When Do I Fix It, When Do I Replace It?

Should I fix this car or replace it?

Allan & I hear this question at least a couple of times a month. There are a lot of factors to consider when making the decision to keep or replace a car. Here are some of the things that we like to consider when giving advice to customers in this quandary.

How has the maintenance been kept up on this car?
If the vehicle has pretty high mileage and has never had a good maintenance program this may be the first of a series of problems to come. Lack of maintenance will catch up to you in the long run. If you are looking at a cooling system problem today you may face a transmission failure in the near future, or a rear end, or engine, or air conditioning. How good have you been to this car? If the car has had a regular preventive maintenance schedule then the chances are excellent that if you repair the immediate problem you will get good service in return.

What else do you know is wrong with the car?
We have actually had people want us to replace the engine in a car that they knew the transmission was bad in. How are the brakes? What about the air conditioning is it working alright? What else was going on before whatever this failure is happened? If you know you will soon need tires, or brakes or the A/C repaired before summer hits us again, you really need to calculate that expense into your decision.

What are you going to replace it with?
If you are financially able to replace it with a new car, what are you going to get? If you don’t have any idea already it might be an adventure looking for the new ride. Most new cars sell anywhere from 20 to 30 thousand dollars. The sales tax is going to be $1300 to $2000, plus dealer add-ons, prep charges and higher insurance. If you are going to buy a used car how are you going to keep from getting a lemon? The older the used car is the better the chances you are going to find a car about like the one you want to get rid of. If you invested the price of that used car into the one you have now could you end up with a dependable, good running car?

What is your stress tolerance?
Some people need to have a new car every couple of years. If their car breaks down it ruins their whole day. I have seen people, both men and women, lose sleep, cry and become totally obsessed with a broken car. Life’s too short to let this happen to you. Car payments are better than ulcers, and probably cheaper in the end. Just make it part of your budget. If your life doesn’t come apart when your car fails to start then you can put all that money into other stuff, like vacations or college education’s.

What are your long-term goals?
I have heard failure defined as “Sacrificing what you really want from life for the thing you want right now.”
If spending 20 grand, or committing to a 5 year loan is going to set back the goals that you have for the next few years, you might want to put aside the emotional decision and look for a way to salvage your wheels. Often there are options, such as a used engine, that can save you money and get you by a couple of more years.

The car you are driving may only have a book value of a couple of thousand dollars, but it’s real value to you is what it would cost to replace. If you have a regular repair shop, and you have established a relationship with the people there they can help you make these tough decisions. Over the years they get to know you, your needs, and your plans. Just like your dentist, or your doctor, they can help you with experience and advice.