically happens when someone asks you this question. They probably just got done dropping another $700 on some repair. Their car probably has fresh tires, shiny brake calipers, and most of the engine sensors have been replaced. That car might live another 40k miles from this repair to the next one.

    I would junk a car for the following, this is assuming the car is clearly at the end of it’s service life:
    -Irreparable corrosion which compromises safety.
    -The delta between exciting/interesting and crappiness swings to the latter.
    -It smells.
    -Parts no longer available.
    -Repeat component failure which costs a lot of money/time to repair.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Can you bulletproof the Freestyle’s CVT?

      • 0 avatar
        Crabspirits

        Funny that I was about to mention that very thing.

        Nope. I would probably look for a wrecked donor (accident victim gives higher probability that trans was good) on Car-Part for another trans if it went out. But I wouldn’t do it a second time.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I think you’ve said it before; people love their Freestyles enough to swap a CVT once, and only once. I tend to agree based on the situation. If it fails a second time, it’s time to buy a severely depreciated Flex, MkT, or Taurus X.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          F-that. As Lord Humongous once said, “Just walk away.”

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I guess you are right. There are too many Taurus Xs and Flexes out there with the 6F transmission and Duratec 35 for anyone to be messing around with the CVT and 3.0.

            I keep forgetting that the Flex has been around for seven years now.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s true for a car you’ve had for a long time or since new, or one on which you’ve done a lot of work. But if it’s something you bought maybe one or two years ago and this is the first disaster it has had, you really don’t know what kind of condition it’s in and the gamble to swap it might be worthwhile.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Personally, I’m getting to the point in my life where I’m not all that excited about doing any serious mechanical work to an automobile any longer. It doesn’t help that so much needs to be done from underneath the car, and I have had a lifetime supply of trying to work on a car that is six inches in front of my schnoz because that’s all the higher I can get it off of the ground.

      I have a typical suburban garage, two 8 x 18 spaces plus a little room for the lawnmower and a couple of bikes. My tools are in the basement because there isn’t room for them in the garage. It’s a pretty inconvenient setup, I can’t even open the doors all the way.

      Paying retail prices using good parts makes getting your car fixed more expensive, and leaves you less incentive to drive a teenaged car. I kept my last two cars 10 and 12 years, 10 years was good, 12 was about one year too many.

  • avatar
    vent-L-8

    I had a 1988 SAAB 900 turbo convertible. I loved that car … a lot. The odometer quit around 216,xxx miles and I drove it for 3 years after that (just changed the oil every 6 months on principle). When the engine finally blew I had it towed home and considered putting a new one in, however; there was so much rot under the car that when both doors were open at the same time you had trouble closing them.

    The local junkyard was going to charge me $500 to come take it away as there isn’t all that much metal and even less demand for SAAB parts in central Michigan.

    I ended up listing it for sale on electronic bay with no reserve and a completely accurate description. Amazingly people got in a bidding war and someone bought it for $1,000 then came to pick it up. I still couldn’t be there when he picked it up.

  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    for me, and generally speaking, when I spend more on a car in a year than a a year’s worth of payments for brand-new equivalent (or better) of the same car, the old car goes.

    any car can be kept running forever, and I’ve had at least two that I’ve rebuilt from almost scratch, including a Jeep CJ that I literally started from a bare frame that I dragged into my garage. This is not the ‘Point’.

    the Point is that when I get in a car and turn the key, it is expected to operate in a reasonable fashion. When my wife and daughter get in a car, it is expected to operate in near-flawless fashion. YES, I can fix almost anything, but there is a hard monetary value to my time at work that FAR EXCEEDS the value of my time wrenching, and there is a sentimental value to my time with my family that FAR EXCEEDS the value any other activities might have for my time. That is the Point.

    I assume everyone has their own Point.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      What if the byproduct of postponed time wrenching is time with family?

      Lol, memories.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I too have used the repairs exceed payments calculation. Since I mostly buy used vehicles and put lots of cash down my payments are pretty low, thus my repair tolerance is equally low. Its more of a confidence thing… when any time the car makes an odd noise or something breaks yet again (power windows on VeeDubs for example) you find yourself wondering why bother fixing this silly thing, then it is clearly time to move on.

      Another factor is when the time comes that the vehicle values falls below a certain level as a trade in it basically becomes worthless. For me that number is around $3-5K. I figure if I can buy a similar car with just a swipe of a credit card then I squeezed all the value out. Of course there are different values for daily drivers vs weekend vehicles. There are only two vehicles that I’ve owned to that bitter end using these formals.

      Because mostly the boredom factor kicks in and you realize a newer or nicer car can be had for a good price or a reasonable payment, so you just go for it. Life is too short to not reward yourself with something decent to drive every now and then. Thus I usually live with a car for around 8 years. However the scale ranges from as low as only 2 years to as many as 12.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        I wouldn’t recommend using monthly payments as a benchmark. As a general rule, the car will well outlast the payments. What I look at is the amount of depreciation over the life of the car, plus the amount of maintenance, and the amount of forecast repairs. Yes, I know the last figure is a guess.

        If you use the monthly payment you’ll be driving your old car longer than is optimal. When you buy a car, you buy a transportation asset. The return on that asset is not money, but instead transportation, and you need to look at the transportation provided during its useful life, not just when you are paying the note.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      My Pain Point is reached when I am no longer proud of my car. In high school and college I had somewhat crappy cars, and one of the reasons I went to college was so that I would no longer have to drive a vehicle that I don’t like.

      It is not just maintenance or economics; I pay my cars off and keep them in good condition, plus live in a rust free part of the country so my vehicles could theoretically survive indefinitely. There just comes a point where I am not proud to own whatever is in my driveway; then it is time to replace. I no longer like the look, the same vehicle is in BHPH lots, logic behind the purchase no longer works (small car when I was 22, 4×4 Hemi pickup in snow free suburbia, etc), or I just no longer enjoy driving the vehicle. That’s my pain point.

      Economics and situations change; my pain point may as well. Right now I am fortunate and grateful that I can choose my pain point; I am very aware that other people do not have that luxury.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I have to agree with the others here. Up here in “rust country” the rules are different. The tin worm trumps all . With sub frame rot, or strut towers ??? No brainer, junk it !

    Brake and fuel lines? If you need to do both, front to back? It can get ugly. Think long, and hard, before pulling the trigger on the fix.

    Properly applied, yearly application of Krown, will buy you at least 5 more years.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      Oh man, I love me some rotted lines. Cars come so easily this way.
      “Brake line bad. Needs to be towed. $500”
      An hour later, and I have an extremely cheap car. Most people approach the problem with new pre-bent lines from the dealer instead of building their own.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Not to mention most shops hate doing them and quote stupid prices to replace them. I’ve gotten quite a few vehicles this way too. Overlay that line, flare the ends, bleed, done.

        • 0 avatar
          mikey

          You guys do make a valid point {re -brake and fuel lines}. Yes I have heard of frightening prices.

          If you have the tools. the facility, and the know how, or somebody that will work cheap. Why not DIY ?

          For a lot of folks, its not an option

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Buddy of mine spent over $2500 to get an ’02 Honda Accord through state inspection due to rotted brake and fuel lines when it was only 8 years old. A year later and it was showing signs of wanting transmission #3. He sold it and bought a new Optima.

        The reason Japanese cars do NOT have quite the same reputation in New England that they have elsewhere is the rust factor. And one big reason why Swedish and German cars are more popular here.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I was just having that exact conversation with some car enthusiast friends this weekend. Once you get to the point where car repairs, extrapolated over several months time, will cost you the same as monthly payments, then it’s time.

    F’rinstance, if your benchmark car payment is $300, and if your car is paid off, and you incur a $1200 repair, you’re still okay if you get to the four-month point without another repair.

    But after the four-month point, you’re on borrowed time. You can adjust for “long term” repairs vs. “short term” repairs. Anyway, good luck. You’ll need it.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Q: “When is it time to junk your car?”

    A: When the monthly cost of Pain + Repairs exceeds the monthly payment of a different car.

    I’ve driven a car into the junkyard, had one towed by Goodwill, had another towed the last 1/4 mile to a dealer (that hurt), and traded at least two that were only scrap-worthy.

    As other have said, rust is the most likely cause of scrappage. Rusty fuel and brake lines, and holes in the frame are all bad.

    Just about anything can be repaired, but why? My time – and peace of mind – are worth something.

    What really hurt about having that car towed to the dealer (it was uphill in a busy area – couldn’t push it) was that the brand new replacement car turned out to be a lemon. So my pain continued for two more years.

  • avatar
    Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

    I’d argue that the replacement cost is the true measure of when to replace a car. When my LS430 developed VVTi engine issues last year, the mechanic asked me whether it was time to buy a new car. Without opening the engine further, it was an open ended repair. I had some upcoming maintenance items coming up (tires, timing belt, HID headlight, etc.) that needed attention over the next couple of years.

    My car was worth about $6k, and perhaps $3k with the gimp engine. So I went shopping for a replacement. The least expensive flagship is about $65k for a comparably equipped K900 or Equus, and even a 5 year old LS were around $30k.

    So it was an easy choice for me. I fixed everything for $5k. If something major goes in the future like the air suspension and I decide to get rid of it, my repair costs would still have been less than a new car payment. BTW, the VVTi issue, which also disabled my traction control and cruise control, only cost $600 to fix.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      If you’re driving a car with a high original purchase price, that biases the decision much more towards repair. While repairs on an expensive car are usually more than those for a moderately priced one, they aren’t proportionately so, certain exotic brands excepted.

    • 0 avatar
      55_wrench

      I’ve only had my LS430 for 6 months or so, but this car’s a keeper. It seems the mid-2000s was a high point in materials and workmanship in a lot of Toyota’s offerings. I just sold a 2001 Avalon to a family member, and I will miss that car..not so with the 01 Lesabre and ’96 Crown Vic that preceded it.

  • avatar
    duncanator

    I have a 2008 VW Jetta (2.0T, DSG) and now have 110k miles on it. In 2014, I spent almost 5k in repair bills. Had I known it was going to cost me that, I wouldn’t have done it. The problem was that it broke like every other month, with each time hoping it was the last repair. So, it’s hard to say exactly when it is time, but big repair bills all at once seem to do the trick.

    Oh, I’ve already spend almost 1k so far in 2015…hmmm.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      The next repair should be driving it into a ditch and lighting it on fire.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        “The next repair should be driving it into a ditch and lighting it on fire.”

        This being the internet, we need comprehensive video footage. Don’t forget that.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Ouch… would you mind breaking it down for us (no pun intended) as to what exactly has gone wrong with it?

      There’s a good reason the common rule of thumb with VAG and most newer European cars is to drive it with a CPO warranty until 70-80k and then drop it like a hot potato.

      • 0 avatar
        duncanator

        I keep all the repair records so I’d have to look them up tonight. I know that the mechatronic unit was replaced (second time), but they did that under warranty so I lucked out on that.

      • 0 avatar
        duncanator

        Because you asked…

        2014 and early 2015 repairs:

        Replaced leaking coolant flange
        Replaced Turbo recirculation valve – oil leak
        Replaced intake manifold and fuel injector seals (warranty)
        Replaced ignition switch in steering electronics module
        Replaced Mechatronic unit (warranty)
        Replaced water pump
        Removed, cleaned and resealed cam plate
        Replaced vacuum pump seal, timing cover seal, and cam tensioner seal on cover
        Intake valve problem due to carbon buildup (a known issue with these). Manual intake valve cleaning, replaced injector seals
        Replaced left CV boot
        Replaced right CV boot
        Replaced turbo bypass valve

    • 0 avatar
      GS 455

      “each time hoping it was the last repair” Been there done that. When you say that to yourself after a couple of moderately costly repairs that’s the time to cut and run because the next thing you’ll start saying is “well I’ve put so much into it I want to get my money’s worth”. By then you and the car are just circling the drain.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      @duncanator: Do yourself a favor, and try some Korean Engineering. You’re already spending the equivalent of a car payment on a bad, aging car. You could be spending that money on something new, with a warranty.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    When your wife says “We’re getting a new car or a divorce”. Depending on how you feel about your wife.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      Rule of thumb in relationships: Never accept an ultimatum.
      Answer to her inquiry: “There’s the door!”
      Then you can get a new one of each.
      New ones of both are easy enough to find, both can be a risky financial proposition, both can take up way too much of your time, and both just might kill you.

  • avatar
    jmo

    One thing to keep in mind, one month of new car payments generally delivers 3 months of (relatively) trouble free motoring. If you’re putting 2400k into a car with 225k miles you might get another year out of it.

    Example:

    If you pay 300/month for 60 months plus 3600k down you get a nicely equipped Accord with 60k miles.

    If you put 2k a year into your 2002 Accord with 220k in 5 years you’ll have an 18 year old Accord with 280k miles.

    You have to adjust the cost of repairs vs. cost of payments to account for how much trouble free motoring each is buying you.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    My 98 Corolla is approaching 400k miles, It is on its second motor and rebuilt transmission, it needs brakes and some suspension work, but it is ultra-reliable and it gets me from point a to point b w/o fuss. No monthly payments for the past 13 yrs, thank you!

  • avatar

    I feel you, Steve. People are actually fairly quick to get rid of unreliable German cars or cheap domestic cars once the repair bills start piling up…but they seem very reluctant to part with domestic trucks and Japanese anything, probably out of some pre-conceived notion that these products should have lasted a lot longer than they did. “Yes, I know your 1995 Camry has been in the family since new, and your aunt once got 400,000 miles out of a Camry…but yours is a piece of crap. It’s on its last leg, and when you commute 30 miles each way, you need something that is guaranteed to make the trip. If it makes you feel better, get another Camry.”

    Seriously. I just had that conversation with someone.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I think the big thing here is that for the most part, even the most neglected, dilapidated Japanese car will still have mostly functioning accessories and an interior that isn’t falling apart. So even when something big goes (prime example is an auto transmission in a 98-04 Odyssey or V6 Accord) the person is willing to pony up because the car has otherwise not been tormenting them with a bunch of nickel and dime stuff. Contrast that to something like a mid 2000s Passat/Audi, where a veritable smorgasbord of things start to go wrong, the interior plastics are delaminating, and none of this is that cheap to fix unless you DIY it. Or in the case of some 90s GM car, the drivetrain is largely solid, but the interior and exterior trim is falling off, various engine sensors are crapping out, and finally when something totally repairable happens like the lower intake manifold gaskets failing, the person who has already been neglecting the car (because it’s just a “piece of GM junk”), the towel is thrown in. So you’re right, to a degree it is a self fulfilling prophecy.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        True. The only out-of-warranty trip to the repair shop for my 99 V6 Accord was automatic transmission rebuild in 2010. Very expensive, but no other shop visits in years. Everything else like brakes and window regulators was easy DIY work and the interior is still in good shape. Easy to justify the DIY repairs when they’re infrequent and the parts are inexpensive. Has been reliable enough for 40 mile round trip to work on days when hail is in the weather forecast.

      • 0 avatar

        You know, you both have a very good point. A 2001 Audi A4 or 2002 Chevy Impala isn’t really worth preserving. A 2002 Accord on the other hand? Almost definitely…even if it does end up needing an expensive transmission transplant.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I agree with you on a used up Audi as I’m not sure it could be saved, but why is an Accord a good “restore” and not a W-Impala?

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Well like I said above, there’s a good chance that the Impala’s interior will be on the way out, LIM gaskets will be leaking, maybe a crank position sensor on the fritz, perhaps a bad heater core. Mostly small stuff, but it just feels more aged than it should be. The Accord, while no spring chicken itself, will most likely have an interior that still looks good (aside from cracked leather seats perhaps), will have functioning accessories, and the engine will still be sewing machine smooth. Exaggerated perhaps, but that’s the stereotype IMO. As an aside, it seems like every single 00-05 Impala is located on the near East side of Indianapolis, and about half of the Mitsubishi Galants ever made. I’m a closet W-body fan, a dark blue LS Impala of that earlier generation on some steelies would be my ghetto beater of choice. I test drove a few of the 3.6 engined cars and they’re pretty fun, but all of the used (rentals) I looked at had some small but annoying issues that spooked me.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Good condition Accords of the early 00s can still be found as often as good condition W-Impalas of the same period. I4 Accords in this neck of the woods are usually found with at least minor corrosion underneath/wheel wells and seem to have had exhaust issues as three people I know dumped their 00-03 Accords for this reason (V6 obviously have trans issues or are just gone). W-Impala suffers from the orange death yes, but otherwise a stout runner. Unless you buy the Accord with the timing belt done, you’ll have that and a water pump to do just as the Impala will need LIM. I’m seeing a similar value here.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’m glad I no longer have to drive beaters. I’m 50, and I don’t have the time or patience for that crap any more.

    My ’05 Scion has made it to 90k without any headaches. When it starts giving me headaches, I’ll sell it.

    Fortunately, I picked a car with a slow depreciation curve. I can pretty much sell it at any time from here forward and feel okay about what it cost me in depreciation.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      This. It’s been 20+ years since I’ve actually junked a car. I just trade them on a new one. I don’t want any more hassle or drama from it than in getting a new stove.

      Time and peace of mind are worth infinitely more than whatever bit of gouging The System is designed for. Besides, them guys gotta live, too.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I went through this with my son’s car in January. It was a 2000 Taurus with about 150K on the clock. The battery was on its last legs, it wouldn’t start the car if it sat for 2 days with the phone charger plugged in in the middle of winter. I did an overall evaluation. The tires were going to need to be replaced soon as were the front brakes including the rotors which were pretty warped. It had suffered from the clogged heater core issue since we owned it. A quick flush of the heater core would have it making excellent heat again but it had been giving off the scent of antifreeze on and off for a little while so I knew that flushing it would be risky. He could drive it for a month or two w/o adding antifreeze and other times it would need it in a week or two. One of the front struts was squeaking. The tires would also need to be replaced before too much longer.

    The car had been sideswiped when my wife still drove it. It was a light swipe with mainly paint transfer so when the insurance company offered $2400 we had taken it and I used a little rubbing compound to take off the offending paint.

    So as it sat it was a $500 car. The minimum parts it was going to need was $600-$700 and of course a few hours of work. So he would have a $1000 car that cost $1200. It likely would have kept going for another 40-50K though. Of course the question was what if the trans decided to kick it after doing all of that? Then he’d have a $300 car that wouldn’t get him to work that he had $1200 into.

    So the decision was made to part ways while it was worth more than scrap value. My wife knows a person who was desperately in need of a second car, she was spending way too much time taking he daughter to work and her grand daughter to school. (yes 3 generations under one roof). We sold it to her for $400 and they couldn’t be happier. She drives it 40-50 miles per week so the brakes and tires will last her for some time compared to my son who does 60+ per day getting to and from work. So I figure they can get a year or two out of it with putting a battery in it and the short distance she drives it wouldn’t heat up enough to get heat anyway. When it does need the brakes or tires they can drive it to the wrecking yard and collect $300 or get $200 if it needs to be towed because the trans finally gave up.

  • avatar
    George B

    You sell a car when it no longer meets your needs and you can afford something better. You junk a car when the buyer willing to pay the highest price is a salvage yard. My exception is I prefer to sell an interesting car to an enthusiast who can make it into something cool. Worst case, let someone try race it in LeMons before it becomes a Chinese washing machine.

    Yesterday my beater car unexpectedly refused to start, blocking my new car in the garage. Had just used it to get groceries a couple hours before. My interest in keeping to old car definitely went down after having to push it.

  • avatar
    50merc

    What do you mean, “cheap Chinese washer and dryer”? Have you priced appliances lately?

    Oh…you mean durability, not price?

  • avatar
    honda_lawn_art

    There’s a car orbiting my sphere of influence right now called “The Turkey”. It’s a ’91 Civic hatchback with a third of a million miles on it. A friend bought it for $300, sold it to me for $600, and I sold it to my cousin for $900. Along the way it got a new center pipe for the exhaust, head gasket, fuel filter, couple other things.
    Even if he’d payed retail for a few major repairs, my cousin’s total investment in the thing is still going to be cheaper than bus fare over a few years.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I came very close to junking an ’84 Grand Marquis “ZOMG PANTHER NUUUUUU!!!!”

    Brought it for $600 as a project, looked like Hell with its warped paint, peeling top. I could NEVER get the blinker switch fixed, even a NOS part didnt fix it.

    Sold it to someone for $500, why junk it when you have craigslist?

    One of these days I’ll probably see it donked out, or junked, or maybe both!

  • avatar
    pleiter

    If you DO wrench your own car, say at the Shade Tree Mechanic Level, this decision is easier. An ‘out of scope’ event such as AT popping out of gear with annoying mechanical sound, is probably going to be the goodbye kiss. The solution used to be to always try to buy manual transmission vehicles. Sadly, family tastes and market trend make finding an MT more work. In gently-used market, it seems you pay a premium for an MT, as they are ‘rare’ now, and other STM’s have caught on.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    The locals seem to have an answer for that question. Anything with over 300K kms and dies –> wreckers.

    I may have to answer that question in the near future.

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    I have never had to junk a car, thankfully, and I don’t plan to. All the cars I have owned I have grown attached to. Well, come to think of it, I may have indirectly junked a car: my 1997 Concorde was sideswiped in 2008 while parallel parked on a busy street. The insurance company totaled the car as the door pillar suffered some damage, but it was certainly drivable. It may have been salvaged, or I fear it may have been crushed, shredded and melted down. It was 11 years old at the time so it could have went either way.

    I beg to differ on a junked car being turned into a “higher quality Kenmore”. Kenmore was quality maybe twenty years ago, but Kenmore and most of the other brands are all now disposable and worthless before they see five years. It’s now just an empty name living on past success. At least for my laundry appliances, that’s why I bought a Speed Queen washer and dryer. USA made, no electronics and true commercial-grade engineering. It’s a simple and sturdy top-load washer and dryer. For kitchen appliances, commercial grade is of course very expensive and woefully impractical for residential purposes so I went with Whirlpool, but I guarantee I’ll be repurchasing them in less than ten years as they all have computer boards and less-than-stellar construction.

  • avatar
    baconator

    I find that people usually call it quits when they can’t “trust” the car to get them to work on any given day.

    The car is a tool for making the rest of their life work, and when it stops doing that with sufficient certainty, it gets traded in, no matter what the dollars and cents tradeoffs of the decision are.

  • avatar
    SatelliteView

    Bought a 1993 Mercedes 400e with 98k on the odo in August 2014 for $3,800. $7k into maintenance and $2,500 into a repair thus far. I’ve exceeded car’s value 3 times now :)

    Goes 140 mph (tested more than once) with little sweat

  • avatar
    baggins

    I like Steve’s posts, but often the situations they describe are so far removed from my life that its like reading about life in 1820, or life in the Amazon jungle in a a remote tribe.

    I am no Daddy Warbucks, but I am long way from driving cars where this type of analysis is needed.

    Interesting reading tho, and I am glad he’s back.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I’ve totaled more than I’ve sold by a big margin. Last one I sold left almost a year after I replaced it, because it didn’t really need to be replaced, some friends needed wheels while their minivan got a new transmission, and… I was still attached to it. I still have a car I bought in ’86 that was old then. I still love it, even if it last ran 14 years ago. Obviously, I have no idea when to part ways with a car.

  • avatar
    sco

    Here’s the trail to the end of my vehicle, 98 Civic EX (all this happened with between 250,000 and 275,000 miles):
    low speed front end collision- fixed by me with junkyard parts for $500
    fender bender- fixed by me with junkyard parts $300
    overheated, stuck thermostat- $50
    massive oil leak from VTEC solenoid gasket failure- fixed by me $50
    set of used tires mounted on rims-$175 on CL

    my son will drive this until he goes to college in the fall, then it will either be sold to someone who wants to deal with the next issue, or to the salvage yard where its VTEC engine will be removed and reused within a week. I’ve more than got my initial $15,000 investment back.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    My take is when it cost more to keep it running than to replace it is the time to act. I’ve hit that point. In 2012 we looked at the bill to fix a 1995 Ford Escort and looked at the costs of driving to work versus taking public transportation.
    We sold the car to a junk yard, I bought a monthly train ticket and some new bicycle parts. While I lost some after work flexibility and it takes a bit longer, I spend about half as much on commuting.
    Car #2 is also a “cockroach of the road” since we got it as a gift and keep it going on a mix of driveway repairs and occasional trips to the shop. Forutnately Saturn S Series parts are common and mostly cheap. The plastic valve cover runs $275-400 new but I got a good used one for $50 plus shipping.
    I’m willing to put time and effort into keeping a known good car running, rather than risking a lemony replacement.

  • avatar
    fiasco

    If my available funds were about $21k higher, there would likely be an XV Crosstrek parked where the 2003 Legacy wagon is right now. But I can nurse it along a while longer with a pair of ball joints…but the next four figure (parts cost) failure on this 206k mile beast will probably put it on a flatbed to the salvage yard.

  • avatar
    Tomas De Torquematic

    If you don’t believe in throwing out old Christmas cards – you never junk a car.

  • avatar
    zeus01

    When is the best time to junk your car? That’s easy. The best time is when you look out the window at your car and see:

    a) a 15-yr-old Toyota.
    b) a 15-yr-old Honda.
    c) a 12-yr-old Nissan.
    d) a 12-yr-old Subaru.
    e) a 12-yr-old Mazda.
    f) a 10-yr-old Ford.
    g) a 10-yr-old GM.
    h) a 5-yr-old Chrysler, Mercedes, Volvo, Saab, BMW or Jag.
    i) a one-year old Fiat 500
    j) a new Smart car.

    I think that puts things into proper perspective quite nicely….

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      This thread has been interesting but is concentrating too much on financial analysis and not hassle. Sure its cheaper to take your $3K used car to the mechanic for $500 every three months than to pay $900 in car payments during that same interim. But you quickly get sick of having to deal with it all the time.

      I’m more sensitive to this because I live in the sticks and have little free time. Getting my car to the shop is a major logistical undertaking involving arranging for my wife (who also works full time at an equally demanding job) to meet me after I drop it off, and reverse the process. And the place is like 30 miles away and we work on opposite sides of town.

      So these is significant value to reliability, that in my case trumps most everything else including finances. Which is why I am now daily driving a 2012 Prius instead of the 1998 Lexus I was driving for the previous 13+ years. I still love the Lexus, it’s still a nice car but it’s starting to need more maintenance than I’m willing to deal with so it’s been relegated to Sunday cruiser duty and I’m thinking of selling it. The Prius isn’t as fun or luxurious but it is rock solid reliable. When it isn’t, it will go. I’ll ditch that one much faster than the Lexus, when it starts getting demanding.

  • avatar
    RyanB

    I’m in this dilemma right now. Good news: just finished my MBA, got a high-powered MBA job, and we’re about to finish building a new home. Bad news: I also have nearly $50k in student loans to go with my new gold-plated degree, and two vehicles that are close to being worn out (’06 Civic with nearly 200k miles, ’00 4Runner with around 130k). Thanks to my upgraded salary, I should be able to knock out that debt in fairly short order, but I had hoped to limp the two vehicles along until I pay off said debt (probably right around the end of the year), and then replace ’em both.

    Then after a really hard rain storm a few weeks ago, I got behind the wheel of my Civic to discover that the interior had developed some type of leak. The inside smells sour and nasty.

    Spoke to a mechanic friend. Said it would easily cost $1800, and probably more, to fully fix the problem: find the leak, eliminate it, tear out and replace any damaged carpet/pad, etc. Blech.

    Thing is, it runs like a top: it certainly makes more road noise than it used to, and a lot of those miles are in-city freeway miles, so it’s dinged up here and there. But overall, it’s still very sound mechanically, and I’ve cared for it meticulously. But dropping $2k on a car that I’m planning to sell within six months and, on its best day, might fetch $4k?

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I have recently jumped back into driving older cars…leasing 3 new cars seemed like a good idea until the kids could not be made to understand that 12,000 miles a year means 12,000 miles a year. So, I bought a 97 Volvo V90 wagon, 190,000 miles, for less than $2000. Solid as a rock, rust free, clean leather interior, shiny paint. I have tinkered with it, fixed everything but the sunroof. Just spent $1300 for timing belt, water pump, idlers, etc, coolant flush, new radiator hoses. This old tank should run another 70k, for sure, at which point I will assess whether another timing belt is justifiable. That will be 3 years or more down the road. I could justify another $1000-1500 repair this year, beyond that who knows? Insurance is cheap, sales tax was cheap, and people ooh and aah at the damn thing for some reason.


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